Attention All Game Developers: The Boob Jam Needs You

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So. Boobs. I have a pair. I’m ambivalent about them. I like them just fine, but they’re more bother than my other body parts. They hurt when I lie on my stomach. They hurt when I ride horses. They hurt when I’m on my period. I used to work at a Renaissance faire, where my boobs were regularly pressed into a steel-boned corset. I can still remember the way my rib cage would unfold with relief at the end of the day. If somebody knocks at my door while I’m in my pajamas, my first instinct is to find a bra, because even if my torso is covered, it’s not decent. And don’t get me started on bra shopping, that Sisyphean hell rivaled only by the eternal quest to find a flattering pair of jeans.

This is not how we talk about boobs in video game culture (or really, anywhere). We talk about three things: size, the amount of cover, and whether or not said size and cover are justified by the character. Boobs have but one purpose, and all we do is argue the pros and cons therein. It’s frustrating, and tedious, and oh so very boring.

That’s where the Boob Jam comes in.

We mentioned the Boob Jam in a Things We Saw post last week, but this is one of those things that’s too good to go without a signal boost. The Boob Jam is the brainchild of game critic Jenn Frank, who thinks it’s time to change the conversation about mammaries entirely. Thus, a game jam, calling for developers of all stripes to make games expressly about breasts. There’s only one rule: you can’t use straight male gaze.

It’s genius. I can think of a lot of games that have sparked public conversations about boobs (off-hand: Dragon’s Crown, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the entire Tomb Raider franchise). I can’t think of a single one that started anywhere but in the context of sexual objects. Surely — surely — we can address more angles (curves?) than that.

To quote from the Boob Jam’s website:

There is an incredible range of experience invested in having (or not having, or newly having) boobs. But in most video games, boobs are this male gaze thing—they’re there for (almost always) one reason, to titillate (one type of) players. And that’s okay—lots of people like boobs!—but there are so many other ways to talk about them. Boobs mean a lot of different things to different people. They aren’t two adjustable or removable objects, even though we do culturally think about them that way. They are, in fact, a part of a human body.

What do boobs mean to a new mother, or to a new woman? To a person in actual, physical pain? What might they mean to a real superhero or armor-clad warrior? Or, if boobs really are sexual objects, who, besides straight dudes, can sexualize them?

Preach. As I watched the Boob Jam take flight on Twitter last week, I was practically bouncing out of my seat as I considered the possibilities. I mean, just look:

Maybe you are a person who has a complicated relationship with her own boobs. Maybe you love having boobs; maybe you wish you didn’t have boobs at all. Maybe you don’t have boobs anymore. Maybe you have boobs for the first time! Maybe you are a kid who is terrified of having boobs. Maybe you are someone who can’t find a bra that fits. Maybe your back and body hurt. Maybe your boobs are literally trying to kill you. Maybe you had a reduction or implants or reconstructive surgery (or didn’t)! Maybe you are trans* or genderqueer and concealing your boobs. Or maybe you never think about boobs at all and, for you, boobs get to be this weird foreign thing.

Don’t feel left out, straight men — you’re welcome to join the party, too.

You get your own subsection! It’s possible you are a dad who has learned about bra-shopping with his kid, or maybe you are a husband or son who watched a loved one experience a medical scare. You, too, can be a boob ally.

Let me count the ways that I love the Boob Jam.

Firstly, it’s not chastizing anyone for finding boobs sexually appealing. Boobs are great, sex is great, fantasy is totally healthy and normal (so long as it doesn’t become a default expectation). I often get frustrated when critiques of bosomy aesthetics morph into berating those who like those aesthetics, or into suggesting that such things shouldn’t exist at all. I love the Boob Jam for expanding the conversation, rather than dismissing what’s already there. As Frank writes: “No one is claiming that a great rack doesn’t have its place in gaming canon. But instead of having the same conversation over and over, why not try having a new discussion altogether?” Wholeheartedly agreed.

Secondly, it’s fun. The ongoing conversation about the portrayal of female characters in games is often a volatile place, and bringing in a bit of positivity is like a breath of fresh air (or perhaps an unclasped bra). I’m tired of the old conversation. Everyone is tired of it. Taking a step back and trying a different approach is exactly what will help move the discussion forward.

And that’s the thing I love most about the Boob Jam: it’s inviting people to get creative. Let’s be real — I’m literally writing this piece while sitting in an armchair. Criticism and discussion are important, but they mean nothing if people aren’t out there making new things in response.

To participate, all you’ve got to do is make a game — even a little one! — by the end of September (there’s no hard cut-off date), then submit it via email or Dropbox (links and instructions here). Make any kind of game you please. An RPG, a point-and-click, a Twine game, whatever you fancy. NSFW content is allowed (obviously), as is submitting your game anonymously.

So go forth. Bust something out.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also be found on Twitter as @beckysaysrawr.

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