Posted by Marianne Miller on Jun 25, 2012

The Tomb Raider Reboot, And Why This Lady Won’t Be Playing It

To say that I am disappointed in the developers of the new Tomb Raider reboot would be a severe understatement.  Their ballsy approach to advertising the game, as well as their almost desperate backtracking has nearly led to a broken nose from how hard I facepalmed in response to the above articles (Click the links).  But the thing that confuses me more are the people who don’t seem to understand the “controversy” surrounding this game.

Most people (who are for and against the new game) seem to focus on the attempted rape that was featured in the trailer (and proudly mentioned by the game’s Executive Producer) for vastly different reasons.  Those who are against it write that using attempted rape to show what a “strong” character Lara is seem to think that it’s tacky and waters down the seriousness of rape and rape culture, along with a strongly-worded argument about sexism against female characters in media.  Those who are for the game argue that games feature all sorts of horrible violence, so why should rape be omitted from the list?  It’s a “mature game” and so should feature “mature themes”.

But really, sexual assault is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that I have with this game and the way it is marketed.

Crystal Dynamics have said again and again that they are eager to show a side of Lara Croft that no one has seen before, opting to create an origin story for the reluctant raider—why this was necessary for Lara Croft, one of gaming’s only long-standing female protagonists, I don’t know.  I’m sure Marcus Fenix, Sam Fisher and Duke Nukem have games in the works that feature them getting kidnapped, attacked by wild animals and nearly raped by natives.  Except they don’t.  And never will.  Because they’re men and don’t need to prove to male gamers that they are actually capable of defending themselves.  While some of these men do have bits of angst in their past, those moments  of “weakness” are confined to a few flashbacks, while Lara Croft is submitted to an entire game.

While some may argue that I’m reaching too far to grab my “sexism” card, it makes it difficult for me to humor that idea with a quote like:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character.  They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ “

This quote rubs me the wrong way for a variety of reasons: First, that men are only capable of feeling the need to “protect” women rather than actually relating to them as human beings, and second, that female protagonists are completely unable to fend for themselves in the first place.  One might be able to overlook this strange turn of phrase if the trailer that Crystal Dynamics released didn’t actually look like it was for some weird, interactive torture porn.  While I wasn’t a big fan of Lara Croft’s old “sex sells” model, it seems like the larger breasts and short shorts have been traded in for a much stranger form of exploitation.

Someone I know recently made a comment about how they couldn’t understand how Tomb Raider was getting so much flak while a game like Lollipop Chainsaw went along, completely untouched by female gamer rage.  And while I can understand their point, I can’t help but point out the completely different breed of offensiveness being displayed by LC.

Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that was made to be tacky and offensive.  No character is safe from being called a “bitch”, “douchebag”, or being the butt of a Catholic Priest joke.  While Lollipop Chainsaw does feature a scantily clad heroine, I don’t see how that makes a game inherently sexist.  Juliet, the protagonist, was completely able to handle herself, and needed no further explanation for that aside from “My family is full of zombie hunters.”  My husband was capable of playing the entire game as Juliet, with her boyfriend’s head attached firmly to her hip (allowing for more gratuitous ass shots), without wondering once about how she got that way, or lamenting about the fact that he couldn’t see what made her what she was.  The whole game was tacky, and any sexist comments were quickly quipped back by Juliet, who was a perfectly tolerable character.


Lollipop Chainsaw featured a protagonist trained by her parents to be good at killing zombies.  So wouldn’t it go without saying that Lara Croft would have been raised by her parents to be good at raiding tombs (something that seems painfully absent in the marketing for this installment)?  The closest Lollipop Chainsaw comes to sexism is what was already featured in the original Tomb Raider—lots of T&A.  And while fanservice shots aren’t exactly ideal, I’ll gladly take them over what has been put in my face in an attempt at a ‘modern, realistic, edgy’ game.  Suda 51 made no attempt at realism, has never made any attempt at realism, and is certainly not restructuring a very recognizable woman so that she can earn male gamers’ respect, as though she were incapable of just having it in the first place.  And really, what strikes me as odd is that Crystal Dynamics feel the need to establish mature, realistic themes within a series that had, previously, featured an impossibly large-breasted woman shooting T-rexes in the face.

While this Tomb Raider is a game made for adults and features situations that are not child friendly, I would say that this game is a far cry from “mature”.  When the EP of the game comes out holding up the fact that his very iconic female protagonist gets the shit kicked out of her on a regular basis, as well as gets nearly raped by bandits like it’s some sort of straight-A report card, followed by a statement from Crystal Dynamics stating essentially that she wasn’t “actually” raped, so therefore it’s okay (because “attempted” rape/sexual assault is apparently acceptable), it proves that the people working on this game completely lack an understanding for the very real problem that many men and women face when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Everyone is eager to cut Crystal Dynamics some slack when it comes to their involvement of sexual assault, saying several times over that “Rape happens.  Who cares?”  However, I would be willing to bet that many of these people claiming that rape is just a part of life also carry many of the victim-blaming tendencies that deny many rape survivors justice against their attackers.   Statements like “Her (fill in the blank piece of clothing) was too revealing—she was asking for it!” or (my favorite one that’s sprung up from this heated debate) “She’s a pretty girl surrounded by men.  What did you expect?  Of course she’s going to get raped” only perpetuate the mentality that women (or some men) continually ask to get assaulted sexually by anyone who fancies it, and that the idea that they would claim otherwise is silly.

There is still far too much gray area around rape for me to feel comfortable for it to be used as a flippant plot device, as it is in this game.  I have no problem with the presence of rape in media, however it seems as though rape is the only way one can develop a “strong” female character anymore, and it’s coming off more like a case of lazy writing than someone legitimately trying to create a relatable female character.  And really, in a game where their protagonist is impaled on a rusted spike and marooned on an island where she is attacked by animals and people at every turn , is attempted rape really necessary to show that she is capable of handling herself?

Call me politically correct, call me easily offended, call me a feminist (the horror!).  I know what I am—a rape survivor who is hella tired of this tired trope and was hoping for actual thought and creativity when it came to writing an origin story for one of gaming’s most recognizable women.

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