23

I noticed while playing Mass Effect, where there is no limitation to designing an alien due to everything being rendered, that the female species still all have breasts.

Breasts are an anomaly on earth, with humans being the only species to have prominent breasts outside of and unrelated to/irrespective of pregnancy. So why would breasts be so common among alien females?

I understand in TV shows and movies it is more trouble than it is worth to try and hide an actresses breasts, but why in games like Mass Effect (or any rendered work) would aliens still have prominent breasts?

Especially when many of those species are not even mammalian but closer to reptilian or something else?

  • 7
    Hanar and Volus have breasts? – Xantec Feb 6 '12 at 15:53
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    Humans aren't the only species on earth with prominent ones... have you seen a cow lately? Several primates also have. – eidylon Feb 6 '12 at 16:59
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    In addition to Hanar and Volus, I don't recall seeing any breasted Collectors or Salarians or Krogans. We don't know for sure we've seen females of any of those species, but we also don't know we haven't. As my brother put it, perhaps they are like dwarves, where the males and females are indistinguishable to an outsider's casual glance. – eidylon Feb 6 '12 at 17:03
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    You are asking about a video game, an action-oriented one no less, and you wonder why there are breasts. Your question is scientifically-minded, and you appear to be looking for an in-world explanation. My question for you: are you kidding? – Ryan Reich Feb 8 '12 at 2:30
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    @RyanReich: His question is scientifically-minded, and he appears to be looking for an in-world explanation. My question for you, why is that a problem? – AncientSwordRage Apr 29 '12 at 22:39
39

You have a good point, that when there isn't a person in a suit, there's no reason to actually put breasts on aliens, but game makers feel a need to pander to themselves, and the audience. There's a great blog on the subject here where Mass Effect 3's art director comments on an issue along these lines:

[Turians a]re all males in the game. We usually try to avoid the females because what do you do with a female Turian? Do you give her breasts? What do you do? Do you put lipstick on her? There’s actually some of the concept artists will draw lipstick on the male one and they’ll say “Hey, it’s done” and we’ll go “No, can you take this serious?”

His comment makes me wonder why they didn't make all Turians female instead. There's no need to change the existing Turian designs to do so. Why are aliens without breasts assumed to be male? There's no reason for the idea of breasts being a sign of alien femininity, the axioms that underlie it are faulty for an entirely different evolutionary tree from our own.

Thanks to Lightness Races In Orbit, I was reminded of a video that outlines the sexism here. This video discusses the process, which was described as being exactly what happened in the case of Mass Effect, where a male character is designed, then female characters are provided 'feminizing gendered signifiers'. Here the art director mentions drawing lipstick on a Turian to make them female, or adding breasts.

To directly answer your question, I'd say sexism, and a lack of consulting experts on biology results in the idea that all alien females need to have breasts or some clear differentiator from the artists' initial male character designs.

  • 23
    I wouldn't say it's entirely about sexism. Breasts are a handy signal for "femaleness" for humans, who are the intended audience of Mass Effect. Sure, in serious SF it would be more interesting to explore alternative options for female aliens (and why do humanoid aliens have to have recognizable male/female sexes at all?), but this is a game. Games usually have archetypes that players can easily understand. Anything else would probably be too much work for both the designers and the gamers! – Andres F. Feb 6 '12 at 1:25
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    @AndersF. - I resent your implication that games cannot (or do not need to) be serious science fiction. – Chris Lutz Feb 6 '12 at 7:22
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    @ChrisLutz I'm an avid gamer myself but know very few videogames (well, mainstream videogames anyway) that I consider serious science fiction. In any case, you shouldn't resent the implication: non-serious is good. SF in videgames seems to make heavy use of tropes, one of which is female alien = boobs. And it works, so why change it? A mainstream videogame with alien characters such as those from Asimov's The Gods Themselves would be hard for gamers to relate to. – Andres F. Feb 6 '12 at 23:09
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    @Keen I still think that unfair to go from "we drew the male characters first then added female bits to make them female" immediately to "sexism". Unless you are using a different definition of "sexism" than I am -- sexism means discriminating against a person based on their gender. It does not mean "identifying female characters because they have female characteristics." If the characters were defined by their boobs, that would be sexist. Simply saying "well, we got a guy model, lets give it girl parts and move on" is just laziness. – KutuluMike Sep 2 '14 at 15:05
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    @Martha because the male model is easier to draw? because they had some models from old games lying around? because they flipped a coin and it came up heads? Because they had to pick one of them to start with and there's only 2 options? Believe me, I recognize plenty of clear cases pervasive sexism in video games, but this just isn't one of them. "Picking to draw the guy alien first" is not in any way a statement that the guy alien is superior or better or more important than the girl alien, merely a statement that the artists drew them first. – KutuluMike Sep 2 '14 at 15:45
28

Since you didn't ask for in-universe explanation, I will answer with 2 words:

Fan Service.

The term originated in Anime/Manga, and usually means "Gratuitous display of characters in skimpy clothing, or none at all, under the assumption that it will attract or reward' viewers"

  • 1
    Why the downvote? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 6 '12 at 1:01
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    Yeah, have a +1 to counter that. Your answer makes sense, though I'd say fan service is more about the skin-tight suits than the breasts themselves. – Andres F. Feb 6 '12 at 1:21
  • @AndresF. - Historically speaking as far as the origin of the term, you are correct. And thank you. I didn't mean that the answer is so great as to deserve an up-vote (Keen's is much better - I up-voted his) but it states pretty much what Keen's did, just more succintly. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 6 '12 at 1:22
16

In-universe, there is no good answer given.

Out-of-universe, I think the answer is partly what others have been saying, but also largely a matter of being the most resource-efficient way to write a first-person shooter.

While I hesitate to call it 'sexism' specifically, human gender trait bias is probably a large part of this problem. There's definitely some level of some sexism/fan service in giving all of the female aliens idealized human female proportions, but the mere presence of obvious female anatomic traits isn't really sexist by itself. The female characters have breasts because we expect sentient females to have breasts, and when they don't, it's a mental shift to make that association anyway. You may as well ask why most of the male aliens had deep voices (Note that Tali's upper body isn't all that well-defined in that suit, but we know she's a female Quarian because she's got a high-pitched voice.)

The fact is, the game (like all games) was designed by humans to be played by human players; it was not meant as a treatise on xenobiology. (Just the fact that all those species breathed the same atmosphere and only one of them needed a rebreather is somewhat silly.) It's an action game meant to draw the player into the story quickly, so they can get to the shootin' parts ASAP. A clear-cut distinction ("looks humanoid = try talking to it, looks robot/animal = shoot at it.") gets the player into the meat of the game more quickly. It also happens to include optional romantic subplots. Simple, clear, subconscious clues ("flirt with the human-looking ones with breasts") remove the need for the player to think about those aspects of the game and focus on actually playing.

Plus, don't forget that the artists tasked with drawing these characters likely draw far more human-looking that non-human-looking characters. Most artists spend years learning and perfecting the art of drawing realistic human anatomy. Of course they're going to use those skills, especially when both time and money are limited, to provide a realistic looking character. Good artists just intuitively know what happens to the skin, muscles, fatty tissue, etc. in a females breasts when they run, or move their arms, or fall down. They would have either have to spend lots of time recreating those aspects of non-human anatomy, or just put everyone in a suit, or cut corners and have realistic looking humans and clay-doll-looking everyone else.

8

Okay, the bottom line is this (not posted as a comment because I'm new and don't have the rep):

In reference to one comment: "There is a conversation in Mass Effect 2 between a human, salarian and turian where each one says an asari dancer looks like their own race."

Not quite correct. The way you phrased it makes it sound like the asari have some sort of power (e.g. telepathy) that makes them appear different to each race. The human, salarian, and turian are all seeing the exact same thing; simply put, there are aspects of the asari that just happen to be attractive to one or more races. For example, their skin tone is attractive to salarians. Turians like their head crest (which are semi-flexible and cartilage-based). As for humans: Boobs! They also have a plantigrade stance (a trait shared only by the humans, volus, and drell), and have the "normal" four fingers and opposable thumb on each hand. (The batarians and drell seem to be the only other races with a four-fingered hand; the rest have only two fingers and a thumb, or are non-humanoid like the hanar and rachni)

The in-game Codex states that the asari are an all-female race, and the "Galactic Codex: Essentials Edition 2183" explains that "while asari have only one gender, they are not asexual like single-celled life; all asari are sexually female".

As for the turians, if you are playing Mass Effect 3 with the Omega DLC and/or the Citadel DLC, you finally get to see a female turian. Females lack the horn crest, and the face spikes or plates are smaller and shorter than those of a male. They lack obvious breasts, as evidenced by a comment by a turian in Mass Effect (cut from the final game) in regards to Female!Shepard: "You're female, aren't you? You've got those funny bumps, like an asari." You also get to see a female krogan in Mass Effect 3.

Aside from the asari (mono-gendered), and barring the geth (as a race of synthetics) and maybe the rachni, all the other races have at least two genders, even the hanar. One line in one minor quest in Mass Effect 3 even mentions a hanar that has a mistress... Anyway, the reason we don't see female characters aside from the asari, humans, and quarians could be chalked up to a number of things. Maybe the race has a good reason to keep its females at home, such as an unusually high ratio of males to females; maybe they have such limited sexual dimorphism that you can't tell the difference; or maybe they're hidden behind encounter suits, so even if you saw a female you wouldn't know it (nobody's seen a volus without their encounter suit, just as an example).

The real reason why you never saw a female turian until Mass Effect 3 was mostly due to memory constraints, since Mass Effect was written with the limited memory of a console in mind: Giving all races a male and female variant would require two models per race, and therefore would require more memory.

5

Since the Asari are a species that can mate with other species and seem to be high in biotic power, maybe they have an influence that makes them look more like humans to humans and more like other species to those other species.

  • 1
    This is actually pretty good. In Mass Effect 2 you can overhear a discussion between a turian, a human and a salarian watching an asari dancer. Each one talks about how the asari looks like their own race and get into an argument about it, even though "clearly" the asari looks most like a human. lol – TaylorAllred Jun 17 '15 at 19:29
4

the female species still all have breasts.

I'm going to have to disagree here. Let's work our way through the species, shall we?

  • Asari - Yes, they have breasts, and you can reasonably call them female.
  • Quarians - Yes.
  • Drell - Yes, if you count Mass Effect: Foundation as canon, otherwise we don't know.
  • Turians - Probably not: Nyreen does appear to have breasts from some angles, before she gets the armor. But when you look at her from the side, she's pretty flat-chested. Her top is rather tighter than it needs to be, making her chest look bulgier than it actually is.
  • Salarians - No, Dalatrass Linron clearly does not have breasts. Physically, she looks just like a male salarian to me. The same goes for Councilor Esheel.
  • Krogan - Maybe, Eve's robes are too thick to tell. Given the reptilian appearance of the krogan, I'll give Bioware the benefit of the doubt here.
  • Hanar - Probably not given Matriarch Aethyta's description of something as being "as useful as tits on a hanar" in Mass Effect 3.
  • Elcor, Volus, Batarian, etc. - Maybe, but to the best of my knowledge, we've never seen females of any of these species (though a female batarian is mentioned in Mass Effect: Revelation, I don't think the novel specifically describes her breasts).

That's a total of three female species with definite breasts, one of which is mammalian (the quarians have hair, according to the badly-photoshopped stock image of Tali in Mass Effect 3). If we drop Foundation or say it had a mistake, we're down to just the asari. You might as well ask why they look exactly like blue human women from the neck down. In-universe, we can say "convergent evolution," and out-of-universe, we can say "fanservice."

2

By the same token, you might as well have asked why most of the races are humanoid. Why is it stranger that a number of them have breasts for their females than that most of them have two pairs of limbs, two pairs of eyes, etc? Sure, there's variance (hanar, batarian, to stay with my examples), but in general, they're all quite human-like.

Other answers have listed a number of good points, from which I think "fan service", along with ease of design and approachability stand out. And no, we didn't seem to have an in-game reason indeed, though as far as I can remember, panspermia has been mentioned here and there in the Codex.

What some might consider a game-changer is this screenshot, though. (I've almost inserted the image itself, but I'm not sure whether the image-insertion policy would allow that.) Take a look at it. It shows a cave painting, on which humanoids are clearly worshipping an individual from Leviathan's species - a race that once ruled the galaxy, before the Reapers... which was, according to the Codex (or, to be more specific, this Codex entry) hundreds of millions of years ago. Consider that for a second. Humanoids. Hundreds of millions of years ago. In service of the race that still see themselves as the sole apex race of the galaxy, and have, though in hiding and in small numbers, have survived each and every Harvest. All the countless Harvests, obscuring their presence from the Reapers.

Though I have nothing official on this, the theory that the race of Leviathan plays an important role in the periodic repopulation of the galaxy with species that resemble "the tools" (which Leviathan's kind seems to have considered the other races.) Maybe they - still talking about Leviathan's race - have been experimenting. They could easily be behind a kind of panspermia. Looking for something, developing variants for the humanoid races, hoping for a version that could counter / help / whatever the Reaper experiment. Maybe humanity, and, more specifically, Shepard is the answer they've been trying to come up with. Or at least she/he is an interestingly rare card for their galactic solitaire. :D

So, what do you think?

-1

In the following I will try to explain the reasoning that could of been used behind such a choice in two main sections. Design, the reason it would of been important from a design standpoint, and scientific/biological the reason why it might actually make sense logically.

Design:

What would be a better feminine characteristics to use? Like a previous answer pointed out, you could just put some lipstick on a male model and call it a female of that species, but you would be laughed at. You presumably want the sexes to be easily differentiated, maybe you want them to have some sex appeal, how do you do this better than adding breasts? They are already designed as humanoid, breasts are a defining characteristic of humanoid species, by definition, so why would they not have them (unless the designer specifically wants the species to be extra alien and unrelateable)?

Also, this is a problem struggled with by all of scifi, even novelists to a degree. If you make something truly alien in looks, actions, or thought, humans will inherently fear and hate it. People inherently fear reptiles and insects, and they are not nearly as alien as aliens might be. This is typically not the desired response for most scifi characters. An author/designer needs to do things like add relatable emotions, human eyes, and breasts to characters so that you (as a human) can relate to them. This is exacerbated by non-mammalian species, you need to add in even more obviously human features to a reptile-person to not cause an intrinsic hatred/fear response.

Scientific:

These are all intelligent species, who live in large groups, presumably with large brains that take loads of food to grow and maintain, just like humans. It is not completely ridiculous to assume that not only breasts, but large ones are almost a prerequisite to becoming an intelligent civilization. Because the children need more care, some form of mother's milk is necessary, and since this is an important aspect of raising a child it becomes important that they are large to signal mates of her ability to feed their child. There is also the aspect that as they evolved intelligence they probably formed into tribes, where a single mother with the ability to at least temporarily take care of other children in the tribe would be a huge benefit.

We can also approach the question from another angle. Humans are incredibly unique because the male of the species actually has a say over who he mates with. Typically, they fight for resources (aka prime land for birthing/living/grazing on) and then mate with any females who choose this land OR they compete directly with other males to showoff their prowess or beauty to attract females to them. Many believe that the start of civilization is when this behavior stopped (possibly even by definition, aka Civ. is simply impossible without this). When men stopped being completely disposable, and most of them them instead of a tiny tiny minority could reproduce, then many times more work could be expected from these males making the construction of civilization and the acquisition of enough food to make future survival reliable. This has a side effect that men get the social ability to turn down procreation with someone, meaning women had to work at attracting mates. Hence why they are one of the very few species who have exaggerated feminine characteristics.

Basically, we just do not know enough about potential intelligent aliens to have any idea what characteristics they might share with us. Humans have some unique features, but there are some very good reasons to believe that these would be shared with other similar alien species.

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