No, seriously, breasts are going to be a major part of today’s topic.
Boobs. Melons. Jugs. Funbags. Sweater kittens. Chesticles. Hooters. Knockers. Whatever your pet name for them, breasts are the most noticeable and defining secondary sex characteristic of those with female bodies (be they women, pre-op trans men, intersex, or some other form of identity), and they are also the most talked about aspect of female characters in video games. Whether it’s an issue about the proportions, or the way they are animated (i.e. jiggle physics), or how much/little they are covered, we are constantly objectifying the women in our video games. Yes, I mean all of us when I say we. Feminists objectify these women as well, just in a different way from the norm, and that is what I’m here to talk to you about today.What better place to start this discussion than with gaming’s original sex symbol, the most objectified woman in gaming, Lara Croft? Seriously, Lara is one of gaming’s first female protagonists, and one of the earliest female role models in gaming even more so. Sure, Samus came first, but Samus’ gender was a huge plot twist at the end of the first game, with her gender never mentioned in the game or the manual, only being revealed at the end if you beat the game fast enough. Samus aside, until Lara came along, most female characters in gaming fell into one of three categories: damsel in distress, villain, or support character. Which is what made Lara’s busting out (pun intended) all the more spectacular.
Here’s the thing about Lara and her iconic breasts though: she’s actually not that busty. At her largest cup size (the first six games), she was a 36DD. Every game from then on, she’s been a 34D. To put things into perspective, right now with my largely underdeveloped breasts, I’m a D cup, and will likely be at least a DD by the time they finish developing. Dori is currently a DD after having lost 60 lbs, but there was a time a year or two ago when we went bra shopping and she measured as a G cup. For those who don’t know much about breasts, here’s the thing: cup size is determined by the difference between the measurement of the underbust and the overbust. Thing is, the cup size is meaningless without the corresponding band size. For example, that time when Dori got measured as a G cup? It was because she’d lost weight, but none of it came out of her breasts; her band size decreased, but her breasts maintained the same amount of fatty tissue as before. Her 36G breasts were smaller than a woman with 42G cups. My 42D, very underdeveloped breasts contain more fat tissue, and are larger, when compared to Lara’s largest size, 36DD.So where does this whole controversy over her breasts come from? After all, hers were the first set of controversial breasts in gaming, though many more have followed. Thing is, most of the ones receiving controversy these days are actually deserving of it, but Lara never really was. Her perceived abundance comes from two things: technological limitations and marketing. The marketing aspect is clear, as can be seen in the image above where she’s virtually in the nude. She was marketed that way to raise controversy and bring attention to her games.
The technological factor, however, is one that is often overlooked. Speaking as an artist, breasts are HARD to render properly, even with just a pencil and some paper. Getting proportions is difficult. Combine that with trying to do it with computer generated imaging, plus technological limitations, and you run into issues. Go back and look at the original Lara. Aside from cutscenes where her breasts were rendered as properly round, her breasts were jagged, unmoving, and looked very little like breasts. Her very first incarnation looked like she was smuggling traffic cones under her shirt, while later versions changed this to looking more like she was smuggling volleyballs. Shape isn’t the only factor affected by technical limitations, size is as well. In the case of Lara, the story goes that there was an accident in modeling her that caused her breasts to grow by 50% and marketing demanded they stayed that size, but whether this story is true or not, there are other examples of characters where technological requirements affected the breast size of a character. Another iconic character from the 90s, Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII was originally intended to have B or C cup breasts, and we can see this in early design sketches. However, the technological limitations of the time left the developers with a conundrum: they could either make her flat as a board or they could opt for bustier than originally planned. They opted for a bigger is better approach.Another factor that comes up from a development perspective is movement. We’re often hearing complaints about jiggle physics, particularly in fighting games (especially the Dead or Alive series), and there’s a few reasons for that. In the case of the DOA series, it’s because they made it an integral part of their games as a marketing ploy, something to differentiate them from other fighters, which is sad because there is so much more that is right about those games. See, the so called “jiggle physics” aspect of gaming isn’t just about breast movement, though that is its most well known (and controversial) aspect. The wider label used for this kind of animation, whether it be for games, cartoons, or movies, is “soft tissue physics” or “cloth physics.” What it basically applies to is how something soft (such as the fatty tissue in breasts, but also hair and clothes) is moved around by external forces. Here, let me use an example from DOA to show what I’m talking about. Pay attention to everything in the video aside from the breasts of the girls.
Now, this is just a pretty quick fight, in a scene without a lot going on, but you can still see the subtle effects. The movement of Helena’s hair in relation to her own movement, the bow in her hair twitching a bit in response to the breeze, the leaves of the trees and other plants also rocking in the breeze. In more detailed levels, and in cutscenes, this can be taken a step further, especially with characters who aren’t fighting in swimsuits. Here’s an example of the same two girls, in the same DOA title, but in different costumes on a stage with more going on in it.
Notice how their costumes (both Christie’s sleeves and Helena’s wings) react to their movements, as well as the flag blowing in the background. I could give lots more examples, but this technology is what “jiggle physics” is made up of. The problem arises when you apply it to breasts. See, the animator has to do everything they can to get the movements to look realistic, but even as someone who has breasts and loves breasts, I can tell you that it is difficult to picture and reproduce real breast movement compared to the fantasy we have. Add to that the fact that in computer animation, the breasts have to be attached to something, some kind of bone in the frame. In fighting games, where the characters receive a great deal of detail put into their design, and thus have more bones to individually animate, there are more places to attach breasts properly and allow for the physics behind them, which is why this is so popular in fighting games. But even non-fighting games have this incorporated into it. Go watch the opening cinematic for the most recent Tomb Raider release, and you’ll see lots of these kinds of physics there. Mostly used in her hair and the water, but if you look carefully, you can see her breasts moving in relation to the movement of her body. It’s subtle, because a.) it’s more realistic than what the DOA girls get, and b.) Lara looks to be wearing a sports bra.Which brings me to another point of controversy regarding her breasts, the belief that a fit woman like her can’t have such large breasts, or that the size of her breasts would hamper her ability to do the kind of parkour that she regularly does. Well, here’s the thing, that’s BS. I’ve said before that I’m bigger than her (in every way, not just breasts), and I do parkour (though not with the level of skill she is shown to have, yet). Additionally, if you go back to the very first game (and I highly recommend it, because it’s still awesome after all these years, and only $7 on steam by itself, or $80 in a package deal with EVERY TR game to date), you can play a tutorial that takes place in Lara’s home, where she’s using the ballroom as a place to practice parkour. During this segment, she’s ditched her traditional khaki shorts and white tank top for a pair of grey sweat pants with a matching sports bra. If you look closely, you’ll notice a white layer around, or under, the sports bra, which looks to me like a second sports bra. This makes sense to me, as many busty women who are also athletic will sometimes wear two sports bras to keep from smacking themselves in the face while they run, jump, tumble, etc. and Lara would be the kind of woman who would know how to do this.
Simply put, Lara Croft is a female Indiana Jones, and she has a lot more going for her than her breasts. It’s time we as feminists stop objectifying her (and other women of gaming) because of her appearance and take her for who she is: a kickass, fierce, feminine woman. The whole idea of Sergeant Calhoun in the movie Wreck-It Ralph was to be basically a female version of Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, a spoof of the fact that so many of the badass women of gaming and movies are basically just macho men with boobs. Lara can be a badass and still be feminine. We see this especially in the newest title where she doesn’t show herself to be this emotionally stunted character like so many of her counterparts, but is instead a well-developed character in general, one who has emotions, dreams, nightmares, and more. This is the most important aspect of making a good female character. Not to make her an epitome of femininity, nor to make her so macho that she’s a man with boobs, but to make her a real person. And that includes showing how she deals with societal expectations of what it is to be a woman, or to be whatever the character’s chosen field is. In the entire Tomb Raider series, we constantly see Lara dealing with others who have a very different idea of what it means to be an archaeologist than she does. She accepts some of the norms for her field just as she rejects others, same as she does with being a woman. She is allowed to be a busty, sexy woman and still be deserving of respect. Because honestly, if anyone deserves respect, it’s Lara.