So for a while, I’ve been toying with the idea of how video games handle manhood and masculinity. It was a theme I was interested in tackling back when I started TRV. When I began reading Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men, the pieces began to fall into place. As I read Donovan’s work, I began to start thinking about the various protagonists of video games and how they compare to the masculine ideals that Donovan writes about. I began to design what I now call the “Donovan Test”. When Anita Sarkeesian announced that she wanted to do a series exploring masculinity in video games, I decided, after a thorough round of gagging, that I should go ahead with the Donovan Test and beat her to the punch. In tradition with Moldbug’s “antiversity” which Bryce Laliberte seems to be gleefully pursuing, I thought I’d try and help get some existing material out there for analyzing masculinity in video games. I certainly don’t have any academic credit to my name, but I think that’s actually good: it lets me look at things critically without the lenses of critical theory obscuring my view. The Donovan Test is certainly effective for more than just video games. I want it to be a sort of benchmark for looking at masculinity in all sorts of mediums. I think over the next few months I’m going to be applying my test to various characters in fiction to see how they stack up.
The goal of the Donovan test is not “is this character a good man?” but rather “is this character good at being a man?”. While morality certainly plays a role in manhood, morality itself is a fairly abstract concept. Contrary to the more religious neoreactionaries, I do not believe that there is an objective good and an objective evil. Instead, I view things from what I call a “radical functionalist” perspective, (or “RadFunk” for short) looking at what is good for society and what is detrimental to it. The Way of Men seems to share this perspective, as it examines masculine virtues outside of subjective morality and in a more natural, animalistic sense. Thus, the Donovan test looks at manhood not through the lens of “good vs. evil” but rather “strong vs. weak”.
The Donovan Test is also not a simple scorecard, either. It’s not some arbitrary checklist where you can lazily decide if a male character is a good one or not. It’s a model to analyze a character in depth. While the questions that make up the test seem like simple yes-or-no ones, the idea is that you should be able to elaborate on that answer with specific examples and explanations. If your answer is just one word, then maybe your character isn’t that deep.
So onto the test itself. The Donovan Test is based on Jack Donovan’s four cardinal virtues of masculinity: Strength, Courage, Mastery and Honor. Each of those key virtues can be divided into multiple separate questions based on the aspects of those virtues and how they’re shown in the medium. The test itself is a series of questions pertaining to each of those virtues. Let’s go through the questions, categorized by virtue.
Is the character sufficiently physically strong?- This could arguably be the most trivial detail, but it’s still an important factor to consider. In a survival situation, as Donovan rightfully notes, physical strength is a necessity. You don’t need to be superhuman, just good enough to survive. Thus, when we look at male characters, we need to consider if they’re physically fit enough to do whatever the situation requires of them. A key part of masculinity means being up to the challenge.
Is the character morally strong?- This is a more complex matter. A good man is a man of conviction, one who knows where he stands and will hold his position firmly. A key part of manhood is being able to draw lines in the sand and decide what is right and wrong. But more importantly than that, a man must be able to stand by his own convictions. He has to value something so highly that he’ll be able to fight to defend his values. He can’t waver, he can’t give in, he can’t surrender.
Does the character have a strong presence?- When a masculine man walks into a room, everyone notices. To be a man among men is to make yourself known, to stand out. A paragon of masculinity should have a certain gravitas to him, an aura of manhood. He should project confidence and control at all times, and show that he’s not someone you can push around.
Is the character given a chance to show his courage?– Courage is nothing without adversity. A protagonist is nothing without a credible antagonist. You’d think this would be simple, but sadly it seems to be more and more common that men are given easy obstacles to effortlessly overcome. In order for a male character to triumph, he has to be vulnerable. He needs to have something to overcome. Otherwise, there is no conflict and the masculinity of the character is cut off at the legs.
Does the character show genuine courage?- More often than not, we mistake the absence of fear for courage. Me challenging Brock Lesnar to a fistfight isn’t courageous, it’s just dumb. Likewise, a male character just running headfirst into danger doesn’t show courage, it shows stupidity. Genuine courage means acknowledging the danger, acknowledging the risk, and understanding what you’re getting into. Courage should not be blind. Even knowing you know nothing is to know something.
Does the character have drive?- This is another part of courage that gets overlooked. A man should be passionate about what he’s doing. He should either be doing something because he wants to do it, or because he has to do it in order to then do something that he wants. He should have some sort of reason to do what he does, otherwise his actions are pointless and insignificant.
Does the character show mastery of skill?- GI Joe taught a whole generation that “knowing is half the battle”. That’s true: raw strength is nothing if you don’t know the right way to throw a punch. Whatever task a male character is undertaking, he should be at the very least competent at it, ideally highly skilled. While he doesn’t need to be an expert at everything, he should at least be good at something.
Does the character show mastery of self?– Conviction is important, but conviction alone isn’t discipline. A man should be more than just appearing to look like he’s in control of himself, but he must actually be in control of himself. He must show conviction, but not be stubborn. He must keep his ego in check. He should be in control over his own impulses as well as resistant to temptation.
Does the character have mastery over others?– While a man doesn’t need to be a dominant authority, he should at least be charismatic. He should have some sort of social competency, and an ability to get what he wants from other people without relying on force all the time. He should be a likable guy, or at the very least a compelling figure.
Is the character honorable to himself?- First and foremost, a man’s biggest obligation is to himself. A man owes it to himself to be all that he can be and live up to his true potential. Thus, a man should be good to himself. He should be honest to himself and fair to himself, never excessively harsh or deceitful. Honor starts with the self, and a man who dishonors himself cannot be honorable to others.
Is the character honorable to others?- There is no one universal code of honor. While chivalry and bushido are both codes of honor, they are still unique and different from each other. Thus, the details of a man’s personal code is less important than him actually having a code of honor. He should be able to demonstrate his code of honor via his interactions with others. He should have a clearly visible set of values.
Can the character show humility?- Even the greatest of heroes in every culture shows some sense of deference. An honorable man recognizes when there is someone or something greater than him. He should know his limits and what he can and cannot do. Blind, empty arrogance is not honorable. A man should be able to defer to some sort of higher power, tangible or not.
You should be able to look at these twelve questions and then draw up some form of conclusion on if the character is a good example of masculinity or not. He shouldn’t need to get a “perfect score” to be a good example. Indeed, a good character should have some sort of flaw to overcome. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a prototype version of the Donovan test. I intend to send it to a variety of people, including Jack Donovan himself, for critique. I’ll also try to apply the test to a few video game characters over the next few days. I’ll gleefully respond to any constructive feedback in the comments section. At the same time, if you’d like to try out the test on a male character in a work of fiction, feel free to do so and send me your analysis and conclusions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m really excited about where I could be going with this, so I’d really appreciate the help!