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A montage of all the completely photorealistic breasts in video games.
A montage of all the completely photorealistic breasts in video games.

Pop CultureJuly 24, 2018

The big unnaturals: What’s up with breasts in video games?

A montage of all the completely photorealistic breasts in video games.
A montage of all the completely photorealistic breasts in video games.

If you participate in a certain dark corner of the internet, you’ll know that a lot of people are talking about video game breasts – and the fight to keep them unrealistic. Sam Brooks investigates.

Last week in an interview with Gamespot, Yohei Shimbura, the director of Dead or Alive 6 said about the latest entry in his the fighting video game series, “The boobs are smaller as opposed to before because we wanted the girls to appear more human. We don’t want to reshape them smaller or larger just on a whim.”

Wait, what?

Let’s give this some context.

The Dead or Alive series is famous for two things.

One, it’s a fighting game that’s kind of the moody, barely tolerated step-brother to Tekken and Street Fighter. It’s never really been taken seriously in competitive circles, for the reason that I’m about to state below.

Two, the jiggle physics. If you don’t know what those are, what a blessed existence you’ve had. Jiggle physics are the colloquial term for the physics engine that is used to model breasts in video games. That is, the graphics and physics engine that is used to render breasts, especially the movement of breasts.

This is a game that is so famous for the jiggle physics that it had a spinoff game Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. This is the trailer of that game:

This isn’t a game that was made because of somebody’s passion for the sport of volleyball, or to fill the gaping volleyball-shaped hole in the games market. This was a game made to cash in on what made Dead or Alive famous: the breasts.

There’s no way, thank god, to determine if the reason why the Dead or Alive series has flourished for over two decades is because of these breast physics. It’s a pretty goddamned fun game with a boss soundtrack and a surprisingly engaging narrative for a fighting game, which have usually been bereft of anything resembling a decent story.

But if you’ve heard of it, it’s because of the breasts. Which is why it’s not surprising, if you’re up to speed with video games and the politics behind breast physics, to see the director address it. There’s a vocal part of the Dead or Alive fanbase who is very concerned about breasts, and how the gaming world’s snail-like understanding of feminism might affect them.

But in case you arrived at that interview without knowing what his game is famous for, what breast physics are, or why people might be upset about them either way, let me give you a brief-ish primer on the politics of breasts in video games.

I was surprised to get all the necessary sides of this debate, such as it is, from one thread on the popular forum GameFAQs, which I more often visit for help getting past difficult puzzles in video games aimed at children than for vigorous social commentary.

The topic was on the Dead or Alive 6 message board. The title? “Why are people offended by large breasts?” The author? ‘Ardyn_Izuna’, named after the villain in popular anime boyband simulator Final Fantasy XV.

Izunia pleads:

“Girls have had large bouncing breasts in every game so far. This is just a close up of the same thing you’ve been seeing for years. Its no worse than any other game in this franchise, or any other.

“The weird thing is its not anti-sjw’s complaining, but it seems to be the sjw crowd, the ones pissed about jiggle physics and sexy costumes.

“And let’s be honest, there’s NOTHING “unrealistic” about large breasts, despite what the sjws may try to say. So, the real question is, why are they so offended and “grossed out” by large breasts?

Izunia makes a fair point! There is nothing unrealistic about large breasts, nothing at all! The argument raged on in replies to his (I am making a not-entirely-uneducated guess about Izunia’s gender here) genuine, completely good faith question.

Here’s a point made by ‘KratosByTheGods’:

“Well said! There are even women who agree, people can look up MMA fighter Brye Anne Russillo, she has an F-cup bra, more busty than most video game characters, and she fights MMA. She says she wants to see a big breasted woman at the Olympics. Or artist Holly Golightly who has busty women in her comics as a positive thing, showing that they don’t need to be taboo.

“The Tomb Raider series is even more bad about this. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara is less busty than in even the 2013 game. Less in each one. And the devs talk about like it’s a good thing, but it’s actually a cynical and negative thing they’re doing.

The apparently bustless Lara Croft in the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

A beautiful deployment of whataboutism, Kratos. One that your God of War namesake would be proud of, surely. He (again, making a not-entirely-uneducated guess on this person’s gender here) later responds to the thread with a deep philosophical question: “But that’s the thing, if Lara Croft can’t still be portrayed as a busty woman in games, who can?”

Who can, Kratos? Who can?

This person then gives us this salient thinking point: “People come in all shapes and sizes. There are plenty of women who are as thin as it gets, who have very big naturals. It’s less common, but it’s very much a thing, I’m surprised if you haven’t seen this or don’t know. I even named a real MMA fighter you can google, Brye Anne Russillo.”

Thank you for your sevice, Kratos!

But lo and behold, ‘Relius Clover’, named after a character from the BlazBlue series, comes in with a fairly reasonable take that’s quite easy to back up with, like, facts and stuff:

“Because video game females are created for the Male Gaze. No one is hating on real life big chested women. But rather game CHARACTERS created by straight men, for straight men – that objectify women.”

And, is unceremoniously shut down in the prime of their life, by ‘dakar’:

“Isn’t that because straight men are the majority of the videogamers……besides portraying women in a beautiful and sexy way isn’t objectification…especially in videogames when real women do it on their own free will all the time in real life….but you already knew this….*laughs

This exchange continues for a bit, and concludes definitively with Relius saying: “Games directly reflect our social realities and need to change and evolve with the times.”

To which dakar responds: “NO THEY DONT.”

Fair enough, dakar.

So we’ve got a few problems here. Let’s dissect them a bit:

Issue one:

There’s an entire group of video game fans who genuinely don’t understand why people, and not just women, might be offended by unrealistic breast physics. It’s somewhat unbelievable that you could become a functioning adult but still have absolutely no idea why people might be offended by this, but let’s approach this in good faith, yeah? It’s important to remember here that the point is not just that breast physics are often unrealistic – this is an artform where a seemingly normal man can soak up hundreds of bullets and coming out quipping – but that the unrealism is intended to objectify and distort women in an artform that has long used women as cardboard cut-outs and props. Nobody’s offended solely because the physics are unrealistic. They’re offended because the breasts are presented that way to fetishise women, and solely for the pleasure of the presumably straight male viewer. Also they often look dumb as fuck:

Issue two:

There is a sub-set of this group of fan who believe that women with larger than average breasts deserve representation in video games as well. Sure! I accept that. Nobody is saying that there should be no women with large breasts in video games, and it’s disingenuous to say that’s what people want. What people are saying is that it’s really damn unfortunate when that’s the only kind of women we see in video games, and whenever a woman is presented in a way that’s meant to be sexually appealing (or really appealing in any way) it happens to be a woman with unrealistically large breasts. The kinds of people (men) who say this also tend to be the same kind of people who comment on internet posts that X character isn’t hot any more because she (it’s always a she) got old/fat/smaller breasted. They also use the phrase ‘big naturals’ in every day conversation. So take this point of view with the appropriately tainted grain of salt it deserves.

Issue three:

There is another sub-set of the pro-jiggle physics group (what a phrase) who is like, “Games are made for straight men!”. It’s 2018. That’s not true now, and I’d wager that’s actually never been the case; it was probably just easier to figure out a core audience and market only to them and hope everybody else just came along for the rough ride that is being a video game enthusiast. People (men) who also engage in this rhetoric are also the kind of people who engage in such delightful MRA language like “real women objectify themselves all the time”. If you’re at this point in the piece, you either think I’m a SJW troll who wants to destroy everybody’s fun or you don’t need me to explain the difference between someone owning their own sexuality and sexual agency and someone putting tig ol’ bitties in a video game.

Issue four:

And then there’s the group of people who think jiggle physics are dumb, ridiculous and deserve to be ridiculed and critiqued. You can tell, hopefully, which group I belong to by now. If there’s any doubt, please watch the below video:

So why all the bro-ha-ha (intentionally mispelled) about this one thing in video games? Aren’t there bigger issues, like the representation of women, people of colour and LGBT+ people in video games in general? What about lootboxes? What about the treatment of women both onscreen and behind the screen in video games?

Breast physics are a huge ideological line in the sand.

For people who are pro-breast-physics, who really like seeing digitally rendered flesh move in a way that no human flesh has ever moved, conceding this point means that there’s no end to what effect SJWs and critics will have on video games. Will they ever be allowed to look at a woman again? Will a breast ne’er again bounce up and down like a cat trying to get some salmon off the bench? If they fight here, with points that are easy to rally around, it means that they won’t have to fight on more difficult, less bouncy ideological battlefields in the future.

And for anti-breast-physics people (although a more fitting term would be realistic-breast-physics people), it’s an easy argument to poke holes in. I mean, why would you want to look at fake-looking, digitally rendered breasts? Are you a pervert? What’s wrong with you? It’s also, quite literally, a very obvious point to fight over – you can very easily see the objectification, you can scientifically point out why these physics are ridiculous, and you can argue, quite robustly, why they’re harmful to women.

This argument, like any ideological battle, is never about just one thing. It’s not just about breasts in video games. It’s about all the fights that have come before (your GamerGates, your representation of minorities) and all the fights that will come after this one if your side loses it (… still your GamerGates, your representation of minorities…. things have not gotten that much better in video games, you guys).

Personally, I don’t think any real change is going to come any time soon, but if it does come, it has to be developer-led. If it’s a genuine priority for developers to start to put realistic breast physics into video games, then it will change. Until then, this debate is going to continue to rage in a certain dark corner of the internet – both sides with their battle lines drawn, but only one side with breasts bouncing when they’re not even moving.

If you want to read more on this topic, I highly recommend Patricia Hernandez’s piece on how breast physics in video games are made – and exactly why they go wrong – at Kotaku, and this piece from Cara Ellison at The Guardian about her game-making event BoobJam.

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