Some daft comments to the press do not mean we should dismiss Crystal Dynamics’s Tomb Raider reboot, says Melissa Kay
Usually when asked for an opinion I have no problem voicing it but this issue gave me pause. That’s not to say I was unaware of the controversy surrounding Crystal Dynamics’s forthcoming reboot of Tomb Raider. With a mix mash of contradictory statements from producers regarding a possible sexual assault on lead character Lara Croft and a flurry of interpretations and views from both media and consumers, the idea of presenting my own thoughts on the matter caused me more than a little stress as you can tell from my failing to articulate my feelings on the subject during this week’s Reset Transmission.
The Tomb Raider outcry consists of arguments, counter-arguments, and counter-counter-arguments. Numerous examinations and breakdowns of these arguments can pretty much be found everywhere and anywhere but a particularly good one was penned by Jim Sterling over at Destructoid.
Needless to say, no matter how solid you are when you present your thoughts on such controversial matters, someone is going to disagree and probably tear your article to shreds.
Personally, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with Crystal Dynamics exploring the theme of sexual assault. Even though the company now isn’t doing that, according to the latest official statement, which said, “Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game”, despite the implications in the Crossroads trailer.
After careful consideration, I believe that more sensitive, dark themes can be successfully implemented in video games, just as they are in other forms of media. Games that emotionally engage and challenge the comfort zones of an audience achieve a greater level of depth. A game that has done this successfully is Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, a dramatic psychological thriller that features child death, abduction, sex, torture, and violence.
Most of the storm seems to center on comments made by Tomb Raider executive producer Ron Rosenberg. In particular, during his Kotaku interview at E3 when he said, “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 ‘protecting’ Lara comment that seems to have caused a lot of fuss. Regardless of whether or not you project yourself onto the character in the game, what’s wrong with caring about what happens to Lara and having protective feelings for her? Are people upset because men have written Croft as a little less indestructible and a little more human (even though I’m sure women are also part of the development team)? Are people upset because they are seeing this as a case of women needing to be protected by men? I don’t see it that way. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to protect the protagonist in the game. Would people be so upset if this character wasn’t Lara Croft? Would people be so upset if this character was a man? I don’t really think so.
I keep on thinking back to Heavy Rain because it had such a memorable effect on me as a gamer. Even though the gamer experiences the story through four very different characters, I felt that the main protagonist of the game was Ethan Mars. Ethan is an architect, husband, and father, who experiences a deep tragedy in his personal life at the start of the game, before experiencing an even more harrowing nightmare when his son is abducted by the serial Origami Killer. I felt such a great connection to this game because the characters are, for the most part, normal everyday people like you and me. Especially Ethan because he’s an ordinary person thrust into an extraordinary situation filled will mental and physical torture. He got hurt, I felt for him. Was I projecting on to him? Maybe, maybe not. Did I want to protect him? Yes. He reminds me very much of the rebooted Lara Croft. Do you see what I’m getting at?
The public has only seen mere snippets of an obviously much larger, longer game. What we’ve seen is Lara Croft pretty much getting the crap kicked out of her by the environment and some enemies, and then she is possibly subjected to an attempted sexual assault. Even when watching the clips that have been released over time I often thought, how is she still alive?! How does she keep getting up?
This new Lara Croft is no super-human badass but she’s certainly more capable than I’d probably be in the same situation, and for that I admire and commend her. Yet, I think she’s believable and relatable as a human being. Susan Arendt made a good point in her article at The Escapist, saying that people would rather focus negatively on what’s knocking Lara down instead of the way she keeps getting back up.
What’s even more interesting is, outside of protecting Lara Croft, a second major point of this debate is centered around the possible inclusion of sexual assault. People are saying it’s a lazy tactic in video game development. As a random aside, how many Mario games have been released to date? Ahem.
Anyway, so let’s all freak out at the possibility of a sexually violent crime happening in a video game but accept the fact that stabbing someone in the neck or getting shot is completely normal. I’m not blaming the victim or glorifying the enemy, I’m just saying that whenever it comes to sex vs violence, people seem to think that sexual content is more dangerous to human morality.
I agree that gender and sexism in gaming are important and serious issues. We often hear that women are often mis- or under-represented in games. Sometimes they’re the damsel in distress, fetishized, sexualized, and infantilized. As a result, we often hear a call for the fair treatment and representation of women in video games.
Yet, if the protagonist of this game was Larry Croft I seriously doubt there would be the same public outrage at the violent and sexual assault the character may or may not experience. Realistic heroes aren’t invincible, they get hurt. That doesn’t mean they’re weak. You can’t demand women be treated the same in video games and then when they are, call it torture porn.
You know… in my opinion.
EDIT: the headline was changed on June 21 as the original did not accurately reflect the author’s opinion.