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WRITING HOT MEN FOR GAMES? Yes, please.
by Jane Jensen on 04/14/14 10:43:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

When I attend a show like GDC or E3, I tend to get a number of questions from the press related to the fact that I have innie genitalia rather than outtie.  For example: What’s it like being a woman in the gaming industry? What advice do you have for young women who want to break into game design? 

I’m always a bit perplexed by these questions, though I try doggedly to answer.  Perhaps my confusion is that I don’t identify myself as a “female designer”.  I am a game designer/writer.  My gender is irrelevant, right? Who really cares?

But a reporter at GDC this spring changed my mind.  After I showed Moebius, which has a male protagonist, and an equally very male sidekick, he asked, in an annoyed fashion, why it is that I don’t write strong female characters in my games?  He suggested that female game players NEED good role models, and if anyone were going to supply the industry with strong female characters, it ought to be the few visible female designers like me.

Well.  Alrighty then.

I mumbled through some sort of response, pointing out that I have had strong female characters  in the past– Grace in Gabriel Knight, and Samantha in Gray Matter.  As for Malachi in Moebius well, I just wanted to write him that way!

On my way back home, I kept thinking about that interview.  It bugged me, and I tried to figure out why.  My first reaction was: female game players need role models?  Really?  A woman doesn’t know who she is until a video game shows her someone to emulate?  Hmm.  Do people ever say guys need ‘role models’ in their games? 

But more to the point… why do I so often find myself writing male characters?  The truth is, I’ve always preferred writing men to women in my novels as well as my games. The answer was really pretty obvious—I don’t just write male characters, I write male characters who are hot simply because I enjoy it.

And thus crumbles any illusion I have to be above gender. The truth is, when I write a male character I am writing him from a female perspective, as a kind of fantasy.  And why not?  Male designers create female characters who are male fantasies all the time.

Let’s even the playing field, people.

WHY WRITE HOT GUYS?

Reason #1: Female gamers will love you for it.

There are, in fact, a large portion of women who play games.  According to the ESA, 45% of all gamers are female.  This varies greatly by genre, I’m sure.  But if women do tend to play the type of game you design for, then why not give them a male character they can salivate over?  Because…

Reason #2:  Male gamers are okay with it.

Really. I have never once had a male player tell me “I don’t like Gabriel Knight because he’s too sexy.”  What?  No.  It’s never happened.   And why would it?  After all, the player is role-playing that character.  Who doesn’t want to be good-looking, smart, and sexy?  What guy doesn’t want to be hot?  Do not fear the hotness.

Reason #3:  Pop culture says it works.

Let’s review some of the mega hits in pop culture in the past ten years:  Lost, True Blood, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Skyfall, Harry Potter.

Okay, not Harry Potter.  Forget that aberration of the laws of space and time.  See any hot men in the others?  I rest my case.

HOW TO WRITE A HOT MALE CHARACTER

You don’t have to be a female designer to write a hot male character and, yes, many games already have them.  But if you’re wondering what makes a male character ‘hot’ from a female perspective, or at least from mine, here are some tips.

#1 Looks:

It’s a given that he’ll be good-looking. But what does that mean?  Consider your audience.  The typical male action hero, a Mr. Universe type with arms like sledgehammers, is he ‘hot’ to a woman?  Not really. 

Are you slanting the appeal at younger women or older?  Up to a certain age, girls find overt masculinity off-putting. Teen idols are usually ‘twinks’ like ‘N Sync, Leif Garret, David Cassidy, or Justin Beiber.  Maybe this isn’t your main character, maybe it’s the teen son of a secondary character—but why not add someone like this if your game could be played by young teens?

Step the testosterone up a bit and you can cover a fairly wide age range.  Twilight, anyone?  Though the books were written YA (Young Adult), both the books and movies appealed to older women as well as teen girls and were defined by Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner—both very young men with pretty faces and ripped torsos that were neither hugely muscled nor hairy.

(Seriously!  We’re actually discussing this!)

Personally, my attract-o-meter skews older, but I still tend towards looks that are not overly muscled or brutish.  Other types you might want to consider: Gerard Butler (muscular but not huge), Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Alexander Skarsgard.  Generally speaking the long, flowing hair of romance novel covers is out unless you can seriously pull off the whole Spartacus thing.

If you’re a female designer (or a gay man for that matter), go with your instinct.  If you’re not, ask your wife/girlfriend and beta test with women.

(P.S. – A nice ass goes without saying.)

#2 Personality:

A wide variety of personality types are possible, but there are certain traits that are not at all appealing romantically.  These include wooden characters, characters who are deliberately cruel or abusive (especially to animals—dear lord, no), characters who are overly dweeby (nerds can be hot in books, but in my experience, they don’t really work romantically in games). Insecure, weak-willed, whiny, or chronically depressed personality types are right out.  Characters who are overly vain or self-centered can be a turn-off (though it can be pulled off with humor and panache – Hans Solo and Gabriel Knight come to mind). 

Heroes may well kill, but they generally kill people who deserve it.  That’s not to say you can’t have an evil character, but don't count on your players finding him hot.  Your character can be damaged (‘hurt/comfort’ is a big romance genre) but he needs to show vulnerability, be redeemable, and improve over the course of the story.

#3 Voice Over Casting & Dialogue

A woman can be seduced by—or put off by—a man’s voice.  Personally, when I hear the TV actors these days who do the whole ‘whispery’ thing I want to smack them. On the other hand, I love a deep voice.  Sexiness is very much a vocal characteristic—find it. And your voice actor needs to have likability, even when being sarcastic, and sound a little sensitive and/or a tad vulnerable at least some of the time.  Accents can be very sexy.  Bad grammar and screaming is not.  Hillbilly Hank is not hot.

#4 Other people find him sexy

One of the best ways to demonstrate a character’s attributes is in the way NPCs react to him.  The guy is just so hot that women can’t help falling for him (Malia in Gabriel Knight), even when they’re smart enough to know better (Grace in Gabriel Knight).  When other characters react to your MC (main character) as if he’s attractive, they are reinforcing in the player’s mind that the guy is hot.  

Even NPCs who are not attracted to your MC can ‘add to his legend’.  Grandma: “Oh, you always did have a way with women!”  Friend:  “Not another one!  Jesus, you lucky son of a bitch.”  In Moebius chapter 3, I have Malachi’s store manager, Gretchen, take his sidekick David out for a drink to warn him about how women fall in love with Malachi because he’s good-looking, intelligent, and aloof.  That’s building in a sexual backstory that helps the player feel the attractiveness of my MC.

#5 Employing romantic tropes in your plotline

Many women read romance.  Even those who don’t, we’ve all seen enough TV and movies to subconsciously recognize romantic tropes.  Even when they are not applied directly to a romantic relationship, they still trigger feelings of sympathy and attraction to the MC.  Seeing him face these things triggers the response in us that he is the romantic lead.   For example:

  • The guy without a family – orphaned in his youth, or his family killed in a fiery car crash.  We all want to see this guy find a new family.  It doesn’t have to be romantic, it could be a young soldier who ends up bonding with his platoon. But his backstory gives us sympathy for this character and gives him a romantically tragic air.
  • The damaged hero – similar to the above, this character has been wounded, maimed or scarred in such a way that he has retreated from the world. Consciously, we root for him to find redemption and someone who can ‘look past the scars’.  Sub-consciously: if he can find love or acceptance, so can we, even though we are flawed.  Not surprisingly, romances with a disabled (but still strangely gorgeous) hero are quite popular.
  • Boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl – Again, this doesn’t have to be a man-woman scenario. It could be the dog the MC bonded with, who is lost down a raging river, and later recovered.  Or it could be the little girl the MC has been protecting like Lee and Clem in The Walking Dead.  But the loss of someone or something they’ve grown to care about makes the player feel close to the MC and triggers the desire to ‘comfort’ him. Does that equal hotness?  Yes it does, assuming you have the above points (looks, personality) handled. After all, it shows us the big lug has a heart.
  • The big misunderstanding –The MC thinks the girl of his dreams is in love with someone else.  A character’s pride gets in the way of allowing him to make an apology and so the friend/love interest/dog stomps off in anger.  The MC overhears someone talking and thinks that he or she is a spy (but is wrong).  This creates a tension that we want to see resolved.
  • Enemies forced together – two antagonist characters are forced to spend time together in a small environment (stuck in a jail cell, only one room left at the hotel, have to take a journey together).  Of course, they learn that they really like each other after all.
  • Pretend couples – A female boss/celebrity has to come up with a pretend marriage to soothe her parents/fans.  Two male detectives have to pretend to be a gay couple to infiltrate a gay club.  By ‘faking’ a relationship, they are messing with our heads and putting ideas/urges in our minds—and their own. We can’t help but want to see it go from ‘fake’ to ‘real’.
  • And so on…. 

By working with common tropes you can create a romantic tension in your work, and romanticize your hero, even if you never intend to have a romantic relationship consummated.  You can do this even with a macho, all-male story like Band of Brothers.

#6 Actually give him a love interest

Of course, unless there’s a damn good reason not to, why not give the guy an actual love interest?  Forget the dog and the little girl.  You know what makes a guy really sexy?  It’s called UST – Unresolved Sexual Tension.  Someone wants the guy, badly, or the guy wants someone, but they resist and/or are kept apart by obstacles.  That unresolved tension is transferred to the player and now the player wants.  They want to keep turning the page (or buy the next game) to see that UST resolved. 

Your love interest could be the bombshell who walks into your detective’s office with a case—it could burn quick and bright and end by the time the game is done.  It could be a female sidekick who develops into a potential relationship over multiple seasons.  It could be the barista the MC flirts with every morning when he picks up his joe.  Or—you know, it could be your MC’s male cop partner.  Remember that you don’t ever have to resolve the UST (though your audience may eventually kill you if you don’t).   Do women find male-male, or even the hint thereof, hot?  Millions of fan fiction writers say oh hell yes.  Does fan fiction exist that pairs a couple of your characters?  If not, why not? 

CASE STUDIES:  The Bad Boy, The Beast, The Aloof One, The Good Warrior/Comic

Gabriel Knight (Gabriel Knight 1-3, 1993-1999, 2014 remake):  

Type:  The bad boy/rogue

Gabriel is a classic bad boy , rake, or rogue type of character. He’s flirtatious with any attractive woman, has had a string of one night stands, and never takes relationships seriously.  His voice is deep and he has a southern drawl, so when he has sexy lines flirting with women in the game, you feel it in your toes. 

The idea of his attractiveness is reinforced in the first game by the quick-and-hot liason with the gorgeous Malia Gedde and the slower-burn, I-should-resist-you-but-I-can’t affection of his brainy shopkeeper, Grace.

Dr. David Styles (Gray Matter, 2010)

Type:  The Beast / damaged hero

David was once a very handsome man before a car accident killed his wife and burned the left side of his face.  Now he’s a recluse in a spooky old English house.  This story is very much based on the Beauty & the Beast trope, with angry and bitter Dr. Styles having chased everyone away until a travelling American magician, Samantha, stumbles into a job as his research assistant.  Sam wants to redeem Styles, and so does the player.

Malachi Rector (Moebius, 2014)

Type:  The Aloof One, Man without a family

Malachi is a super intelligent, cold genius in the vein of House or Sherlock Holmes in his many incarnations (which is also, in itself, a classic 'beast' type).  You think this isn’t hot?  Benedict Cumberbatch fans would beg to differ.  You admire the Aloof One for his amazing brilliance.  A tragic past helps us understand why he can’t trust people. Flashes of vulnerability show us how lonely the guy REALLY is.  I mean, come on!  Someone needs to crack those defenses and befriend the poor bastard. And we want to see it happen.

Captain David Walker (Moebius, 2014)

Type:  The Good Warrior / Comedian

Walker is ex Special Forces, gorgeous, buff, and mysterious. We’re really not sure where he came from in Moebius. Is his appearance fate, coincidence, or something more sinister?  But dang, the guy is likable with a protective streak a mile wide, an easy-going attitude, and string of bad jokes. His warmth makes a good foil for the cooler Malachi and he helps humanize ‘the aloof one’ for the player.  In the case of Moebius, what could have been a typical male-female romantic arc is reimagined as a bromance.  Our female beta testers loved it.

Bottom Line (No Pun Intended)

Women are playing games, and we’re not just looking for a female role model slapped into the action hero role.  I loved Syberia and King’s Quest IV, which had a female protagonists, and I’m sure I will write another game in the future with a female lead like Gray Matter.  But, honestly, I love to write and play hot men even more.

If you want to appeal to female gamers, give them a hero they can sink their teeth into.  Your beta testers can tell you if you’re on the right track.   And if you get the juices flowing enough to spawn some fan fiction, you will have done your job well. Szzzt!  Sizzle.

Jane Jensen 


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Comments


Ian Richard
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You sound like a friend of mine. She has a tendency to walk up behind me, look at the screen and just say "Yum." She definitely changed the way I look at Leon Kennedy and that's not even counting the pictures she's shown me that I can never unsee.

There's plenty of work to do for the treatment/representation of women in games... but if you enjoy making hot guys you should do it without any crap from the outside. Enjoy the process of making a game because dagnabbit YOU'RE MAKING A GAME!

My only request is that you make better characters than random soldier #172 that I seem to get in most modern games. The gender or hotness doesn't really matter to me when I get more character from a cardboard box.

Christian Nutt
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Funny you should mention Leon Kennedy. Say what you will about Japan and its treatment of female characters (and trust me, I will) but I think the country is definitely ahead in creating male characters with the female gaze in mind.

Moxie Blox
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Wow, this is the most hetero-and-cis-normative thing I've ever read. Way to erase queer sexuality in men and women and totally be a transphobe in your opening paragraph. Not impressed.

Christian Nutt
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The criticism of the first paragraph is broadly fair, though (maybe not my place to say so) I wouldn't call it transphobia (I'm assuming here it's not a deliberate attempt to erase trans women) as much as what you might call "trans-blindness" or, in plain language, a lack of consideration. I say "not my place" because I am not the one directly impacted by these attitudes.

However, here's at least a mention of gay men in the body of the piece (being one, I noticed, of course.)

My reaction there was more that writing attractive male characters as a gay man may not result in characters that are attractive to heterosexual women -- and relatedly, I don't see why that should be my goal were I to attempt to do so.

I guess this is something I think about a lot because of the division in manga culture between boys love/yaoi (gay men written by straight women for straight women) and bara (gay men written by gay men for gay men.) The clarity of that division makes it really obvious that the division exists, even if it's specific in that regard to Japanese culture.

Moxie Blox
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Whether you want to call it transphobia or trans-blindness or whatever, it all points to the same problem: That people have yet to understand the need for inclusive language and the hurt and upset they're causing to trans individuals everywhere. You're basically slapping their identity in the face every single time you write something that's "plain language," aka, not even scientifically accurate, as people who have "innies" can also be intersex or chromosomally different, and that's not even taking into account their identity.

I'm not even asking for a paragraph long caveat explaining the ins and outs of sex and gender identity, I'm just asking the author: Is it really so hard to just qualify your intended audience as "women" and not bring genitals into the equation? I don't think so.

As far as the queer sexuality, I think we'll agree to disagree on that point. I don't particularly like the genders being lumped together as "broad generalizations of attractiveness to each other" instead of "preferences." Again, she simply fails miserably at using inclusive language and I don't think shoehorning in a brief mention of gay men really makes up for the tone of the article. The entire thing is just based on personal preferences, and those vary -- this article tries to pigeonhole "What Women Like" as if it's a Cosmo article, and it reads very much like that. I assure you, not all women or gay men like the men described. To offer yet another simple suggestion to the author: Would it have been so hard to say "What *I* find attractive and want to see in video games"? Again, I don't think so.

In this day and age to feign complete ignorance to trans or queer issues and write with complete erasure of either is lazy at best, highly offensive at worst.

We need more women-centric things in media, but please, NOT like this.

Christian Nutt
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Thanks for the lengthier response -- it makes it easier to come to grips with what you're saying.

I certainly fretted about my own response, because I know there's a fine line, when you take on the role of an interlocutor, between "trying to keep an open mind about what someone might mean" and "covering up for someone who's trying to pull some shit," and very often the latter masquerades as the former because people know they can't get away with covering up shit in an overt way these days.

Anyway, I think the real issue is that, yes, this blog post could have used less unnecessary provocation and more "this is the audience I write for and what I know about -- this may not apply in your case." And I think that you can still get something out of it if you play that disclaimer in your head while reading it, even though it's not there.

A brief mention of gay men doesn't make up for the tone of the article, so to speak, but what I'm saying the article is what it is, Jensen writes the kind of characters she writes for the audience she has. I don't think either of us would instruct her to stop doing that. I think what we all want is more awareness and less myopia, when it comes to pieces that deal explicitly with gender and sexuality (because, let's face it, the thesis "hot men" crosses that line).

Isvar Horning
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Seriously, I really didn't like the article. It reinforces the idea that all women like not only men, but certain men, and that there is a recipe for hotness all women like. Also everything that Moxie said.

It's absolutely okay to make this characters simply because you like them this way - but I'm quite sure there are people out there that would like to see something else than the same old (and often harmful) tropes repeated over and over again.

Lu Velasquez
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Good article Jane, and I agree. We need more Dantes, Marths, and Jotaros.

Joyce Wu
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This article is not only offensive, it also provides many poor advice for character and story development and derive "evidence" from generalised assumptions about popular culture and a rose-tinted lens about her own games. Just because you make the NPCs in the game felt attracted towards the protagonist (despite what a dick he is, a la Malachi Rector), it doesn't mean the player will automatically think the protagonist is hot as well. If the protagonist is a dick and has no redeeming traits (again, see Malachi as example), no matter how many NPCs throw themselves prostrate at his foot, the player simply won't buy it. In fact, they will feel insulted that the game has such low opinion of the player's intellect and taste.

Finally, Ms Jensen, just because some male game designers and story writers sexualise female characters it doesn't mean you should do the same for male characters. Feminism is about challenging sexism, and you are merely reinforcing sexist stereotypes, albeit for male characters.

Audie Bakerson
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I'm really not surprised to see all the MEN (and it's always men who think they are being progressive and feminist who say women aren't allowed to do X and call everything sexist...) saying girls aren't allowed to have a sexual interest in fictional character. I regularly see exactly this kind of men tell me there can't possibly be ANY women interested in serialized female character and that they are all for men.

I can't pretend to understand what makes a man attractive to a normal girl, or that there is a PERFECT overlap between what an average male designer and a female player who likes girls will find attractive (I certainly don't find a character walking around in a bikini and heels 24/7 too attractive even though it shows up enough to indicate a lot of designers find it attractive), but this idea that women somehow lack a sex drive or lack the empathy (and accusing women of a lack of empathy is of course a horrible, sexist thing to do) to "relate to" a character unless they are the same sex/skin color/whatever (never-mind their situation, personality, position, experiences, skills or anything else) or that they HAVE to relate to a character instead of being able to enjoy unique characters who are fun to watch, even if they aren't anything like themselves (My favorite video character is a sassy, hermaphrodite, man-eating, "wench"-hating animated "puppet" from times primordial who is loyal to the protagonist. How do I "relate to" THAT?!) is a really condescending sexist viewpoint I constantly hear supposedly "feminist" men voice.

Keep up the good fight.


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