The Tomb Raider Reboot: What Were They Thinking?

(Trigger warning: rape)

Oh, wait. I’ll tell you what they’re thinking:

  • Tomb Raider’s not aimed at women.
  • Tomb Raider has never been aimed at women.
  • Its primary audience is pubescent boys who giggle at the jubblies.
  • Women don’t play video games.
  • Women play Farmville and Words With Friends and Facebook games, not adventure games on the console.
  • Writing strong female protagonists is haaaaaaard.
  • Figuring out what would make a female protagonist strong and self-reliant is haaaaaaaard.
  • Women need to be protected and coddled! Boy gamers will only want to play through this origin story if they want to protect Lara Croft! Otherwise, booooooring, since the jubblies have been brought down a few cup sizes.
  • I know, let’s threaten Lara Croft with rape! That will make her vulnerable so the boys will want to save her (even with the smaller jubblies), and will totally explain how she gets to be a future badass. Because hey, every strong female character must have been sexually assaulted at some point, right? Otherwise, why aren’t they in the kitchen making sandwiches?

I read this write-up at Kotaku, in which Jason Schreier interviews Tomb Raider’s executive producer Ron Rosenberg, and had to step away from the keyboard for a few minutes.

I am dismayed that, in 20-goddamned-12, Rosenberg is making these kinds of statements. Would he say these things about a male protagonist?

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. […] 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.'”

Do we need to protect Gordon Freeman? If you played Mass Effect, did you only want to protect your Commander Shepard if you’d chosen a FemShep? Go back even further — did people stop projecting themselves into the character once they learned that Samus Aran was a giiiiirl?

I’m thinking no. I’m thinking Ron Rosenberg is a lazy writer. Or hired a team of lazy writers.

She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”

Because damsels in distress! Because female characters need to be helped, not given their own agency. Clearly, no one wants to immerse themselves in female characters’ lives! Let’s instead distance ourselves, and say that, what, we’re moving her around like a puppet, saving her from the bad guys because she can’t be trusted to save herself?

“The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,”

I don’t… I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

First of all, “the ability to see her as a human” suggests that players didn’t before. Which, looking at the jubblies angle, I suppose Lara Croft was mostly designed a blow-up doll anyway, rather than a “human.”

Uncomfortable subtext 1: women aren’t people unless they’re in need of saving. Female characters with agency who can hold their own, therefore, aren’t people.

Uncomfortable subtext 2: large-breasted, slim-waisted women who wear skimpy outfits aren’t people. They’re sluts who get what they deserve.

Also, it’s “more enticing” to see her this way. Soooo, still sexualized, then. Still not quite people!

“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.”

Look, there’s a storytelling trick that is at work here if you squint real funny: you make Bad Things happen to your protagonist. Every time he or she starts to overcome those Bad Things, you throw more at him or her. Things get progressively worse until just before the final act. Call it the darkest hour/darkest before dawn/long dark night of the soul whatever, the key here is that you’ve tossed ’em into the Pit of Despair and they have to claw their way back up. So I get that. I do.

But put that into context with Rosenberg’s words: we’re protecting Lara Croft. We’re saving her, we’re helping her. But first, of course, we need to break her. Let’s not let her get too confident (dare I say cocky?) Let’s put her firmly back in her place and teach her a lesson!

“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

(First of all, Rosenberg, enough with the “literally.” You’re no Chris Traeger.)

Also, unless Lara morphs into a badger here, she’s not “literally” an animal. Though, again, looking at the context, Rosenberg doesn’t really see her as human, either. So it’s easier to make the woman the other. Easier to take away her humanity yet again, and turn her into an animal — one that, of course, needs to be protected.

“We’re trying to tell a great origin story.”

Then don’t be a lazy fucking storyteller. “She’s strong because she was (almost) raped (provided the player saves her)” is not a great origin story.

Wundergeek at Gaming As Women wrote an excellent essay called “Geek Media — What’s With All the Rape?” that I highly recommend. It goes much more in-depth than I have here, and touches on all the reasons I find Lara Croft’s new origin story problematic.

There are better ways to write and develop female protagonists. Starting out by remembering that women are people, swear to god is probably a good one.

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