There are many things that evoke controversy. There are certain things that are like a Pandora’s Box. Once you start you can never go back.
Tomb Raider production company Crystal Dynamics in partnership with Square Enix has done just that. The executive producer did an interview with Kotaku. Some of the things he said upset quite a few people.
The reboot of Tomb Raider has changed Lara Croft’s motivation. In the original Tomb Raider game she was dropped in the middle of an island and forced to survive. That was her motivation for killing.
Apparently they didn’t think that was enough.
In the Kotaku article the executive producer said this: “When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. 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.’”
This is their justification for putting in the attempted sexual assault of Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider game.
This statement in and of itself is where the problem lies. It’s thoughts like this that upset women. It does so for a number of reasons. First off, it diminishes Lara Croft as a strong female character. She was incredibly popular by just being a female that kicks ass. When you say that you need to protect her, you diminish the fact that she is strong enough to protect herself. You take away the power that she had because she didn’t need to be protected before to be loved. In many ways, they take away a strong female archetype in gaming and make her more for the boys.
This also manages to diminish an entire audience of the game, namely female gamers. There are precious few strong female archetypes in gaming. Lara Croft was one of them. By making her someone you need to protect you take away the power she had. She was entirely capable of taking care of herself. There were plenty of men who liked Lara Croft strong.
Then we have the sexual assault.
Sexual assault is never a light topic. It’s something that needs to be handled delicately. It’s something that evokes strong feelings and reactions. Once you open that Pandora’s box, there’s no real going back. In the interview the executive producer said this about it: “The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear. 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.”
“She is literally turned into a cornered animal. It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”
And this is fine… if the sexual assault is treated with the proper gravity it deserves. Rape is something that is hugely psychologically and emotionally damaging to someone. I don’t see a problem with art and media trying to tackle a topic as charged as rape, if it does it with a delicate touch. Unfortunately, Crystal Dynamics handled it with an iron fist. After the press release was put out it completely downplayed the sexual assault in the game. They said it wasn’t an important part of the game.
That is a problem. Not only is the sexual assault pivotal, it’s her motivation to start killing in the first place. So, by saying it’s not something that’s all that important to the game. However, watching the trailer itself makes it obvious that it’s a pretty important piece. (You can judge for yourself by watching it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ol_-QGlwRqc )
And then there’s the issue of rape culture. This is something that cannot be escaped. It’s something that’s become so prevalent that there have been slut marches to protest how we view rape. This is a society that thinks if you dress too provocatively that you deserve to be raped. When we see it portrayed in some movies that because you’re hot and tied up, so you deserve to be raped. Unfortunately, that’s a side-effect of our puritanical society. There’s a deeply engrained belief that a woman should always be demure and polite; that a woman should always be a lady. It has been used as a justification for rape. Lara is captured and of course, one of the male captors thinks this is great logic to attempt to rape her.
And while this is an insidious part of our society that has made it in to gaming… it doesn’t change the logic for putting it in the game.
It may be the partnership with Square Enix that might have suggested making the game more dramatic, it’s not Square Enix that has hamfisted the PR for the game. That solely sits squarely on the shoulders of Crystal Dynamics.
While there are a good part of gamers who see that there isn’t any controversy involved, I think in many ways it’s whitewashing the facts. There is a controversy here. As much as I can be offended by the use of rape culture logic in the game, the fact that Crystal Dynamics wants to downplay the significance of the sexual assault in the first place is the real problem.
It’s my opinion that they should admit that it is a pivotal role. It helps form the Lara Croft you play in the game and leave it at that. Let the game speak for itself. It’s other people speaking that has done the most damage.