Gamers Are Fetishists

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, September 9, 2011 at 9:00 am
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I'll admit that my mind was blown when I learned that Quentin Tarantino has a foot fetish. But if you go back through his filmography you'll see that the guy does, clearly have a thing for feet. And once you're aware of the downward angle of his camera you can't stop seeing it. I always knew that the guy was a dork for old, sleazy movies, but I feel like I know a little too much about the guy. 

That's because nowadays we equate fetishism with perversity, but the roots of the word are about perceiving power in objects or things. A religious idol is a fetish object. In the days when more and more parts of our lives are digital it is easy to fetishize the physical. Gamers, I think, have a bit of a head start. Because the videogames we play have long been about making our imaginations phyiscal -- by embodying and creating the ideals and fantasies we carry around with us. I mean just look at the characters in a Final Fantasy game and tell me that gamers aren't serious fetishists. 
It's easier to poke and prod the quirks of others so I'll start with a world I don't entirely get. There's a huge swath of the gaming community who love JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Persona -- where characters are defined more by what they wear than their facial features. Costumes are a huge concern for these fans. And as such the characters are dressed ornately and outlandishly. Nathan Drake, in his price club jeans and t-shirt would be laughed out of town in a Testsuya Nomura game -- where every article of clothing is strapped fifty times, but still sparse enough to reveal bare midriffs. 

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It is easy to pick on anime nerds and their weird fixation with trench coats, boots and nerdy glasses. But this exercise would be pointless without self-examination. And the proto-typical male American nerd has his share of weird obsessions. We into burly men in tight latex and women who are under-dressed and over-armed. Guns are the most disturbing of our fetishes. Because a gun already has a ton of power. It is a tool for killing. And yet somehow we manage to heap more power on it.

I recall, vividly, a round-table interview held for the press before Resident Evil 5 came out. While a few of us were harassing the game's designers on issues of race and setting and the game there was one guy who only cared about weapons. What is the shotgun like? Can you use that huge hammer?   How much ammo is there in the game? And somehow the Pulitzer committee never called. 

A game out this week, Space Marine, trades heavily in the nerd fetish of armor. In some sci-fi worlds the gear is even called power armor. It's not just metal that protects your fragile flesh (and feelings, *sniff*) from the violent outside world, but when you don it you become more powerful. Stronger. More resilient. Maybe even bulletproof. 

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I'm not ashamed to admit that my favorite bit of memorabilia in Seattle's Science Fiction Hall of Fame is a prop from Aliens. It was Corporal Dwayne Hicks' armor -- a get up that looked like football equipment weathered through a tour in Vietnam. I know that outfit (and the movie it was in) resonated with me because my dad was a vet. The story of the Colonial Marines in Aliens was the story of my father and my uncles depoliticized, dehumanized and sci-fi amplified. War is a bug hunt and the brass are assholes. Message received. 

Gamer fetishism goes beyond the aesthetic too. I get in arguments all the time with people about the definition of a role-playing game. Many insist that in order for role-play to occur you must make little numbers bigger, via experience, skill growth, etc. Stats may be the quintessential video game fetish object, because numbers by themselves are hollow and abstract, but when plugged into a system -- into our characters -- they gain and even create power. 

Games encourage obsession. They draw it out of us or provide a vessel for us to pour it into. And so it makes sense that they'd also be filled with objects of our obsession. Weapons, riches, vehicles, clothing, other people -- they're all things we want because we fill them with our dreams and desires. Like an outfit or a gun can make a person something more than they are. 

It would be nice to be able to don an outfit and suddenly have the power to crush your enemies, make more money and impress women. But in the real world we know that the clothes don't really make the man. It's what's inside that counts.

Gibs. Lots and lots of bloody gibs.

Pretension +1is a weekly column by Gus Mastrapa about the way that video games overlap with the rest of culture.

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