One Step Forward……One Million Steps Backwards.

[Content note some discussion of rape culture and in game attempted sexual assault]

So they are doing a re-boot of the tomb-raider franchise. This game was one of the first action/adventure games I ever played. I was so excited because the player character was a *lady*!!!!! SQUeeee x eleventy111!!!!, and she did things, badass things. She wasn’t some passive princess waiting to be saved. She was a tomb raiding archaeologist! Sure her boobs were incredibly massive, thats ok some ladies have massive boobs, and sure sometimes her booty shorts did not seem the most practical attire available for but kicking and tomb-raiding. I was willing to let those things go for the chance to play a character I could vaguely identify with.

On to the re-boot..

The good

Lara Croft is allegedly being portrayed less in a hyper-sexualised way. Her boobs are now in proportion to the rest of her, she no-longer wears short shorts or has a her mid-riff showing.  This is good. I am all for less stereotypical and hyper-sexualised images of women being portrayed in video games. Especially since the gaming public often shows itself up as being vocally and violently misogynistic (see here, here and here for examples) so a woman that is portrayed as a human being rather than a fap fantasy is in my mind an excellent step.

The Bad

First there is the erasure of female gamers, or anyone who can identify as a woman playing games. Ron Rosenberg the executive producer of the game says:

“”When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character…”

The inference here is when MEN play Lara they don’t really project themselves into the character. That could be true all though I would argue that many men do, men are not the only people who play games. Does this really need to be stated over and over again? Furthermore why would you want to limit the target market of your game like this? Women who play games want meaningful female characters we can play, better female characters, means more female gamers, which means more games sold.

Apparently players of the game want to “protect her” and “help her” rather than identifying as being the badass her. The gameplay model appears to be that the player has the adventure alongside Lara Croft and comes to her aid rather than having the adventure AS Lara Croft.

It is as if Lara isn’t  a caricature male fantasy of a hyper-sexy warrior she has to be someone that male players feel protective about and want to help. If she is a real human woman then Lara Croft apparently cannot be the ass-kicking heroine that she was in the original franchise.

Secondly – part of humanising Lara is apparently breaking her down in order to build her back up. The scene where she is forced to kill a human being for the first time reads an awful lot like an attempted sexual assault.  Many game heroes have tragic back stories, that is not the issue. In the interview with  Ron Rosenberg (here) he claims this is part of what gives rise to player’s protective feelings of her. This plays into some awful tropes, the idea that the player must protect Lara and help her because she is just like all women vulnerable to sexual assault, makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and It reinforces problematic narratives around sexual assault.

Unless the direction of this game changes pretty dramatically in the time before release I definitely won’t be playing it. It clearly isn’t intended for someone like me who would actually identify with the player character.

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2 thoughts on “One Step Forward……One Million Steps Backwards.

  1. I think the producer just honestly goofed and said something that came out wrong. The fact is, most people say, “I died, not (x video game character’s name) when they mess up, for instance. Players just have a tendency to put themselves first instead of the other way around.

    In addition, I realize there is a lot of complaints about the sexual assault thing with Lara, but couldn’t one just argue that this type of conflict could be a key factor in her development as a character? After all, this is supposed to be a prequel of sorts for Lara before she develops into her more mature self. For this story, she hasn’t built up the experience and skill to avoid these kinds of things. She is supposed to be wet behind the ears so to speak, a novice who is being forced to pull out the stops to survive.

    Yes, the sexual assault itself could be questionable content for a game, but games these days have already pushed the risque envelope for quite awhile. Instead of seeing it as a cheap shot to show a pseudo-rape scene, I think one could say that the scenario is just something that adds toward Lara’s development into a stronger woman. It may be too edgy, but tough people usually are created from adversity and hardships. Lara having to fight for her survival would certainly warrant some grit and perseverance on her part.

    • Hey Nhan, thanks very much for your comment. I guess I am less willing to see it as a simple goof up because I have seen over and over again the exclusion and erasure of female gamers.

      I get your point that gamers tend to identify with the character anyway but to me that does not negate what seems to be an intentional strategy to distance the player and the gamer.

      I understand that there needs Lara proving herself, or becoming ‘hard’ so to speak could be an important component of the game, but I feel that this could have been achieved in different ways.

      Thanks again! It is really good to have this discussion.

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