Heart of the Swarm, the latest installment in the Starcraft 2 story, has been both mildly entertaining and mildly disappointing. I enjoyed the campaign, but I was left bored with the artists’ efforts to make Kerrigan sexy for the traditional male audience.

Sarah Kerrigan, the main character in this chapter, was once a babe and is clearly supposed to remain a babe. But what makes her a babe? It’s her “hotness”, her sexual appeal …the things which help define traditional male sexuality, to show us what we crave. Kerrigan’s portrayals throughout the game were just boring and uninteresting, stale (which is kinda the state of Blizzard altogether really). There’s nothing wrong with liking what you see there, but the sexual excitement of her sexualized body was lacking and it was probably because I’ve seen this before (seriously, we’ve seen this a bajillion times EVERYWHERE THERE’S A “SEXY” WOMAN IN MEDIA).

In the story, Kerrigan is rescued by Jim Raynor, the love of her life. After ruling the Zerg, an alien race, as the Queen of Blades, she is returned to humanity as a hybrid and though she regains most of her human features, her hair remains a kind of cross between locks and tentacles. She looks almost perfectly human. Almost.

Sexy Bodies

A Zerg Wearing High Heels

The pinnacle of fashion in Zerg culture.

Kerrigan is carefully crafted into specific body parts while she’s the Queen of Blades. At the start, she’s mostly human with strange hair. Her face is flawless, smooth, youthful. Her eyebrows have the standard arch that’s all the rage these days, her eyes are amazing as usual. Her postures are decent, if not designed to titillate but I guess I ought to be glad her spine isn’t broken in the process.

Traditional male sexuality can be a beautiful thing. When the topic of sexualization surfaces in the gaming community the conversation tends to go to the sexualization of women.

I don’t need to describe all the tropes the game uses. Any that you’ve ever heard of are pretty much all there with few exceptions and many respectable game writers and activists have done the subject of sexism in games great justice so far this year. Spotting the tropes should be a breeze, even without trying, even if you don’t agree they’re tropes (you will still know one when you see one most likely).

Here, Kerrigan literally becomes a human face, a pair of boobs, a pair of heels, and a human ass. The rest of her is made alien, ugly, irrelevant.

Traditional Male Sexuality

There’s a difference between sexualizing women (objectification) and celebrating male sexuality, and defense of the former damages the legitimacy of the latter precisely because it tries to align/conflate the two. I think it’s safe to say men enjoy many different sexual things, to include good-looking men, transsexual women, women with modest cup sizes, round women, hairy women, and anything else I can think of. Male sexuality isn’t a monolith, yet from looking at predominant images in gaming one would think it is a singular, universal thing. Can we see something new? Something varied? Another kind of sexy? And can we do it without making men feel bad for not enjoying the standard fare, such as Kerrigan?

Why deliver the same old stale stuff? Because the cultural rules of male sexuality say that tits and ass never gets old and that men universally agree that these are always representative of male desire.

Bend Over Image

What kind of man would be sexually unresponsive to this? Just men with different sexual tastes than this fellow.

The problem isn’t that, in itself, Kerrigan is a bad inspiration for male sexuality, but rather this singular ideal dominates our fantasy art to the exclusion of others. It’s part of the culture that reinforces sexism and attempts to place us in to boxes of a binary nature. Either we are in or we are out, gay or straight, masculine or feminine. We need more and varied representations of male sexuality in games. When diversity in games becomes a trending topic in the community, we tend to focus on inclusion of groups other than men, and we need that. But we also need to include more types of men, acknowledging that men have different tastes and this ideological fantasy art is just lumping us into one box through it’s lack of diversity.

I came across a very interesting piece of work by author Masahiro Morioko titled Confessions of a Frigid Man: Miniskirts, Lolicon, and Male Sexuality. Unfortunately, the book is in Japanese and I haven’t been able to obtain a fully translated English copy of it. The book is one man’s experiences with his heterosexuality and male sexual frigidity. He relates how imagery of sexualized women, whether pictures or videos, impacts how he interacts (or doesn’t interact) with women in the real world. There comes a point when he prefers the images rather than real women, but also in the moments after satisfying his sexual fantasies (alone)  he feels empty and even somewhat disenchanted with them. He immediately seeks to put it away, remove it from his sight, and switch to different scenery to “cleanse” himself of those images; to distance himself from the fantasy.

Further, male frigidity, as explored in Morioko’s book, is “a mental, existential state after ejaculation, which may deeply influence men’s sexuality and their relationship with women.” It’s the coldness we feel, the distance after moments of lust in our fantasies, the cultural state of male sexuality. He explains one of his experiences:

In other words, in order for a girl in a school uniform to be thrilling and refreshing she must be good-looking with a pretty face. In the real world one almost never encounters such girls. But if I did come upon such a beautiful girl among the students in uniforms walking down the street I might feel in her the appeal of the school uniform.

This is a good example of how objectification works and it’s impacts on sexual perception. The prevalence of these images helps to create a cultural norm by which we judge what’s acceptable. This is what helps form legitimate and illegitimate groups (you either like tits and ass or you’re not straight). Many men closet themselves by not revealing their true sexual desires, because they don’t want to lose their status as men.

Morioko’s experiences aren’t the experiences of all men though and that’s also part of the point I’m making: that all men don’t enjoy the standard fare and almost nothing else is offered (and where it is it is suppressed because it’s deemed unacceptable or fringe). It’s no surprise male* heterosexual artists continue to perpetuate the imagery because they have a stake in it; their legitimacy will be judged by whether they objectify women in this way.  If you aren’t sexually responsive to these images, you’re not man enough. Drawing women in this way becomes a way to demonstrate masculinity or the artist’s alignment with culturally accepted forms of masculinity. If you’re not enjoying Kerrigan and/or can’t appreciate the art, then there’s something wrong with you, not the art, that you’re projecting something which just isn’t there. These are ideas that we’re all, male and female, socialized to uphold.

We have to understand our cultural context. There’s a set of values which says that we must all worship the same sexual ideology and behave in the same ways or else be ostracized (become disempowered). The stake that many (not all) males have in defending Kerrigan’s portrayal is maintaining their legitimacy (authority to act on behalf of men or be exemplary of masculinity). It’s not that we necessarily enjoy the images at all, but that we don’t feel we’ll benefit from criticizing it and in fact will lose something essential to our identity. This isn’t an easy thing to do and I think this is a large part of the reason change is so reluctant, slow, and painful.

Getting It Together

Male sexuality isn’t a singular thing. Sexy isn’t universal, yet games continue to use the same imagery of women in order to appeal to a male audience. But this becomes difficult to defend when we know that men like lots of different things, have many conceptions of sexy and highly diverse sexual fantasies. At some point we have to question why with the great variety of male sexuality do our games continue to only feed us only one representation of it. At some point we have to acknowledge that there’s a wider culture which seeks to define men’s sexuality and has been really successful. Men have to be willing to criticize the legitimacy of traditional definitions of male sexuality by expressing our desire for more diverse sexual imagery in games. We have to admit that we would like to see something more varied and new. We will have to be willing to create new identities for ourselves which are outside cultural expectations, because the attacks will come once we make it known that this doesn’t represent all of us.

There’s a vast world of sexual pleasure and sexual liberation that awaits the person who can both acknowledge the problems of current portrayals of male sexuality (female objectification) and recognize that they have everything to gain by making room for more representations, including their own.

* Women are not exempt from this, but I’m just focusing on the male response to this sexuality. In fact, when women conform to these standards it’s true that they help legitimize it in a different but very powerful way.

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  • Milady

    Hi, Doone. Great post, as always.

    The first time I read the article’s title I thought you were going to analyse the SC2 eSports scene — that’s about my only engagement with SC2 atm –. I would be interested in an analysis of that if it ever occurs to you.

    You put an interesting focus here in what would have normally been an issue of sexualising yet another female character. It goes without saying, but I’d like to point out that the place for masculine sexuality is not in the design of almost every female character in games. This goes beyond sexualisation and into sexyness: not only female characters (let alone female protagonists) should not be sexualised (as in reduced to sexual objects), but they should not be consistently depicted as sexy or appealing to that ‘universal’ male sexuality that is, as you analysed, only pertaining to a subset of the male population, not to it as a whole. Basically, I find it problematic not just that women are sexualised, but that they are invariably conventionally sexy. ‘Sexy’ is in the eyes of the beholder, and any female will be sexy to at least one person, but ‘conventionally sexy’ reaches a wider audience and is pernicious for both women (who try to attain this model of sexiness) and for men whose real tastes are ignored and scoffed at (but, as you will understand, specially dangerous to women, who look at those characters not for voyeurism but for identification). Women characters, especially those under the spotlight (protagonists or love interests) are made sexy by default. Sexy and youthful. And there we have Jim Raynor who is now a middle-aged man, stocky and not conventionally attractive, in contrast to a Zerg Queen who seems to be immune to ageing.

    Men in video games are allowed to be average men (although, if heroes, they ought to be muscular), while women are limited to being (conventionally) sexy across the board. Bestiality is another aspect that is permitted to men and anthropomorphic races: orcs, trolls, worgen, can have as many alienating features as they want, and be unattractive to human species (unless your sexuality is of the furry type); female orcs, trolls, worgen, retain their femininity no matter how bestial they theoretically become.

    • http://www.trredskies.com/ Doone Woodtac

      The bestiality angle REALLY struck me when GW2 announced it’s lion race (whatever they’re called). I didn’t really know what to think of the female version of it.

      I wish I had grasped the angle of age as you pointed out when I wrote this. You could probably do it greater justice yourself.

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    • Coeur-de-fer

      There’s also a rather nasty racial dimension to a lot of games’ more bestial species, with western, European societies clearly serving as the primary model for the civilizations of the more human races, and the “foreign”-inspired cultures populated by various monstrous creatures (often filled with tired cliches regarding the inspiring culture, and noticeable “primitive”, “tribal” tropes).

  • rivs

    I have never in my adult life pleasured myself to a video game chick no matter how hot the pixels, nor have i ever bought a game solely because theres hot chicks in the game.
    My question is do these people who decry sexism, think fairy tales are sexist ? Perhaps they are but they are designed with kids in mind, sex shouldn’t play a part. I don’t think it’s about sexism, I think it has to do with ideals. Ever since the dawn of time man has associated good with beauty, ugly as evil. So if you want a hero, or heroine you give them human qualities that fit the ideals of good, one of those is beauty. So look at video games most heroic men characters are big muscled lads, and yes women have nice butts.
    I just think this goes alot deeper then sex, I think it’s more of what and who we are as a society, and culture and until that changes we’re gonna keep having big breasted women in video games

    • http://www.trredskies.com/ Doone Woodtac

      It does go deeper than mere sexism. However, the elements of the deeper problem you describe area also elements of sexism.

      Yes, there’s sexism in children’s fairy tales. One need only watch almost any Disney movie and there’s a vast display of sexism, racism and a lot of other horrid things being culturally implanted into our children. None of us are really untouched by this so long as we grew up in a westernized society (there are certainly some of the same elements in others but I have no first hand experience to comment on).

      Good and bad and evil and beautiful. The same thing is done in sexism. Dumb is to pretty is to feminine as competent is to strong is to masculine. They all work the same way as you have pointed out. But it’s not a benevolent process of just attaching some good things to some good words all in the name of good culture. It implies demonization of the opposite, crafts ideals based on extremes with little tolerance from anything non-binary. So when gay and lesbian couples want to marry, our ideals tell us that it’s wrong. That you’re either with a man or a woman and that there are only one type of each. Sexism does this by trying to teach men that they are sex machines, unable to resist the allure of “pretty” women (always defined exactly as Kerrigan is), always able to sexually respond to tits and ass. And if you don’t then you’re not a man. This is the cultural ideal for us in the west.

      Thank you for your comment and I apologize for the late moderation. It was caught in Approval Hell, as I call it when Disqus malfunctions.

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