Have a lot to say here, fair warning.
Was reading about the relaunch of the Tomb Raider video game franchise last night, which has lit up quite the controversy.
Here’s a few quotes from executive producer Ron Rosenberg about the game:
“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.'”
“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper. 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.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, here’s the part that REALLY got people flaming:
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.
Internet goes boom.
To put this all into context, I have to go back to the beginning.
Tomb Raider, the original game, came out in 1996. Before Buffy, Sydney Bristow, and all the other badasses we’ve enjoyed over the years. The first time I saw Lara Croft, she was running straight at a T-Rex firing pistols from both hands.
I immediately bought a Playstation.
The best way I can describe that first game was that it reminded me of Indiana Jones. Big adventures across the world, hunting for mystical artifacts, conspiracies, puzzles and fun. I never once felt like I needed to protect or help Lara. She took out a T-Rex, I think she’s doing fine on her own.
But okay, the relaunch is supposed to be her origin story, so she has yet to become a T-Rex killing badass. All we knew of her origin, according to wikipedia was this:
Game manuals describe the character as the Wimbledon, London-born daughter of the fictional Lord Richard Croft. She was raised as an aristocrat and betrothed to the fictitious Earl of Farringdon. Lara Croft attended the Scottish boarding school Gordonstoun and a Swiss finishing school. A plane crash left the character stranded in the Himalayas for two weeks; the experience spurred her to shun her former life and seek other adventures around the world.
So, now we get to find out what happened. By the looks of the trailer, it won’t be exactly like the above origin, but still in the spirit of it. I can live with that. And unlike watching a prequel, playing one is much more exciting to me.
Part of telling any good story is the defining moments because your main character should go through a change and grow. Lara has to go from aristocrat to badass aristocrat and murder is that moment. It’s murder to survive and is justified, but still is a line that the average person never has to cross. But why kill rather than run away? Because she’s turned, according to Rosenberg, into a “cornered animal” who is about to be raped.
I looked for more articles because I was curious what other people had to say. I found this one on Venture Beat where the writer got to view the entire first level of the game. Here’s his take:
As we observed a year ago, the thing that’s attractive about this approach to Lara Croft is that she doubts herself, but finds that she has an instinct for survival that can be trusted and improved with each new challenge.
That’s something I can get behind. If we’re supposed to be seeing her become a T-Rex killing badass, then she has to start somewhere. I know if I were stranded on an island and away from anything I knew, I’d fumble around and really, really hope someone would save me. That’s ground zero.
The article details various scenes where Lara is faced with basic survival challenges such as finding food and weapons. As the game goes on, she meets other people on the island. One them is kidnapped and the adventure shifts to the rescue mission. Lara isn’t alone anymore, but each challenge she’s faced with is dependent on her perseverance. Even when she’s eventually captured, she fights back while her male counterpart gives up his gun right away.
At no point do I feel like her invisible sidekick helping her. I am Lara. I’m kicking ass.
In the trailer, Lara takes an opportunity to escape. Her hands are bound behind her back and she’s doing her best to be sneaky. Unfortunately, she fails. Here’s what the guys at Venture Beat saw in their preview:
He walks by her in an abandoned hut. Then he returns and points a gun at her head. He closes in with her and she breathes uneasily. He tries to feel up her body and she tries to deflect him. He has rape on his mind. She takes a chance and attacks. He tries to strangle her.
Now you’re back in the driver’s seat and have to fight this guy off or you’ll be killed. That’s very inline with the survival aspect the game developers have said they’re going for. Did they have to include the “rape on his mind” part? No. She could’ve fought back simply because she was recaptured. It’s clear that these guys are evil, so it’s not like we needed more convincing. The scene would’ve played out the same. So, why do it? As a guy, I lean less towards laziness and more toward naivety on the subject. I say that because once upon a time, I was guilty of this thinking.
I wrote a character, a victim of rape, who did become stronger because of it. At the time, it made sense. Extremely horrible ordeal equals extremely strong character. I was younger and I didn’t get it. There’s a lot of things I didn’t get when I was younger. I did eventually decide that it was a weak story arc and have since trashed the whole thing. I couldn’t see rape from a different point of view than my own, which was really dumb on my part. There are multiple sides to everything.
In Ron Rosenberg’s warped interpretation of the game, we’re getting an unexpected view of his feelings toward women and what gamers are interested in. I’d be shocked if the guys developing the game came out and said, “Yep, Roseneberg hit the nail on the head with Tomb Raider. He really gets it.” I hope what they’re thinking is, “Holy shit! Shut this maniac up before he says anything else!”
The game doesn’t come out until next year, which is plenty of time to change things. It happens all the time and maybe Rosenberg’s dumb statements will help that along. Or maybe the game Rosenberg sees is not the actual game. Whatever the final product is, I hope someone asks him to sit the press tour out.