E3 2012: The Tomb Raider Rape Problem
By Alex Cranz
The new Tomb Raider game, due out next year, is a big deal. If you want to see women heroines in your video games it is absolutely critical. Every single developer is watching this game with bated breath. If it doesn’t do well than every failure in the game will be placed squarely on Lara Croft’s slight shoulders and we’ll never get another female lead outside of hypersexualized Lollipop Chainsaw heroines ever again.
So you can understand how it is frustrating as hell that every bit of footage we’ve seen for the game so far indicates a story that is exploitative as hell. Watching trailers and gameplay footage from the game is like sitting through a “woman’s power” film from the early 70s.
I mean. I get what they’re trying to do. They’re putting Lara through her paces. They’re beating her down and beating her up. In the first hour of the game she’s nearly drowned, impaled on the ribs of a corpse after a fall and goes toe to toe (quite literally) with a cannibal. And that’s awesome and crazy and cool I guess. I’d have no problem with a male character going through the same. Would you?
But then there’s this quote from Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer (one of the head honchos behind the development of the game) Ron Rosenburg:
RON: “And then what happens is her best friend gets kidnapped, she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island. They try to rape her, and-”
KOTAKU: “They try to rape her?”
RON: “She’s literally turned into a cornered animal. And that’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s either forced to fight back or die and that’s what we’re showing today.”
The clip in question is cut all to hell so though it looks very sexual in the trailer it could very well end up NOT being an out and out attempted rape in the final game. In fact studio head Darryl Gallagher said as much later.
“In this particular selection, 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.”
Thing is when I saw the footage at E3 it raised one of my very luscious eyebrows. It had a “rapey vibe,” but it was also so quick and featuring a big guy and a young and broken woman that I was afraid I was misinterpreting it. I can see how dudes might not recognize that what they see as a fight many women (and apparently one male executive producer) see as “he wants to rape me.”
As much as Crystal Dynamics wants to make it clear that sexual assault doesn’t occur in the game they’ve got to recognize something. Women are exploited daily. Sexually. Physically. Psychologically. Women get nervous if a guy walks too closely behind them and we abhor blind internet dates because we’re trained to believe every man we don’t know is a sexual predator out to rape us. We turn on the television and we see women beaten, raped, and murdered at an alarming rate. Slasher films? Populated with the buxom bodies of the dead. When a guy is dragged through the mud and impaled on corpses and taken advantage of physically in video games and films it’s engaging because that isn’t as common and there isn’t the constant underlying fear of sexual assault.
Outside of prison movies our minds simply don’t go there when men tussle. But they will always go there when a large and aggressive man violently engages a smaller woman. Especially if she’s bound. Especially if there is below the belt contact of any kind. It’s just a matter of fact.
And it sucks. Because personally I want my badass female heroine to have all sorts of shit rain down on her head and rise above. I want to see her put through her paces. I want to know that she’s so dangerous the guys aren’t thinking about what they’re penises could do to her they’re think about how to survive when she brings the pain. Who doesn’t! But because of the rape culture we live in you have to be so extraordinarily careful with how you beat her down otherwise the story isn’t about her coming back to pwn faces. It’s about the systematic abuses she suffers.
Let’s put it in the most simplest of terms: right now it looks like Lara and the other women of Tomb Raider (of which there are more than one and I’m actually really stoked about her saving a BFF instead of just herself or an old man) are Jon Voight/Ned Beatty in Deliverance. If you want to make your heroine badass and put her through hell then make her glistening human perfection of Burt Reynolds creeping up from the river with an arrow notched.
Or better yet check out the film Eden, where a woman is held captive in the middle of the desert by armed thugs, bikers and crooked US Marshalls, beaten, tortured, and raped and then kills her captors and escapes all without being visually exploited once on film.