Lara, What Have They Done To You?

With E3 2012 underway (and now winding down), my inbox has been flooded with trailers, demos, gameplay, interviews, and announcements from the convention.  It’s actually been pretty lackluster this year in term of thing getting me excited (aside from Bieber-Leon’s silky European-model hair in Resident Evil 6), but one game is standing out for me.  However, it’s not doing so in a good way.  I’d heard rumors about some Tomb Raider reboot along time ago, but this was the first I’d really seen of it.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I do know it certainly wasn’t what I got.

Before I go any further, I should reiterate that this is an opinion.  I’m not saying what is, or who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m just stating my own personal reaction to and interpretation of what I saw.  That being said…

There are some seriously questionable undertones at work here.  I don’t want to say ‘misogynistic’, because that seems like too strong a word, but the more footage that gets released, the closer it’s getting to that.  The first red flag should have been Square Enix.  Wonderful as the Final Fantasy games are, they are not where you go to find strong female protagonists, and boy does that show here.  For three and a half minutes, Lara does nothing but cry, scream, beg for help, complain, look scared, get the shit beat out of her and get sexually assaulted.  It’s almost too uncomfortable to watch.  And the worst part about all this is that I honestly don’t know whether the players are supposed to feel sympathy for Lara’s situation, or fetish-ize it.

I’ve been told I’m over-reacting, that I’m reading far too much into this and making up sexism where there actually is none.  But I honestly don’t think that’s the case.  I know Lara has always been the poster girl for male chauvinist gamers & developers, but that was always balanced out by the fact that she was intelligent, capable, and kick-ass.  All I see when I look at this trailer is a scared, victimized young woman.  Actually, I see several victimized women.  Not only is Lara abused all to hell, her first friend Steph is strung up dead, and her other friend Sam is abducted at knife-point.  There’s nothing in the trailer to balance any of this out.  Lara never really stands up or shows even a hint of the tough adventurer we know (I mean there is one scene where she looks like she’s going to make a jump for a helicopter, but surprise surprise, she probably won’t make it and falls), and men are never shown in anything even close to the kind of situations all the women are.  Not helping any of this is the painfully submissive and vulnerable voice acting.  Seriously, I challenge you to sit through this demo with the sound cranked and your eyes closed.  You tell me what you’re hearing.

I know this is a reboot and an origin story, and I’m alright seeing an inexperienced Lara thrown into the deep end of a situation.  What I do have a problem with is her reaction to it.  Lets examine the two obvious male counter-parts, Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake.  Even when he was 13, Indiana Jones was still rescuing historical artifacts from fortune seekers and following that with a daring chase sequences.  He was far from awesome at it, accidentally whipping himself in the face and even losing the artifact in the end, but he still held the same core beliefs and attitudes held by the bad-ass he’d become.  Nathan Drake is put through the ringer at the start of Uncharted 2, but never once is he made to be the victim.  He grunts, he groans, he doesn’t really like being shot, but he’s not huddled up whimpering and crying.  Nathan Drake shows strength through action, while this new Lara Croft is showing ‘strength’ through reaction (to stepping in a freaking bear-trap).  Unlike a young Indy, I don’t see a shred of the capable, in-control Lara I once knew being presented here.  Honestly, you’d think after an experience like this, she’d never want to adventure again.  I know I would be a blubbering panicky mess if I were shipwrecked on a jungle island that wants to kill me at every turn, but I’m not Lara Croft.  And if this is a turn at trying to portray a more realistic survival experience, why aren’t the same steps being taken with male protagonists?  Why does Solid Snake respond to these kind of torturous situations with stoic heroics?  Why does Nathan Drake respond to serious injury with worried yet still casual witticisms?  Why is Bear Grylls somersaulting across rocks and vaulting bears?

Again, just to be clear, I’m not saying “the game looks like shit”.  It actually does look far more exciting than previous Tomb Raider games, despite borrowing heavily from Uncharted and featuring a lot of what look suspiciously like quick-time and mash sequences.  What I am saying is “I have a problem with the way marketing has chosen to showcase Lara”.  Is the game really going to be 20 hours of Hostel: Jungle Edition?  Who knows, only time will tell.  But at this point, it’s certainly looking that way.

I lost Samus Aran to Metroid: Other M.  I lost Aya Brea to The 3rd Birthday.  Now I’m going to lose Lara Croft to Tomb Raider: Crossroads.  Why is it the only back story video games seem able to give their strong female protagonists are traumatic ones?  Why can’t I have a strong female with a strong origin?  Throwing Lara Croft into what looks to be more survival horror than it does survival adventure isn’t edgy, and it isn’t new.  Vulnerable, victimized women in gaming is tired and played out.  I understand the developers are trying to have a lot of “female hero rescues herself” rather than “damsel in distress waits to be saved”, but in the end, both end up creating the same image; a young woman and at one time incredibly strong woman being hogtied, pimp slapped, and molested.

It’s almost as though ridiculous (and at the time, hilarious) challenges from the past are coming back to haunt us…

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  1. Laura Mattson
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I haaaaate tombs, I’m scaaared, and now I’m stronger cause I’ve been sexually assaulted! Hooray! Female gamers should rejoice cause she’s so -strong- and -capable- now! All it took was for her friends to all die slasher movie style and a man to abuse her! Excellent storytelling! You know what I would like? I’d like developers to realize that to make a game or story darker, all they need to do is make the surroundings darker. You don’t have to rape or murder anyone to make a story dark – that’s what I call lazy storytelling.

    I can’t explain how absolutely upsetting this is. I LOVED the Tomb Raider series because Lara was a sassy, no nonsense, entitled relic hunter.

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