There’s a funny byproduct of the Information Age: The bigger the digital buffet, the smaller the portions.

We make decisions on which webpage to look at from the 250,000 Google hits by skimming over 10 titles on the first page. YouTube has granulated visual entertainment into three-minute fragments, perfectly timed not to exceed the maximum attention span of the average sugar-high ADD sufferer. Mobile phones compress entire conversations into 160ish characters, encrypting the English language into a highly efficient phonetic syllabary. It’s as though information has been decimalized

It’s not a sea change so much as the natural outcome of the way we process information. For ages, books have had synopses on the inside leaf to help readers decide if they’ll enjoy a 2000-page tome by reading just a few sentences. Two-minute previews can dramatically influence the success of feature-length films, while a 20-second TV commercial can sell a $50,000 car. If these mediums took the time and effort to deliver accurate and detailed information, we’d hear none of it.

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That’s why Lara Croft’s boobs are so important to the games industry. Tomb Raider represented a new style of gaming, and helped cement the 3-D revolution in home consoles. Consumers needed a mental anchor to connect us to this new form of gaming. Instead, we got two.

Lara’s upper body became a subject of mass discussion. Her bosom was her defining characteristic, exemplifying the character in a way that was easy to understand. There’s a lot happening in Tomb Raider, but the network node created by Lara’s heaving cleavage came to encompass the mass of information related to the prolific franchise.

This iconographic symbol of modern life is exactly the kind Richard Dawkins was talking about when he coined the term “meme,” the cultural equivalent of a gene. A “meme” is an idea, thought or feeling that mutates and evolves as it passes between individuals and groups. It could be a supermarket jungle, or an insurgent plan to overthrow the government – a facet of modern life that, like a good rumor, goes in one ear and out many mouths.

When we gaze longingly at Lara’s boobs, we can see how amply they fit into the “meme” category. They’re prominent genes in the ever-evolving DNA of game development that provides the building blocks of modern entertainment. And whether you find her buxom physique inappropriate, you’re supremely indifferent or you play hours of Tomb Raider simply to watch her perform feats of erotic gymnastics for your misguided pleasure, the important thing is that you’re thinking about Lara’s shirt baggage. You’re connecting to a whole genre of gaming through a simple, pert and easily identifiable interface.

Core Design obviously didn’t build the original Tomb Raider around Lara’s cup size, and digital eroticism was still a fledgling industry in 1996; despite her statuesque polygons, it’s unlikely the developers intended for Ms. Croft to become a sex symbol. Deny it if you like – refusing to acknowledge the weird fact that a digital avatar can become a sex symbol still works to evolve the meme – but it was a significant factor in the way information about Tomb Raider spread.

Internet memes not only mutate and evolve on their journey from one node to the next, but their status as rumors, untruths or inconsequential matters can change in an instant. If the importance of Lara’s boobs began as a lie, a few circuits around the internet – in and out of a few million brains along the way – was all it took for it become truth, a vital reality that game developers and film producers have acknowledged and capitalized upon.

In Lara’s case, it wasn’t just the journey around the internet that spread the meme; The Tomb Raider movie also validated the inconsequential matter of the game character’s physique. Take a look at the posters, proudly displaying Lara’s polygonal figure made flesh. You knew, instinctively, the first time you checked out the billboard-sized Lara doll whether or not you were going to see that movie, so the producers were right to acknowledge that vital internet meme.

Even the first screenshots of the forthcoming Tomb Raider: Underworld have taken this memetic belief and used it to garner interest. Each shot has been carefully selected to hint at what kind cleavage we can expect from our protagonist, but teases us by refusing to give any definite answers just yet. The developers might balk at the over-importance placed on Lara’s chesticles, but they’re as guilty as anyone for further evolving this fruitful internet meme.

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It must be something of an irritation for the team at Crystal Dynamics that Lara’s boobs have become the focal point(s) of the Tomb Raider franchise, but that’s the nature of how we assimilate information these days. Anyone who has read about the three-year development cycle of a gaming physics engine by a software company called BreastTech will appreciate how important these apparently superficial aspects of entertainment are.

Heated debates have raged across the internet, from porn sites to the official Xbox 360 forums, regarding the work that’s gone into developing the Mammo-Ware™ system for adding greater realism to in-game boobs. The system controls movement of the “units” independently, reacting to influences such as gravity, pressure, costume support, cold weather and wet clothing. The vast gaming community’s reaction to this development has been wildly varied, yet prolific enough to warrant extensive debate over a meme that actually sprang up from a spoof article.

But this believable joke is just another node in the memetic pathways created by Lara’s first appearance, and the importance of her boobs not only to the enjoyment and recognition of the Tomb Raider games, but to the huge sales numbers the franchise has enjoyed across the board. Lady Croft’s baby feeders demonstrate the way in which a trivial matter becomes a genuine fact of far-reaching importance. That’s not to suggest humanity has become tragically superficial; it’s simply that we now have terabytes of information constantly flying at us, and we need to compress it in into manageable packets of data. Lara’s jubblies provide the compression algorithm we use throughout the games industry.

It’s up to us to acknowledge Lara’s knockers not as the epitome of a single game’s achievements, but as a waypoint within our communal gaming perspective. Internet memes are not the cold, hard evidence of truth, but psalms within the internet’s growing belief system. Believe in Lara’s boobs, but don’t adopt them as inflexible facts of your existence.

Otherwise, they might grow all out of proportion.

Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.

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