Tomb Raider, Rape Culture, and a Concise Illustration of Exactly What is Wrong With the Game Industry
I’m still collecting my thoughts from the Big Three’s press conferences, so thanks for bearing with me through my horrifically busy schedule this past week. I want to take a short break from the madness of E3 to talk about something only tangentially related: Tomb Raider.
Now, listen - I’m not going to stand up and issue forth an indictment of this almost two-decade-old franchise on the basis of the extreme sexualization of the character that has existed from day one. That’s obvious to anyone with two working eyes, and I don’t think there’s anything left to be said about it. We all know Old Lara Croft with her comically short shorts and her excessively large polygonal breasts. We went through the phase where she was lauded as a Strong Woman despite being little more than a pin-up for horny male teens. Those days are behind us.
Because today, we have Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider. (And from now on, we’re just going to call it Tomb Raider, because calling it The New Tomb Raider or Tomb Raider (2012) is clunky as hell.)
The above (and similar pictures) was the first I saw of the new Tomb Raider a couple of years ago, and even just with that limited context, I was pretty ecstatic. New Lara looked dirty. She looked as though she’d been crawling through filthy tunnels looking for some ancient relic or other. She looked tough, and perhaps most encouragingly, she looked sensible. The modelers had seen fit to reduce her cup size by a factor of 10 or so. She looked like something approaching a real person! In some pictures they released, she was shown to be wearing actual pants!
And then the other shoe dropped. Crystal Dynamics released a gameplay trailer during E3 2011. It’s short, you can watch the whole thing, but the really egregious stuff doesn’t start until roughly the 4-minute mark. And by the really egregious stuff, I mean Lara’s incidental voice acting.
Seriously, listen to it. It’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve heard in a while, even in retrospect. Lara is put through a series of puzzles, she has to dodge falling rocks, she has to fend off attackers, all while experiencing what is apparently an earth-shattering orgasm.
But hey, I thought to myself, maybe it won’t suck. Surely some of the feedback from that trailer will make its way through whatever road to the developer, who might realize the degree to which it sounds like Lara is moaning erotically while going through what is essentially a series of torture chambers.
Needless to say, then, I was interested to see what Crystal Dynamics would bring to the table this year.
What they brought to the table was not good. In fact it was by pretty much all accounts even worse than last year. Lara now cannot move more than a few feet without panting. Every time she lands on her feet, she releases an orgasmic squeal. I’m pretty sure that the VA directions for this trailer were just the second two-thirds of Deepthroat. And this is all while she’s enduring physical pain and trials the likes of which haven’t been seen outside of a Vin Diesel movie. I was, in a word, done. Nice try, boys! Next time try not to give your players an erection.
And then things got even worse.
Because yesterday, Crystal Dynamics gave Kotaku an interview. Check this out:
“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.
“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.’”
Maybe people would project themselves more onto Lara Croft if she was at all a relatable, real character instead of a blowup doll with sidearms. Maybe gamers of both genders wouldn’t have a problem connecting with Lara Croft if, up to this point she was an actual human being.
And hang on just a second, protect her? That completely defeats the purpose of making Lara the POV character. That isn’t how this shit works. You want to protect Emma in Metal Gear Solid 2. You want to protect Yorda in ICO. I’m not supposed to want to protect the character through whose eyes I’m seeing the world, I’m supposed to want to BE HER.
I can’t remember the last time a developer said of a male protagonist, “You will want to protect him.” Did you want to protect Nathan Drake or Ezio Auditore? Did you want to protect Gordon Freeman or Adam Jensen or any other of the thousand male protagonists that have come and gone over the years?
Of course not.
So why do they want us to protect Lara, instead of being Lara?
“The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.”
In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”
This is why men shouldn’t be allowed to develop female characters. Because when the men get their hands into the project and realize that they need Lara Croft to go through some Real Problems, the first thing they turn to is physical torture and rape. Perhaps it’s because they don’t think they’ll be able to write a relatable woman. Perhaps they’re just lazy. Perhaps they don’t see what exactly they’re doing that’s so awful, here. But it happened in Dragon Age: Origins. It happened in Heavy Rain. And it’s happening again.
I can’t believe that in this, The Year Two Thousand And Twelve, I’m having to write this. But developers? Writers? Men who are trying to create compelling female characters?
Please stop using sexual assault in place of actual character development.
Crystal Dynamics, please. You can still save this game. You can make Lara Croft a real character instead of a torture victim. You can make her a complete badass, give her her own agency, and let her defend herself instead of making us want to save her from being raped like some kind of adolescent white-knight fantasy. You can, in short, take Lara Croft out of the fridge.
But if this is the direction in which they’re taking the game, well… I’m just going to start yearning for the halcyon days of 1996.
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