Tits or GTFO

I met this guy on a date – let’s call him Roy, because his name was actually Roy – in the dead of a Chicago winter. We’d gone out twice before. This time was different, though, because the meeting was indoors.

I scooted into the booth. We each ordered a beer.

Then, from my seated position, I shrugged out of my coat.

“Whoa!” Roy shouted.

Uh-huh.

“I didn’t know if I should tell you,” I whispered to him.

Yes, this really happened. Er, happens, rather.

I swear I am not trying to impress you, but yeah, it’s noticeable. It invites a type of attention from a type of person, hence all these coats and hoodies. I guess you could say I wear my sexuality on my sleeve.

Well, not on my sleeve. More to the left. No, to the right, now. Up a little. Down. How are you missing them? Seriously? Okay, look me in the eye. Okay, now drop your gaze toward – you’re just being polite, I can tell. It’s so cute of you to pretend they aren’t there. Just this once, it’s fine. It’s Sex Week here at Unwinnable, and when in Rome…

Oh, you’re a champ, you’re all Aces. Thanks. That was hard for me, too.

———

Boobs! People have them! They often happen naturally!

Games journalists have done some fine work on boobs lately. They’ve done a bang-up boob job. In fact, I think we’ve just about run out of work to do on boobs.

Truth be told, we’ve done so much talking about fictitious women’s bodies this week, I’m not sure I can take any more. I am set for life.

And anyway, a writer named Claire Hosking already wrote a thing, and for that exact reason, I feel like I shouldn’t have to say anything. Yet here we are.

———

Me: I’m writing very slowly because I’m… ah…

Me: I have so much trouble with this

Friend: Understandably.

Me: like it actually jars me, stalls me, galls me

Friend: Right?

Friend: You’re talking about your body.

Friend: And the way other people think of it.

Me: I’m stealing this

pizza

Sometimes when we talk about shallow female characters, we stop looking those fictitious characters in the eye. Our gaze drops downward. Aha! We knew it! Bimbo chest.

Sometimes we stop talking about unrealistic armor and hilarious “boob physics,” and we instead fix our collective gaze on the boobs themselves. Would that character really have those boobs? I duuunnoooo, they’re pretty big boobs. They seem kind of inappropriate. I personally see this character as younger, with perkier, “sportier” boobs.

When we talk about character design, we might even use words like distorted, exaggerated, fantastical, grotesque, fetishism, comical parody, somebody please cover her up. Abnormal. Unnatural. And “distracting” – that’s a major one. God, her breasts are so distracting. It’s literally ruining the gameplay, the linear narrative arc, how distracting her body is. I can’t even press these buttons anymore, this character is so distracting.

And yes, we do fixate on boobs, as a culture. Or anyway, the guy in the corner store seems pretty obsessed. Or the CNN correspondent who wouldn’t stop mentioning to me that I have boobs anytime I saw him socially. Or the TSA agent who grabbed the left one, then the right one, just to make sure they weren’t explosive devices (Some days, I wish!). The irony here is, when I was in high school, one teacher could not stop teasing me for my very small breasts, which is to say, I’ve been aware of my breasts even before they existed.

I should really just look down and ask my breasts what pronoun they prefer to go by, since they evidently have an identity wholly divorced from the rest of me.

And yes, we do fixate on boobs, as a culture. Or anyway, the guy in the corner store seems pretty obsessed.

I’ve alluded to my boob anxiety once before, if very briefly, in an editorial called I Was a Teenage Sexist. In it, I think I mentioned that until six years ago I hardly had boobs at all, and my suddenly developing them has been an illuminating experience for me. “The chest of a bimbo,” I wrote there, too.

At the time, Kotaku offered to reprint it. I said no, thanks: the subject matter was too sensitive. So Kotaku published a link to the piece instead. That alone elicited a lot of comments, I think because people saw the article’s title and then the byline and then could make an educated guess about the content.

One person definitely read the article. I can reproduce the comment he left without even looking, because I know it by heart: “why doesn’t she just get a breast reduction lol.”

I think that’s incredible, that if breasts are audaciously big, if they take up too much room, if they make the person attached to them nervous and uncomfortable around some people, the Actual Solution might be “well, if going to the corner store is so bad, why don’t you just literally cut off part of your body.”

———

But when we design Serious Female Characters, that’s exactly what we already do: we shave the tits off. We try to tame those tits. All right, lads! You’ll notice that Miss Croft is no longer fantasy cheesecake. She is a serious lady, tangled up in a serious story. Also, she’s a B-cup.

People act like it’s a radical feminist act to complain about “distracting” breasts, I think?

Yeah, I grew up with Barbie dolls, and I’m from the 1980s generation that grew up hating Barbie, but my attitude has changed since then. I think it’s nearly time to put the idea of “realistic proportions” to bed.

We make an awful lot of assumptions about big-tittied people – assumptions like she’s somehow “asking for it” or that her endowment in this arena means a lack of competence in others – and that is mean and unfair, and it is also just the world we live in, and some people with big tits wear ‘em loud and proud while others zip up our hoodies and still others cut them off.

hoodieWe make a lot of assumptions – whether we are designing characters, or just benignly discussing them – about what is even up with those hilarious breasts?! Ha, ha, hilarious.

A friend of mine told me, just as benevolently as he could, that I should roll my eyes at “political correctness” and, instead, thank “artists” for “celebrating” the “variety” I “provide” the world. He meant it kindly, too.

I was furious. I immediately changed my Twitter handle to “Just a Pair of Tits.” I AM NOT A “TYPE,” I told nobody – and by that I mean the Internet – in very literal capital letters. “MY LIFE IS NOT A FUCKING DOVE SOAP COMMERCIAL.”

No, I am not “celebrating” my body. Or if I do celebrate my body at all, I celebrate being able to breathe and poop. I don’t need complete strangers “celebrating” my body at me.

And that’s because I’m not here to fuck you.

I grew up believing the onus is on women to keep men chaste. That’s wrongheaded, probably, but it’s also deeply embedded and Protestant, and I would zip my hoodie past my collarbone and all the way over my head, if I could. It’s almost as if I live day-to-day with competing archetypes: a virgin complex in a whore body.

But even if you can catch a glimpse of a woman’s cleavage on the street, that doesn’t mean she’s here to fuck you.

Big boobs on a fictitious character are not what is alienating. What is alienating, however, is how people choose to interpret big boobs.

———

Too much of the ongoing “character design debate” seemingly hones in on what the breasts mean.

I hate this.

People, tits happen.

My tits aren’t “communicating” anything.

They’re just fucking here, you know?

Yeah, I’ve seen the animated gif. Those tits are practically winning a game of Charades. Oh, they’re communicating. It’s like boobie morse code. A writer at Kotaku was absolutely right to be weirded out by them, and I believe he was weirded out for all the right reasons.

But in their rush to either defend or malign that writer, people have been typing some really wild things about boobs. Boobs. Boobs.

I love the word “boobs”; it’s got a pair of boobs right in the middle of it.

Friend: Right?

Friend: B is the boobs seen from above.

Friend: oo is from the front.

Friend: and b is from the side.

Friend: Feel free to quote me on that.

———

Gosh, there’s so much more here. In another world, kind of outside the purview of this particular rant, an artist (teasingly?) questioned a Kotaku writer’s sexuality and masculinity.

I try to be sensitive to “malice” and “intent.” Maybe the artist wasn’t being malicious. Maybe he was saying, “So, Kotaku writer, what is it that you’re into?”

Yet somehow, this led to both the defenses of, and the smackdowns on, boobs. The artist himself opened up a whole new can of worms, after all: “So what is it you are into, exactly?”

Please, be into whatever you’re into. That is so totally fine. Be into big-breasted Ivy from Soul Calibur (I am!). Be into spunky athletic ladies like Faith Connors (I am!). Be into bearded dwarves (I am!). The body is a body is a body.

———

Friend 2: I guess the question here is whether you want to address the idea that characters are only in videogames because they’re physically attractive, or the idea that the kind of person you’re physically attracted to implies anything about the kind of person you are, or the idea that the kind of physical form you have implies anything about the kind of person you are

Me: whoa whoa whoa

Me: which do I pick first

Friend 2: it’s an embarrassment of riches

Me: stealing this too

Friend 2: [...] the idea that everyone in a videogame is supposed to be sexy to someone

Friend 2: and not [be] just a person

Well, friend. Me, I’m into big, dopey brown puppy eyes. I try to not mention them every second of the day, or commiserate with others and analyze what we think brown eyes try to communicate, and I certainly do not try to position brown eyes over blue eyes as a radical feminist decision.

Tits.

Tits happen. Deal with it.

::puts on sunglasses::

———

Jenn Frank is no longer Just a Pair of Tits on Twitter, but she is still pretty damn entertaining. Follow her @Jennatar.

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  • Friend 2

    Jenn asked me to post this comment because it didn't make cyber-press time:

    obviously there are members of the audience out there who see characters in games as sexual objects. obviously there are game creators out there who exploit this property to build their characters to be appealing to that audience.

    but it seems like a lot of people react to these facts by crusading for "more realistic" characters and reacting to characters that "look objectified."

    the line between actually addressing the audience's issues of objectification and being a crusader for representation of a body type (or an absence of representation) in the name of progress is a delicate one to walk.

  • http://twitter.com/J0hnnyMeh @J0hnnyMeh

    First, I loove boobs. I mean they are pretty great. I also like hair, butts and ear lobes. But enough about me.
    This rant is super great.
    "Tits happen" is great in real life, but boobs are a choice in rendered media, and choices made by artists have meaning. I kinda need to believe that or my whole valuation of art is in question. I am not making any judgment calls about the choices of artists (sometimes a cigar is only a cigar) but those choices are fair game for critical discussion. Plenty of people pointed to Picaso's work and said "why can't he just paint more realistic boobs?" Aren't those people kicking themselves now.

    • http://twitter.com/jennatar @jennatar

      Hi, I'm the author. I agree with you on every aesthetic count, especially earlobes. I *love* earlobes.

      All this said, though: I think your entire valuation of art *should* be in question. Yeah, it's scary, yeah, it'll change everything for you, if we were to bring my rant to its natural conclusion. I know how that might change my world. How would it effectively change yours? Think hard about those two columns.

      Sending love,
      –jenn

      • http://johnig.tumblr.com John IG

        Hmmm, I think the point here is art has meaning otherwise it is merely distraction or entertainment.

        If you talk to people really into literature or movies they will question every single aspect of a character, from their boob size to their brown puppy eyes to their state of mind or the world around them. It's not unusual to question these things as part of an art form. It's not unusual to put meaning in what you create.

        The real question is why is it only happening around boobs. And I think you broached the topic pretty well on that front.

        Personally I think we should be discussing every aspect, rather than discussing none. We should be putting these characters in context with classics and contemporaries. But mainly we just need to do it with more topics than just boobs.

        • Mads

          John IG

          I think the point is perfectly clear: People who try to be critical of art question everything. In particular, they ascribe meaning to characteristics which they would not ascribe meaning to if they encountered a person with such characteristics in real life…and they allow themselves to get away with that.

          In other words, they allow themselves to be judgemental – it is only fictional characters after all, and they may only be judgemental while they prod and probe with their analysis untill they arrive at their conclusion so they might not end up being judgemental in the end – for the purposes of enjoying art.

          Here's the thing. If you're going to insist that art has meaning and that therefore a critic gets to ascribe meaning and analyze as they see fit, I'm going to insist that not only does criticism have meaning, the method for producing that criticism has meaning too, so I get to apply critical methods to the criticism. In other words, if a critic gets to ascribe meaning to boobs, I get to ascribe meaning to his ascribing meaning to boobs. I also get to comment on whether it is a positive thing that he does this. I get to tell him that he doesn't exist in a vacuum; that his choice to fixate on boobs and ascribe meaning to them influences how people see boobs. That his observations about a fictional character make those kind of observations a little more ok, and may bleed into how people observe real people.

          I get to comment on whether or not I think his criticism has issues. In fact, I get to tell him I think he should rethink how he approaches criticism if I feel like his current approach is bad.

          In this case, the method absolutely screams 'I can't just let tits be tits'. And he really should. He really should just let tits be tits.

          Anyway, I absolutely love and adore Jenn Frank for making the arguments she makes here in this way. This subject keeps getting on my mind, again and again, whenever the boob discussion is ressurected, because I'm pretty disgusted by how willingly people, in the name of eradicating objectification of women, themselves objectify boobs. I'm disgusted not because it is a great crime, mind you – really, if the biggest crime you ever comitted was objectifying boobs, you're probably a good person all around – what disgusts me is the irony. It angers me how you can be smart enough to see the mistakes of others, but dumb enough not to apply those same methods to yourself.

          So yeah. Thank you Jenn, for giving me an article to link every time I see somebody ascribing meaning to boobs for the purposes of criticism. You make these points far better than I ever could. Litterally. I've tried.

          • Moribund Cadaver

            It's kind of remarkable you know, when someone questions why a critic is critiquing something, so many critics lean back and say "Woah, that's like, my opinion man. You can't tell somebody they can't have an opinion."

            Well, of course not. Go right ahead and have an opinion. And I'll have an opinion about your opinion and I'll have an opinion about why you have your opinion in the first place.

            In a way, this entire kerfluffle spawned in large part because making like a critic is easy – the easiest thing in the world. Anybody can say "dat sux, get dat outta here" – which is what a huge amount of "criticism" boils down to if you remove the excess of words surrounding its core. It's a lot more difficult and tricky to make criticism into something genuinely interesting, useful, and thought-provoking.

            Here, we mainly have a critic freakin' out about some tits, and trying really hard to connect the freak-out to a mission that serves a nebulous greater good. That's nice and all, but maybe not so interesting.

      • http://twitter.com/J0hnnyMeh @J0hnnyMeh

        I'm picking up what you're putting down…
        I also concede that how I valuate art is flawed and should be in a constant state of intra-personal contemplative flux. I will add, I am WAY to lazy for that, Until something magic happens that forcibly changes my thinking I will most likely keep on thinking the way I do. I don't mean to sound like a close minded D-bag but we are all kinda guilty of this. I commented on this piece because maybe you started me thinking down a path I previously hadn't considered. For that, your kinda magic. /highfive

        Thx sincerely,
        John

  • http://twitter.com/indy_aka_rex @indy_aka_rex

    Part of the problem plaguing the representation of women in visual mediums has much to do with the cognitive biases that come from the medium itself. Given that videogames are a visual medium, creators are affected by both personal and impersonal feedback, even if the latter is a matter of the perceived notions this person might have due to cultural/social influence.

    To the creator(s), a character's visual appearance must be reduced to minimalistic ideas so as to appear either pleasant or unpleasant to the audience; if none of those apply, it's abstract and surreal. It's a side-effect of the medium you participate in as a creator, perception is subversively affected by the way our culture stigmatizes our genders. Artists in gaming, men in particular, forget the problems that plague women in society because they exist in a culture that ignores the realities of the world we live in.

    To the observer(s), a character's visual appearance should not be reduced to minimalism due to the negative effects it creates as a result. It dehumanizes someone you, in theory, should feel some form of empathy towards. The problem is, though, that most observers also suffer from a similar cognitive bias when they confront the creator, reducing the offense from a broader argument to one that suits their perceived ideals.

    The idea is that, creating visual art for a game (or comic, or cartoon) is afflicted by a false-consensus effect; artists design believing the audience will be happy with their designs; they'll not see the problematic choices they've made and they'll just accept them. Parts of the audience disagree, point out the error in the creator's flawed logic and use the offensive matter as evidence against them, in the process stripping away all context to reduce an argument to a minimal state.

    Ultimately it didn't turn out into an argument over realism, or even addressed the issue it was supposed to. It resulted in divisive arguments and tactless, culturally ignorant insults that stripped the female point of view away from the argument, swung it back into the male perspective and made it about how big breasts are bad, mm'kay? The argument was, in theory, worth exploring – but in practice? Clusterfudge.

  • Matthew

    When I read this article, I read not only a response to the outcries at certain artists' representation of boobs or large-breasted characters, but also a reminder that this is not something unique to the art world. In the very real world, real people are looking at the real bodies of other real people and are attempting to attribute meaning to those bodies (and by extension the people inside of them), and that is a sad truth.

    That being said, both the person who ogles certain body types and the person who polices certain body types are guilty of contributing to the larger, more general problem of obsessing over body images and attempting to attribute meaning to them or their possessors/creators. On one hand, you don't want to NOT have those conversations, but on the other hand, you don't want to contribute to the larger problem of general body image obsession and evaluation, which is what all of this ultimately becomes, no matter which side of the conversation you're on.

    To an extent, I wonder if boob/body "meaning" is comparable to the well-documented phenomenon that virtually all people perceive certain facial features as having "meaning" (especially regarding the possessor's moral fiber), when at the end of the day, a face is just a face. If faces were exclusive to women, then perhaps faces and the people who draw them would be the subject of our fascination and ire. Gary Larson draws most of his faces with glasses, no eyes, or mere dot eyes. In the world of female-exclusive faces, Gary Larson would no doubt be viewed as a conservative who finds eyeballs inappropriate and chooses to cover them or not acknowledge them. Conversely, anime eyes would be the most misogynist thing in the universe.

    Okay, I might be getting carried away.

    In short, I loved the article. Well written, personal, thought-provoking, and kairotic.

    –@matchoo

  • bob

    Maybe you're a strong, multifaceted person with interesting thoughts and ambitions. None of that really matters, because of your body!

    just in case anyone doesnt get the reference, that's an actual argument made by the kotaku guy :(

  • Narvi

    I just want some bloody variety. Small tits, medium tits, no tits, broad shoulders, curvy shoulders, bowlegged, tight-assed, round-assed, flat-assed. Muscle men, slender man, chunky men, stork-like women, apple-like women.

    If you don't, you end up with the world of cape comics where every female character has the exact same body type. A lot of the men, too!

  • Ben

    Great article; wow that "shrinking the boobs" comic is screwed up. Be proud about making good games, about making characters that are believable and awesome, about making a good storyline. Don't be proud about giving a character smaller breasts. Or large breasts. It's just not something that's relevant, beyond the metacommentary of "video games are so immature hur hur".

    If some people take Samus less seriously because she has boobs when the suit comes off, well that's just stupid. Take Samus less seriously because she's written like a pathetic moron in Other M if anything.

  • RocketRoach

    While I agree with the sentiment of the article, the Dragon's Crown sorceress isn't a mere depiction of a large breasted woman, but an hyper-sexualized (just look at her promo art) stereotype whose breasts, dorsal spine and clothing flamboyantly defy the laws of physics and practicality.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hao6G1rWJDk http://www.giantbomb.com/images/1300-1806479/

    I don't have a problem with breasts of any size, and Shadow over Mystara (the inspiration of this game) is one of my favourite arcade games ever, the but I still find it to be a huge turn-off when in-universe believability is sacrificed for the sake of cheap titillation.

    At least, that's how the character is coming across to me.

    • Bob Bedbug

      What's interesting is that every single character is impossibly exaggerated in Dragon's Crown. This fact seems lost on so many having a problem with the sorceress. Maybe the bigger issue is that the laser-like focus on a pair of boobs is bordering on censure of big boobs.

      • RocketRoach

        "What's interesting is that every single character is impossibly exaggerated in Dragon's Crown."

        Not only that's false (Wizard ,Elf and the sack guy who follows them around aren't anywhere as exaggerated, and we don't know how Fighter looks under the armor) but it's also reductive.

        Both Rob Liefeld and the late Jack Kirby drew "exaggerated cartoon characters" , but that doesn't change that a Liefeld drawing in a Kirby book would stick out like a sore thumb.

        What do you choose to exaggerate, how much you exaggerate and how that exaggeration is presented also matter.

        And please don't tell me I'm "laser focusing on the boobs", right after I make a post illustrating what other issues I have with the design.

  • oversexifiedMan

    the whole debate is looks like an unattractive girls is trying to jump on the sex-sells-train or just to get some attention (journalist? +cough+). i player tomb raider, i player dead or alive, sure it was "something special" to see these tits, but you know what? i just know one single person thats really into big breasts. this is just so shallowed and victimized… and if it would be a problem, its not a "gaming problem" , its mostly adepted from classic mass medias…

  • Jer!

    Jenn, thanks for this. Speaking as a man who's wife lives in hooded sweatshirts for fear of the lurid gaze of men, and the hateful judgments of women who aren't shaped like her; I've learned all to well what a pain all of this is.

    I get so tired of thinking, "No, my wife doesn't want to fuck you. She just wants a decent turkey sandwich and maybe to share a soda with me."

  • Batou Kovacs

    This is all driven by fiat money. Talk to any advertising pro and they will tell you that 75% of effective ad revenue goes to women's eyeballs. Women like to shop 75% more than men. As a result, 75% of your tv shows and movies are made for women. Videogames do not have ads, hence videogames are a male medium.

    This is consumer culture by design. Alpha male billionaires own all the major media companies, but they fund the feminist non-profits, so they are never put in the misandry spotlight. As a result the beta male worker bees are cheap easy targets of ridicule in mass media. Deciding to opt out of the playing field funneled to the 1%, the beta males plug into the fantasy world of videogames and pron.

    If the beta male choads ever decided to unplug, they would be in the streets burning the homes of the billionaires and taking their daughters. But don't worry, your chinese overlords are arriving now to buy up all remaining real estate, retail outlets, and universities! ??????

  • Gateman Harned

    Kinda late to the party, but I'll still way in. I will admit, I look at boobs as often as they are presented, clothed or bare, and I probably won't stop any more than I'll stop looking at a cute guy's butt. The difference here is that I look, maybe stay on for a second, then move on. I acknowledge they exist, and, unless they belong to my partner, continue with whatever I'm doing. I don't make any assumptions about the woman I just ogled, other than "Her back probably hurts" if she's well endowed like the author. But, then again, despite all the issues I have, I tend to be more interest in what a person is trying to say than what parts of them are jiggling.

    I hate that some of my favorite characters in video games (Taki and Ivy in Soul Calibur, Cammy from Street Fighter, Far Cry 3's Citra, etc) are strong, assertive, powerful women, and yet they all tend to share a certain cup size. It took almost 2 decades just to get Lara Croft to turn from cheesecake to hero, and I don't see that trend catching on any time soon, because producers seem to think we're all 13, and can only get interested in an otherwise great game (Far Cry, Devil May Cry, Fable, half the characters in Skyrim, and Final Fantasy) if they don't add eye candy into the mix, and God help us all if we get a female protagonist with a chest that can't be seen from the ISS…

  • Will

    Maybe everyone should recognize that if female video games characters are being objectified, its because theyre literally objects, and that every second a guy spends inside playing some video game full of tits is a second theyre not out in the real world creeping out actual women?

    I mean i dont understand why tits in video games are so bad, or such a big deal, or even merit any discussion at all when the internet contains like 8000 civilizations worth of actual hardcore pornography. And those are real women!