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Controversy has shrouded video games since day one. In attempts to discount the industry’s legitimacy, arguments have been made that video games do everything from teach violent behavior to leech the life out to today’s youth. One of the more dominant and ongoing issues taken with the video-game realm pertains to the portrayal of female characters. Critics argue that female game characters continually facilitate gender stereotypes and boast idealized bodies in unobtainable and unrealistic proportions.
I’m not here to argue that they are wrong. In fact, it’s quite easy to find fodder for their cause. It would be silly to argue that a character with breasts larger than her head (Ivy Valentine comes to mind) is realistic in even the most remote of capacities. And unless born with genes usually reserved for the women Adam Hughes illustrates, the idealized measurements are nearly impossible to obtain—even for the most fitness-conscious females.
No, I’m not here to discount those who are up in arms about the overtly sexual nature of many (but not all) female characters in gaming. Instead, I argue that the coin has two sides. Male characters are not bypassed when it comes to exaggeration. Hulking shoulders, barrel chests, rippling muscles, bulging veins and square jaws have been a series staple for action-driven protagonists since the 8-bit era. Anyone who has indulged in weight training knows that physiques like the one gifted to Kratos are not easy to obtain. I think it would even be fair to say that a well-defined build is as difficult to achieve as the hourglass figures and augmented bosoms plastered on virtual vixens.
With this in mind I decided to rally up some of the biggest “beefcakes” in gaming history—and not just to provide eye candy for the oft-ignored ladies. Read on to check out our list of some of the meatiest men in the video-game history.
Duke NukemWith a name like Duke Nukem, this guy never had a chance at a non testosterone-fueled existence. I wouldn’t doubt if his character was birthed from a brainstorm session that funneled all possible male stereotypes onto a single page. For this reason Nukem is an appropriate launching point for the beefcake list.
If unfamiliar with Nukem, the king of the action world is over the top not only in terms of looks, but personality to boot. Nukem’s hyper-masculine physique is completed with a flattop do, rippling muscles, bulging veins and a square jaw. He tops off the look with stylish shades (that he refuses to remove even at night), a lit cigar, sleeveless shirt, ammo belt and an arsenal of weapons. Needless to say Nukem’s antics are primarily driven by his ego and affinity for violence. Aggressive, egotistical, over-confident and a smart-ass, Nukem is known for chronically spouting shallow one-liners as he blows off the heads of his opponents.
Then there are the women. Described as misogynistic pig by some and a stud to others, Nukem rarely meets a woman he doesn’t like. The frequency of his interactions with big-busted women makes them accessories rather than integral parts of the plot. In Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes, Nukem teams up with the Unified Babe Resistance to fight off an alien force that killed the men of Earth and enslaved the remaining females. Unable to say no to a pretty face, he agrees to help their cause. At the end of the game he even volunteers to help out with Operation Repopulation by…ahem…serving… the surviving females in massive numbers. He has a giving spirit.
All in all, they don’t fake the funk with Duke Nukem—he is who he is and makes no apologies for it.
Bill Rizer and Lance Bean: ContraWhen your main protagonists bear a non-coincidental resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, you can kiss their character development goodbye. No problem though. All Bill Rizer and Lance Bean need is a mission. Luckily they are given one—to save Earth from an imminent alien invasion.
Selected by the government to act as a “welcoming party” to the alien invaders, the pair had it all…as far as stereotypes are concerned. Big muscles, big guns and big explosions were complemented by little in the personality department. But really, what did you expect? With action movies all the rage in the late ‘80s, real-life muscleheads helped to prove that not everyone was interested in backstories and extensive dialogue.
Rizer and Bean took on the alien threat in sleeveless ammo vests with bandannas tied around their brow. Throw lasers, fireballs and machine guns in the mix and you have the perfect recipe for brainless fun and beefcake-status characters. Jax Briggs: Mortal KombatIt was nearly impossible to single out the beefiest contender in the Mortal Kombat franchise. Because of the properties long legacy, reoccurring characters have had more makeovers than Joan Rivers. However, when looking at the big picture, Jax Briggs in his early incarnations (as in after they stopped using real people) easily takes the Mortal Kombat cake.
Fighting games are wealthy in their share of idealized male and female characters. When your game focuses primarily on action and combat, both personalities and attire ae flashy in nature. Jax Briggs, who for a period of time sported bionic arms, is no exception.
Briggs first debuted in Moral Kombat II as a Special Forces agent and direct superior to fellow Mortal Kombat fighter Sonya Blade. He is often described as calm and collected thanks to his military training. Attaching the Bionic implants in Mortal Kombat 3, Briggs amped up his game with the ability to shoot missiles and unleash other special attacks at his opponents.
But even without the implants, Briggs’ body was a lethal weapon. With tree-trunk arms, pulsing veins and a chest the size of a refrigerator, Briggs was far from harmless even before he enhanced his limbs.
In the most recent Mortal Kombat iteration, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Briggs’ intimidating stature was trimmed down to a much more believable build. Still, it will take some time to erase the early images of Jax Briggs from our memory.
Nathaniel ‘Rock’ Adams: Soul Calibur Continuing on the above examination of meaty men in the fighting genre, few Soul Calibur contenders rival the strength and stature of Nathaniel “Rock” Adams. This guy is a close to a biological tank as I have ever seen. Massive shoulders, a towering figure and thighs that explode out from under his loincloth make him one of the beefiest beefcakes on the list.
The definition of primal, Rock debuted in Soul Blade wearing leather, fur and an animal pelt upon his head. Continuing the tradition in following games, Rock never dons much more than animal undies. In the recent Soulcalibur IV, Rock has a surprisingly snug-fitting Rhinoceros skull perched atop his head, which makes his build seem all the more massive.
As a character, Rock is surprisingly grounded due to paternal instincts. These instincts surface when he befriends a young boy early in his back story. Driven to fight in order to prove his worth as a father figure, it’s a bit bizarre to see such a heart behind the massive pectorals of this fierce fighter. [PageBreak]Ken and Ryu: Street FighterNo beefcake list would be complete without Street Fighter hulks Ken and Ryu. Although she gets all the attention, Chun-Li’s thighs are nothing when compared to this duo. The men in the Street Fighter series are just as exaggerated and stylized as the women. Nowhere is this as noticeable as in the latest Street Fighter iteration, Street Fighter IV.
After examining two other fighting game franchises, the formula seems repetitive. Ken and Ryu have virtually the same build as those mentioned above. Built like bricks, Ken and Ryu’s skulls are overshadowed by massive arms, oil-drum chests, thick legs and hands the size of dinner plates.
After beating the fighting genre into the ground, what else is there to say? Ken and Ryu boast unbelievably idealized and exaggerated bodies. Nothing new right? Barret Wallace: Final Fantasy VIIThe Final Fantasy franchise is usually creative enough with characters that they avoid falling victim to stereotypes. The majority of male characters in the property balance unique personalities with a diverse range of skills— making them relatable to both male and female players. However, there is a reason behind the observation. The preponderance of male Final Fantasy characters are androgynous.
That is not to say that there is a complete lack of masculinity in the Final Fantasy universe. Many male protagonists have chiseled six packs—made visable by their questionable midriff-baring ensembles.
But no Final Fantasy protagonist has been as overtly male as Barret Wallace of Final Fantasy VII. The AVALANCHE leader not only rocks a flattop do, but has facial hair aplenty, scars, tattoos, dog tags and a gun prosthetic grafted onto his arm. Not to mention a pin-sized head teetering on massive shoulders. Neck need not apply.
Wallace also has anger issues, as he blames Shinra for killing his wife and best friend. Driven by an intense desire for revenge, the gruff and short-tempered protagonist curses like a sailor. While there is a deeper side to Wallace, he has a hard time expressing it outwardly, often fumbling on his words. This usually leads to a fit of rage and Wallace spraying the sky with bullets. His adopted daughter Marlene seems to be the only character who can coax calm out of him for an extended period of time.
In the slew of Final Fantasy VII spinoffs released these past few years, Wallace has been slimmed down to fit in with more realistically rendered characters such as Cloud and Tifa. However he still hangs onto his tastes in fashion, opting for a vest and bear chest combo in order to make Cloud feel just a bit inadequate.
Kratos: God of WarThe phrase “sculpted like a Greek God” had to originate somewhere, so we might as well credit Kratos with its conception. At first it seemed a bit unfair to include Kratos on our beefcake list, being that he eventually becomes a god and all. Still, in flashbacks to his mortal life Kratos still appears cut like a marble statue, so in he goes.
Kratos warrants beefcake status not only because of his well-defined build. Sure, the sculpted arms and chest don’t hurt, but everything about him screams of stereotypical masculine traits. To begin, the war paint and white pigmentation (the ashes of his murdered his wife and daughter) make Kratos exude a primitive vibe. Factor in the scar on his face and sharp goatee and his beefcake status is further amped. Then there is the loincloth—no armor necessary. Evidently when you are as aggressive as Kratos, you don’t have to worry about taking damage. Top off the ensemble with the now iconic chain blades, and everything comes together to make Kratos one of the most brutal, primal and arguably sexualized male protagonists in recent history.
Acting the part as well as looking it, Kratos is frequently referred to as an anti-hero. Never claiming to be moral, Kratos doesn’t fair well in the sympathy department as he casually kills helpless civilians.
Let`s not forget the women. While Kratos began his journey to avenge the loss of his family, he has no problem indulging in extracurricular activities with nearly nude females. Sex mini-games in the God of War series allow Kratos to knocks boots with willing women for red orbs, which will power up his attacks when cashed in. In God of War: Chains of Olympus one of the twins he intimately introduces himself to even spouts “Thank you my Lord” as he walks away. That`s raw machismo.
Delta Squad: Gears of WarIt only takes a glance to see that the Delta Squad was crafted to fulfill a 12-year-old’s power fantasy. Not that a 12-year-old should be playing Gears of War in the first place mind you. The four main characters of the Gears franchise—Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Augustus Cole and Damon Baird—sweat masculinity through every pore. Each COG member rocks a chiseled jaw, broad shoulders, massive pipes, bulging veins and disproportionally small heads. Then there are all the scars—physical evidence of their past war exploits. Women (and evidently men) dig scars.
Perhaps their overbearing physiques are a product of their lifestyles—constantly fighting for their lives and all. It can’t be easy to run and tumble around in those suits. But even with the military background, the members of the Delta Squad must have been born with mutant genes to rock biceps that rival tree trunks. Of all the members, Augustus Cole (Cole Train) is the least believable. A profile view of the pre-war defensive lineman reveals arms that easily surpass the width of his face. My first assumption was that Cole preferred the sleeveless look to boost his ego, but perhaps the simple fact is that he couldn’t squeeze his limbs into the cog suit.
Chris Redfield: Resident Evil 5Christ Redfield underwent a drastic makeover for the most recent installation of the Resident Evil franchise. Originally one of the two playable protagonists in the debut Resident Evil game, his STARS Alpha team status warranted him a fit physique. That and he needed the ability to run and gun without hesitation if he was to survive the initial zombie outbreak.
While there was never a doubt that Redfield was a strong male protagonist, the fact was reflected more in his attitude and attributes than his physical presentation. I would go as far as to say he looked a bit dorky in his original incarnations.
While his visage has been evolving for 10 years now, the new Redfield has either been hitting the gym religiously or has embraced steroids to reach his newfound beefcake status. The biggest change in his appearance is the added bulkiness, as he is now equipped with arms that rival his skull in size. The addition of popping veins, an ever present five o’clock shadow and a constantly grim expression makes him a bit more intimidating than many fans remember. Perhaps the change came from joining the Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance, which assumedly runs a tight ship.
Surprisingly, even with his new pumped up build, Chris is one of the more believable beefcakes on our list. The combination of his stature and no-nonsense personality grounds him in a way that many other beefy characters fail to obtain. So I won’t complain. Especially since he is nice to look at.
So there you have it—and these are only a handful of the worst offenders. Not that everyone finds exaggeration or idealization offensive—I personally don’t. Sure, the breast physics in Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball are a tad on the tacky side, but what’s worse—being a big-breasted bimbo or a meathead man? Are scantily clad females in submissive roles any more degrading that shallow males with only sex and violence on the brain?
If you lack a sense of humor, your answer is more than likely that neither is appropriate. But till that time comes (or is desired) at least you can take comfort in knowing that the industry is an equal opportunity offender.