Les Pleurs du mâle

In video games, a character doesn’t suffer.

Life point bars go down, screens turn red. Sometimes, though, I hear little cries between the chewing noises of the alien devouring my insides. The important thing is that it doesn’t last. That soon enough, my character becomes like me again, standing tall and proud in the face of adversity. Stoic.

Stoic as a rock in the face of the sea, like a Geodude under a Fatal thunderbolt. A potion and off you go. The hero’s body is his back. It towers impassively over the tragic immensity of the universe.

In theater and film, the tragic hero was always loquacious. And why fate, and allo the gods, and how I’m going to kill daddy, and nanani, and nanana. Now he grunts. Geralt, Kratos, Joel, I’m not going to name them all, but you get the archetype, I think. Hmm…

Not that we can’t suffer in silence, but there’s something unfinished about the suffering of these big guys. You can’t talk about a wound. It shows. Like a tattoo on your neck, a la Berserk. Would you like a few more scars with your eyebrows furrowed, or would you prefer to have your eye pierced? An exceptional character design that leaves a guy unscathed. Their wounds are displayed with the discretion of a runic attack with the Leviathan Axe.

Kratos shows delicacy and subtlety.

But talk is cheating. In video games, we don’t waste time feeling sorry for ourselves. And yet, there’s plenty of room for therapy. We take a lot of knocks, a lot of spills, a lot of big, mangy scoundrels. All sorts of blunt, more or less delicate attentions that should make our characters question the wisdom of being so tenderized.

The character moves on. Even when he’s a little happier, more childlike, more innocent and unscathed than our alpha males.

Zelda running. ... ...

Link, always running with the energy of a kid discovering their garden for the first time all day.

They all move forward with unwavering enthusiasm, our protagonists. Running without running out of breath, riding without tiring. Even when they’re more talkative, the chicks don’t say anything about their injuries. It’s as if all the characters were real men after all. You cry, you lose. Bayonetta, Aloy, Ciri are far too badass to stop for a sigh.

Even our avatars are the same. I can change the hair color, but all I control is a real man who knows the true value of work. I create my character, and there’s a bar to change the size of my penis, but none to determine my resistance to pain. No shyness gauge, no emotional control slider.

Baldur's Gate 3 and character creation.

My origin story in Baldur’s Gate 3 is less stylish than that of half of human beings. I’m sure there’s a timeline where I could have missed some dice rolls because of traumatic malus! Okay, I throw gigantic fireballs. But when I was a kid, my tieffelin dad forbade me to go out with my githyanki buddy, and I don’t sleep at night. Awesome, isn’t it?

Pictures of my foot. And for free.

I haven’t been sleeping much at night for a few months now either. My body doesn’t work so well anymore. Besides, it needs me to be there, it hurts, and sometimes it’s a bit of a pain in the ass. So I turn on the console, stuck in my sofa. And I don’t know, there’s something a little indecent about the frenetic movements of my men. It’s great to do parkour in Venice or Baghdad. But at some point, Ezio, don’t you just want to settle down on a bench? I don’t know, slow down a bit, you’ll end up hurting your little angel face. Accidents happen, you know.

Video game characters don’t suffer. The esoteric wisdom of a feeling isn’t expressed in a grunt. Where are all the bodily technologies that adjust the world to you? A breath, a bruise, a little cramp. Disability isn’t just an obstacle. It creates meaning. It cultivates self-care and prioritizes ends with means. There are guns that jam, but never eyes that close.

Just imagine! Imagine if a game made us stumble at the slightest bump, wearing out our shoes as we walked. Imagine if our backs gradually collapsed with effort. Imagine if a game gave its characters arms that arched and stretched, necks that could be massaged, legs that knew how to rest. Imagine it, or play Death Stranding.

Sam Porter Bridges, sitting with effort and immensity, before and behind him.

Always the same absentee protagonist, whose characteristic grunts detail the range of emotions available. But for lack of interiority, Sam Porter Bridges has a body that expresses itself. He suffers, I think. With every movement that interferes with the players’ straightforward, pressing injunction, he exists a little more each time. Sitting, sheltered under the downpour, I exist. I feel the liveliness of my wounds, I guess the dialogues and negotiations that my body parts engage in with all the others. The impotence of a turgid muscle has never been the end of the game.

Even so, there’s plenty to keep you wanting more. Death Stranding forgets that suffering is a social technique, that it brings together irrefragable sensations and the words that describe them. A whole world is shared, with those who describe and inhabit it. We learn words, we become chiralium.

Some video game characters are able to suffer. It’s a privilege that’s more often grumbled than proclaimed. Like a temporary condition, an inconvenience to be cured. A sort of personal burden to be readjusted on one’s shoulders so that it doesn’t fall on one’s neighbors. But at least they exist. They manage to feel pain, and that’s good enough.

Paul Muad'dib Lissan al Gaib Chalamet Atreide having his hand tortured.

One day, maybe we’ll see them cry. An eye cast into a stream of salt water, to tell a little of what it’s like to be in pain.

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