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25 Jul

Co-Authored Chapter on Masculinity and Paternity in Survival Horror

Written by Michael Fuchs
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"Daddy's gonna fix this!" Paternity and Masculinity in Post-Apocalyptic Survival Horror Games

In her book Postfeminism and Paternity in Contemporary U.S. Film (2014), Hannah Hamad suggests that "[f]atherhood has become the dominant paradigm of masculinity" in American films. These depictions of fathers and father figures have not only increasingly populated the diegetic worlds of the movies, but also the representational spaces of video games. In particular, a growing number of video games, including popular and critically acclaimed titles such as Red Dead Redemption (2010), Heavy Rain (2010), and Medal of Honor: Warfighter (2012), put players in control of these father figures.

In our contribution to this volume on gender and horror, we will investigate three examples of playable father figures in post-apocalyptic survival horror games, Dead Rising 2 (2010), the first season of The Walking Dead (2012), and The Last of Us (2013). While video games tend to focus on aggressive, sexist, and uncritical representations of masculinity, all three of these games challenge these celebratory depictions of antiquated definitions of manhood. To be sure, in all three games, girls are in need of protection in post-apocalyptic environments. This post-apocalyptic context justifies that the players and their virtual stand-ins assume a traditional masculine role based on violent actions. However, all three games complicate matters in various ways: Dead Rising 2 allows players to play with the avatar's gender identity through cross-dressing and requires players to utilize feminized gameplay strategies in order to survive (i.e., run away instead of confronting the zombies), the avatar in The Walking Dead constantly oscillates between performing typically masculine behavior (i.e., killing and other violent actions) and being highly feminized (e.g. when he is bitten and cannot move any more), and The Last of Us even requires players to switch between the father figure and the (surrogate) daughter in specific situations.

Thus, we will suggest that these video games highlight the inherent conflict between paternity, defined by emasculating tendencies such as emotionality and care, and heroic masculinity, which is often based on a juvenile or socially deviant notion of masculinity. Moreover, in the absence of mother figures, a dyadic relationship connects these father figures with their daughters, situating the father figures' role ambivalently between a fatherly and a motherly position. In the end, these avatars and the liminal masculinities they perform offer easier venues for identification than the hypermasculine action heroes we find in many video games, exemplified by series such as Duke Nukem (1991, 1993, 1996, 2011) and God of War (since 2005).