If there's one thing on the internet that I can strongly endorse you don't investigate, it is the debate around breast physics in video games.
It's a fast way to stop believing that there is lightness amongst the dark.
- Fortnite's 'embarrassing' new breast animation to be removed
- Another female game developer receives death threats
In the middle of last year, I did a dive into this haunted section of the internet and in doing so coined the cursed phrase 'big unnaturals', in reference to the depiction of breasts in video games. It was less of an investigation and more of a primer - if I have to live with this cursed knowledge, then so do you.
Seven months on, and Dead or Alive 6, the focal point of the most recent controversy, is about to come out.
So what are the series' die-hard fans freaking out about?
(Content warning: Dudes talking about breasts, virtual and real, in ways that are truly strange and may be upsetting to an audience).
"In a perfect world, I should be able to play with Kasumi and Ayane wearing nothing but nipple tassels and butt-floss bikinis and anyone with common sense and self-confidence should be able to look past that, join me in a match, and dig into the game's mechanics.
"Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world."
This is the kind of discourse present on the Reddit Thread 'Dead or Alive 6 Controversy Megathread'.
The controversy that the thread title refers to is an article that Yohei Shimbori gave last year about toning down the fan service in Dead or Alive 6, a series which has been better known for its depictions of women fighters in skimpy clothing, with a fantastical physics system that their breasts are rendered with.
Through a translator, Shimbori explained his reasons for toning down said fan service. One reason was to appeal to the growing e-sports market, because while apparently Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is taken as seriously as a foreign film about sad children, Dead or Alive 6 is regarded as a bit too much.
The other reason was to conform to 'current world trends', in that audiences are looking down on games with too much sexual content, which then leads to difficulty marketing (and selling) the game.
For clarity and context, Dead or Alive 5 had an unlockable OMG Mode, which was an extremely hard to unlock mode that allowed a toggle option. If you toggled it on, the breasts of female characters would move up and down whether they were moving or not.
Metaphors fail me, so I've included a video for your viewing displeasure:
Shimbori's explanations, to my eyes, seem like genuine reasons to want to tone down your game.
You want your game to be taken more seriously, you don't want it to turn off potential audiences. It's a little problematic that his reasons don't include 'because it is incredibly bad to objectify women in this way' or 'our series is one of the most famous examples of the objectification of virtual women', but hey. Foetus steps.
Other gems from this particular Reddit thread include:
"Regarding breast physics, I'm also not sure if people actually know how breasts work in real life, they flop around like crazy if you're not wearing a fitting bra. Breasts are made of a LOT of fat (think Jello) so it's actually UNREALISTIC if they aren't moving around too much, but people will use the 'realism' excuse to force their agenda anyway."
"I never cared for the bikinis, I thought Katsumi default in Dead or Alive 5 was perfect, when they are bare and lack any features like muscle tone they look like barbies. More muscle pls."
Another thread, with the more emotive subject heading 'Doa 6 is breaking my heart', has some argumentative gymnastics that would qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
"They really need to get different settings in the game for people who care about the game and for people who want to see big boobs. Personally, Dead or Alive 5 was too sexualized for me, and I actually LOVE sexualization."
Bless your feminist heart, redacted Reddit user.
And finally, finally, this gem:
"... as someone who prefers it toned back this to me creates more diversity. For me, in Dead or Alive 6 everyone just felt big and if they weren't it was literally Marie Rose. Mila or Leifang are probably the smallest otherwise but I mean, they're not exactly small.
"I don't know the intentions or the perspective of the developers but it might just be creating diversity where Dead or Alive 5 lacked."
If ever there was an argument against the word 'diversity', this message would be one of the footnotes.
Fans are defensive of what they love, regardless of the form. If anybody comes for my sweet blessed The Hours (book or film), I'm sure I would be as defensive as these lads are about Dead or Alive.
To them, the feeling is as though something they love is being changed by someone who was never going to engage with it in the first place. For all the mental gymnastics involved with defending this fanservice, the prevailing feeling is one of: "This is my thing, this is what I love about it, why should it change for you?"
There is a genuine investment from these men - and let's be real, these are men, these are lads, these are bois - in breast physics, and the depiction of them.
Is it right? God, no. It doesn't take a gender studies major to draw a link between this kind of representation and the harmful effects it has on real living women - and the brains of real, living men.
But is it understandable? Unfortunately, yes. Nobody wants something they love to change for somebody who doesn't even love it - regardless of how harmful the politics of the thing they love is.
It got to the point where in an apology, in a promo Twitch video featuring two gravure idols (softcore Japanese models) playing the game, EVO (an e-sports purveyor) said that the video did not reflect the 'core values' of the company. Since then, the phrase 'core values' has been used in reference to fanservice in the Dead or Alive series, among other things.
Sexualisation in video games is not an inherently bad thing. God knows, it would be amazing if video games with the reach of Dead or Alive were engaging with adult sexuality in a mature and nuanced way - but that feels like a long way off. Which is not to say that we shouldn't be holding the artform, and this level of the artform, to account.
It is an undeniable fact that the root reason for the sexualisation, such as it is, in the Dead or Alive series is straight-up objectification of women. There is no sound ideological defence for that.
A step in the right direction - a step away from objectification - for whatever reason, is a good one. Even if you consider that this is a series where scantily clad women (and also men, even though nobody ever talks about the men in the Dead or Alive series) hit each other in order to win a fighting tournament, and also there's some crap about ninjas, cyborgs, ninja-cyborgs and cyborg-ninjas.
It's a step. Again, a foetal one, and not one that is worthy of pats on the back, but one worth noting.
So what awaits Dead or Alive 6 when it debuts this Friday?
Honestly, probably nothing cataclysmic. The Dead or Alive 6 sub-reddit has 5.6K subscribers. Dead or Alive 5 sold around five million copies, physically and digitally. One person's controversy is another person's, "Wait. What?"
If you're not someone who is already invested in this series' and it's so-called fanservice, then it will seem like nothing has changed.
These women are still objectified. They're still wearing skimpy outfits, however optional they may be. There is an option to make their breasts move in a way that breasts have never moved.
That's still a problem, and if you weren't taking a fighting game called Dead or Alive, with a spin-off beach volleyball game seriously, you're not going to start now. Breast physics or no breast physics, you're out.
I'll leave this piece on the note of another unnamed Reddit user:
"The breasts look pretty much same to me, I have been trying my best to compare and I can't really see any difference at all."