Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Michael Koloch’s The Old Man Club can help us understand the costs of certain representations. After reading The Old Man and the Sea I realized that there was some gendering in regards to animals and oceans. Typically, old man Santiago, the protagonist, would refer to the sea as being effeminate. According to the novel the old man would call the sea “la mar” because it was supportive and was affected by the moon like women (The Old Man and the Sea p. 7). In contrast, the old man refers to the mighty marlin as “he/him/his” because the animal has massive strength. On the surface this may not seem important, but these subtle messages may be influencing the reader’s perspective on gender. In other words, stereotypes about women and men are reinforced through written language. In fact, throughout the story we get multiple accounts of romanticized masculinity.
As we keep in mind representation we turn to Michael Koloch’s The Old Man Club. In this game I believe Koloch seeks to challenge our notion of masculinity with gameplay. For starters, each character exhibits hypermasculinity (figure 1). For example, all the humanoid animals have animal heads along with excessive body hair. Moreover, the humanoid animals are extremely muscular with large bulges in representation of a long phallus.
Basically, the animals embody the standards of masculinity in our society. As I played the game, I recount being struck by these representations and I can even say bothered by it. I was not alone in this because YouTube commentators playing the game were distracted as well (see link). One commentator even took the time to compare himself to the characters in the game. I recall the commentator saying “he wished he had body hair like the humanoid lion” at the start of the game. Although the comment may seem unimportant it actually speaks to broader issues of how we view gender. Koloch is challenging gamers, who are typically male, to see the issues of hyper representations in gaming. For a lot of gamers it is distracting and borderline insulting because those representations set gender standards. What seemed unusual and too masculine in this game is usually the norm for female characters in other games. Let’s take Princess Peach (figure 2) for example who is petite, passive, pretty and usually dressed in pink. Princess Peach embodies what the standards of femininity are in this context.
Overall, what I enjoyed most about the transference of The Old Man and the Sea to a game is how uncomfortable players get. This may seem controversial, but it helps continue conversations about representation. It is important that we realize that we learn from representations. What may seem unimportant has subtle detrimental effects on how we see one another. Games like The Old Man Club bring forth the problematic narratives in novels and other forms of media. In doing so, we can begin to construct a more inclusive environment that most of us seem to want to create.