Editor’s Note: This month, that is September 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Boys, Men and Masculinities, where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences of masculinity that manifest themselves in our everyday lives and have either challenged, subverted or even perpetuated traditional forms of ‘manliness’. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even if one was living under a rock, one would have heard of the popular video game, Player Unknown’s Battleground, or PUBG. Inspired by the Japanese movie “Battle Royale”, it is a survival game where 100 players are dropped in a virtual landscape where teams of four battle it out. The game is an interactive online experience, that can be shared, either with friends or strangers. Officially launched in 2017, the game boasts of owning the maximum market share with more than 100 Million downloads on Google Play Store and over 30 Million daily active users worldwide.
It is a violent show of survival streak where there is no common enemy, but an apocalyptic setting where the ‘fittest’ survives. The survival instinct is judged by the hypermasculine enthusiasm to kill and destroy. The game does require teamwork and might encourage the spirit of friendship in teams, but obscenely breaches any idea of human values or sympathy.
With diminishing the ‘feminine traits’ of survival such as sympathy, co-existence, or ecological empathy; the game encourages narcissistic toxic masculinity with the tendency of placing the ‘self’ before any other and othering even the members of the team. The game that claims to promote the ‘ideals’ of teamwork is designed to declare a winner, even when the teammates have been eliminated. The “winner-winner-chicken-dinner” might be served to the entire team, but can be won by a single player.
I witnessed the addiction to this game in March last year, when a colleague would opt out of lectures and team meetings, even dates with his girlfriend to play PUBG. Observing his body language throughout the game, the blessed language used in chats, and the edge-of-seat interest it creates, I immediately took notice. The game at its outset is an innocent video game channeling an obscene revenue and generating membership so much so that it has official PUBG tournaments on a world level.
Shrinking global boundaries, PUBG also shrank gender tolerance. Not to say that women do not play the video game, but the way they are treated after accepting their real gender identity on a virtual platform, shrinks the virtual space for them. Many Indian women gamers have admitted to having limited their exposure to PUBG to only their friends and family. They prefer not to play with strangers, for the fear of cussing and diminishing their existence, and the bias towards women gamers. The masculinity that PUBG constructs in its wake is not limited to scaring off women from virtual platforms, but is also of constructing an enemy and instilling the need to kill and take revenge.
A study conducted in Pakistan claimed that PUBG was encouraging team spirit and had positive social effects on its players, admitting that an average player devoted around 6 hours to the game every day. While the study rubbished any claim of a developing narcissistic trends in the players, it left out arguments concerning the gamer’s perception of themselves. The language used during matches is unapologetically advertised on YouTube streams and ‘men’ find a strange sense of Bourgeois acceptance in it.
The fantasy of success created by sophisticated systems of score tally and in-app purchases and ranks construct a result-driven restless team of masculine subjects. The reward circuit creates an eager population that would keep returning to earn a false sense of validation. The masculinity constructed is not merely narcissistic but a pre-Oedipal infantile psychology that demands to be seen and appreciated. In the wake of the dire need of acceptance, the frustration is borne by the other (the woman), both virtually and physically.
A Chinese research guides the makers of PUBG to design their algorithm keeping the gender parities in mind. It proves how women yearn for trust and loyalty from fellow team members and therefore, must be matched with other women. The justification the research provides is that as men are competitive and confident in leading in the game, their space must be constructed differently. Women must be ‘safe’ and ‘loyal’ on the virtual platform. The PUBG platform thus, appears like the micro-virtual-rendition of an unsafe street in a metropolitan, where sisterhood is appreciated and men act like the protectors.
A major psychological masculine construction of PUBG is its construction of enemies. The history of virtual games has witnessed aliens and rapists and murderers as monsters, the games were destined as chase sequences to catch and kill the ‘bad guy’. Masculinity is never an independent construction; its first aim is to confine ‘femininity’ and the second, to construct a macho. Macho is the man who kills the monster. Hindu mythology is laden with examples of ideal men hailed for killing the evil in violent battles. The Ram vs Ravan or the Mahabharata narrative construct men who are machismo, but also the regulators of morality in a society.
What happens when the monsters become a fellow human?
PUBG becomes an akhada of a man fighting another man, for survival. A cockfight, but virtual. When Shelley constructed Frankenstein; it was a critique of monsters created by men, in his own image. But PUBG creates monsters as fellow innocent humans. The ‘enemy’ now could be a minor sitting in his basement or a colleague. The ferocity of following him through the battlefield, taking aim and shooting until he dies and a green flare is released is constructing a violent prototype. Not to say that PUBG players become violent individuals, but their life decisions are shaped by the macho-toxic-masculinity. The virtual platforms are creating a population of “heroes”, who can fight from the gaming chairs. Being a man would now include abusing and giggling at a co-player’s death.
The idea of winning a battle with wit is far removed and the celebration of a violent aggressive assertion of a man who curses and favors his life over his friends’ is celebrated. At the socially testing times, ‘men’ are locked in their rooms playing a video game and intoxicated by the anesthetic of virtual toxic masculinity.
Featured Image Source: DNA India