(See told you I’d come back to this)
Edit: Here’s part 1 if anyone is interested thank you to Tumbleweed in the comments for reminding me.
I believe that characterisation is one of those pesky things modern gaming is still having trouble integrating into current generation games effectively. In the golden age it wasn’t so much of a problem — the only real story you had was usually laid out on the back of the box, or conveyed through on-screen text crawls, like in the early RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series. The reason for this was (I assume anyway) that most video games back in the days of the NES and Sega were so bloody weird that adding detailed plot synopsis and character motivations to explain just what the hell was going on would have taken a few leaps in logic.
For instance, if developers had to go into a lengthy in-game explanation of why a fat middle age plumber from Brooklyn is the obvious choice to save a princess from a fire breathing dragon and his fearsome army of turtles (not that a fat middle aged plumber couldn’t do that of course), I dare say it would make the game so convoluted that it would detract somewhat from the overall experience. So gamers were just sort of expected to accept it, and that’s what we did.
For a while this worked. However as gaming has evolved and pushed hard for realism — most notably the FPS genre which, whether we like it or not, has become the dominant video game format in the 21 century — developers have had to come around quickly to the idea that sooner or later they would have to give characters believable motivations and personalities. This is a tricky thing to do (for instance, the makers of the new Uncharted game admit, in one of their featurettes on the extras disk that comes with the game, that they came up with the set pieces first then worked the plot around them) so most developers usually fall back on using a set of archetypes that have worked well in the past. Like gruff soldier, cocky mercenary or stoic badass. So what’s happening is games are going for maturity in terms of themes and environments but are filling them with flat 2-dimensional stereotypical male leads.
This leads to a lot of male characters in games often coming off as the kinds of guys who you wouldn’t want to spend more than 5 minutes with in real life, let alone control for an entire game. Two names that spring instantly to mind, from two of the most profitable franchises in modern gaming, are Nathan Drake from Uncharted and Marcus
Phoenix Fenix from Gears of War. The publishers insist on making these guys the heroes of their respective titles, even though they don’t do anything that could be described as particularly heroic, often treat the people around them like shit, and aren’t particularly relatable or likeable. It also gives me pause to wonder if this what the people that make these games think I want in a male lead. Even worse than that is, is this what people who don’t play games and are critical of the impact they are having think I want in a male lead?
Maybe I’m wrong to call this attitude misandrist in the strictest sense (I only said maybe) but it does seem limiting in terms of the kinds of roles men can take on in video games and seeing as an overwhelming majority of video game protagonists are men the fact that there isn’t more diversity can be kind of disheartening.
For some more reading on this subject here are some links of interest