Lara Croft Reboot Link Roundup

A screenshot of the new Lara Croft, for once not bloodied.

A screenshot of the new Lara Croft, for once not bloodied. She is a white woman with straight brown hair, pulled back. She frowns and looks serious, with her gaze slightly away from the camera.

Trigger warnings: discussions of rape.

I quickly wrote my post last week, Lara Croft Reboot: Vulnerability Galore!, in order to make a quick assessment of the new Tomb Raider trailer and now widely sited Kotaku E3 interview with the game’s executive producer Ron Rosenberg.  In the past week, bloggers have written many thoughtful and analytical responses to the trailer and interview.

On June 12, Kat Howard of Strange Ink wrote When you don’t get to hit the replay button, where she linked Rosenberg’s comments to the type of victim blaming that suggests rape victims don’t fight back enough:

But I have a huge problem with there being a game where, if your female character doesn’t fight back well enough, she gets punished by being raped. And my problem is because this hews too closely to the actual reactions rape survivors get.

Also from June 13, see So We Replaced Sexy Lara Croft with Victim Lara Croft by Kellie Foxx-Gonzalez on The Mary Sue.  Foxx-Gonzalez wants her feminist hero back:

Personally, the worst part about this reboot is that it is taking a traditionally feminist character (who has been embraced as a empowering fantasy in spite of the canonical hypersexualization of her character), one of the most beloved ass-kicking female protagonists in gaming, and warping her and her story to cater to a male-dominated gaming culture (and culture at large). Instead of offering women gamers a game in which we can relate to the protagonist, share her hopes and despairs, we’re left with the promise of  veritable torture porn. The promise of a new Tomb Raider held so much potential to add to a growing selection of awesome women protagonists, especially for women gamers. Ron Rosenburg, I would like my strong women protagonists back, and I would like them without having to experience the threat of rape and rape culture, even in a game. I’ve had enough of that in real life as it is.

You’ve probably heard by now that on June 13, the same day the Kotaku article was widely linked by other journalists, Crystal Dynamics retracted their interview with Kotaku.

retraction

We had a great E3 with Tomb Raider and received a fantastic public and press response, with the game picking up numerous game of the show awards based on the new direction taken with the franchise. Unfortunately we were not clear in a recent E3 press interview and things have been misunderstood. Before this gets out of hand, let me explain. In making this Tomb Raider origins story our aim was to take Lara Croft on an exploration of what makes her the character she embodies in late Tomb Raider games. One of the character defining moments for Lara in the game, which has incorrectly been referred to as an ‘attempted rape’ scene is the content we showed at this year’s E3 and which over a million people have now seen in our recent trailer entitled ‘Crossroads’.This is where Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time. In this particular section, 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 of categorically not a theme that we cover in this game."

 

Kotaku went on to provide the original interview, where Rosenberg does state that there is an attempted rape in the game.  Foxx-Gonzalez responds to the retraction:

To be clear: a member of the Crystal Dynamic team stated that scavengers “try to rape her” and in response to being asked to clarify that point, stated that “she’s either forced to fight back or die.” This hardly seems like a statement that was misunderstood and taken out of context. Furthermore, regardless of whether we are calling it an attempted rape, sexual assault, or a “threatening undertone,” in the aforementioned trailer, a man makes a movement toward Lara Croft’s hips in a way that simultaneously threatens her life and conveys sexual assault. Call it whatever you’d like, that is sexual violence.

On June 14, Alyssa Rosenberg (no relation to Ron, I presume) of Think Progress wrote, Lara Croft Will Be Threatened With Rape In the Next Tomb Raider–But Don’t Worry Guys, You Can Rescue Her.  Apparently, a number of blokes responded with glee at the speculation they might be able to watch Lara be raped.  Yesterday, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote them an open letter:

So, in all seriousness, why do you want to see Lara Croft get raped?

Do you think she has an obligation to be sexually available, if not to you in real life, to someone else in-game, and if she violates that obligation, that it should be enforced upon her? One of the hard, immutable truths of adulthood is that no one owes you, and there is no mechanism to guarantee that everyone gets some mysteriously-allotted fair share of happiness and sexual satisfaction. I get that there’s this fantasy of a time before feminism when women were more broadly sexually available to men, when some men think they would have experienced less of that pain of loneliness and that fear of rejection that is baked into modern life. But I’d bet if you think about it carefully, you’ll acknowledge to yourself that it’s not really true, that participation in that fantasy was limited to certain very powerful and wealthy men, that it probably wouldn’t have served you as well as you think it would, that then, as now, you would have been required to exercise persuasion and charm and negotiation to get what you wanted. This fantasy of yours, it’s a fantasy. And nothing, not pretending you’re owed something, not seeing a video game character get raped, is ever going to bring it back.

On June 15, Doone of T.R. Red Skies posted a lengthy article, The Story of a Woman: Lara Croft, in which he analyzes both the official screenshots of Tomb Raider, which predominately feature women experiencing violence, and Ron Rosenberg’s comments, line by line.  I recommend reading his whole post, but here is an excerpt from his concluding section:

So …Why?

It’s because we don’t question masculinity; we just reinvent, and redo, and rework women. We add qualities we value to women in order to make them “more real”.  And because we don’t question masculinity, we haven’t fully deconstructed the concept of hero in order to build it up to androgyny; to a set of human values and characteristics in which males and females are equals, are only humans. We’ve resorted to making Heroes and Others Who Can Do Cool Things if We Make Them More Like “Us”. I mean we’re not even supposed to identify with Lara according to Rosenberg, but to feel like her little chivalrous helper. Even the most hardcore holdouts among us shouldn’t fail to see this.

This is why on Lara’s road to heroism, that road will be defined by her capacity for carnage, just like most other male heroes. It will be defined by stoicism and vengeance streaks (angry ones). She will have to shed all those softer qualities and emotions that are clearly the source of her weakness; the reason she’s not a hero to begin with. And this will happen because we define heroic as masculine and violent, realistic. That’s why there’s a rape threat scene. That’s realism. That’s why there will be brutal punchings in the face for Lara; because it makes us chivalrous men cringe …that’s realism. That’s why we will feel like her “helper” because that’s realism. To be a real hero is to be strong and to be strong is to be violent. To be violent is to dominate  and to dominate is to be a real hero. Lara Croft’s Rites of Heroism will follow this tired trope in the image of men, not as the story of a triumphant woman. This is why I say we fall into this trap because we don’t examine the behavior and perceptions of ourselves. We instead choose to remake woman in our image. Lara’s story isn’t about a woman. It’s a man’s perception of the story of a woman wrought with some masculinity in order to create a heroine.

(By the way, if you like Doone’s post, and are irritated by the fellows who whine, “But men are unrealistically portrayed in videogames too!!!”, you might join in the discussion he’s started on his blog where he asks, What Would a Realistic Male Portrayal Be Like?)

For another in depth analysis, see Laurie Penny’s Lara Croft and rape stories: breaking down the bitch, published yesterday:

This isn’t a story that was dreamed up out of nowhere. It’s a response to a familiar industry dilemma (how to rescue an ailing franchise?) with an equally familiar solution (hurt a beloved character). So what does all this mean for the many prospective players who will already have played or watched Lara Croft do her deadly thing in tiny hotpants?

Well, for one thing, it makes her suddenly vulnerable. For all the players who ever stroked themselves into a frenzy over this unattainable pixellated fighting fuck-toy, it’s an opportunity to see sexual violence done to her. It makes her weak, explaining away a ritualised savagery that needed no explanation before; it makes her an object of pity as well as lust and envy, someone who needs your “protection”. Industry mandarins seem to have assumed that gamers, by which they mean male gamers, can only carry on loving cold, powerful, beautiful Lara Croft if someone “break[s] her down”.  And that is frankly offensive to men everywhere.

Finally, there is still an excellent conversation happening in the comments of The Border House post from last week.

Did I miss any links?  Let us know in the comments!

About Lake Desire

Lake Desire, real name Ariel Wetzel, has been blogging about feminism and videogames since 2005 at her blog New Game Plus. Lake also writes at Feminist SF - The Blog! Lake Desire is an English graduate student at University of Washington, studying science fiction, feminism, and cyberculture. At work, Lake participates in rank and file labor organizing and the anti-budget cuts struggle. Lake believes in direct democracy, queer liberation, and opposes white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. Lake is white, queer, feminist, anarchist, and of course a cyborg. Lake may not sound like your typical gamer, but has been gaming since a toddler and never managed to quit.
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23 Responses to Lara Croft Reboot Link Roundup

  1. SunFlowerEnthusiast says:

    I think this article http://www.ingame.msnbc.msn.com/technology/ingame/lara-croft-sexual-assault-survivor-no-victim-829970 is also worth reading, just for an additional perspective

    • Bolegium says:

      From the above article: “That said, here’s the thing: Sexual assault is so very tragically incredibly common in our real world, I have to wonder … Why shouldn’t a female character confront this very situation in a video game?”

      This Eurogamer article argues why it’s a bad idea to have a rape scene they way it’s apparently being done in the Tomb Raider reboot: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-06-16-saturday-soapbox-in-games-we-trust

      • Deviija says:

        Not a direct response to Bolegium, but a response to the quote from the article posted. Regardless of whether or not sexual assault is common, there is an obligation in a ‘mature game’ to handle these serious issues with a due respect and gravity. In a landscape of hypersexualization and objectification and selling sexuality and sex as achievements, I really don’t think we can even broach the serious subjects without having to wade through the murky muck of gaming culture’s past and present.

        That aside, if we were in a more responsible place in gaming (and life?), and the issues were dealt with proper time and gravity, then I wouldn’t be adverse to tackling such issues in a gaming medium. Perhaps educating people subtly through narration and design, and not encouraging rape culture/assault/dehumanizing a woman and/or other minority. BUT — and the big but here — is that the Lara reboot not delivers all the other horrible tropes and badness that comes with ‘finding strength/becoming a badass through rape/sexual assault’ plotlines and the victim blaming (not fighting back enough and so forth that other articles linked in the BH article brings up) and so on. Really, it’s a multi-layer problem. It’s not JUST a ‘simple’ matter like some random dude NPC flirting or hitting on your PC/the game protagonist here.

        And really, I think I’d counter with: when *doesn’t* a lady character in gaming confront sexual assault? It is more common than it is not, from verbal threats to physical threats to deeds done off-camera. I’d rather we have less sexual assault against women specifically, to be honest. It’s rarely ever (and by rare I mean a handful of examples) done to male characters or dealt with without the character attitude or narration of ‘oh yeah, bro, hawt lady gonna do you good!’ rather than the reality of how horrible sexual assault *is*.

  2. Amanda Lange says:

    Not to toot my own horn – well, maybe, to do so – I wrote one also. http://tap-repeatedly.com/2012/06/apologies-to-lara-croft/

    There’s also Susan Arendt at The Escapist: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/op-ed/9747-Get-Back-Up

    Quite possibly a million others. It’s been a pretty big controversy.

  3. Korva says:

    I’m about to keel over with sleepiness, but that quote from Doone makes me want to fist-pump and send him kudos and cookies. Gonna read more tomorrow.

    • Doone says:

      I accept cookies, especially oatmeal :)

      • Korva says:

        Your words about “questioning masculinity” should be permanently stapled to every game designer’s and PR person’s forehead. Hell, in a society in which a woman calmly saying “guys don’t do this”, or stating her opinion that combat in games should be optional, or analyzing the portrayal of women in gaming, is met with an utter shirtstorm of hate and defamation, those words should be stapled to every person’s forehead period. It really is crucial to advancing the portrayal and perception of women and men, not only in games but IRL as well, and it is forgotten or plain ignored too easily and too often. Just as the responsibility of men not to assault or degrade women or tolerate such behavior in their buddies is ignored in favor of a thousand often patronizing, stifling and contradictory “rules” of what women must or must never do if we don’t want to get raped.

  4. Doone says:

    Thanks for this article. I hadn’t known about some of the ones you linked here so I got a good read out of them. And thank you humbly for your positive feedback about my article and for mentioning it! I feel totally honored :)

  5. Sif says:

    Some terrific articles here, thanks for the roundup Lake. (And thanks for your essay, Doone)

  6. bg says:

    There’s some pretty good thoughts from David Brothers over at 4th Letter, where he talks about how this violates the rules of abused protagonists (“abuse” more in terms of what John McClane went through in Die Hard). It’s a discussion of how the abuses and setbacks a protagonist suffers only work as the lead-up to the eventual victory, and how easy it is to get bogged down in them for their own sake.

    http://4thletter.net/2012/06/lara-croft-and-the-abused-hero/

    • bg says:

      Also, I forgot what my avatar was, so I would like to officially note that I am emphatically not giving a thumbs up for abuse.

    • Ikkin says:

      The most important thing for a Die Hard-style abused protagonist, I think, is that they’re more a figure of superhuman resilience than they are a figure of pity.

      One could very well feel bad for a John McClane-type, but that’s buried under one’s much stronger reaction of “that man is tough as nails.” His physical vulnerability is balanced with emotional fortitude, so he doesn’t come across as a victim no matter how much damage he takes.

      Lara, on the other hand, is just as vulnerable emotionally as she is physically, which leaves nothing left to latch onto as far as heroism is concerned. There’s little value in seeing someone who’s already weak get beaten down further, even if it can be exciting to watch someone who’s already strong get beaten down and survive anyway.

      • bg says:

        Oh, definitely. That was part of Brothers’ point, that generally in these stories your hero is ready with a quip or a badass moment that highlights their resolve.

        I realize that I initially wasn’t clear, that Brothers talks about liking protagonists who go through hell, but that has to be handled a certain way, and that’s not what’s happening to Lara in the newest game. That you’re not supposed to want to protect the protagonist, you’re supposed to want the protagonist to overcome all these obstacles and end the game/movie/book/whatever still standing tall. Or, as he also puts it from the original trailer: “by the end of the game, you’re gonna get to shoot somebody in the face and not feel bad about it.” That was, unfortunately, only the vibe from the first trailer.

        “That’s not what makes abused heroes fun. The slings and arrows aren’t the focus. They’re just the staircase leading to the focus. The focus is the hero with a smoking gun, a bloody nose, and a limp off into the sunset. Maybe a one-liner.”

        “It changes from “Oh man, I can’t believe she survived that! Such will! Amazing!” to “Oh man. This is really, really depressing.””

  7. ellie says:

    Apologies if these were already linked and I missed them:

    Does Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft really have to be a survivor of a rape attempt? | Mary Hamilton | guardian.co.uk – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/13/tomb-raider-lara-croft-rape-attempt

    An Open Letter to the Guys Who Told Me They Want to See Lara Croft Get Raped | ThinkProgress – http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/06/18/500936/an-open-letter-to-the-guys-who-told-me-they-want-to-see-lara-croft-get-raped/

    Croftwork | DORK TOWER : Dork Tower genderflips Lara Croft – http://www.dorktower.com/2012/06/15/croftwork-dork-tower-15-06-12/

  8. Sunny says:

    If this didn’t work for Metroid: Other M (was grossly bent on abusing a “strong” woman in the name of MOAR SALES and people said nope, despite the series until then being blockbuster), why in the world did they think it would work if they tried it again on another character?

    Any other series is Even More Guy Kicks Ass but apparently it’s the decade of “let’s dismantle any possible role models for women”.

    • Ikkin says:

      They probably thought that there’s a difference between randomly derailing a character to make her uncharacteristically weak in the middle of an established timeline and focusing on an earlier version of a character who hadn’t grown into her strength yet.

      Both games are problematic in regards to how they treat their lead characters, but they’re problematic in different ways. Lara is written to be inexperienced and in over her head, which is taken to the absurd extreme of constant inescapable suffering to demonstrate her weakness, while Samus is just written to have Overwhelming Feelings and Obedience To Adam because she’s a woman even though she’s the most capable being on the whole ship.

  9. Sif says:

    Just a note, 1-Up’s front page seems to be dedicated to sexism in video games after all the furor stirred up by the Laura Croft ReBoot, the Hitman trailer, etc… That’s cool to see.

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