Thursday, March 14, 2013

I'm Not Going Home

Ms Lara Croft and I have always had a complex relationship. 

On the one hand she’s adventurous, strong, intelligent, and independent; Lara finances her own adventures and does all the exploring herself. There are no major relationships with men, no drama over boyfriends. 

On the other hand, she’s a big titted gymnast. Although Lara’s avatar has changed greatly since the series was first introduced in 1996, she still possess a perfectly voluptuous and curvy body which barely breaks a sweat as she hilariously does handstands up and over the tops of cliffs in tiny shorts and a tank top. 

Still, I’ve always had an affinity for the Tomb Raider series. It may seem like a small thing to some of you but for me, the chance to play a female avatar makes me eager to overlook her faults. Gaming is an escape, a recess from your day to day routine; it’s a chance to break away, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When 98% of the games you play have you controlling male characters, it makes immersion that harder.  

Lara Croft through the years

When the reboot of Tomb Raider was announced, a prequel showcasing a younger and more realistic looking Lara (with pants!), I was thrilled. The trailer seemed to suggest that a more realistic approach would be taken, showing how Lara became the adventurer we’re all familiar with. 

With bated breath I waited to see if it would live up to my expectations and now, having completed the campaign, I can say that it honestly has. From the moment I guided Lara out of a sinister looking cave into an open island full of exploration and adversaries (both environmental and human) I was in love. While the first 30 minutes or so of the game are very “hand holdy”, it’s not long before you’re leaping across chasms, scaling up cliff sides, falling into roaring rivers, and crawling through caverns all in an attempt to find your lost shipmates and make your way off the island. 

And this isn’t a friendly tropical paradise. Lara soon finds herself face to face with human enemies. Lots of them. While in earlier releases, Lara would take out any creature or human standing in her way without bating a perfectly elongated eyelash, she now finds herself unsure and hesitant. It isn’t until she’s directly threatened with violence that she grabs a gun and shoots her assailant in the head, watching slowly as the life drains from his eyes. It’s a profound moment for her. It’s the beginning of her transformation 

And yeah, guys, we are going to talk about that scene. We’re going to talk about it because it’s not just violence that Lara is threatened with, it’s sexual violence. The aforementioned doomed man ties her hands, backs her up against a wall, leans his face to her neck, and runs his hands down the side of her body. This upset a lot of people, myself very much included, despite the scene only being a few seconds long and not graphic. 

So why all the uproar? 

For me it goes back to why I play games: immersion. Here I finally have not only a female character, but a realistic looking one in an adventure game. I finally can really lose myself and experience what male gamers must when they play Uncharted or Far Cry or Dishonored or any one of the thousands of action/adventure games featuring male characters. 

Only, wait, women still get raped. 

I know what you may be thinking. They’re trying to make it more realistic and, sadly, rape often used as method of terror against women.


But until I can get shot numerous times, hide behind a barrel, and after a few moments emerge back into fray at full health, video games will not be reality and while Tomb Raider is more realistic is it not realism. Still, the developers felt in necessary to include this scene. Why couldn’t the man have simply threatened to kill her? Pull a knife to her neck? Put a gun to her head? Why did he have to objectify and sexualize her? Bring to life a very real fear for millions of women all over the world? 

I’m not saying that the scene is explicit, or even that it’s bad. It was just totally unneeded and counterproductive to the game’s overall idea behind this new Lara. 

Lara’s being female never comes into play outside of this one instance. She’s an adventurer, a survivor, a force to be reckoned with. She is also, apparently, still rapeable. If you think I’m being a little too sensitive about this, I’ll ask you to picture one of the games I mentioned above - Uncharted, Far Cry, or Dishonored - and image one of those male leads being threatened with rape. Seems silly and out of place, doesn’t it?

It especially seems like a shame because, otherwise, the developers have clearly gone out of their way to not sexualize her. Throughout her adventures, Lara’s clothes never get skimpier (they do rip and tear but not in a titillating manner) and she never shows an unnecessary skin. In fact, there’s a scene where Lara cauterizes a wound on her lower torso and the camera pans away before she pulls her shirt up. 

That scene in particular really stuck with me. As the camera pulls away, we hear the screams as Lara presses the hot arrow into her flesh, and I actually felt my eyes water just a bit; I was hurting with her. I wanted her pain to cease and I can honestly say I’ve never felt that kind of connection with a video game character before. I have encountered plenty of better written characters working their way through better stories but I’ve never had that type of emotional response before. I wanted Lara to get out, I wanted her to push on and survive. 

While we’re on the subject of surviving and . . . being a woman, allow me to take you a small tangent: Tomb Raider was obviously inspired by the horror film The Descent. There were a couple of scenes that seem to have been taken shot for shot from the 2005 film, this one being the most apparent: 

Sarah from The Descent 

Lara in Tomb Raider

On top of that there is a line from the movie where a character, upon seeing the cave she and her friends are about to go spelunking into, says, “Oh, you’re having a laugh. I’m an english teacher not fucking Tomb Raider.”. I’ve been searching for some direct connection between the two of them since I finished the game. No luck yet. But that movie is awesome and absolutely should not be missed if you’re a horror fan. 

Anyway, Tomb Raider is truly not to be missed. It’s an action game full of beautiful scenery, puzzles, and hours of exploration. While it’s not perfect (there surprisingly is a lack of actual tomb raiding) it is a masterful reboot of a series that I hope will now start to get the attention it deserves. 

1 comment:

  1. What about this scene from Far Cry?
    I'd say it's mostly because you don't fight many sexual maniacs that have a thing for guys usually. It still evokes different emotions when there's a threat of rape even if it is about men that guns don't do (or don't really do anymore at least in games)