From the Hunk to the Himbo: Horror Gaming’s Hottest Heroes
No one wants to play as the nerd or the airheaded cheerleader or the weed huffing burnout. Gaming is, mostly, all about feeling empowered which is why the bland, muscular white man is an all important cornerstone of action gaming. There are other reasons too like racism and bad market research but it’s mainly because as players we like to feel empowered. And what’s more empowering than playing as a walking, boulder-punching hunk of meat like Chris Redfield? He survived the first Resident Evil through sheer luck and decent training but by Resident Evil 5 he was the B.S.A.A’s biggest boy. He might be horror gaming’s only Himbo but where do others like Isaac Clarke or Rick Taylor fall?
A Himbo is by definition a man who is kind, beefy and stupid. As this Tumblr post states if he’s only kind and beefy he’s a Hunk, if he’s beefy and stupid he’s a Jock and if he’s kind and stupid he’s just a Decent Man. There’s a reason a game like Obscure remains, well obscure. The game initially starts out with the player controlling Kenny, the Jock, and after his capture his four friends that are searching for him. Kenny isn’t especially likeable and neither are his friends who fall into the archetypes of sexy cheerleader, shy-but-still-sexy nerd girl, stoner and pervert with a video camera. Kenny was a Jock i.e. beefy and stupid so he was never going to be likeable in the first place whereas characters like Leon Kennedy, Rick Taylor or Sekiro the One-Armed Wolf are likeable because they are kind even if not all of them can be classified as a Himbo.
A lot of horror games are about a good underdog fighting off an all-powerful evil so it’s almost a necessity that the player character, whether male or female, be kind. There are plenty of articles about the strong, smart women of horror gaming like Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Fiona Belli or Jennifer Simpson. Much has also been made of the complex themes these women embody whether it be through their strength or their vulnerability. But we’re not here for them we’re here for the guys that are dumb as rocks, ripped like Henry Cavill’s Superman and sweet enough to guide wayward ducklings across a road. So it matters when our horror protagonists are Hunks or Decent Men, less so when they’re Jocks, and it matters the most when they’re Himbos.
Horror games often want us to see our hero as either frail or vulnerable in either mind or body or both. It’s why an Outlast or Amnesia game never centers around a bodybuilder. The Decent Men occupy these areas of horror gaming for the most part although you’ll find the odd one in a game like The Evil Within. In more action-oriented games like Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space we have the Hunks. “But Andrew,” I hear you cry. “You could hardly call Leon Kennedy or Isaac Clarke beefy!” True but we’re limited with what we’re working with here, so we’ll say that Leon’s police academy training has him at peak physical fitness and ditto Isaac’s strenuous job as a spaceship engineer. Hence: Hunks.
What’s also a commonality between the Hunk and the Decent Man is that they often find themselves thrown into these situations as opposed to the Himbo who deliberately seeks them out. Isaac Clarke didn’t know he was heading into a nest of necromorphs on the USS Ishimura. Similarly Rick Taylor definitely didn’t think breaking into a mansion would lead to his death and then resurrection as a Jason Voorhees-style killer in Splatterhouse. Although once again, every rule has its exceptions. Detective Sebastian Castellanos might not have expected the mind fuck that was The Evil Within but he was certainly prepared when it came to once again enter a twisted dimension in the sequel. The same goes for Leon and Isaac with the former becoming a lot more morose in Resident Evil 4 and the latter offering up more quips in the face of unrelenting horror. As the saying goes: “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
The thing that really excludes someone like Isaac Clarke from the Himbo Icon title is the fact that he’s an engineer which means he’s smart. A Himbo must be beefy, kind and stupid. Each factor is as important as the next. In Resident Evil 5 Chris Redfield often takes the path of most resistance. Heisenberg doesn’t call him “That boulder punching bastard” for nothing in Resident Evil Village. In a game that gives you all manner of grenades Chris instead chooses to swing left and right hooks at a five ton rock to move it. So it’s safe to say that Chris ticks every box when it comes to defining the horror game Himbo.
Although Resident Evil Village made Chris seem more competent it didn’t give any clue about whether he was actually any smarter. Tie to that the fact he’s bigger than ever and involves himself in the rescue of a little girl and it’s safe to say that Redfield walks away with the championship belt yet again. In comparison to Village’s protagonist Ethan Winters who falls into the Decent Man section, sub-section Wife Guy, Chris’ raw Himbo energy outshines and out-stupids everyone around him. There’s a reason he’s stuck around for so long whereas the likes of Dead Space and Splatterhouse haven’t received sequels in a good number of years. They lack that je ne sais quoi, that patented Himbo Energy that makes Chris Redfield such a joy to play as and be exasperated by to a degree that no matter how dumb he may be or how intimidating he may look he’ll always win you over.