An area in which I have plenty of interest is men’s studies, particularly as it evolves and steps away from detracting from feminism. I believe it can complement feminist studies in various ways, and this is the first part of a series I wish to write (and offer other authors of this blog), examining how men’s sexuality in games is presented. I will be looking at individual characters, their presentations, and comparing and contrasting to their female counterparts.
This post will include spoilers for Assassin’s Creed 2.
Ezio Auditore da Firenzi starts the game off as a spoiled noble’s son. During the lengthy tutorial section of the game, you guide him to his love interest, Cristina Vespucci. They have a short exchange, whereby she says he can come up for a minute, he says he only needs that much time, and she disparagingly remarks that, “She knows.” Jumping up, this seems forgotten, as the following cutscene sequence prompts you to press a QTE button, whereupon Ezio disrobes her, and they lay down in bed. The morning after her father bursts into the room and threatens and chases off Ezio.
At no point during this entire exchange is Ezio removed of any clothing, only his female companion.
Later, in Forli, Ezio rescues Caterina Sforza from an islet, and after the exchange tells Leonardo da Vinci that he will make a conquest of her, whereupon da Vinci firmly chastises him, on top of explaining she is not one to be taken so easily, as she is a capable woman in her own right.
In Romagna, after winning a horse race, Ezio takes Amelia, a seemingly common peasant girl, up on her offer for ‘private horseriding lessons.’ The cutscene that follows has them hiding next to a wagon of hay, and proceeding to have sex in broad daylight, right next to the road.
As an offer for his completing a quest (about which I’ll speak more later), Sister Teodora, the leader of the Venetian courtesans (who dresses like a nun, hence the appellation of sister) has a bevy of her workers escort Ezio and take care of him.
Ezio has a quite a bit of sex.
Yet, at no point is he himself sexualized in a visual manner. Surrounded by women with ample cleavage and varying courtesans, his sexuality becomes a matter of performance. From the joke about his minute man status to his feeling the need to assert that he will conquer Sforza, he seems to have to prove himself through performance and action.
This mimics what we traditionally see in media: a woman’s sexuality is worn around her breasts, whereas a male’s is predicated on gaining access to them. There are small comments about Ezio’s appearance, but at no point does it become the focus that his appearance is what is attracting these women to him.
To sleep with Cristina, he must win a race against his brother, and you press a button. In Forli, he rescues Caterina, which opens up a suggestion of future promise with a woman whose sexuality is professed as her own. Amelia can be bed after winning a time trial horserace. Sister Teodora has a worker who was cut up by a man, whom Ezio follows and dispatches with his newly attained pistol; in gratitude he is ‘rewarded.’
This further falls into the commodity for sex model that our own editor Alex has explicated in discussing the upcoming Alpha Protocol. In her post she quotes Thomas Macaulay Millar’s essay “Toward a Performance Model of Sex,” which can be found in Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape:
We live in a culture where sex is not so much an act as a thing: a substance that can be given, bought, sold, or stolen, that has a value and a supply-and-demand curve. In this “commodity model,” sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it. Women may give it away or may trade it for something valuable, but either way it’s a transaction. This puts women in the position of seller, but also guardian or gatekeeper … Women are guardians of the tickets, men apply for access to them. This model pervades casual conversation about sex: Women “give it up.” men “get some.”
Two of the strongest females in the game happen to be prostitutes, further pushing forward this same analogy of sex being a good to offer. This also becomes an issue of reflecting society’s view of women during the Renaissance, and juxtaposes how ours has not changed. The goals in the game exemplify everything about this commodity model, showing how the women are there to have their bodies offered up to the male gaze, and taken by the male protagonist.
Another point I found notable is that Ezio lacks any suave mannerisms, and is often quite brutish. Ezio, in general, remains a rather uncouth, bewildered youth focused on revenge, permanently stuck in man-child syndrome, and still ‘sowing his wild oats.’ Ezio is a type more than a character.
Alongside other problems with Ezio’s growth, it also serves to highlight that he is not only lacking maturity, but serves as a symbol for the mindset that is stunted by not acknowledging anything but his ‘right’ to sex, particularly as of the above interactions, the player may only opt out of one.