Sometimes holding off until others have had a say is the best way to formulate your argument. I’d originally started this article as a comparison between the newest Tomb Raider trailer and the recently controversial Hitman: Absolution trailer, with the crux of my argument being that context was what was important when dealing with violence against women. However, something didn’t quite feel right about what I’d written and I opted not to publish the article. Then, I saw @DCWomenKickingAss‘s tweet:
Good point, I thought. Then, on Wednesday, my twitter feed exploded with articles and opinions about the “rape-y” new Tomb Raider.
Below is a list of the articles I read in order to formulate my response to this issue:
Tomb Raider is Not Torture Porn – Venture Beat
Tomb Raider and the Scene that May Define the Game’s Maturity – Video Game Writers
Rant: Crystal Dynamics Hopes Gamers Will Care About Lara Croft… – Inside Gaming Daily
So We Replace Sexy Lara Croft with Victim Lara Croft – The Mary Sue
The Tomb Raider Scandal: Everybody is Right and Wrong – Destructoid
On the one hand it is nice to know I wasn’t the only one who noticed the variety and painfulness of every grunt and groan they squeeze out of poor Lara. On the the other hand, I worry that this backlash, fueled largely by some serious foot-in-mouth on the behalf of executive producer Ron Rosenberg, will overshadow what could be a really kick-ass game with a cool and different kind of female protagonist. Personally, I’m going to reserve final judgement until the full game is released and we can see everything in its proper context.
Some of the responses are frighteningly reactionary, such as Kellie Foxx-Gonzalez’s assertion that “Lara Croft will be punished with rape for failing to complete the game objective of not getting raped.” I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the outcome for anything in Tomb Raider will be rape, they’ll probably just go with the more mundane outcome of death. The other objection I have to some of the criticism is that by making Lara into a victim in these scenes that appear early on in the game, they are taking away from her strength. From what I understand the new Tomb Raider is meant to be an origin story, and as such Lara will develop her strength over the course of the game. That all said, using insinuated sexual danger as a way of “strengthening” a female character is tired, cheap and deserves to be called out as such.
The biggest part of the problem seems to be the way that the developers are discussing Lara’s new vulnerability, using words like “protect” and “help” when describing the player’s relationship to the character. I can sort of see what they’re trying to do, but the language is paternalistic and patronizing and coupling it with the whole “almost rape” scenario veers them into misogynist territory. I don’t think this is intentional, it’s just emblematic of the fact that this is a game about a woman, meant to appeal primarily to men.
Because we all know women don’t play video games.
Crystal Dynamics even went so far as to issue a press statement later in the day that said flat out that there is no attempted rape. I don’t know if they saw the same trailer I did, but whether or not actual rape happens in the game, the “threatening undertone” in that scene has clear sexual overtones, making the jump to assuming rape as a possible outcome a pretty natural one for anyone with two eyes and a brain.
What would be a better way for Crystal Dynamics to deal with this recent glut of bad press?
Find a woman, any woman, on the Tomb Raider team and get her to talk about the game. I don’t care if she’s the accountant, find a woman and put her in front of the press. Get her to explain why this new representation of Lara is such an exciting step.
And if they can’t find any women on the team?
Well, that’s probably their problem right there.
Editor’s note: Shortly after all the hubbub the game’s writer, Rhianna Pratchett, became the de facto spokesperson for the game.