Thursday, June 14, 2012

Not just the crime, but the cover-up. How the Tomb Raider game producers did more damage by 'explaining' Lara Croft's attempted rape and why it's all a big mess.

I really didn't want to comment on this, both because I'm no longer what you'd call 'a gamer' and because there's only so many ways I can point out that mainstream culture, especially geek culture, is sexist as all hell. But if you've been following video game news of late, you probably heard about and/or watched the extended trailer for Tomb Raider reboot.  Long-story short, it's an origin story of sorts and the new narrative turns her into a scared young woman who spends pretty much the entire trailer being menaced and assaulted by big scary men who want to do her harm, both physically and sexually.  The latter part is what has people in an uproar, although I'd argue the whole thing is pretty offensive in principle.  Since she's a female hero, of course her origin story must involve non-stop assaults, female friends being murdered, and an attempted rape, because that's how you concoct character development for female characters, right?

Let's be honest, not only would an origin story for a male hero not have them getting their ass kicked left and right, it usually has them dealing with the rape/murder/etc of their respective female friends and lovers.  Bruce Wayne didn't become Batman because he was brutalized at a key moment in life, but rather because his parents were murdered.  Max Payne became who he is because his wife and child were murdered.  If you go by Casino Royale, it's not the brief torture that James Bond endures that turns him into an ice-cold assassin, but rather the eventual murder of his would-be love interest.  In short, female heroes are defined by the violence done onto them, but male heroes are defined by violence done onto the people (often women and/or children) in their lives.  Male heroes are avengers while female heroes are victims.  That's the double-standard at play and that's why it matters on a societal level.

But having said all of that, what's made it worse if the back-handed defensive statements uttered by the game's producers in defense of said attempted rape scenario.  It's the need to explain what is literally a 3-second moment in the above trailer that has made the creators sound even stupider. Comments like "She’s literally turned into a cornered animal. And that’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s either forced to fight back or die..." and "They’re (game players) more like ‘I want to protect her.'" has only made the outcry worse, as Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Ron Rosenber has basically stated that the male audience is apparently unable to deal with a female heroine who is treated like a male hero in a video game environment.  Oh, and he also now is on the record as saying that getting nearly raped is part of a female's evolutionary process.  Apparently when I played Street Fighter II as Chun Li back in the 1990s, it was because I felt the need to protect her from a rape-minded M. Bison, not because she was among the best fighters in the game.

The sad part of this is that most of the outcry about the would-be attempted rape could have been nipped in the bud with a little honesty right upfront.  Why is Lara Croft briefly threatened with rape? Because she gets captured by a bunch of no-good, murderous scoundrels and sometimes no-good murderous scoundrels don't treat women, especially captive women, very well.  A guy puts his hands on her and tries to kiss her, she kicks him, grabs a gun and shoots him, end of story.  The need to explain this sequence in a way that makes it seem 'empowering' or politically correct is arguably more insulting than the actual sequence itself.  The game's producers couldn't simply say "We wanted to put her in a terrible situation and watch her fight her way out of it." or "An attempted rape is a realistic result of the scenario in question, but we didn't want to be exploitative so it's over in a flash."

Or better yet, they could have decided to either not create an 'origin' for Lara Croft at all.  She's an archaeologist, she can survive in any environment, she knows how to kick ass and handle firearms, the end.  But not only did they create an origin that is somewhat offensive on its face, but they created a scenario where Croft no longer gets to make a choice in regards to her own destiny.  Rather than choosing to be an explorer, she has physical/sexual peril thrust onto her and is no longer a hero but merely fighting to save her own life.  In short, she's no longer a proactive adventurer.  She's just another scared little girl reacting to the big scary men around her as we male players 'rescue her' from the various dangers.

Scott Mendelson    


obthavariable said...

Angelina Jolie and her two Tomb Raider movies made me a fan of Lara Croft, and even though I don't play the video games, I'm certainly on the lookout to see that she gets the best representation possible. Not necessarily in terms of how she can stand as a symbol of feminism, or how she fits in with feminist values, or what kind of attributes are given to her and her surroundings in order to be a socially acceptable and non-controversial character in a video game. What I really want is for her to be a cool character in a great game, thus making her and her property have the same clout and reputation as any others in the same medium; to have the level of awesomeness and be as excitement-inducing as the Halos and Call of Dutys. And that's certainly not going to happen with truly boneheaded moves such as this on the part of the game makers.

The last two paragraphs are right on the money with my own thoughts on this. Whatever "controversy" might arise from presenting would-be rape and violent scenarios onto a female character can be swiftly eliminated by acknowledging the honesty and realism of that kind of scenario if such a conflict occurred to a real woman, and then moving on to pointing out that she's able to overcome and defeat her captors and opponents, not unlike any other video game hero. Adding in explanations to make them seem like they're doing her a service of not making her weak and submissive negates all progressivism and diminishes the awesomeness that the product potentially has.

I really hope this hasn't affected too greatly the sales figures it was likely to have. In all likelihood, she'll continue to remain a notable figure in our pop-culture, but we'll just have to wait a bit more before she reaches a higher status as a video game icon. I do believe it can happen at some point, but only if there are smarter moves made for her sake.

On a side note, I'm glad to see that her name is now edited to the correct spelling. It was actually a bit bothersome when I was reading this yesterday. But now, much better.

huzzlewhat said...

I'm a big fan of your blog, but I've never commented until now. Thanks so much for tackling this issue. What prompted me to comment was your observation: "Or better yet, they could have decided to either not create an 'origin' for Lara Croft at all. She's an archaeologist, she can survive in any environment, she knows how to kick ass and handle firearms, the end." This immediately brought to mind the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where we're given an "origin story" of sorts for Indiana Jones — and he's pretty much who he is when we met him, just younger. They didn't need to throw in a bit of threatened child molestation to make him into a convincing ass-kicking archaeologist.


Related Posts with Thumbnails