I was reading this article on Cracked the other day, which, although titled The 14 Worst Boobs in the History of Videogames, is actually a lot deeper and more thoughtful than the title might suggest. Basically it was a rant against the ridiculousness of the chests of many a female videogame character. Some of the comments at the bottom interested me, in particular the ones that read: ‘Oh, this topic again’.
It’s one that you read a lot on issues such as this, especially when related to women. “Really, we’re going to go on about that, again?”
Haven’t we talked about this before?
I’m assuming this kind of response comes from the fact that in other areas of life and society, we only try to solve an issue once. A drink driver, upon smacking down his third victim, is caught by police and then immediately released and handed back his keys, on account of the fact that ‘we’ve already told you about this once’.
The second time a parent catches their teenager setting fire to a shed, they go back for more petrol and help strike the matches, because ‘the topic of why arson is bad has already been discussed’. When we first got kittens, we put them in the litter tray when they tried to go to the toilet on the carpet. Obviously now we just walk around the cat crap.
Generally, the reason an issue is still being discussed is because the problem hasn’t gone away. The reason someone wrote an article about the fact that personality for female videogame characters is the third most important thing, after massive tit number one and massive tit number two, is that personality for female videogame characters is still the third most important thing.
Cracked points out some of the prime offenders in the well known Boobs genre of videogaming. In particular were a couple of titles that had already stood out to me, and not just because of the perky chests sported by the women in the cast. The Dead or Alive series was one of them. For those who aren’t familiar with it, DOA is a fighting game series that has it’s own boob physics. There’s more bounce in that game than a thousand Slinkys going down an escalator.
Another was Soul Calibre, which is another fighting game, in which not only do the lovely ladies and their chests that look like thousands of pairs of wasps have queued up to sting the same place over and over again, and wear very little to begin with, but you can also, during the course of the fight, smash each others clothes off. I should point out you can get the male characters down to their boxers as well, but I think that’s more as a token nod to the fact that a game in which the men stay clothed while the women get naked was a little too unfair.
What does this all mean?
Now what, you may be asking, would a straight man possibly be doing lamenting the fact that the only sign of a recession in the videogame industry is that characters clothes are getting smaller, while chests are definitely going through a period of rapid growth?
The problem is one of cultivating opinions and expectations. We all learn through repetition. Even our muscles learn through repeated actions, which is why when drumming I can have each limb doing a completely different thing without having to consciously think “Right foot up, left hand down, right hand down, left foot do a little circle”. Our brains work the same way. If we are presented with one thing over and over again, with nothing to contradict it, we are going to end up classifying that as the norm.
The answer lies in stereotypes. These are images of certain people/ethnicities/genders/age groups that we have built up based upon majority evidence. We are all very quick and easy to form generalised opinions and package them as fact. Imagine if you met me on three different occasions, and each time I was holding a small golden statue of a moose. A lot of people would combine logic and speculation to create in their mind a statement they then believed to be true; ‘Rewan always takes his small golden moose statue with him’. This then becomes expectation. While no-one’s head will likely be blown by forming this idea of me and then meeting me sans moose, the point is we all create these images and apply our own speculations to people, expecting them to be indisputable fact.
Back to videoboobsgames
So if we are constantly presenting to each other these woman who have very little going for them apart from extremely strong lower back muscles and the number of a tailor or armourer who somehow manages to defy the laws of physics, it’s not going to have a positive affect on people. If we are constantly bombarded by this image of woman who just love showing off their chests, why would we challenge that idea? What would inspire us to counter that, to dispute it?
The other problem is that for some men (note the word some), the idea of a world in which women walked around with their cleavage out is preferable to this world where (sometimes, depending on where you go) they don’t. The fantasy world of videoboobsgames becomes preferable to the real world of clothes and boundaries and the idea that a woman’s body is something she chooses to do with what she will. For these people, the question is not ‘Why are all the women in these games practically naked?’, it’s ‘Why aren’t women in the real world?’
That could of course lead on to the terrible consequences of not being able to control or intellectualise that belief, but that is, actually, somewhat beyond the point. This post is about image and expectation, and getting into all the darker stuff is another issue entirely – one that is linked, yes, but another issue.
Come on – I don’t think like that!
There may be lots of gamers reading this thinking “this is rubbish! I don’t think like that at all, and I play all those kinds of games!”. But this isn’t about those kinds of people. The problem is one of the few spoiling it for the many. I believe that men are a lot more capable of appreciating a woman is more than just a pair of breasts than a lot of society (including male self-perception) gives them credit for. But for those who can’t, those who treat women like they’re nothing more than a nice gadget, or a small carving of a Ukrainian Field Mouse that sits on the mantelpiece and makes the room look prettier, we have to be careful not to reinforce those images.
Not in the Kitchen Anymore is a great blog (great in that it brings the issue to light, not in that the content is actually ‘great’, because it’s stupid a blog like this should have to exist) that chronicles the experiences of female gamers in the online sphere, on systems such as Xbox Live and the like. As well as the general abuse, questions such as ‘will you show me your tits?’ are not uncommon. Why? Because the people who ask those questions don’t realise that women aren’t actually an incredibly tactile version of 3D porn. It’s those people who need to learn just what people are, and it is for them that we have a responsibility to present a fair and balanced view of both genders.
Some people have argued to defend the kind of language and abuse levelled at female gamers, saying that in the online arena, everyone gets that kind of abuse, it’s just that the men don’t abuse each other in relation to their gender. I’m not entirely sure that saying ‘everyone does it/gets it’ really makes the issue OK. Perhaps rather than fighting for your right to call people you’ve never met the C-bomb, or tell a girl gamer to ‘get back in the kitchen’, we should all stop and ask ourselves why it’s ok to talk to people we’ve never met before in that way, and why we should just shrug and say ‘ahh well, that’s that issue sorted then.’ Turns out the conclusion these gamers want us to draw is that we are bastards.
Some of the arguments against big boobs in games being a bad thing is that “it’s just fantasy. The characters in these games also get stabbed with swords and don’t die, or can fly, or fight dragons”. But I believe when you have total control over someone, you have even more responsibility to be fair to them. The fictional characters we create only get to be what we make them as, and while they may not be real, that doesn’t mean we don’t compare them to the real women or men that we know, and judge them and the people we know by the standards of each other.
Don’t ban the boobs
The idea of a female character in a game being scantily clad with a large chest isn’t the problem, it’s the scale and frequency of this type of character. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with featuring this kind of character in a game, as long as it’s not the norm. To go the other way entirely would be to lean even further into what I believe is society’s fear of the sexuality of women. The bare-all kind of characters have their place, because there are some women in the world who like and enjoy being like that.
It’s when we begin to assume the ‘some’ in the previous sentence is actually ‘all’ that our perceptions and expectations clash with what happens in real life, and who could argue that a drastic difference in expectation and actuality isn’t a bad thing?
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see a bare-all kind of character in a game and think ‘that’s a bit different’, rather than the current thought of, ‘no way, this woman’s got a personality!’
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