I’ll start with a simple question: What makes a man?

It’s a question that I’ve heard my entire life and the most prominent answer is always one thing: “BE TOUGH. DON’T SHOW EMOTION.”

It’s such a jaded view of a nuanced question. This perception of the idea of “masculinity” is so ridiculously pervasive in our society and culture, that it influences every aspect of a man’s life and, maybe not so surprisingly, it pervades the world of gaming.

This wave of toxic masculinity towards adults who play games hit close to home for me with a video of my friend and his wife going viral on Christmas day. People didn’t like his reaction to his wife surprising him with a PS5 for Christmas and many went on a rampage of judgement in the aftermath.

Here is the clip from Barstool Sports, since my friend and his wife had to remove the video from personal accounts because of the backlash:

Let me give a little background information on the events leading up to Christmas for Kyle Krenek and his wife Katie, a.k.a. thecoachkatiek on Instagram where the video originated.
Kyle broke his ankle in horrible fashion a few months ago and it has required multiple surgeries. He is also a massive techie and gamer who loves video games and really wanted a PS5, just like every other gamer in the world. However, the financial burden of the surgeries forced him to cancel pre-orders on next-gen consoles.

Did he cry? No.

Was he disappointed? Absolutely, but he knew he had to make changes because life just happens sometimes. Now, watch the video again and put it into this new perspective. Kyle’s reaction to the PS5 isn’t about a console. It isn’t about playing video games. It’s about the love, attention, and thought his wife put behind fighting bots, scalpers, and scammers to go out and find a PS5 to brighten her husband’s life at a time where he’s going through A LOT.

“It was so difficult to get my hands on a PS5. I know nothing about them so of course, come to find out, odds weren’t in my favor according to every online source I looked into. I tried every site possible and finally, I got one at Walmart for the Black Friday sale after 20 minutes of trying to add it to my cart,” Katie told me when I reached out to ask them about the experience. The effort that went behind this was purely for the joy of her husband whom she loves.

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“Kyle doesn’t ask for anything and I knew he wanted the PS5 but would never come out and ask for it. I work as a health and fitness coach so I had to hustle to be able to afford it. We never exchange gifts and this was the first year we had the funds to do it, so I went all out for him. His reaction was so much more than opening up a gaming console. It was me showing him that I valued his interests and that he DESERVES something just for him.”

That’s what this video should be all about. It should be a testament to a relationship and a bond of two people that everyone should strive for, but instead, it was turned into an unfortunate argument of putting Kyle’s manhood and presence as a father into question.

Some of the negative reaction towards Kyle and his wife has been mind-boggling. It’s gut-wrenching for me to watch someone get raked across the coals just because he showed a little bit of emotion to his wife and was excited about a next-gen console as an adult. What’s so wrong with a grown man enjoying a hobby that he likes and why can’t we normalize adults, and especially adult men, loving and playing video games?

Our society is changing, and the way we consume media and entertain ourselves has evolved exponentially over the past 70 years, but why does it feel like we haven’t learned to evolve our definition of what a man is?

For generations, men have been notorious for diving headfirst into meaningless hobbies. Some men go and play golf all day long and some men work all day, come home to sit in front of a TV, and watch other men play sports for a living. No one should care if a grown man wants to spend his free time playing video games instead.

How is there any difference between a man who loves to dive headfirst into an in-depth RPG and the guy who spends his time researching for a fantasy football team? Why would anyone look down on a guy who loves to play a great story-driven AAA title vs. binge-watching TV shows on Netflix?

It’s just one aspect in a much darker world of toxic masculinity surrounding the topic and culture of gaming. His reaction doesn’t make him any less of a man. Additionally, his love for video games doesn’t automatically make him an absentee father. He is a man who loves his wife and who I know loves his children.

I asked Kyle and Katie about their feelings on the negative reactions to the video and their answers honestly surprised me, “some were downright funny. The hurtful ones were hard to read, but for every rude comment there was a sweet one that meant so much to us,” Katie told me.

Kyle’s was even more flabbergasting and honestly at a level of personal confidence that is beyond me. When I asked Kyle about the reactions he said, “My outlook has been that if someone was able to get a laugh or just a smile at my behalf, whether negative or positive, I’m okay with it. 2020 has been a hell of a year and if being the butt of people’s jokes brings even a little joy to someone’s life, I’m okay. At the end of the day, they are just words.”

So let’s go back to the initial question now. What makes a man? Is it the hobbies and activities that he enjoys, or is it a man that shows love and emotion to the person he promised to cherish the most in life? Is it the man who’s too scared to share himself and his feelings or is it the one who spends his days loving and teaching his kids?

It’s an easy question to answer when you stop focusing on the pointless aspects of a person that don’t matter and instead focus on who he really is as a person.