Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Weak Woman, Rape Victim

Continuing E3 coverage! Buy my product! Even though I don’t have one!

It seems we have happened upon the growing pains of the video game industry. Now we’re trying to depict real life and real-life situations as realistically as possible, we’re bound to get some weird, janky, and awkward games. In fact, a few are already on their way, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting consumers.

Beforehand, games were attempting to be games rather than moving narratives or stories. Even in the move torwards realism, that trend has stayed pretty much intact. However, I think developers are starting to realize that total realism in graphics isn’t going to improve their games. They ask, “what can we do with these graphics that actually takes advantage of them, rather than simply making our game much more pretty?” So far, attempts on that end haven’t gone very well (Heavy Rain is going to get a beating every time I mention it, directly or indirectly; I apologize to its fans).

The developers of the new Tomb Raider reboot have taken it upon themselves to start this new trend: provoking emotion in the player. The Last of Us, and whatever David Cage’s new game is called (I don’t care, really) also work toward this goal. They do this by – get this – putting a young woman in an intense situation that no person should ever have to go through: an attempted rape.

Now, I’m not the one to curse except in jest or in context, but this made me go WTF. Perhaps some other unprintable things also, but I’ll let you take that to Imagination Town.

Video games offer experiences, yes, but that kind of experience isn’t one that any person should have the “pleasure” to have happen to the player’s protagonist in a video game. From what I’ve read so far, it looks as if Kotaku originally blew the lid on this one, when executive producer Ron Rosenburg said something of the following:

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.”

Kotaku used the word “rape” because that’s WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN THE TRAILER. I don’t think it’s that much of an assumption when THAT’S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE. The other key to this whole debacle (which, literally, blew up the gaming community for the past couple days) is further comments:

“When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character…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…Her skin is still bare on the arms and there are going to be rips and tears on her clothes, but it won’t be about being revealing. It’s a way of saying that through these tough situations, there is a beauty and vulnerability coming through. I think that is sexy in its own way.”

Honestly, I am fine with innovation in storytelling within video games; it’s about time we actually tried for something “real” with all this technology backing it. But I don’t care how much you want to do it – do not put stuff like this in games. There’s a fine line between killing people in a warzone, and killing somebody who just tried to rape you, especially with the associated visual and audio cues (My God, even typing this feels totally wrong). Strip away all the graphical elements of Modern Warfare 3, for example, and what you get is a 3D first person shooting gallery, essentially. What would happen if you strip down the “intense capture” scene?

Movies do rape scenes, sure. And in them, it also feels, looks, and sounds wrong. But that’s a character on a screen; it has something to do with who they are. However, for me, actually showing it is much less effective than saying it happened; rather than giving the visceral feel of a rape (and WHY IN GOD’S NAME WOULD YOU WANT THAT), implying it through the character’s actions makes it real. Recounting the events in grim detail, however, just contributes to that general lust that people have for adult content. Adult content shouldn’t be adult because I threw something horrific in their; it should be adult because of its themes.

Like GTAIII  in 2001, all this stuff about “real characters, real people, in games” is just a mask and a facade for the exact same thing we’ve been given ever since the industry went mainstream America: a Hollywood blockbuster crammed into a video game, or a violent playground. All the men have to be strongwilled, determined, smart, and confident (and somehow be able to have perfect accuracy), and all the women must be weak damsels in distress who either must wait for the male to save them or save themselves, always reluctantly.

Here, we have the latter situation of capture. Second, we get Lara Croft’s first “kill”, and she obviously didn’t enjoy doing that. But, again, there’s a different feel here because, as Jeremy Parish seems to see, the effect of the story just throws Lara Croft right back into her acrobatic, mass-murdering ways like any other video game character. Am I just supposed to accept that, because Lara Croft has been in a bad situation, that justifies the killing? Does that make it “meaningful”?

There’s plenty of strong women in the Bible. They don’t have to be portrayed as “weak” or “reluctant” because they aren’t. Take the Judge Deborah, for example; God not only puts her in charge of all Israel, but she also leads the armies of the Lord against other nations! Considering the supposed “sexism” of the Bible, one has to think these women aren’t just a out-of-the-ordinary thing. Take a look at Judges 4:

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under thepalm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lordwill sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak calledZebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.

Of course, the invading armies retreat, but the king of that army is killed…by a woman! With a tent stake, no less. Judges 5, then, isn’t called the Song of Barak, her general, but the Song of Deborah, who led God’s people to success. That’s what I call awesome; that’s what I call a real woman, strong of heart and of mind, a unique strength. Deborah doesn’t even have to get her hands dirty, so to speak. The passage doesn’t need violence to have meaning and purpose.

Lara represents a stereotype made by men about women. The “rape” comments, though misinterpreted, still show we haven’t moved past the same old ideas and the same male-focused plots. Not that’s there anything wrong with that, but If you really want a game centered around a woman, and not about paternalistic notions of vulnerability and strength, this isn’t the way to go about it. Even if it was the wrong words, it still doesn’t work:

“In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.”

Well, I’m glad we cleared that up – too bad the rest of the game represents the exact same game with a different veneer.

EDIT: Apparently, I was thinking exactly the same thing as 1UP. Strange synchronicity. I disagree with some of the points in this article, though. I don’t so much think it’s about “gender roles”; it’s only because this subject matter came up in Tomb Raider that we have the problem in the first place.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.