Massive boobs and transgender depictions

Ivy Valentine from Soul Caliber

Ivy Valentine from Soul Caliber

Over on Massively, Seraphina Brennan talks about the use of large-breasted women in video games.  Her viewpoint there (and in her follow up post on her own blog) is that it’s just a fantastical depiction and therefore she isn’t offended.  She also talks about despite being large breasted and overly sexual, video game women are sometimes still the strong and powerful characters who rely on more than their looks to be successful in games.  I think this is true, but how many people really have the brains, the looks of perfection, and the strength and power to defeat any foe?  Does that matter?

Someone in the comments at Massively asked her how she’d feel if it was a negative depiction of a transgender individual, being that Seraphina herself is MTF.  She responds:

To answer that, um, isn’t that how transgendered people are normally portrayed in the media?  We’re always these super sexy girls who try to lure men into dirty, penis filled traps.  We’re never normal women.  Yet, you don’t see me rioting in the streets over that issue.  Honestly, I’m usually the first one laughing at those jokes because I know it’s exactly not how it is depicted.

Yes my dear, you’re right.  And thankfully – you realize that the media portrayal isn’t truth because you are a normal, happy, transgender human being.  Unfortunately, many people do not have the good fortune to know someone who is transgender in real life.  They get their knowledge by watching television, listening to music, and playing video games. And when people don’t know enough about someone, they’re threatening…which is a recipe for a hate crime.  I don’t think a proper response to inaccurate media portrayals is “oh well”, I think it’s “fuck em – let’s go after them, prove a point, get some accurate representations there to increase the education of people like us.”

The fact that fantasy isn’t just fantasy is what this blog is all about.  Video games are powerful and do influence perceptions, thoughts, and actions.  They are as much influential as other forms of media and should be treated as such.

What do you all think?  Is it okay to let down feminist guards when immersed in fantasy worlds?

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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14 Responses to Massive boobs and transgender depictions

  1. Well, far be it from me to say whether anyone ought to be offended by large-breasted game women. Personally I do happen to find breasts attractive and therefore the mere presence of scantily-clad buxom women is, admittedly, not a huge deterrent. What does bother me is the oversaturation of these kinds of bodies. Fantasy and make-believe worlds need diversity too, and even if they get nothing else right, I sincerely doubt it is asking too much to provide some variety of physiology. The limitation of characters to hyperbolic standards of Hollywood attractiveness is a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy in many ways, constricting our notions of beauty in ways that become clearly unhealthy once we leave the relative safety of the game world.

    Also, as an aside: surgery is NOT the only way to get top-heavy tatas. Try breastfeeding! I gained two cup sizes AND a ranged attack! ;) and now see how much more interesting all those women are if you assume they’ve got little munchkins waiting just off-screen…

  2. Brinstar says:

    Regardless of whether one finds women attractive or not, there are serious problems with how women are portrayed in games and the media. Probably a lot of women will also agree with Seraphina, and don’t get offended. Sometimes I cope with ridiculous depictions of women in the media with a sense of humour. Sometimes I just get tired of it all, and I honestly feel worn down about it, the “Not again” response. But my reactions are never divorced from seeing things from a feminist perspective.

  3. Sinnyo says:

    I’ve long held back from trying to explore this issue myself, as I can’t help but find as ridiculous the lengths some character designers go to. Fair play to you for bringing it up, Cuppy! The return argument, that “oh we have ‘Half Life 2′s Alyx and.. uh, Samus Aran as role models”, has turned out pretty ineffectual too.

    My own view is that about 90% of the game industry ‘as-perceived-by-the-masses’ occupies a market which film has filled with the likes of “Scary Movie” and “Species”* – cheesy, generally exploitative of an idealised female figure, and smutty. Of course it’s nowhere near that imbalanced in reality, but the culture persisted and so if you look back at Playstation titles in particular, if it hasn’t got wartime blood and gore on the box, it has boobs instead.

    I do also feel that the time when chests could sell a game has passed. Most people are buying into wartime FPS these days, which might mean that games and the gamer audience has grown up, or on a more pessimistic slant, that our desire for realism has relegated balloon-breasts to the realm of the ridiculous. I’m not sure how the issue can be fixed. I look forward to a day when I can make (or simply play) more games with a positive female lead. For that I hold “Beyond Good & Evil” as a strong inspiration, but sadly its sort occupy a minority when it comes to sales.

    * Apologies if anyone attributes merit to those films – I struggle for examples as I generally try to avoid them!

    • Maverynthia says:

      Sinnyo :
      The return argument, that “oh we have ‘Half Life 2’s Alyx and.. uh, Samus Aran as role models”, has turned out pretty ineffectual too.

      Especially Samus Aran. On the GBA game, the faster and better you beat the game the more clothing she strips off in the ending scenes down to a bikini. I felt it was VERY offensive that the last bastion of “strong female” was stripped down to another object. >: |

  4. Dickie says:

    I feel like the “relax, it’s just a game” argument shoul not be allowed to be valid. If we allow these kinds of depictions in one medium, why wouldn’t we allow them in another?

  5. Alex says:

    In addition to what Brinstar said, online criticism is a far cry from “rioting in the streets.” No one is doing that, and exaggerating feminist criticisms and reactions is a time-honored dismissal tactic. I hope folks can separate their personal reactions to games from criticism of them–there’s no need to defend yourself for liking what you like. I mean, I loved Mass Effect to pieces but there were still problems with it from a feminist perspective. But just because I liked it doesn’t mean I’m going to dismiss the problematic parts or try to spin it so they are positive.

    I guess what I’m saying is, it’s possible to be both a game fan and a game critic, and it doesn’t make you a hypocrite.

  6. Nikki says:

    I’ve always loved large breasted video game characters, and I guess it’s a little hard for me to understand why the size of their breasts would be offensive. I have a physique that isn’t too much of a far cry from that naturally, so I identify with them and enjoy playing them. I guess I come from a completely different side of the spectrum on this.

    As a large breasted woman, the idea that even my natural physique in real life can come across as offensive to some (ie. the constant struggle to find and wear clothing that covers things sufficiently, and being stuck in t-shirts most of the time to try not to be too revealing or draw too many looks) is pretty frustrating. I grew up getting quips from my mother to cover things up, too much cleavage, etcetera. For these reasons, I find the brazenly buxom women of video games to be a liberating symbol of fierce, unabashed sexuality. I can gather why it wouldn’t come across like that to other women, but to me it’s just great. In Soul Caliber, I always play Ivy.

    • Alex says:

      Hey Nikki, just to clarify, usually when people are criticizing game characters for having very large breasts, it is not that fact alone that is bothersome, and it certainly doesn’t mean that *real people* with large breasts are offensive. In a nutshell, the problem with these characters is two-fold: 1. These are the vast majority of video game women, leaving differently-proportioned women severely underrepresented in games, and 2. these characters aren’t three-dimensional female characters that just happen to have large breasts, they are created as sexual objects to appeal to straight men, and when *most* female video game characters are male gaze fodder, that is a problem.

    • Cuppycake says:

      Alex summed it up great below, that’s what I was going to say! :)

      The issue is not that there are women when big boobs, it’s that having large boobs is synonymous with women in video games. I like when I have the choice to change my breast size in games :)

  7. I disagree with Seraphina’s points as well, but…

    Yes my dear, you’re right. And thankfully – you realize that the media portrayal isn’t truth because you are a normal, happy, transgender human being. Unfortunately, many people do not have the good fortune to know someone who is transgender in real life. They get their knowledge by watching television, listening to music, and playing video games. And when people don’t know enough about someone, they’re threatening…which is a recipe for a hate crime.

    I think this was kind of condescending.

    I looked at your intro post and you say you’re a “fierce ally” to LGBT people — so not queer or trans yourself, right? Maybe as a cis person you shouldn’t lecture a trans woman on transphobia and cis hate crimes.

    This is my go-to essay on internalized oppression. It’s written about men and women’s internalized sexism, but the principle applies here.

    • This is a pretty good point.

      It might be more useful to note the cissexism in which trans people’s voices get privileged in the wider media with its cis folk control and presumed cis folk audience. It’s for sure not my voice. I’m not laughing at any of these damn jokes and I’m much more inclined towards protest and revolution. I get pissed when portrayals of people like me are a) dead b) psycho killers c) men in dresses with obvious facial hair and deep voices and are the goddamn joke. I am not laughing. These portrayals matter.*

      Though with my brain and my body being what they are I don’t get out into the street much. Trans people’s voices who don’t buck the status quo are more likely to get signal boosted. I’m just nobody in particular ranting in my tiny corner of the internets. Which I sort of don’t mind much because nobody’s paying me to shut up and when someone tells me to I can tell them to fuck off.

      So there could be that framing without the telling a marginalized person about their oppression thing softestbullet brought up.

      * I’m upset obviously but not with anyone here. Just to clarify.

    • Cuppycake says:

      Please take into consideration that Seraphina is a great friend of mine. It wasn’t intended to be condescending, and she knows that. :) If you take out the “my dear” which is how we speak to each other, you’ll see that it actually isn’t a condescending statement. I’m complimenting her for being happy and normal, which is something that most people who aren’t familiar with transgender individuals can’t possibly imagine that they COULD be. Also, yes, I identify as queer/pansexual.

      Another thing, I take offense at times when people assume that I’m not going to know very much about something because I’m not trans. That’s like saying that scientists who study AIDS don’t know anything about how AIDS works. Sometimes, in fact, they will know more about how AIDS works than people with AIDS. Probably a bad example you will tear me apart for, but, oh well. I have known more gay and trans people who don’t follow any news, any reports, and often times get their news FROM me. In addition, not all MTFs and FTMs are at all involved in activism – and aren’t always educated in the legal battles and fight for equality.

      I say that without trying to offend…but sometimes I feel like people badger allies to the point where its hard for them to be an ally without feeling marginalized themselves.

      • I’m not going to tear you apart. I’ll just point out (I hope relatively gently) that while you and Seraphina have that personal connection and context we didn’t. What is gentle teasing among friends in one circumstance can look different when it’s in public amongst people who don’t know y’all.

        And for me personally I often have a very hard time parsing teasing and sarcasm — if I don’t know I should be looking for it I tend to take it exactly as it’s written. Which definitely contributes to my problems with most comedy.

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