I’m trying to get to the gym to complete back day – my favourite day. It’s one of the few days where I can (at least moderately) keep up with my gym buddy, Amos. He’s roughly the same height as me, but with over 10 years of bodybuilding under his belt, he typically outlifts me by 50% or more. But the deadlift is my strongest lift, so today he better bring his A-game!
But as we walk to the gym on a surprisingly sunny British day and chat about how amazing this workout is going to be, my excitement is constantly delayed… because every few minutes, Amos wants to catch Pokemon…
… yes, Dr. Amos Ogun, fully grown man, bodybuilder, and junior surgeon, wants to play Pokemon Go.
Standing in the middle of the street, holding his phone up fixated on a bright pink creature that is only visible to him through the lens of his iPhone, furiously swiping on his screen until the creature submits to him.
What the hell is going on?
I want to laugh, but I’m also irritated. Should I be ripping into my gym buddy? Is he, and the millions of men like him, demonstrating poor masculinity by playing Pokemon Go?
Is it a game for girls? For children? For low-value males?
Video Game Makers Have Always Targeted Males
Since the 1980’s, the video game industry have focussed almost entirely on males as their target audience. From the actors in TV adverts for games, to the aspirational masculinity of the hero’s involved, the game industry decided that video games were for boys.
Throughout the 90’s and 00’s, video games were even more strongly marketed to males. Most men who owned a Playstation 1 had a chance to admire Lara Croft’s sexy polygons – with fresh rumours circling every few months about a cheat code or glitch to see her totally naked.
Whether we were told to aspire to the baddass “Zero Fucks Given” strength of the gangster in Grand Theft Auto, or we were being told to lust over the millionaire archeologist in hotpants and a crop-top, there was little doubt that playing video games assumed you brought your own joystick to the table.
Of course there were exceptions – anyone familiar with The Sims (a game to build a beautiful home and raise the perfect family) – won’t be surprised to hear the game was almost entirely female players.
In 2012, first-person shooters, action games and sports games accounted for 59% of all video game sales in North America.
The message was simple – it’s ok for men to play video games, because that meant hanging out with Alpha males, doing manly shit, and checking out beautiful females.
Social Gaming Switched The Industry Up
The shake up however, and the question mark around gamer gender, arrived when gaming became social. In the 00’s when games moved out of the console and onto Facebook and other Flash websites, women began to connect with the social aspect in games.
Games no longer hooked us with guns, explosions and hot pants – instead they promised a chance to play a game with friends.
Neopets, Farmville, Candy Crush… Games that offered people an opportunity not just to escape their current life and assume a new identity, but also a chance to share that experience with other players.
These titles are not small fringe games – Farmville had 80 million players at it’s peak in 2010.
Social gaming took gaming back to it’s 70’s and very early 80’s roots, when gender was irrelevant and playing Pong was just about enjoying a game with a friend.
Social gaming didn’t bring gaming back to an even 50-50 split. Instead, it actually tipped the balance the other way, and attracted a largely female audience!
Social Gaming Is For Girls… Right?
PopCap Games surveyed 5,000 gamers playing social games in the USA & UK, and found that 55% of US respondents were female (and 58% of UK respondents were female).
Building a farm, lining up coloured diamonds, and raising cute pets isn’t necessarily a feminine pursuit – however when alternative gaming-adventures exist, such as blowing up buildings and racing cars, is a man forced into a decision based on expectation rather than strict gender roles?
More Girls Are Playing Pokemon Go… By A Lot!
Whether Pokemon Go, as a social game, is only for girls is debateable, however the current data shows that it’s definitely more popular with girls.
So back to my question about my gym buddy, Amos. Is he less masculine for playing Pokemon Go?
So far, all we know is that instead of going out with the other men to pillage and plunder, he’s choosing to stay back in the village with the women and do sewing and fishnet weaving. Right now we have correlation, but not causality.
Hunting Pokemon = Hunting Animals?
The very definition of the masculine “hunter gatherer” means going out and hunting animals. But in a modern civilisation where a man is almost entirely robbed of any opportunity to hunt for his own wild food (I understand in some countries this isn’t true), perhaps a virtual hunt is the best a man can find?
In many cultures, a hunt marks an adolescents passage from boyhood to manhood. But is this rite of passage defined by capturing the beast, or by risking personal harm (or even death) in pursuit of sustenance for his family? Can we truly attribute any of the same value to a man who merely walks around his suburban neighbourhood until he can capture a Pegeot?
Should A Real Man Care?
While a lot of evidence seems to point to the fact that Pokemon Go, as a social game involving collecting little cute creatures, is predominantly a female pass-time, I’m still not convinced either way of whether I should be socially-pressuring my buddy into stopping to play the game.
After all, a weak male makes the whole group look weak.
And for an argument to the contrary, one of the biggest principles I discuss in my book is that a Modern Viking should embrace his own weirdness and dancing to his own beat. Fuck what other people think!
Are you still a real man if you play Pokemon Go? I have no idea.
But you’re a real man if you play whatever fucking game you want, no matter how silly you look in public, and you don’t give a fuck what anyone else says or thinks!
Further Reading Of Gender and Masculinity in Games
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