Tag Archives: video games

Breast Obsession: From Games to Hard Decisions

Laurie and Debbie say:

Melanie Testa’s “Shirts off, Underwear on:, Play Out, Breast Cancer and Gender Expectations” is superb.


Perhaps I am an anomaly in the world of breast cancer, having chosen against reconstruction while also choosing not to wear prosthesis. I was certainly made to feel as if my choice was abnormal by my doctors when I was asked to see a psychiatrist to make sure I was of sound mind in my ‘contralateral decision making process’. At that same office, my fellow sisters who chose reconstruction were not asked to justify their surgical choice to a psychiatrist, regardless of their contralateral choices. Perhaps my doctor wanted to be entirely sure that that they would not be removing a breast that I might come to miss, and regret my decision. I could have chosen to keep the unaffected breast. There was no question that a unilateral mastectomy was medically necessary, but I chose a bilateral mastectomy – a decision I have never regretted.

This bias is unacceptable, and clearly illustrates a preference for reconstruction to the shape of a breast and breastedness in general. It also serves to make it difficult for women to choose otherwise.

Testa’s observations both inform and are informed by Patricia Anderson’s post on Kotaku about “breast physics” and how and why video games gets breasts so wrong.


Plenty of people theorize about why games often feature bad breast physics, but there is little hard information about the actual breast-creation process. After looking into it a bit, I found that many amateur developers seemed to genuinely have a problem figuring out how to tackle breast physics in their games. There are a startling number of forum posts and tutorials where people discuss the best ways to achieve good breast physics online. One person even created a four-part Powerpoint presentation titled “The Quest for Boob Jiggle In Unity.” People have developed specialized tools for other developers to use, to help demystify the enigma that is “how do breasts work.”

For an excessively jiggly set of videogame breasts go here.

Anderson basically says that animating bones and rigid body action is easier than animating soft tissue body action. After explaining why realistic breasts are expensive to animate, she concludes (surprise!) that “absurd breast physics aren’t always unintentional.”

“Ultimately though, I sort of suspect that when a developer doesn’t get breast physics looking right, it’s because, for whatever reason, somebody wanted them to look that way,” [Tim Dawson, an indie developer] said.

So what does this have to do with Testa, and women with breast cancer?

As many as 58% of women who have mastectomies after cancer either do not reconstruct or do reconstruct and then later deconstruct, either out of choice or because of failed reconstruction. I pondered just how many of those breastless women disliked wearing prosthesis and presenting an image of a woman with breasts. Prior to my diagnosis, I had never knowingly met a single-breasted or bilaterally flat-chested woman. I imagine there are many women who don breast forms with hesitation, annoyance, or even resentment. Why do we feel that we need to promote the false impression that all women have breasts?

The bulk of her piece concerns the pressure on women to get reconstructive surgery and/or breast forms and not to “go flat,” including substantial medical and psychiatric pressure. She has had a lot of trouble being believed when she says: “Wearing fake breasts would do nothing positive for me, physically or emotionally; I quail at the idea of presenting two body types, a breasted public image and a flat private image.”

Rhylorien from Laurie's  Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes
Rhylorien from Laurie’s Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes

Reading these two pieces together, we can’t help but see that the psychiatrists and surgeons trying to force Testa into a false-breast look are influenced by, and themselves reinforcing, the game developers who like implausible breasts enough to keep making them. Of course, neither the medical establishment nor the game designers are working in a vacuum: they are both reflecting an obsession which is everywhere in the Western world, from billboards to fashion runways and everywhere in between.

In other words, Testa is talking about real breasts: why we want them, what they mean to us, what losing them means, what visibly losing them means. Anderson, to some extent, and the video game industry and breast surgery industry to a large extent, are talking about breast fantasies.

Both industries will come of age when women without breasts become part of their mental landscape. Testa says: “The sooner doctors and researchers collectively agree that women sometimes choose flat or bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, the better. Get out of our minds.” She could also be talking about animators.


Toyota: Real People Stalked by Avatars

Laurie and Debbie say:

We knew we wanted to write about Toyota’s “Your Other You” campaign the minute we heard about it, but it took us a long conversation to tease out exactly what we wanted to say.

The campaign is now past tense, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. Basically, the premise was that you could enter a friend’s name and contact details and Toyota would arrange for a “virtual lunatic” to play an “extravagant prank” on that friend.

First, one of five virtual lunatics will contact your friend. They will seem to know them intimately, and tell them that they are driving cross-country to visit. It all goes downhill from there.

The campaign integrated phone calls, texts, emails, and videos. The “virtual lunatics” have MySpace pages and blogs. They each drove a Toyota Matrix. You, lucky you, got to follow what’s happening to your friend (and presumably other people’s friends) online in real time.

Who were these virtual lunatics? Well, one was a guy who dresses up as a raccoon mascot. One was a babbling African-American man with an odd device, who’s searching for energetic forces out in a field somewhere. One was lead singer for a heavy metal band that had gone off the rails and was worshipping strange deities. And a fugitive (strangely no longer available on the website) was “coming to stay with” Amber Duick. Somehow, she didn’t think it was funny:

Amber Duick claims she had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work during March and April of last year after she received e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew her and where she lived, and was coming to her home to hide from the police.

When you signed up a friend on the YourOtherYou site, you emailed them a “personality test,” and they had to click through a terms and conditions agreement. Toyota is now claiming that Duick agreed to be the victim in a stalker relationship, but her attorneys claim (and we believe) that the agreement was *ahem* somewhat less than clear about the details. Besides, they have us all trained not to read those agreements in super-legalese anyway.

We hope Duick wins, and she probably will. But the underlying point is more interesting.

We live in an age of fictional web personas, avatars, characters we run, etc., etc. Up until now, these various fictionalizations have interacted with each other. If my avatar hits your avatar, you might be angry at me, but your own physical nose will not be broken. If your avatar steals from my avatar, I might stop dealing with you on line, but my physical wallet (and bank account) will almost certainly still be as full as it was before the theft.

What seems to have happened here is that fictional characters were designed to interact with real people (and the fact that they were fictional was, Toyota brags, “as Google-proof as possible”). We wouldn’t be surprised at this story if it was about a handful of teenagers with a lot of bandwidth, a lot of imagination, and a lot of frustration: that’s the 21st-century version of the kind of telephone pranks we both remember playing.

More 21st century differences? The pranks are originated by an ad agency, not the people who give in the names. And the experience of seeing the person being pranked is virtual, not real. It’s not lleaving a bucket of water over a door and watching your parents get wet; it’s telling somebody else you’d like to see your parents get pranked, having them make up the prank, and then reading the emails and watching the YouTube videos of how it came out.

What’s fascinating is that the pranksters here are corporados. Saatchi and Saatchi is a prominent advertising agency. They “developed the campaign to target men under 35 who hate advertising.” They had to convince five or six layers of management, and the legal department, that this was a) fun, b) funny, and c) worth it to sell cars. They created hundreds of internal memos and emails, dozens of storyboards and presentations, and spent (probably) in the high tens of thousands of dollars.

We’re not quite sure who they wanted to sell cars to. The people who gave them names? The people who watched the “on line in real time” adventures of avatar stalkers and real victims? And perhaps also the victims themselves, who could probably be counted on to be “good sports”? (“Aw, come on. Nothing bad happened.”)

When did advertising agencies and corporate management lose the ability to tell the difference between avatars and real people? That’s scarier than “virtual lunatics.”