Okay I slept since my last post on “Dad Builds” and I’m still mad but I’ve calmed down.
So let’s talk about marketing.
There is almost never a good reason to market a product as being made specifically “for men” and “for women.” When it comes to things like cleaning products, diet meals, baby carriers, and pens, companies will bend over backwards to make them as gendered as possible. This is why you get a bunch of legit useful hygiene products marketed solely for women and the fuckin 25-in-one scrub for men, or the “Manly diet meals” vs. weight watchers, or goddamn tactical baby carriers. Like men could legitimately use products marketed as being “women-only” and not only not have a problem, but probably turn out better for it.
But marketing is powerful, and identifying as and with your gender, as it turns out, is also very powerful. Men especially are forced into thinking of themselves almost solely in the context of the most masculine among them; anything “girly” or “weak” is a hit to their self-concepts of masculinity. We shouldn’t give a shit about chipping away at masculinity because in general masculinity as a social construct sucks, but many, many people do. And it ends up with guys thinking it’s gay or too feminine to literally wipe their own buttcracks after taking a shit because they’re touching their own assholes.
So companies make products “for men” that are either functionally no different from women’s products or are actually of lesser quality just so the fuckers will use them. It’s fundamentally stupid, but the alternative is worse. And what’s more, there’s no easy solution to this phenomenon because toxic, fragile masculinity is incredibly powerful, generational, and cross-cultural. It’s easier to lead a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to get men as a demographic class to stop obsessing over whether they’re manly enough.
Which leads us to video games.
According to the latest published report by the Entertainment Software Association (you know, these guys), 46 percent of video game consumers were women; 60 percent of polled respondents use smartphones as their primary gaming device; and 47 percent responded with first- and third-person shooters as their favorite game genre.
What I found remarkable about the ESA’s report is this statistic: 78 percent of gamers believe games provide relaxation and stress relief. What’s more, the most popular genre by far is… casual games. You know, puzzle games, party games and classic arcade games. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody, but most gamers are not “hardcore gamers.”
Let’s go to April 2019. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has come out. It’s a From Software game, part of a lineage that includes Dark Souls and Bloodborne, incredibly difficult games in their own right. It’s an especially challenging game, by all accounts. It doesn’t have an easy difficulty, like other FromSoft games, and on top of that it has no online capabilities like past games from the studio. No helpful hints from other players and no ability to jump into someone else’s game to help them with a difficult boss. Players were on their own.
Someone online suggested that, hey, it would be neat if the game were easier, as the story is great but they’re finding it difficult to see more of it. And this set off a shit avalanche that basically made it impossible to talk about anything else for like a solid month.
It was an instructive month, though, because we got to see a lot of very prominent hot takes on difficulty, accessibility and who folks believe should even be allowed to play these games at all. A lot of these arguments boiled down to “Git Gud,” a flippant philosophy from like a decade ago that basically amounts to what it says on the tin: if you don’t like a game because of its difficulty, have you considered uhhhhh gitting gud bro?
Destiny 2 has never been a game I’d associate with the “git gud” philosophy, if only because most of the community discussions I’ve seen around it center on the game being “too easy” compared to the first installment. This is something that developer Bungie even lightly made fun of when it released the Spire of Stars raid lair last May. But in general, Destiny 2 is a game with an uncomplicated campaign, an established PVP meta, and a menagerie of pinnacle weapons and gear for players to collect, if they have the time, friends and relative skill.
I wouldn’t say this necessarily makes the game “easy,” though, because of everything else involved at the infrastructure level. Some activities are time-locked. Other activities have perks and nerfs that change depending on the week. A few activities are so tedious as to wrap around into being difficult, and hardly a weekly reset goes by without some piece of gear or weapon or game mode being chopped up as a fix for some other unforeseen problem.
It’s a constantly evolving game, and it does take some work to learn its vicissitudes. For Destiny 2 players, the challenge isn’t in getting good; it’s simply making sure to update the spreadsheet when something changes so that we’re not blindsided by something like “scout rifles are now the best Crucible weapon.”
I tend not to wade into a lot of community discussion, though, because of the constant complaining about the game’s lack of difficulty. I’ve found my own set of challenges with the game and I don’t really care to hear from some rando that my countless hours puttering around the various planetary wastes and post-apocalyptic cityscapes don’t mean shit if I’m having a hard time with a particular bit that they, personally, found easy.
As it turns out, all of this talk of the game being too easy and folks wanting a bigger challenge was simply macho bluster. Because the game wasn’t marketed or designed to be prohibitively challenging (and thus more manly, I guess?), a bunch of players have been performatively waxing disappointed over the influx of “casuals” and modes that present no issues to them while in the background they’re making loadouts with internal rules like:
- Must be easy to obtain with good perks.
- Must hold its own in competitive play.
- Must be easy to use in pretty much all circumstances.
In other words, “core gamers” are actually playing like filthy casuals because it turns out all they want is an experience that, as the ESA put it, “provides relaxation and stress relief.”
The phrase “Dad Build” still irks me. It’s an unnecessary gendering of a thing every single player does, at least privately. As Patrick Klepek wrote during the Sekiro mess, “People have always sought different ways to play a game, and we hypocritically conflate the terms ‘easy,’ ‘effective,’ and ‘fun’ with whatever makes us situationally look better.” But I also understand it as a path to acceptance that you do not need to be “the Best Gamer” to have fun with a game.
It’s like calling toilet paper tactical waste disposal sheets. If it gets people to wipe their goddamn ass, I’m here for it, no matter how stupid it might be.