Why the Male Power Fantasy Has an Important Role in Gaming

2 comments, 849 points

Some people got into a huff yesterday when game designer Warren Spector spoke out against Wolfenstein: The New Order as yet another “adolescent male power fantasy” first person shooter to hit the market. He of course apologized today, kind of.

The Male Power Fantasy is a term that you’ll hear thrown about a lot in regards to videogames and most forms of entertainment in general. You’ll hear this because, in a way, it is the correct way to describe the entertainment world which is filled to the brim with loner anti-heroes wielding guns while taking lives and saving the day. There is a good reason why this is so popular, as in our everyday lives there is a good deal of control that most people simply do not possess, a lot that they wish that they could correct and mediums like games put that power into their hands and allow them to live out these fantasies.

These are scary times that we live in, where on a daily basis turning on the news will mean being bombarded with violent and tragic imagery from all over the world. Death, destruction, depravity and worse is everywhere that we look and impossible to avoid. A lot of people may view the Male Power Fantasy as a negative thing, one that could cause someone to spurn society and head down a dark path, but I tend to view violence in videogames as an outlet for a lot of aggression. It is a way for men to play out their power fantasies and to satisfy those primal needs while not bottling them up inside until they reach a critical mass and make bad decisions.

I have a ritual of sorts where after a long day of work I sit down and play a videogame, usually one that doesn’t require too much from me but allows me to wash away the day’s frustrations. Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, WWE ‘13, Red Dead Redemption or even Minecraft if the mood strikes me. What’s funny about this is that I know that I’m not alone in it. Just the other day while at a wedding I was talking about my gaming habits with the rest of my table, and surprisingly enough everyone there — both male and female — had some sort of connection with videogames. The other guy at the table talked about how after a long day of work he likes to settle himself down with about an hour or so of Call of Duty and his wife confirmed that she knows this ritual and lets him have it, or else he is cranky. He’s a fairly regular guy, works hard, has a family and for him, this is the small escape that he gets and helps to even him out after a long day.

This wasn’t the type of guy that I’d ever expect to gun down anyone innocent by any stretch of the imagination, or the type that I’d worry about harming anyone if he didn’t get his downtime, but for a lot of people, this kind of escape can be healthy. To him, playing a game like Call of Duty is important and helps to put some of that control back into his hands, even if it is just a game. Most men don’t get to gun down their problems on a daily basis, so the instant gratification of a game like that can be a big deal.

At the heart of what Warren Spector said, I agree with; we don’t need more games that look, feel and play the same. Maybe we do need to branch away from guns and the generic male power fantasy. That being said, they serve a purpose in the world and do actually help people, even if they aren’t always the most inspiring games to hit the shelves. Wolfenstein: The New Order will serve its purpose and might even be a good game, who knows?


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  1. Agreed all around. The male power fantasy has its place and I don’t think it’s inherently bad at all. There are just too many of them and a pretty decent percentage of those are uninspiring. But some games are *great* male power fantasies. Half-Life 2 is the example that immediately leaps to my mind. Not only are you saving the world as you traverse a variety of unique locales – you’re constantly being reminded that you, Gordon Freeman, are a legendary hero. Random NPC civilians and soldiers are in awe of you and cheer you on. Eve Alyx Vance, one of the more likable and real video game characters I can remember serves this purpose. She too is in awe of you and coyly flirts with you throughout the game.

    More variety would be nice among the AAA games, though. Where’s my Last Guardian already?