Goodness Isn’t a Game

Tom Matlack laments that more men interest themselves in reviews of computer games than accounts of goodness. He also laments that he’s aggravating the problem.

I’ve founded two online companies aimed at boys and men. One I only think about on Monday afternoons when I get a weekly revenue report. The other I obsess about day and night. One is about a product I have never played and barely understand. The other makes me cry tears of pain or joy on a regular basis.

One is extremely profitable and the other is still gutting it out to try and break even. One attracts an astonishing 45 million page views a month and the other is pushing hard to make it to two million. One is named Game Empire Enterprises and the other is The Good Men Project.

I will let you figure out which one is which.

GEE, where my official title is “Emperor,” is the combination of two pre-existing websites that review Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG).

The more successful of the two sites was started by two Turkish brothers in their parents’ New Jersey basement where they lived after dropping out of Rutgers. They moved to Vegas, despite not being old enough to drink, because they were making so much money that state tax became a problem.

My venture capitalist partner and I founded GMP three years ago to spark a national conversation about what it means to be a good father, son, husband, worker, and man. This was before Tiger, before the double dip recession, before “The End of Men.” Contributors have included a former Sing Sing inmate, guys coming home from combat with post traumatic stress disorder, and more than one Hall of Famer.

At one point last year, we put up a map of the world by penis size on our blog as a joke. I really wish we hadn’t. Despite all the stories about stay-at-home dads and how to be a better husband, the penis map is our number one story ever and continues to creep it’s way into the top ten stories of the day, even when up against first person accounts of men confronting racism and losing their wives.

We ran a story by Michael Kamber, the Pulitzer Prize nominated author and photojournalist, about his best friend Tim Hetherington after Tim was killed on assignment Libya. The penis map still gets more views than the story about Tim, who Kamber called, “a giant in the field of journalism, a giant of a human being.” The exclusive video of Kamber interviewing Tim about the bravery of American soldiers just before Tim himself bled to death has as been viewed 2,301 times as of this writing. My Turkish buddy’s video, in which he narrates first impressions on the gameplay of “World of Tanks,” has received 498,545 views.

What makes boys and men so much more interesting in games than goodness?

I am tempted to quote Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men. But I’ll refrain since punching guys in the face rarely does much good. I will simply point out that of the two genders, us guys are the ones who are most in need of digging deep when it comes to truth and goodness.

♦◊♦

Women have their reality television and buy more than their fair share of People Magazine. But they aren’t showing up on the front cover of the paper every other week for cheating or, worse, going on a national speaking circuit bragging about cheating. They aren’t dropping out of school at all levels. They aren’t the ones losing blue-collar jobs in construction and manufacturing and refusing to get retrained or pursue work in the traditionally female fields of health care and education.

That is not to say that we as a country aren’t missing the point when it comes to the best of the best men. There are guys of courage and character showing up as dads, trying to tell their wives how they feel, and attempting to do the right thing at work, whether in the military or as leaders in industry. But there is a total void when the conversation turns to talking about why these guys are the answer to the broader structural issues that face manhood. Why we as men need to wake up and deal with the stark challenge before us. “Toss me the remote,” is our collective response.

Which gets me back to the games. There’s nothing wrong with diversions, with fantasy, with having fun. Unless the fantasy becomes the reality.

It’s about time we put down childish games, take a look in the mirror, and talk to each other about what we believe it means to be good.

I am enormously proud of the progress we have collectively made as a community at The Good Men Project (and sheepish to admit that I am profiting on the male obsession with games). I continue to be committed to the idea that we are the evangelists who can bring an honest discussion about manhood to the national stage. We have already come an awful long way. But my own little experiment proves we still have a long way to go.

—Photo andronicusmax/Flickr

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Comparing a site like this and a and any popular entertainment type of site (not just gaming) is comparing apples and oranges. For example, a TV documentary called “Good Women Project” that discussed the serious topics related to women, with content significantly influenced by Men’s Rights Activitists, would very likely get clobbered in the ratings compared to Glee or Dancing with the Stars.

    But, I think you’re on to something. Find contributors that talk more about men of character, and the admirable things they are doing on a daily basis. Reinforce the positive instead of tellling men over and over how bad they are comapred to women.

    Explore the reasons for the horrible education gender gap, and what must be done to close it. If this trend persists, we have a burgeoning, slowly developing societal and economic disaster. Because men’s issues become women’s issues.

    That our society ignores boys’ problems is inexcusable but it’s politically incorrect to state boldly that boys and young men are being discriminated against but there is abundant evidence. The more compelling and solution-oriented the content, the more attractive and sticky the site will be.

    I know I have probably been mainly an irritation to you but at least I’m helping to up GMP’s page views!

    • I don’t think you’re politically incorrect – I think you’re choosing some disputed words. You’re entirely right, and I don’t think any one concerned with being ‘correct’ would argue: boys are treated/taught differently than girls. Men’s issues become women’s issues.

      They are the same issue. That IS the issue.

      Men aren’t bad or good in comparison to women. They’re bad or good according to right and wrong. Or getting better v. apathy. Or trying to change v just letting things get worse.

    • I totally agree. Let’s talk about good men and what makes them good, not just how we can be more like our enlightened sisters. It makes me sad whenever I see people, especially people on a men’s site or forum who have internalized the toxic and sexist ideology that men are naturally crude, brutish and irresponsible.
      Men and women are both human beings and I don’t think putting one group on a pedestal is going to help overall.

      And what is it with people blaming things on video games? Playing a few games won’t automatically turn you into a poopsocking troglodyte.

  2. Transhuman says:

    Games won’t get you gaoled, your reputation smeared and your finances wrecked. They are inexpensive and entertaining, they can be picked up and put down as your time allows. They last as long as the media does, which is longer than some relationships. They are transportable, exchangeable, disease-free and don’t whinge if you don’t play them for a month or two when you find your next ‘flame’. They are the modern descendent of film, interactive, dynamic and re-usable.

    Goodness is not rewarded in society; the dichotomy is society *says* it values goodness then punishes goodness in the next breath. Being a Good Man has risks, costs and outcomes that are unpredictable and sometimes irreversible. This doesn’t even take into account no-one has a widely accepted definition of “good”, “man” or “good man” with which to work with.

    Even to my own eyes what I am about to write seems unutterably selfish – what benefit to me is there in goodness? Until we answer this question, Good Men will remain an interesting theory, a footnote to the reality of a harsh world that does not recognise, nor value, goodness in men.

    • Good men = good role models = good karma?

      • Transhuman says:

        If we are going to define ‘Good’, it cannot be in terms of itself. Consider what it would be like explaining the ocean to someone who had never seen it; you would need to use words and examples from their own environment to describe the ocean.

        My thoughts on aspects of a good man:
        Faithful to his word, accepts responsibility for his actions, he strives to be a productive member of the society of his choice, he offers violence only in the defense of himself and his kin, he manages his emotions as an adult, he protects those weaker than himself against those that would bring them harm, he demands justice from his courts, he offers forgiveness to the genuinely repentant and he demands the forgoing of any other man.

  3. Tom,

    I just want to say, I’ve been in love with GMP since I first found it a few months ago. These are the conversations I have with one or two close friends and no one else, which is especially hard when you’re 25 and just trying to figure out your place in this world. This is a community I’ve needed and promote wholeheartedly.

    Thanks,

    Ken

  4. Good is not good because it is profitable or easy.

    It’s good because it is good.

    It is hard. But worth isn’t a thing that mathematically equates. Doing one good deed does not stand a chance in the face of things. Nor does saving one person’s life, or one relationship, or voting one way or the other.

    I would like to believe that a good man will, all things considered, have good partners, honest to god fulfilling work, deeply satisfying acts. I’d like to say good men have better sex, stellar friendships, and satisfied minds. I don’t know that that’s true. The good people I know suffer.

    Good is not convenient. It is not profitable, nor often fulfilling. It is never good *enough* and it is never finished. It’s rarely seen and it costs. It costs terribly. To be good is dangerous and fool headed. All of that and more, I’d say. Unappreciated. Isolating. Sacrificial for no good reason.

    But precious, too. The good people I know suffer, but are also on fire.

  5. Janet Dell says:

    Tom, if your goal is to show men what is good and to not “Punch them in the face” with it, perhaps you ought to have a look at certain regular contributors, because a couple of them ONLY “Punch men in the face” with it.

    BTW, you say women aren’t showing up on the front cover of the paper for cheating or worse, well I hate to break it to you but perhaps you are reading the wrong paper, because just the last couple of weeks alone, I have read at least 1/2 dozen stories of women (mothers) who have killed their kids and in my world, killing a child is so much worse than cheating, in fact if I was given a choice of allowing ALL men to cheat with impunity and it saving the life of 1 child, I would choose the 1 child.

    • Agreed, Janet. This was a standard complaint about how more people prefer entertainment to “serious discussions of legitimate issue” until the author put a misandric spin on it by suggesting that ONLY men ignore Serious Issues in favor of frivolity–which is obviously untrue. And typical of the tired, reflexive male-bashing that causes so many men to seek out escapist entertainment in the first place.

    • I don’t condone cheating but, unless it’s a homosexual affair, both a man and a woman are involved – not just a man.

      A balanced non male bashing approach would be to discuss the importance and benefits of fidelity compared to the calamity and regret caused by infidelity – and ways to ensure fidelity. Instead of just castigating males en masse, which does no good.

  6. I often wonder about the things we don’t say about men, and how much that wears on the other half of the population.

    What I mean is, as much as we have stereotypes and mantras about women, we have the same about men (“pass the remote”, etc). In addition, look at the way we talk about the bad stuff, like rape and sexual assault. Sure, these dialogues are horrible to women (women need to dress like this, behave like that, but aren’t really raped, assaulted, harassed – they’re trying to get something from men, etc) – but they also say “this is what we expect from men: you can’t see women more than what they wear, how they flirt, and you will always forcibly attempt to have sex with them.” It’s all about ignorance, stupidity, violence, misogyny, and a ridiculous desire to put your dick in anything that walks.

    Maybe we need to refocus more of our dialogue not just on what things say about women, but what we say about men – and make some changes there. Engage there, and show that we expect and think more of men. I know I do.

    • Well, well said Nikki!

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Yes, Nikki that is exactly what we are trying to do here. Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

    • Innovative idea, Nikki. It would be interesting to see if people could get past the reflexive man-bashing that our culture so carefully instills in everyone.

      • I think it’s much more than “man-bashing” – that actually simplifies it a bit. Yes, it’s something we should work to avoid, but it’s even more than that.

        It’s what we *don’t* say that I also find troubling. There are open dialogues about rape culture and the patriarchy, and YES these things are real with real impacts on women, and those dialogues are still critical to have. However, we rarely talk about what these things say (or don’t say, but insinuate) about men. We should.

  7. Human beings are complex and everyone is unique; there’s no need to “define” what is good. I think we should get over trying to put a definition to it; instead we should try to become the best human being we can be for one another; be it a mother/father, son/daughter, brother/sister, man/citizen etc — let’s start there.

    Being “good” is as complex as individual persons. No one person can define what is good for everyone; people will have different opinions, so what’s the point? Let’s say we were able to define what is “good”, and then it must become a law in order for it to be obeyed consistently and know when we misstep. In biblical times, there were the ten commandments…these were simple rules put in place to excise some law and order on the people, and still ring true today. Compared that to modern day, we have laws; policies and special organizational bodies as watchdogs and consequences for when rules are broken. Don’t break laws – that’s a starting point to being a good person.

    Our world is more complex than the laws of the land that bound us; we live various lives and interact with people and accountable to them on many different levels: we have family life, work life, social life, and community life/citizen to name some. There are no laws to govern our day to day life in these areas – the things that cannot be “defined” by law and order; yet how we cope and deal with these things are if not more crucial in the grand scheme of things. Law and order are actually the final consequences for corrupt behavior, caught red-handed by police and watchdogs.

    The things that I’m talking about that on one hand cannot be defined, yet on the other hand CAN are such as: our personal values, beliefs and morals. These constituents help round out a “good man” and has a positive ripple effect – most certainly begin with family (that’s the foundation), then the seeds of goodness shall root, spread and ripple outward – benefiting communities, society and the world at large. It’s more important that we govern our own behavior than become so corrupt that it catches the attention of “big brother” aka government, who then drafts up and passes another law to protect us from ourselves! Example anti-bullying or workplace harassment. When it gets to this dire point, I see a clear relationship: the government takes on the parental role – exacting rules on children/citizens to keep us in line. We have so many laws and rules abound – I can’t help it but think we are a pathetic human race, well either that or we must be very advanced as a society and culture!
    Are we children, that we get rewarded with a lollipop for being good? What sort of incentive would “good men” like to receive – monetary? It’s cliche, but what happened to “It’s better to give, than to receive”? The incentive to goodness may not be immediately gratifying, and of course takes work and SELF-AWARENESS – and the incentive comes in many forms: self-satisfaction, better family life, more love and acceptance, good role models to others, better human/citizen etc.

    Violent video games reward you with high scores, more lives, more money…more this, more that — “Goodness isn’t a game”…well said.

  8. Unfortunately too much is overlooked, or simply cannot be dissected in small piece.

    Our brains are wired to seek out pleasure. That is how addictions are created. I will admit that I become addicted to games (in spurts, not indefinitely). Once we play a game and it has the chance to fire off all of those lovely pleasurable nerve endings in our brain from the various stimuli, we want more. Our brains are wired to repeat whatever stimuli has us firing off all of those feelings of enjoyment, accomplishment, etc. Its no wonder (to me) why (mostly) men are or become completely obsessed with video games. The feeling can be no different from a mind altering substance. Brain feels good, brain repeats action to feel good… again… and again.

    But don’t feel bad about profiting off of such an addiction, its not harmful in the way addictive drugs are to people.

    We work hard at getting as much done with as little (personal) resources as possible; ie: time, money, energy; this is another strategy our brains have genetically developed and entrained into our lifestyles. We are consigned to the subconscious efforts to achieve only whats necessary for survival and pleasure, our two primal driving forces in life.

    Most people do not seek greater achievements out of desire “to be great”, they do it out of their desire first to have “what is necessary”, then to have more. They/we want more delicious food, they/we want more exciting cars, they/we want all of the things that fire off those nerve endings that create pleasure for our brains. Because once you have the 32″ tv, those nerves are satisfied, you’ve received the desired pleasure. BUT, now you want the 42″ tv because bigger is better and will generate more pleasure. So we strive for more.

    We’re desire driven creatures. We first want to sustain ourselves, then pleasure ourselves with whatever cool new things we can afford. Few wo/men truly seek to become something greater than “whats necessary”. I think that the drive to achieve greatness is resigned to the people who have tasted power and are never sated by the level of power they currently have, so they drive to achieve more.

    • I think we’re talking about goodness here…simple goodness which anyone who strives to be a better person can help themselves to; not about over achievement and lofty ambitions as you appear to ascribe to. Random acts of kindness would fall under goodness. If these simple acts of goodness are “greater than what is necessary”…then I think we’re doomed before we’ve started. The negative mentality and blame on man’s primal nature is all a farce, helping to remove oneself from responsibility. I don’t buy that. We’re not in the dark ages, it’s time we all stepped up and do what’s necessary.

  9. “What makes boys and men so much more interesting in games than goodness?”

    You make it sound like all men have an Emergent Ego Issue embedded in Opposable Thumbs!

    Forgive me if I’m a sort of odd type who has never indulged in games. I have better uses for my thumbs.

    It’s bad enough being told that the John Thomas is an ego issue that all men have to address. Inventing a new ego based in opposable thumbs risks taking away a lot of the fun in being a man! P^)

    • I’m not sure of your John Thomas reference… but I would agree with the Emergent Ego issue. Our brains constantly evolve and create paths of pleasure, these are usually how you would explain an addiction. Your brain remembers the pleasure from gaming, so you desire to do it again. You dont get quick easy pleasure from being a good person and contributing to society. Those are pleasures that require a great deal of effort. Our brains want the greatest pleasure from as little effort as possible.

      Its easy to fail at real achievements in life when you try. Its impossible to fail if you dont try (unless your of my mindset that you’ve already failed by not trying). The girls can say no to your romantic advancement. You can be fired from a job. You can fail out of school. You can be killed on the street. These things dont have a reset button, games do!

      I’ve known a great many men/boys who resign to being the hero (or villain ie: GTA) in a video game, rather than getting their arse outta the house and trying to make a difference in their own real world lives. In game achievements (trophy’s) are more important and easily achieved than something in the real world.

  10. Anonymous Male says:

    Tom,

    Wowzas. I love this site, but seeing it as the embodiment of “learning about goodness,” in competition with the entire video game industry, is a pretty far-fetched, don’t you think? It almost reads like you’re laying claim to a Goodness™ branding that is just not getting enough market play. If men don’t visit the GMP they must not care about goodness after all? It’s a big internet out there — theoretically, men could be going to many other sites in their quest for goodness. (Like you, I would doubt it, but it could happen….)

    I see your point about how much attention men put into playing games and about how that compares to things that seem more substantial and worthy of our attention. No doubt.

  11. They live their lives by their own criteria, not someone elses.
    Men already have enough people talking down to them because they don’t live by their standards.

  12. I come to this site because there are some articles here that make me think and analyze how I act in my own life. That said, to think this site has some monopoly on or secret to goodness and the fact many men aren’t coming here to get their “goodness fix” for lack of better term at the moment is pretty arrogant. I’ve liked a few articles here but I cannot for the life of me see how this site has made me a better person. It’s made me more thoughtful in some ways, that’s all. I don’t doubt you have every intention of making it a site about “good men” but let’s not get carried away here. I’m not suddenly going to become a terrible man if I never come on this site again.

    On that note, this site has some good stuff here, but there is also, if I may be blunt, a lot of garbage here. Like any other site, we have to take everything we read with a grain of salt. And there are a lot of articles here that just run down men and talk about how terrible we all are. I think I can speak for most of us when I say there are plenty of other places we can go where we don’t get attacked. If I wanted to get told how bad I am for being male, I’d go search out a radical feminist blog. Heck, I could just go to some mainstream news sources and find that kind of stuff once in a while, though not as regularly as I could in some other places. I’m amazed that a site that’s supposed to be about men and good men has so much of that garbage on it. I can’t say I really frequent feminist and/or women’s sites but I’ve seen enough to know this kind of thing just doesn’t get posted on those sites in reverse, telling women how bad they are and how they need to treat men better (I’m sure there’s an example floating around somewhere out there, but they aren’t exactly common). I’m seeing a disconnect between what this site’s supposed mission is and what is often being posted here. Not everything is that way, if it was, I would have left within 5 minutes.

    To be fair though, the main reason this site doesn’t get a lot of hits compared to some video game website is because most people get on the Internet to search fun stuff, not anything like this. This is why Youtube and Facebook are 2 of the most popular websites on the Internet.

    • This is absolutely the best post yet, far better than mine. The salient points, IMHO, are:

      “And there are a lot of articles here that just run down men and talk about how terrible we all are. I think I can speak for most of us when I say there are plenty of other places we can go where we don’t get attacked. If I wanted to get told how bad I am for being male, I’d go search out a radical feminist blog.”

      Also:

      “I’m seeing a disconnect between what this site’s supposed mission is and what is often being posted here.”

      That’s it. Good men aren’t going to come in droves to any site with considerable content that could just as easily be posted on a male-bashing feminist blog. If that’s their interest, there are plenty of radical feminist blogs out there. A site for and about how to be a better man is a great idea. Howeverif GMP is going to be just another feminist anti-male slanted website, it won’t be unique at all.

    • You’re right, in that the Internet’s usage is mainly for pleasure, Facebook and Youtube as you’ve mentioned…what about PORN? I think porn is high up there with more top of mind awareness and keyword searches than GMP or “goodness” for sure. Personally, I’d put porn into the garbage category over any GMP articles, but hey that’s just me :D

      GMP, I have a great idea to bring more men to your site…put some naked pics of women on here! That will stop them accusing you of having a feminist agenda. Maybe part of your masthead could include some nice DD breasts….

      • Wild Rebel says:

        Yeah, porn is another good example, maybe a better one. It’s also one much more harmful in my opinion too, but that is another discussion altogether.

  13. The Bad Man says:

    “It’s about time we put down childish games, take a look in the mirror, and talk to each other about what we believe it means to be good.”

    This is more of a symptom rather than a cause. The marginalization of men has resulted in many men retreating to mindless entertainment that provides some basic satisfaction. While we are on the topic of truth and goodness, perhaps we should not forget the severe lack of attention directed at the problems of boys and men. Telling them to put down the childish games isn’t going to invoke a conversation. Perhaps some actual empathy and unbiased focus(without a feminist lens) on the plight of men might do some good instead. It’s amazing that Warren Farrell’s efforts have recieved so little attention.

    Oh, yeah, what’s with all the sports junk on this website? Put down those childish games fellas! (just being sarcastic)

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