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.
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:
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!