So You're A Tough Guy: Male Stereotypes in Video Games

They basically take the formula of upside down triangle, add some huge hands, and stick it on two legs.

These days we have been talking a lot about the stereotypes and the depiction of women in video games. Although a very worthwhile topic, something that is not as often discussed is how guys are portrayed in the same games

Video games are a type of media that has the potential to have a great impact in our views as a society - both as children and adults. Unlike movies or others in the same notch, a game allows you to physically perform actions instead of just witnessing them.

The Face Of A Hero

Guys in video games tend to be very muscular, rugged, and since I am a girl I think I can get away with saying often pretty damn hot. In many games - especially in FPS - the main guy protagonists look a lot a like. Take the below two images from Splinter Cell and Fuse. These guys could almost be brothers. Thick, muscular arms. Slim build. Dark hair. Rough battle worn face. A sort of piercing Dirty Harry kind of glare to their eyes.


And they aren't the only ones. Male main characters (heroes) have a tough, heavily muscular, good looking body type that seems to be the template for Hero.

Uncharted Character


Just Cause Character

No matter the game, you often see these main characters with an extremely athletic body type that are complimented by their made-for-movies face. Face-wise the nose structure, check bones, eye shape, and even the cringes or lines in their faces all seem to mimic each other quite often. Sometimes hair style or color changes, but a lot of features can often be similar. Let's also add in the fact that usually (feel free to correct me in the comments if you feel I'm wrong), they are often of the same age range and ethnicity. 

Even in Halo or other characters with armor, when no face is actually seen you are still able to know that the male character is strong, slim, and fitting in well with the rest of his fellow ass kicking soldiers. It seems somewhat impossible to me that a guy can be that thin while wearing what I only assume is at least slightly thick armor, but hey maybe it's my inner girl-ness channeling out hidden envy that is to blame for this opinion.

There are many other games besides these, but most of the time they still involve the same build. Even the really strange characters still retain this like Enslaved's monkey boy:

I'm pretty sure that these characters will very soon have their faces stuck that way.

I find it absolutely intriguing how Enslaved's main character can be humorous in his characteristics and yet still unrealistically built up. I mean, he almost has a tail! And his name is literally Monkey! But they wouldn't want you to think he couldn't handle himself because obviously a main character would be only a capable hero if looking like this. As if it was a normal human feature to have arms that thick and a face capable of making gorillas run away with a whimper of utter despair.

They basically take the formula of upside down triangle, add some huge hands, and stick it on two legs.


Well, that may be a little extreme, but you get my point. Monkey boy isn't the only one of his kind. For starters, you might as well throw him into Gears of War, because he would fit right in. Not all video game characters have a physical appearance that is so exaggerated,  but even the ones such as Uncharted or Fuse above, which are closer to reality, still portray a specific body type. 

Having A Hero Isn't A Bad Thing...

Having an idol, even one who is unrealistic, can motivate or inspire us to reach further than we might otherwise have. We want to play good looking characters so long as it's done right. I believe that a lot of people play games because they want to experience something. Maybe it's saving our planet from a horde of aliens. Maybe it's surviving a zombie apocalypse and keeping your character's daughter safe. Maybe you want to be Yoshi and squeeze giant eggs out. We put ourselves into these roles in a way that no movie could ever accomplish. We become the hero. The survivor. The one in charge. Often, when I think about the heroes I emulate they are beyond any human capability. When I log into my Xbox or PC, I want to become something extraordinary. These video game heroes are an illusion; much like all heroes tend to be. They are more about characteristics we admire than anything else.

The same occurs when we look into our past at the Hercules, the Jane of Arks, the William Wallaces of our legends or histories - and we see something incredible. Something so much bigger than ourselves that it impassions us. What they do isn't possible for us mortals, but that is why we like them. Why we admire them.

...But we need to make sure we aren't in danger of forgetting these characters aren't real.

No matter what, having other options shows people--very often kids and teenagers--who play these games that this isn't the only thing that is out there. Such as games that allow us to customize our hero's physical appearance, or even better a game like Half Life which has the pleasantly surprising glasses wearing Gordon Freeman as a main character.

Proving that yes, you can be smart and look smart, but kick ass too. 

That you don't necessarily have to have a million muscles, be super slim, have crazy broad shoulders, or have a certain kind of face in order to save the world from total destruction. Or from zombies. Or interns. 

These physical characteristics we see so often come from obvious reasons. Doing something physical requires a lot of strength. However, a lot of these characters go beyond that into the extreme. In ways, video games can reflect the physical appearance and characteristics that we admire, like a lot of media, but they also have the ability to influence what we admire just as equally.

It's important to remember what things really are worth this admiration, and what things are not. More important than any appearance is the person behind the character - the player - who might do a little better to have more varied heroes in their games.

Featured Contributor

I'm a 29 year old Jersey girl who loves games. I currently work full time, volunteer part time at this awesome non-profit called Amman Imman, and go to school part time. I also train in jiu jitsu. So time isn't quite on my side (unlike that song says). I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to clone myself so I can devote one of me to boring stuff like working and laundry - thus allowing more time for gaming. I'm willing to offer large sums of imaginary money to any who can make this happen.

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Published May. 24th 2013
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Good article!

    Sometimes I wonder, though, if the more extreme depictions of male and female stereotypes in games is actually BETTER. I mean, as opposed to more subtle examples of unrealistic physique.

    The more drastic it becomes, the more absurd it is, and the less likely our brains will confuse it for an ideal image of humanity. Look at Dragon's Crown: My girlfriend and I play that together, and the designs are laughable to both of us. Everyone freaked out over those designs but in truth, we all know they're over-the-top and thus, should have no affect on our egos or self-esteem.

    Although, I have to say, if any fictional character does affect your ego or self-esteem, you've got deeper issues and honestly, it isn't the designer's fault. I've been playing games for over 30 years, and for the first 15 or 20 of those years, I pretty much always played as a hulking, Type-A, lantern-jawed, impossibly sculpted male.

    ...and yet, never once did it make me feel bad about myself, or make me think men are supposed to look that way. I had a brain, after all. ;)
  • Gio_1665
    Well, ancient greeks or romans didn't had "media", but they revereed an ideal of physical beauty for mans and womans alike.
    Today we talk a lot, but most of the answers are inside us.
    There is nothing bad in identyfying with a "superman" hero, the problem comes for people who are "sensible" to the subject, but often that's due to a psichological problem inside them, that can't be resolved by giving them "non stereotypized media", they need to tackle that problem and fight it inside themselves.
    Else they will live in a "safe" environment but the problem would not be solved.
  • Raven Hathcock
    Featured Contributor
    I'm sooo happy that you posted this! I just posted a quick thing about male stereotypes in my article but I'm so glad someone else posted this. Great article!
  • Jamie K
    Featured Contributor
    Thanks! Me too! But since it was something I felt like writing personally I kept putting it off for other stuff (assignments, reveal). I was happy to finally get it out. I also think a lot of times we get so wrapped up in our own personal struggles we forget that other people have things too - that no one has it perfect.
  • Josh_3008
    I wonder what the reaction would be if there was a skinny, awkward hero like in Brave. I think in general we like to see what we (secretly) want to be ourselves.
  • Jamie K
    Featured Contributor
    That would be something! Oh, and I def agree. We all want to secretly be this strong cool I save the world and then run a marathon hero. But media also influences this feeling - encourages it maybe even. If you grew up with a lot of influences telling you a different image, perhaps you secret need would be for a different kind of hero? I'm no expert of course; just trying to look at different angles.

    I see in your profile pic you (or people) are wearing a Gi and doing a takedown. That's a great example right there. I know a lot of guys I train with in jiu jitsu who look skinny and awkward but could kick ass. I admire them, even more than I do the ones who look like they 'belong' there.
  • GameSkinny Staff
    Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon was exactly that! Granted, movie, not a game.

    For games, I would say that Link is a pretty skinny and dorky hero. Still, that's only one example. Pretty spot on article, Jamie!
  • Jamie K
    Featured Contributor
    Those are two good examples (and I also happened to love that movie lol).

    Also, Mario of course is a very different character. Maybe in those days they didn't judge heroes so much by appearance! ;-)

    And thanks! ^.^

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