*Obviously this post won’t be about any horror film. There’s a video game involved–something I want to write more about–but it’s really my two cents about the controversy clouding that game. I wouldn’t say that “horror” doesn’t fit the bill, though: the theme of the controversy and the rabid frenzy of anger and hatred that stem from it are frightening to me. So much so that I only feel safe posting my opinions on it within the semi-shelter of this backwater blog*
The Game : Tomb Raider (Square Enix) – The “gritty reboot” origin story slated for 2013
The Main Controversy
When it was first being marketed, executive producer Ron Rosenberg got all stupid and stated that “you’ll want to protect” the rebooted Lara Croft, and that during the game she will have to deal with “rape”. This vulnerability was all allegedly to make Lara–a leading female icon in the gaming universe–“feel more human” and to give her a reason to become the bad-ass we all know and love.
A variation on Flickr Psycho Al’s screen grab.
(If you missed it) was enormous and spanned not only the gaming sites but feminist blogs, pop-culture critics, and so on. It came on the heels of the hellstorm of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and the rash of gamers screaming “feminazi”, “misogyny”, “misandry,” and more colorful epithets. (*I want to avoid touching on that scene if I can help it; just going to stick to TR. The important thing to note about the gaming community as a whole is that there is a pervasive theme of hyper-sexualizing female characters without giving them any meaningful personality or clothing.*)
The two rage arguments that fell down on the side of feminism (I’m not even going to bother with the more extreme opposition, it’s barbaric,) are such: Why do game creators think women are so weak that they need “protecting”? and Rape/Sexual Assault as a story telling vehicle is just as misogynistic as giving them no back story because it perpetuates Rape Culture! (Okay, a third: I want to address the equally offensive backtracking from Crystal Dynamics PR, too.)
Little Ol’ Me
Now, I don’t want to talk about my identity as a “feminist”–if this has taught me nothing else, it’s that I am out of touch with the term–but can safely say this: I am a woman, I believe in equality for all peoples, I actively fight against domestic/sexual abuse, and I play loads of video games. Lara Croft has been one of my virtual alter-egos since I got my grubby paws on a PS1. I have also had the unfortunate…luck? fate? I don’t know…to experience domestic and sexual abuse first-hand. So by my own understandings of op-ed writing, I figure this controversy is as close to home as it gets for me.
And frankly, I am pretty disheartened by what that the loudest voices in the arena had to say.
Projection vs. Protection: Getting Into the Game
Let’s tackle the less inflammatory of the two arguments (although, it will be a main theme when discussing the second.) Looks first: the “new” Lara is less voluptuous than her past iconic be-boobed incarnations. Folks brought this up as an “a-HA!” moment in debate as if it is a concession on Square Enix’s part that Lara’s physical form has been purely sex-objectifying all along; I think it’s probably more that this reboot Lara is actually supposed to be adolescent Lara. On this point I don’t really care.
Game progression next: check out this game trailer and you’ll see a lot of Lara’s action is her vs. the environment. Attempting to give her back story and motivation, the game uses moments in time to illustrate the origins of this critter-blasting, person-shooting lady: her emotional turmoil in having to shoot a deer to survive, extensive attention to her physical limitations due to injuries, and being driven to kill a person by way of sexual assault. (File away that last one, there.)
Rosenberg states that this will make the gamer more apt to feel like a protector. “They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.” He goes on:”The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.” [Kotaku]
Some critics are upset at the idea that they won’t be enjoying the action-packed adventure/puzzle/kill play that they are used to. I think the gameplay looks phenomenal but I am a putz about change and also worry that the elements of Tomb Raider that I most enjoy will be lost. But the loudest zealots in the shouting match are furious about the scripted need to “white knight” Lara; that instead of a bad-ass sex object, she will become a symbol for the misogynistic idea that women are “weaker, delicate” creatures who need “to be protected.”
To those folks, I would first say calm the shit down. Let’s not yell anymore. Look, there is absolutely no denying that female characters across mediums are written so sparsely and so derogatorily that they ooze weakness and the only cure is a strong man to fend for them. But those characters are so insulting because they never have any personal growth or develop inner strength to end up standing on equal footing with men. The whole alleged point of this game is to give gamers a look at that personal growth (and let’s be real–to keep us buying Tomb Raider games, right?)
I want to say “MAKE UP YOUR MIND!” to everyone who spent so long denouncing objectification of females in games who are now shrieking that portraying a vulnerable woman is just as bad because men just think that women are weakling suck-bags. But I know the core point is well-intentioned: let’s not just go from one sexist trope to another. However…this one dude is the only one who used the word “protect”. Otherwise, we’d just have been met with a demo starring a girl down on her luck, surviving against the odds with a nod to realistic obstacles and setbacks. She doesn’t look weak to me outside of Rosenberg’s ill-worded preview. There is a point where the argument against well-defined sexist tropes/themes has become so ingrained that it overshadows our ability to dig into something and explore its quality.
Additionally–sexual assault ASIDE–developers had to choose turning-point scenarios to symbolize complex, life-altering, emotional experiences. It’s no different than any other visual media story-line. Things have to be condensed and heightened. When they are, the possibilities for negative personal interpretation skyrocket. The chance that we see a glaring archetype instead of bond with the character in a personal way is a risk that has to be taken in order to make the game exciting, cohesive, and fresh. Overall, before we get angry about what this one fool [Rosenberg] blurted out during one interview when he was mistakenly given the role as PR, let’s forget about this “to protect or not to protect!” b.s. and reconnoiter after we’ve had a play through. [CONT’D in Part 2!]
*Interesting tidbits (that mean nothing, really): wordpress “feedback” tells me that the term “lady” is considered bias and that using “females” instead of “women” is too complex. …what?