I didn’t want to have to write about this as I’m no doubt going to upset someone. The problem is, expressing an opinion, at any time, means that there’s bound to be someone who disagrees with you. Normally, disagreeing with someone isn’t a problem, it’s perfectly natural.
This is the internet, however, and disagreements soon turn into ‘flame wars’ and downright nastiness.
Still. ‘Haters gonna hate’, right? Here’s my thoughts on the whole ‘Tomb Raider thing’.
OK, let’s get some context here.
Gender’s been a bit of a touchy subject in gaming recently. You’ve had sexy nuns causing upset, women being harassed because they have the misfortune of liking fighting games and a woman receiving downright abuse, all because she wants to make a video series about how women in video games (both in terms of players and characters) are mistreated and misrepresented.
All rather nasty stuff which, worryingly, highlights a ‘rape culture’ which exists within some gaming communities. It’s important that you understand what the term ‘rape culture’ actually means, so have a look at this article I re-blogged. It’s not about a culture where you’re likely to GET raped but it is a culture where rape is trivialized, condoned or at worst, promoted. With the comments on this Kickstarter and subsequent YouTube video, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a problem existent within gaming. Is it just trolls trolling? Losers using the anonymity of the internet to say something that they’d never say in real life? Probably. Hopefully. Either way, to ignore it would be to accept it and to accept it is just an idea I don’t want to consider.
So, where does the new Tomb Raider game come into this?
Well, it turns out that the new Tomb Raider has Lara Croft go through all sorts of terrible events. She gets physically battered about, stabbed, shot at and nearly drowns several times. She’s also the victim of attempted rape, according to the producer of the game, Ron Rosenberg.
Having Lara go through this traumatic event isn’t bad per se. With this reboot being all about Lara’s origin story, it allows for ‘growth’. Lara will overcome all sorts of trials and tribulations within this game, making her stronger and turning her into the Lara we all know. It’s a pretty lazy device, having a woman be pushed to the edge in order for her to become strong and confident, but as long as it’s done in an appropriate way, it can be effective. Other stories, be they film, play or novel have used it in the past, even games such as Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire have had a hint of sexual assault in them. This danger allowed the characters to be empathised, added a sense of urgency to cases being investigated and added to the tension of playing the game. So why is Tomb Raider getting so much flak, especially when you consider that the scene itself (it’s in the trailer, see if you can spot it) isn’t overly gratuitous or overplayed.
Well, in those games we got to see this subject being played out in context. For the most part, people are only aware of this event being in Tomb Raider because so much has been written about it (I’m ware of the irony as I’m typing). So is Tomb Raider being hard done by? No. The reason people know about it is because we were meant to know about it.
When you use attempted rape as a publicity material, by placing it in trailers (no matter how ‘tastefully’ done) and mentioning it in interviews (to help us realise how defenceless your female lead is), you’re going to run into trouble. Using attempted rape as a means to generate publicity is wrong.
It also means that you can’t complain when a scene, which you flash on-screen in a trailer, is ‘taken out of context’. If you’re going to parade a foiled sexual assault around as part of your attention grabbing scheme, you’ve got to expect people to be less than impressed and in cases outright offended. Having an attempted rape be the way you prove how adult and mature your game is will not end well. In fact, if you have to prove how adult and mature your game is, it’s probably neither. Crystal Dynamics have now back tracked on this statement, saying there’s no such content within the game, but I can’t help but think it’s all a little half-hearted. A panicked attempt at closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Adding to this poorly handled PR machine is the fact the interview says we’re not going to want to empathise with Lara, but we’ll ‘want to protect her’. The idea that Lara’s been turned into nothing but a poor helpless woman who we needs to be protected, from rape of all things, is just shameful. Do we protect Nathan Drake? Do we protect Snake? Do we protect Samus Aran? No, we are them. We go through their tough times, we go through their successes. We empathise with them, we enjoy their company and we enjoy being them. We’re not their minder.
Whilst this may seem negative and overly critical, which it kind of is, I still want to say that Crystal Dynamics shouldn’t be hounded to death for their mistakes. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that their mistakes are based on naivety and not maliciousness. I’d like to think that this uproar is a stepping stone towards gaming being able to tackle, properly, these difficult themes. I’d like to think that lessons will be learned from this and that developers won’t just eternally shy away from approaching difficult subjects.
Perhaps I think too much. What do you think?