Video Games: The Last Refuge of Manhood

One of my favorite video games — God of War III — includes a scene in which the player (as the fictional Greek warrior Kratos) must infiltrate the personal quarters of the god Poseidon and rescue a woman known as “Poseidon’s Princess.” The Princess is being held captive, one of her breasts exposed by an obscenely revealing garment. To beat the level, you have to free her, but then use her body to jam an enormous wheel that opens the gate by which you must exit. It’s an absolutely grotesque moment of gratuitous carnage.

What to do with a moment like that? The game is otherwise a masterpiece: it’s visually lush, narratively compelling, and a joy to play. Its controls — the designated system that translates the controller’s set number of buttons and joysticks into the character’s full range of motion — are fluid and elegant. And yet I can only describe the sacrifice of Poseidon’s Princess, an unavoidable part of God of War’s narrative, as appalling and immoral.

Typically, there are two conservative responses to violence in video games, especially among parents. One response is to condemn games outright as a corrupting influence on young children. This attitude has a respectable pedigree — as far back as the 4th century BC, the philosopher Plato was arguing in his Republic that stories which depict heroes acting immorally can’t be allowed to shape the psyche and emotional attitudes of impressionable children if they are to grow up into healthy, functional citizens.

But because sensitivity and delicacy have been carried to such terrible excess by the Left — and because harridans like the YouTuber Anita Sarkeesian try so constantly to ruin everyone’s fun by scolding gamers for their insufficiently enlightened attitudes — right-wingers sometimes respond by enthusiastically defending violence and sex in video games. It’s an odd position for conservatives to find themselves taking, but it does make sense. If the Left insists on shaming and browbeating us for liking a little red-blooded entertainment, we’ll push back by insisting on the most extravagant and outlandish forms of violence just to throw our freedom in their faces.

In my view, the truth about violence and sex in video games lies somewhere in between these two conservative attitudes. What really happened is this: one by one, all of our major cultural institutions became hostile to the vitality and enthusiasm that comes with men being men. The despicable accusation of “toxic masculinity” was successfully used to put moviemakers, schoolteachers, writers, and artists of all stripes on the defensive when it comes to male forms of expression and entertainment. 

The simple fact is, guys — tasked as they are with defending all that is good against danger — naturally have a taste for fighting and testing their strength against an opponent, and for all that is now condemned by Hollywood as sexist. But there’s an ancient piece of wisdom, expressed in the West as “chivalry,” which posits that the impulses and energies of young men must be honed and cultivated by experienced teachers. Otherwise, they’ll destroy the world. The animal energy of red-blooded males is what fuels the best kinds of civilization-building, but unless it’s directed that way it can just as easily express itself in the aggression and destructiveness that leftists have successfully labeled as “toxic.”

Video games, being a new and relatively unfiltered medium, have mostly escaped the fate of high culture and so become one of the last places where men can pursue and enjoy the kinds of stories they’re naturally interested in — stories of war, adventure, and heroism. But because all our usual modes of cultural transmission have descended into madness, a lot of the wisdom and cultivation is lacking in this new wild west of gaming. That’s why you get absurd and frankly degraded excesses like the one with Poseidon’s Princess in God of War III. Those kinds of moments are the fantasies of untutored boys making art without the guidance of wise men.

This is one of the many reasons why conservatives should express an interest in video games: they still provide an opportunity for uncensored storytelling that is mostly beyond the reach of the anti-human, de-gendered Left. But the writers and makers of games require guidance from that conservative moral spirit, the one that teaches young men how to channel their energies into more than just fart noises and crude drawings. 

In between the moral censure of Plato’s Republic and the insouciant shrug of our rebellion against wokeism, there’s a really valuable approach conservatives can take to gaming culture. We shouldn’t ignore them as being silly or beneath our attention — they’re some of the most popular and influential cultural products in America right now. Without rejecting or suppressing one ounce of the manly spirit that pervades video games, we can use them to teach our kids and remind ourselves what true, mature masculinity looks like: not unfettered violence, but disciplined courage. Not self-indulgent lust, but spirited courtship and procreativity. Not adolescent boyhood, but real manhood. Almost nothing is more important than that.

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

More from Spencer Klavan: The Ancient Belief That Drives The Left’s Death Cult

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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