As part of my current drive to streamline my life, I’ve been trying to finish the backlog of games I’ve generated in the years I’ve owned my PS3. I buy them, I play them for a while, I usually never complete them. When I realised I didn’t have the space on the machine to load up any new games, I decided it was time to revisit a few of the older ones and finish them once and for all. Games like Assassin’s Creed 2, Tomb Raider Underworld, and Unchartered: Drake’s Fortune, which embarrassingly, I got with the Playstation, and have never bothered to finish it.
I was doing well until I completed all the aforementioned games. After that I ran headlong into my collection of Sandboxes – Oblivion, Fallout 3, Rage – and the momentum went out of me. It’s difficult to get motivated to finish a game when you have no bloody clue whether the end is in sight or not.
But all this gaming got me thinking about something that’s very present in the media at the moment – the representation of women. Within the genres that I enjoy reading, and in comic books, I’ve seen a lot on the internet about the appearance of women on front covers, and throughout the comic books. Exaggerated poses that are physically impossible to accentuate the ‘sexy’ have got a lot of people riled up. It’s not something that’s ever really bothered me, to be honest, but Lara’s ample bust and tiny waist did prompt me to start thinking about why.
The thing about the Tomb Raider franchise is it’s fantasy, like most things I like to read/watch/play. And Lara with her giant breasts is part of that fantasy. To me, the fantasy of Lara is actually less to do with her physical appearance and more to do with her physical abilities. Never mind her large breasts, that woman can pull herself up over ledges by performing an elegant handstand, practically bending herself in half. Boobs would be nice, as I have next to none, but I’d rather have that strength and flexibility any day. And her ability to grab tiny ledges from a flying leap and not miss and fall to her death (at least, most of the times when I’m in control!) She is impossible in more ways than just waist and bust size.
And that’s okay, because it’s fantasy. If we always had accurate representations of the average woman, then a lot of fiction and films would be really really boring. For instance, I am the biggest coward in the world. I’m literally scared of everything. An adventure film involving me would be about 10 minutes long, because at the first sign of an obstacle that involved possible death I would say: ‘Screw this, I’m going home.’
In my own reading I want characters that are relatable, yes, but I also want them to be interesting. I want them to do the things that I would never do, and take me on that journey with them so I can experience what it’s like to be brave, to fight and win, to keep pushing on far past the point I would have curled up and died. It’s why I enjoy reading so much, why I enjoy films. But I also understand that the things I enjoy have to appeal to much more than just me – and if a big pair of boobs is what it takes to make Lara popular so I can enjoy playing Tomb Raider, then I’m really not bothered.
Because the thing is, it goes both ways as well. Take Unchartered: Drake’s Fortune – the other game I’ve been completing recently. It’s very similar to Tomb Raider – climbing, puzzles, ancient tombs, only with a little more focus on gunfights and a male lead instead of a woman.
I thought Drake would be very much a lad’s game, but look at this guy. That is clearly not pandering to any male fantasies about attractiveness. He has a soft femininity about him, rough enough to be believable as an explorer and to add an edge of mystery to his allure, but his jokey personality, sexy voice and the way he interacts with his female co-explorer show a softer, sensitive, boyfriend material side that is clearly meant to get the ladies feeling a little hot under the collar.
I can understand why people argue that representing people in films and books in an idealised way can be damaging. Certain cultural attitudes towards women I do find offensive, and I wouldn’t want to see Twilight attitudes like ‘you have to have a boyfriend or you should go jump off a cliff’ perpetuated any more than they already have been, but accentuating appearances? Really not bothered. At the end of the day, it’s fantasy. And if we can’t enjoy unrealistically attractive, cool and capable men and women in fantasy, then where’s the fun in that?