I suspect that there’s some truth to the assertion that men and women can never really be friends. While there are exceptions to every rule, especially when accounting for sexual orientation and individual personalities and such, for the most part hetero men are wired to want to procreate with every viable female that they encounter. By “viable” I mean A) has a pleasing appearance; B) has a good personality; C) has a heartbeat; and D) sometimes not even A or B — women, on the other hand, are generally capable of exercising restraint, selectivity, and good taste. This vast disparity, which has kept us hip-deep in Harrys and Sallys for about 200,000 years, isn’t designed to produce platonic friendships, which is why men are usually friends with other men, and women with other women. Usually.
Biologically speaking, both men and women share a single dominant compulsion with regard to their purpose in life, the simple instructions for which are inked on every nucleotide of their DNA like some irresistible genetic lower-back tattoo: “make more of me!” Unfortunately, the way that male and female brains interpret these signals, and most importantly, act upon them, could not be more different if men were from Mars and women were from…oh. Hey, I get that now.
I don’t pretend to have any special insight into how biology affects a woman’s psyche when it comes to passing her DNA into the world, but I can shine a scary little light on what it’s like to live with testosterone. For most men (and my generalizations are not intended to insult, offend, or disenfranchise anyone), the biological imperative to squirt as much of themselves as possible into the gene pool manifests as a single basic set of instructions: Kill, Fuck, Eat (KFE).
Yeah, in that order.
It Had To Be You
Men are designed to seek dominance. No, not all men, and not all the time, but remember that I’m speaking in the most broad, fundamental terms. Genetically, men need to be faster, stronger, more aggressive, and maybe even a little smarter than other men just to ensure that their genetic material gets passed from generation to generation. After all, speed, strength, aggression, and intelligence are survival traits, holdovers from an age in which a spear, a sharp rock, and a bison were all that stood between men (along with their women), and genetic extinction.
While the F and E of KFE are essentially self-explanatory, here’s a brief explanation of Kill, the most fundamental manifestation of dominance:
“I, Thag Hackmore, will destroy that bison and show that I am the fastest, strongest, yadda yadda yadda badass around, and as a result all the women will want to mate with me because I am a good provider.” (Please note “all.” That’s what’s at stake here to the male gene. All the women. Not just one or two.) “I, Thag Hackmore, will also kill Grak Largeloins because I’ve seen the way that women look at him, and really, who needs that kind of competition? As a result all the women will have no choice but to mate with me because I have removed all other options.”
So just because all the bison are gone, or owned by Ted Turner, does that mean that the male genetic code has been rewritten to exclude the value of the aforementioned survival traits? I suppose it has, to a degree, but in most males there’s still a not-so-vestigial need for dominance that shows up right around puberty and lasts for about 60 years. Fortunately we’ve come up with several ways to curtail the Paleolithic means of domination employed by our misguided genetic brethren Thag; some of us play sports, some become obnoxious college professors (not all dominance is physical), some get elected to public office and start wars. And then, of course, there’s team deathmatch.
If you’ve ever watched or played a game of team deathmatch, whether in Call of Duty, Battlefield, or any other franchise known primarily for its online component, you’ve probably come to at least two conclusions; the majority of the players are male, and no publisher will ever go broke selling a game about war (the ultimate form of dominance), in which the primary goal is to shoot other people in the face, and/or blow them up, stab them, run over them with a tank. Evidence? Call of Duty: Black Ops and its sequel alone have sold 54 million copies across all platforms, which is just a million copies shy of all the games in the Halo series combined.
It would be easy to assume that the violence of these kinds of games is the point; the same game, sporting identical mechanics but replacing the aesthetics with flowers, clowns, balloons, and paintball guns, would sell worse than The Dixie Chicks Cover Black Sabbath Live from Liberty University. In that regard the violence is only a means towards the goal of dominance. Of winning. Of being better, stronger, faster…basically all the Steve Austin adverbs rolled into one; just as no one would watch the NFL if it were a touch-only league, no one would play Call of Duty: Ghosts this November if the simulation consisted solely of dominating other players with a bouquet of flowers and a bowl of Reese’s Pieces.
I Could Write a Book
Personally, I found out something about myself while playing Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer recently. Before I explain what it is, though, a brief summary is in order.
Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer is co-op; that is, teams of up to four human players “work together” to survive 11 waves of AI enemy encounters that range from the mildly brutal to the hope-I’m-wearing-dark-underwear variety. The game keeps a running score for each individual player based on several parameters, including damage dealt to each enemy, milestone awards for specific skill-based accomplishments, and meeting team-based objectives. At the end of each match, all the players on the team receive the same reward of in-game currency and experience points, regardless of their standing on the score sheet; if the first-place player gets 17,000 credits and 160,000 experience, so does the last-place player. And that’s just fine with me.
The problem, such as it is, lies with the scoring. Since it’s co-op, ostensibly the goal of each mission is to help each other survive, so that everyone’s time and effort produces the maximum reward; no one likes to lose a match in wave 11, after all, so it makes sense to stick together, perform all the team-based objectives, and get the hell out of Plymouth with as much swag as possible. In that case it shouldn’t matter where I finish in the standings, which are essentially meaningless in the large scheme of things. Right? Sure. Whatever.
It does matter. A lot; I’ll check the score after every round to make sure I’m at or near the top, all while still performing all the requisite, don’t-let-your-homies-down actions, because the score is the only indication of individual dominance that the game offers. (Hey, just because I pointed this stuff out doesn’t mean that I’m immune to its allure.) I usually do okay, with only a modicum of cursing, shouting, and gnashing of teeth.
A few days ago, though, I played a match with three female players — one of whom I knew, the other two had Gamertags along the lines of “NightLady35” and were using female characters, which is usually a reliable indication among the median Xbox demographic (XP bonus!). While this is not conclusive proof of gender, it was sufficient evidence for my lizard-monkey-echidna brain, and within a round or two I found myself not giving one slim Banshee turd about the score. At first this was puzzling and more than a little disconcerting; did it indicate a condescending disregard for the skills of the other players? I didn’t think so, as I’m not often accused of misogyny, either intentional or otherwise, and anyway, the other players’ skills were sharp; they made all the team-based objectives, they revived downed teammates, and there was not a single incidence of points-farming to be found in that match. (Points-farming occurs when a player ignores the objectives in order to kill as many enemies, and receive as many points, as possible.)
But what about this score thing? Why do I not care whether a woman “beats” me in a co-op multiplayer game, while I go out of my way to be on top when I play a match with three other players that I interpret (correctly or not) to be men? The answer is simple; genetically and biologically, women are no threat to the propagation of my DNA, and thus I have no desire (subconscious or not) to assert my dominance over them.
Sure, it’s immature. Maybe even puerile. I felt guilty for a while, not knowing the source of my own enjoyment in that one match, until I realized that my pleasure didn’t come from my opportunity to score higher than the women in that game, but that I didn’t have to — biology and genetics might exert a fierce hold over me when competing against other men, but they set me free when playing with women.
It’s not a matter of considering female players unworthy of my best effort, but of being comfortable enough around them to simply play, without the irksome need to constantly wave the D in anyone’s F.