Dabe Alan

The Boob Jam: Why making games based on the experiences of half the world isn’t subversive

The Boob Jam: Why making games based on the experiences of half the world isn’t subversive

Breasts are complex things.

“I think the very first idea I heard was for a level-grinding RPG about bra shopping, which, if you know anything about bra shopping, and hopefully you don't, is its own nightmare,” Jenn Frank told the Report. “The very next idea I heard, though, was an idea for a game that might properly demonstrate how to self-palpitate for lumps. I think that was the moment I kind of snapped awake and went, ‘Whoa, that isn't funny at all, that's pretty fucking serious.’”

Jenn Frank is organizing the Boob Jam, a game jam where people create video games about boobs. About breasts. Tits. Whatever you want to call them. About what it’s like to live with them, to lose them, to want them, to deal with all myriad complications and complexities that come with the realities of breasts. Once that idea was out there, the flood gates for boob-centric games were opened.

Why this is important

“As it stands now, the conversation is frustrating insofar as we keep having the same aesthetic conversation, which always devolves into assessing the precise volume and composition of some fantastical fictitious abstract boob,” Frank said.

Almost every conversation we have about breasts is an aesthetic one, and rarely do we actually talk about breasts themselves, or the fact that they are real objects that are connected to around 50 percent of the human population. We may spend thousands of words talking about the breast size of fictional characters, see also Dragon's Crown, but the more grounded aspects of breasts are usually ignored. Well, unless they impact someone with famous boobs.

“And I do get why we'd collectively shy from it, as talking about lower back pain or boob sweat kind of ‘lifts the curtain’ on the feminine mystique, akin to talking about tampons and periods and yeast infections, and I get why that might make a dude who likes liking ladies kind of uncomfortable,” Frank explains. “Which is precisely the fun in talking about your period cramps to a straight cisgender dude, just to see him wince a little in alien empathy.”

And that’s kind of the oddity of this whole exercise. The world of gaming is mostly male, where male writers talk about games made by males for a mostly male audience. Is it even going to be possible to divorce breasts from their most common video game role as an object of sexual lust?

“Of course it's possible to divorce breasts from that sexual aspect, I know it is, because I do divorce my breasts from that aspect literally every day of my life,” Frank responded. “Like, I'm not really hyper-aware of my own breasts unless I've inadvertently knocked something over with them. Or I'll have a conversation and I'll catch a person kind of staring into the deep gaping swirling horror void of my shirt collar, and I'll suddenly remember them, like ‘oh yeah.’”

“But that's a really interesting observation on your part, can this be done at all, because consider gaming's audience, full of young studs, and I find it in equal parts intriguing and galling that the very idea of a ‘boob jam’ could in any way be interpreted as confrontational or otherwise rabble-rousing. You can tell by this remark that I've obviously gotten my earliest troll entries,” she continued. “But it's wild! Like, the jam is meant to be inclusive and a total non-frontation.”

That could be why the ideas being put forth for games about breasts seem so interesting… this is a topic that has literally almost never been covered in a way that doesn’t address the breast as a sexual object of desire. In the world of men talking about things created by men and consumed by men, this jam gives women a way to share the world of breasts from their own perspective.

“And this speaks to an ongoing cultural debate, really. Here where we are, here in the US, we keep seeing the headline ‘America's war on women,’ and what we really mean here is, a whole cabinet of men is constantly discussing and legislating on matters of health, on parts they do not have,” Frank said. “And so it's really unnerving that just a woman piping up and going ‘here's my thought on breasts, which I do have, and in my experience,’ could ever be a confrontational thing to anyone. That's just madness to me.”

“So I really do hope, especially for a straight male audience, the takeaway is that the whole thing is a little funny and occasionally serious, and my hope is that it reads as, not confrontational, but illuminating,” she said. “And, hell! If a woman decided to make a sexy game about breasts, I think that might be even more titillating, pardon the expression! than the same tired other stuff.”

The Boob Jam isn’t really an answer, to hear Frank talk about it, but a question. What other stories about boobs can we tell? What do women deal with on a continual basis that is rarely, if ever discussed in pop culture, much less gaming culture? The answer isn’t fewer boobs, but more boobs.

“I'm quick to stress, too, that the intent here is not to take the boobs out of games, but instead to inundate a games space with plenty more boobs,” Frank said. “You want tits? Here you go! Since breasts are constantly up for discussion anyway, it's just kind of a jocular way to, uh, try to talk about them a little differently, I guess.”

That sense of discovery and exploration won’t just happen on the male side of things, as Frank herself is learning more about breasts from the ideas for games.

“A lot of the best ideas are coming from the trans community, because there is literally not a single idea a transwoman will have that won't completely rock my reality in some way,” she said. “And that exchange of experience, that commerce of autobiography, is just so awesome to me, because we can unite over boobs while having our stories be so, so different.”