"I feel like I am Lara"
March 12, 2013 1:49 AM   Subscribe

"So after the last blowup, have you been instructed not to use the word “rape” in interviews?" -- Ben Kuchera talks to Tomb Raider lead writer Rhianna Pratchett about the just released reboot and the controversy surrounding it after executive producer Ron Rosenberg explained how Lara Croft's vulnerability after a near rape would "make gamers want to protect her".

Rhianna Pratchett's involvement with Tomb Raider, which only became known after this controversy erupted, helped calm some fears about the direction the series was taking, as she and Ben talk about:
It has to be frustrating though. When it was announced that you were writing the game, there was almost relief, like ‘we’re fine because a woman is writing a game’. It instantly became non-problematic because of that.

It’s not fine because I’m a woman. It’s fine because we approached it with the right creative sentiments. It was an honest scene for those characters and that moment. It wasn’t done for titillation. It wasn’t prolonged. It was uncomfortable because it should be uncomfortable. Killing someone and being put in that situation and having to kill someone should be uncomfortable. Now that I’ve had the chance to talk about it and where we’re coming from… lots of journalists haven’t played that scene in context.
You may know Rhianna Pratchett from her work on Mirror’s Edge or Heavenly Sword, both of which feature strong female characters (as opposed to strong female characters).
posted by MartinWisse (92 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 


Huh. This looks like a lot of what I liked about Tomb Raider: Underworld, but even more so. Maybe I'll actually check it out.
posted by cthuljew at 2:23 AM on March 12, 2013


I normally watch these sorts of plot-driven single-player games on YouTube because between daughter and work, I don't have the time for most of them, but I stopped watching this one shortly after watching the video I posted because I want to play it so bad. Now to hold out for the Steam Summer Sale. Malor gave it high praise in the SimCity Debacle thread, as well.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:26 AM on March 12, 2013




I remember back in the late 1990s, after Tomb Raider hit it big and it seemed like there were suddenly lots of games where you played as a cute girl. As a transgender person it got kind of strange watching cisgender gamer guys playing these games, and observing the way they would kind of pop back and forth between projecting themselves into these curvy avatars, and objectifying/insulting them. Literally, within seconds a guy would go from, "DAMN, Lara is fine," to, "Damn it, get your ass up on that platform, you stupid bitch," to, "Hey! Stop hitting me, you stupid monster!"

Elementary Penguin, I recommend the Youtube walkthroughs of a young fellow who goes by the name of The Rad Brad. I haven't played games for a few years, but Brad keeps me up on most of the titles I'd care about, and it's fun to tag along with him. He's kind of redneck-y, but he's funny and his commentaries really grow on you. Sometimes when a survival horror game hits him with a big nasty jump scare, he'll throw down his controller and you'll hear him stomping around and swearing a blue streak. I remember one playthrough where he was crabbing about how he was sitting on a big exercise ball to help his back, and right in the middle of the game you heard this big YARRGH, because he fell off his ball.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:36 AM on March 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


The link above actually IS The Rad Brad. It's hard to find YouTube playthroughs without obnoxious color commentary by the player, but The Rad Brad mostly insults himself, so it's sort of sweet.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:45 AM on March 12, 2013


The new Tomb Raider is not the first game to work rape into a storyline, but it is certainly the most well-known.

I think it's a welcome change for players to bond with Lara Croft over compassion rather than lust. I just hope rape doesn't become the go-to plot device for empathy. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer the good-old murder of loved ones in front of the protagonist.
posted by Saintkevin at 2:47 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


The new Tomb Raider is not the first game to work rape into a storyline, but it is certainly the most well-known

Far Cry 3 includes repeated anal rape of an npc as a subplot.
posted by empath at 2:52 AM on March 12, 2013


I think it should be noted by everyone commenting in this thread that, as Rhianna points out, the game itself doesn't actually contain rape (or even the threat of rape, iirc). You can also skip the controversial scene (which is actually centered around Lara's horror at killing another human being) altogether by pressing a button.
posted by fight or flight at 2:58 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


More women in games development, I say. Things have got awfy samey with the usual gaggle of blokes with neckbeards running everything.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:00 AM on March 12, 2013


"It’s not fine because I’m a woman. It’s fine because we approached it with the right creative sentiments. It was an honest scene for those characters and that moment. It wasn’t done for titillation. It wasn’t prolonged. It was uncomfortable because it should be uncomfortable. Killing someone and being put in that situation and having to kill someone should be uncomfortable. Now that I’ve had the chance to talk about it and where we’re coming from… lots of journalists haven’t played that scene in context."

I can see where the writer was coming from here, and in this context the scene is actually really fucking cool, at least in how very divorced it is from the ordinary hovering a cursor over a collection of pixels and clicking a button that then makes it fall down and instantly become inert scenery. This is your character killing someone with a gun in the kind of way that guns actually kill people. In real life guns aren't magic wands that cause instant death, they do stupendous amounts of bloody ripping tearing damage that causes people to bleed out over the next two or three minutes to two or three days and even if your character blows out someones brains, like in the scene, their body should still choke on those last bits of life in a way that should be viscerally upsetting to watch on a screen. I wish more games would do this, the effects that guns have on living flesh should be viscerally and intimately upsetting in games because of how unimaginably and intimately horrifying they are in real life. Weapons are not toys.

That said though, regardless of whatever her intentions were, this scene is sexual, it is titillating, and only considering how triggering that shit is for so many fans of the Laura Croft series - even without unpacking how it interacts with the way the series is still primarily marketed to people who buy the games in part to stare at a hot chick's ass moving for 10 hours - is still so very fucking unacceptable as to make me wonder how anyone could think it was ok.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:17 AM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


What hasn't yet become clear to me is how strong the emphasis is on Lara's vulnerability in the game, even apart from the seemingly now non-existing rape threat plot point.

One of the things that's always been the selling feature of the Tomb Raider series is that Lara Croft is omnicompetent, capable of solving her own problems who, while she does need saving every now and again, is never a damsel in distress. Making her less competent, more vulnerable and more emotional even if her physical characteristics are made less sexual, if that is what has been done here, does seem like a retrograde step.

It also feels like something that's mostly done to female characters, not so much male ones.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:18 AM on March 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


This is your character killing someone with a gun in the kind of way that guns actually kill people.

She merrily goes on murdering a bunch of people as the game goes on though.
posted by empath at 3:21 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is your character killing someone with a gun in the kind of way that guns actually kill people.

See also.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:22 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's sort of like Far Cry 3, where your character is terrified of killing in the first mission, and by the third mission is excited by all the killing he's doing. Making a shooter where you try to deplore killing is unsuccessfully having your cake and eating it.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:23 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


yes but what does Rock Paper Shotgun think about this
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:26 AM on March 12, 2013


That was actually one of the things I liked about Far Cry 3, actually. It did, in its own stupid way, engage with what it means that you're playing a character that murders people and collects endangered animals, and that it's fun for you. It toys a bit with the separation between you and the character ("Why am I doing this?" is something the protagonist says quite a bit), and the consequences of behaving that way. It's a game that's practically overflowing with both self-loathing and contempt for the player, while still being undeniably fun in its core mechanics.
posted by empath at 3:26 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The review on Good Game (video) made it look like Lara suffers a lot in this game. It's an origin story, though, so my guess would be that she'll toughen up quite a bit.
posted by pishposh at 3:29 AM on March 12, 2013


It also feels like something that's mostly done to female characters, not so much male ones.

I read a quote recently that perfectly encapsulated my feelings about this. Paraphrased, it addressed how female characters in video games (and comics, movies, etc) are broken down so they can rebuild themselves and become stronger, but male characters are broken down in order to show how strong they already are.
posted by fight or flight at 3:31 AM on March 12, 2013 [28 favorites]


"It also feels like something that's mostly done to female characters, not so much male ones."

I would play the shit out of a game that had Bourne, or Kratos, or Vin Diesel or whatever crying his eyes out over a deer dying in the way deer actually die when you shoot them with an arrow to eat and then shooting a dude from a place of vulnerability and watching him die in a visceral disturbing realistic way before that slowly escalates to the more standard rampage. Real emotional and physical vulnerability in a hero along with plausible levels of competence could make for really cool game dynamics.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:37 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the problem with doing first person shooters where your character is supposed to have realistic responses to, you know, killing people, that sooner or later you get to the "shoot tidal waves of nameless grunts to get to the big boss stage" and all those moral scruples go out of the window.

Now if there was some sort of Thief like shooter were killing is rare and special and you'd have the same storyline it could work.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:43 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you want a game that really does make you think HARD about the violence you're inflicting and why the hell you enjoy playing a game that's like that, check out Spec Ops: The Line. I played it about a month ago and it may have broken me for shooty shooty murder games.
posted by whitneyarner at 3:51 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


The new Tomb Raider is not the first game to work rape into a storyline, but it is certainly the most well-known.

Wikipedia has a list of rape in video games. It's longer than I thought.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:52 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"She merrily goes on murdering a bunch of people as the game goes on though."

Well, the first one was a scary foreigner who was quasi-rapey, and besides, who can stop at just one?!

So, basically, the incident is being used as a way to justify a transition into a game significantly about killing lots of "bad guys".

That woman sure can design games for men, I guess...
posted by markkraft at 4:04 AM on March 12, 2013


If you want a game that really does make you think HARD about the violence you're inflicting and why the hell you enjoy playing a game that's like that, check out Spec Ops: The Line. I played it about a month ago and it may have broken me for shooty shooty murder games.

No kidding
posted by empath at 4:07 AM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


That said though, regardless of whatever her intentions were, this scene is sexual, it is titillating

Well, your response is your response, but I have to say I really didn't get that feeling, even incidentally. You really think that scene is intended to make the person playing as Lara sexually excited?
posted by Amanojaku at 4:08 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


1. I don't see how anyone can deny that there at least the suggestion that Laura is in danger of being raped in that scene. In fact, she is being outright sexually assaulted when the dude puts his filthy mitts on her hip. The backlash is making them backpedal, but, well, let's be honest: they're lying. If the scene had been a hit--say, b/c it was ultimately "empowering" or whatever when she kills her assailant--you can bet they'd be owning it.

2. Gotta say, I can do without that in my video games. I think most criticisms of the violence in video games is confused. But this crosses a line for me. (I'm a dude, in case that matters to anyone.)

3. Oh and: I'd be really interested in seeing the reactions if a male character got this treatment in a game.

4. OTOH, it might be worth noting that this is a way of showing how evil the bad guys are, putting the good guy in the right, and generating some kind of bonding with the character. Some people like to say that rape is somehow viewed as acceptable by the culture (see "rape culture"). This couldn't be further from the truth. There may be weird currents, or subcultures, or whatever--almost anything will be represented somewhere in a culture--but the absolute overriding main view in the culture is that rape is just about the worst thing someone can do. (Note that you'll see a million murders, and even a lot of torture, in movies and video games; rape is almost always only hinted at at most, as a way of showing how evil someone is.) The threat of sexual assault has a big narrative payoff precisely because it's so terrible. Be that as it may, I'd rather have my games filled with good old-fashioned killing, and not even the barest suggestion of rape.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:11 AM on March 12, 2013


Yeah, the problem with doing first person shooters where your character is supposed to have realistic responses to, you know, killing people, that sooner or later you get to the "shoot tidal waves of nameless grunts to get to the big boss stage" and all those moral scruples go out of the window.

Jonathan Blow had some hilarious comments about Red Dead Redemption, which he liked, but had what was supposed to be a touching scene with the protagonist's family, undermined by the fact that he had shot hundreds of people in the face over the course of the game, likely ruining quite a few other families. Oddly, this kind of thing does go over, at least with reviewers — you get the credit for having the "human moment" even if it is at total odds with the core of your game.
posted by ignignokt at 4:14 AM on March 12, 2013


Oh and: I'd be really interested in seeing the reactions if a male character got this treatment in a game.

Here's how it's played in Far Cry 3. (note the bloody handprints on his back)
posted by empath at 4:17 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Oh and: I'd be really interested in seeing the reactions if a male character got this treatment in a game."

Duke Nukem slash...

"I've got balls of steel!"
posted by markkraft at 4:25 AM on March 12, 2013


You really think that scene is intended to make the person playing as Lara sexually excited?

Well, look at the screenshot in the interview of that scene, with Lara looking demurely down as the bad guy strokes her sheet, her hands tied behind her back, all in a tastefully muted glowing light. If that's not glamourising assault right there?

Of course, that's the standard m.o. in most pop culture products which feature rape as a plot point, but are not about rape perse: don't let it actually happen, let the would be rapist get his come uppance, but make sure you get the heaving breasts in shot as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:26 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's how it's played in Far Cry 3.

Ye gad.

Yep, that's a pretty close analog alright. I was smugly supposing that nobody'd even think of doing that with male characters.

There are some differences that are of some importance. The victim isn't the protagonist, and the protagonist isn't an iconic, well-established hero, and the rapist doesn't, like, caress the protagonist in any way. OTOH, there's obviously been actual (fictional) rape already, and the threat is unequivocal. So yeah--pretty damn close analog.

Just reinforces my long-standing view that I like my violence comic-booky.

Back to Borderlands 2 for me...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:27 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, look at the screenshot in the interview of that scene, with Lara looking demurely down as the bad guy strokes her sheet, her hands tied behind her back, all in a tastefully muted glowing light. If that's not glamourising assault right there?

I think Elementary Penguin's link to the video of the scene is a bit better at providing context than the screenshot.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:53 AM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


If it were a scene in a movie, would there have been any controversy at all?
posted by empath at 5:06 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think that people have a lot of trouble giving videogame makers the benefit of the doubt about titillation and depictions of women , especially when it comes to Lara Croft.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:14 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it were a scene in a movie, would there have been any controversy at all?

No, none at all.

It's already been done in that medium.

Most of the public scrutiny given to this is due to it being a revamp of a large scale license. Crystal Dynamics is eating up (and creating) the controversy. I saw a large ad for this game in Walmart. I'm guessing that it will ultimately be mediocre.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:17 AM on March 12, 2013


Just musing out loud here, because I haven't taken the time to think this through, but I'm wondering if the problem here is partially about realism. The big game companies have been chasing physical realism for years now, while neglecting emotional and psychological realism, and now games like this and The Walking Dead are really trying to explore that side of things for the first time. It's probably going to take a while before they really figure out what works. It's also, perhaps a problem with having a protagonist with a detailed characterization, because the more details there are, the more the player can say "that isn't me" and rebel against it. Last, it's a conflict with the need for games to be 'fun'. Tonally, it's always going to be tough to make a game about a serious topic while also creating a fun feedback loop as a skeleton to hang it on. You can't make Lara Croft suffer and then have a fun jumping puzzle and shoot out, and have both of those things feel meaningful.
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Far Cry 3 is about a accidental hero's journey from victim to victor, handled in a way that makes the hero more and more removed from their own humanity and leaves him convinced that his awakening powers define him as a man. Through his journey, he acts as a tool of various factions. In the end, Jason Brody is little more than a walking weapon. He makes his way for home, broken, fearing what he has become and calling himself a monster.

Tomb Raider (2013) is about an accidental hero's journey from victim to survivor, done in a way that reveals a nascent resourcefulness in the hero, showing her that the power to overcome adversity was within her all the while, just waiting to be revealed. As the game closes, Lara Croft is resolved to seek out answers to her own questions, to be curious, as she is not ready to go home.

Tomb Raider wins.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:00 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ian Livingstone on Lara Croft.
posted by Artw at 6:02 AM on March 12, 2013


The discussion of male characters reacting violence made me think of this: I've been playing Metal Gear Rising (it's quite good so far, with none of the usual unfortunate excesses of the series) and there's one scene where you're forced to think a little more about the consequences of the wholesale slaughter you've been doing (which your character has been insisting is in the name of justice). It's not a huge leap forward but it's interesting.

Basically (I assume the explanation for this is nanomachines or whatever), at one point, an antagonist makes it so you can hear the thoughts of your opponents, for a little while. The standard goons attack you and they're saying the usual stuff about how they're going to take you down, etc, but you can hear them thinking that they were lied to, they didn't know what they were signing up for, they just want to go home to their family, they don't want to die. They know what you've done to everyone you fought beforehand and they're terrified. It put an interesting spin on it.

The result is that your character is essentially unable to fight or even move fast until he sort of embraces his inner demons and becomes a cyborg cross between a samurai and a slasher-movie villain.

It felt like an evolution from, say, Metal Gear Solid 4 where you've been a soldier for years and have seen a lot of action, and you'll have an attack of PTSD and quite possibly vomit if you engage in combat too much.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:02 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think Elementary Penguin's link to the video of the scene is a bit better at providing context than the screenshot.

I just saw it, it's better than the screenshot and far better than the trailers and publicity made out it was going to be, but there's still a bit of tittelation there.

In general, I just don't want to see rape or sexual assault used in entertainment anymore, as it's such a common element these days and only rarely used well. Tomb Raider could've been done without even that hint of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:05 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Rhianna Pratchett is who will be continuing Discworld when her father passes away.
posted by edgeways at 6:30 AM on March 12, 2013


the usual gaggle of blokes with neckbeards running everything.

It is perhaps not the best choice to go after sexism by picking another group of people to throw under the bus on the basis of particular physical characteristic you don't like or don't have.
posted by srboisvert at 6:46 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sadly, I think the reason why male characters aren't threatened with rape in video games and movies (except involving prison) is because it isn't always taken seriously. Hell, even prison rape is a joke to most people.

That scene in "Skyfall" where Bond was tied to a chair and Joker Cigurgh is all up in his shit, touching him inappropriately? It was a tense scene, but if the internet is any indication, people didn't read "this dude has Bond at his mercy and he's going to sex on him", it was "lol Bond is teh gay."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:55 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just musing out loud here, because I haven't taken the time to think this through, but I'm wondering if the problem here is partially about realism.
I also wonder if the agency aspect isn't an issue: watching a movie is rather passive, but even when you're dealing with forced-choice story lines, the player is more actively engaged in the media. Any credible studies out there about the differences between watching a movie and playing a video game?
posted by smirkette at 7:32 AM on March 12, 2013


Man. I didn't see any way to take that scene as titillating, just horror and trauma at the threat of sexual assault and then ultimately the killing of another human being, no matter how vile he may be. But then, maybe that's just my own experience with sexual assault coming through.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:51 AM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rhianna Pratchett is who will be continuing Discworld when her father passes away.

‘There was an assumption I was going to write Discworld, which isn’t exactly the case,’ explains Pratchett. ‘They’re sacred, they’re Dad’s legacy and I’m the protector of Discworld and that means protecting it from myself as well.

Discworld is an IP that makes me wish it could be adapted and parodied and repurposed - it feels so folkloric it's a shame that it will ossify.
posted by ersatz at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2013


I'll believe they care more about characterization than titillation when shivering-cold Lara puts on a coat.
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not meant to be titillating? The scene starts with a series of close shots that cut off the top of Lara's head to ensure a clear view of her heaving-with-fear cleavage. I know that sort of male gaze framing in movies / games is so typical that some of you might not even have noticed. But I sure as heck did. (MY EYES ARE UP HERE, DUDES.)

Then she spends the whole scene making movie-stereotype nonverbal sexy-scared mewling "Oh, noes, I'm about to orgasm with fear" noises instead of, I dunno, saying "Get your fucking hands off me before I rip your balls off and shove them down your throat, you stupid fuck" (which is how I personally reacted the last time a guy forcibly groped me).

I'm not saying that every woman reacts or should react a certain way to being assaulted (there is no "right" way to act when being assaulted; there is nothing "right" about assault in the first place), but there is a certain heavily fictionalized vulnerable-victim, sexy-rape trope this scene absolutely lives in and reinforces, with or without the eventual knee to the groin / gun grabbing ending. If you don't see it I think that's because it's so everywhere in popular culture that you have been made blind to it.

I suppose you could argue that Lara was just pretending to be all stereotypically demure and girly-vulnerable in order to surprise her attacker with a knee to the groin, but they sure didn't give any cues in her facial expression or dialogue to make that clear.
posted by BlueJae at 9:15 AM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


" I didn't see any way to take that scene as titillating, just horror and trauma at the threat of sexual assault and then ultimately the killing of another human being, no matter how vile he may be."

No matter how much you root for the heroine in a horror movie, the reason you came into the theater was to see her get fucked up. THAT kind of titillation. The same reason the violence in the game is so gruesome - because we are strangely compelled to watch it.

The violence here is no more gruesome than Black Ops, I guess, but that's usually committed against NPCs. I can't think of any high-profile game that puts this much effort into the player character's death scenes. I've only seen a bit of the game, but I've seen Lara skewered with rebar, crushed by boulders in close-up, and impaled through the throat. The sexual assault scene is created the same way - it's supposed to be awful, but it's still there for our entertainment. This scene, and the rebar scene, are prominent in the trailers, so apparently it's considered an audience draw.

THAT'S what kind of titillation is going on here.
posted by Peevish at 9:20 AM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't think of any high-profile game that puts this much effort into Lara's horrific death scenes.

Off the top of my head, the Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Gears of War series are all pretty fond of showing the player's (as opposed to an NPC's) brutal death in just this level of detail.

Also, the Tomb Raider games have always had grisly deaths; they just weren't as graphically impressive.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The difference with the older games is that usually in them Lara's dying was due to something the player did wrong, not because she was the victim in a cut scene...
posted by MartinWisse at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2013


"Off the top of my head, the Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Gears of War..."

I haven't played all of these, but I certainly never thought the deaths in Dead Space were nearly this fetishized. Isaac's deaths are almost comical. Maybe just because Isaac's behind the mask. Lara's death scenes seem to focus on her emotional state in a really creepy way. Like, early one when you can get crushed by boulders, one lands on her abdomen and she lies there suffering for a few seconds before a second one crushes her face, with the camera training on the whites of her eyes. I'm not the first person to compare it to a snuff film.
posted by Peevish at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2013


No matter how much you root for the heroine in a horror movie, the reason you came into the theater was to see her get fucked up.

I don't agree. At least it isn't true of me. I'm not proud of the fact that I do like seeing the good guys threatened and the bad guys get their comeuppance...I'm not necessarily proud of how simplistic and moralistic my literary/theatrical desires are... But I don't want to see the hero nor the heroine get fucked up. I want to see the evil dudes who want to gratuitously harm peace-loving folk get fucked up. Reality has more than enough of the other thing as far as I'm concerned.

And I can't believe I'm all that atypical...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2013


My gut reaction on seeing this was honestly something along the lines of ‘Good. We need more realistic depictions of sexual violence that create empathy towards the victim in an (especially male) audience. Because anything that can illustrate to a player who might otherwise have no exposure to the reality of how visceral the experience is and what a huge and disturbing violation it is for the victim—even if it isn’t rape! Even if it’s ‘just’ assault! In fact, even better if it’s just assault! Anything that even forces a player to think about this, because most men do not have to even consider this as a part of daily life—is a good thing.'

Rape and assault are a reality of the world we live in, and the only way to change that is to change the perspective of the people who do the raping/assaulting, or perhaps more importantly anyone who might contribute to the perception that rape and sexual assault are okay.

Fists O'Fury, I could not disagree with you more regarding this:
Some people like to say that rape is somehow viewed as acceptable by the culture (see "rape culture"). This couldn't be further from the truth.”
I wrote a big long thing about rape culture but there’s little point in re-hashing it all here. Many men don’t even think what they are doing is rape (see ‘accidental’ rapists). So we need to change attitudes and force people to think about these things. Maybe one way is to try to expose them to what it feels like to experience that threat, and we have to start somewhere.

If someone plays this game where she’s assaulted (with the threat of rape) and is disturbed by it? Great. Anything that can create in an audience that gut reaction of 'this is disturbing' and might make them think twice about how they talk about and think about rape is a good thing, I think.

BlueJae: Not meant to be titillating? The scene starts with a series of close shots that cut off the top of Lara's head to ensure a clear view of her heaving-with-fear cleavage.

That is not the full scene. The full scene starts before the start of the linked video, and this focus on her chest at the ‘start’ of the scene you mention is a result of the camera bouncing throughout the entire scene to create a realistic sense of viewership. This is very common in video games.

Then she spends the whole scene making movie-stereotype nonverbal sexy-scared mewling "Oh, noes, I'm about to orgasm with fear" noises instead of, I dunno, saying "Get your fucking hands off me before I rip your balls off and shove them down your throat, you stupid fuck" (which is how I personally reacted the last time a guy forcibly groped me).

She’s in a hostile environment surrounded by other potential assailants and is trying to be quiet to avoid further detection. To me this was a far more collected response than screaming or speaking loudly, and she's supposed to be a competent woman, so it made sense. I appreciate that you say there’s no right way to act when assaulted. But then I’m still not sure why this is one so unacceptable to you, especially given the context.

If you don't see it I think that's because it's so everywhere in popular culture that you have been made blind to it.

I feel like this is being uncharitable and there is more than one way to interpret this scene. Maybe even more than one valid one.

Peevish: No matter how much you root for the heroine in a horror movie, the reason you came into the theater was to see her get fucked up. THAT kind of titillation.

I guess I just don’t get this as... being a problem, I guess. Yes, I want to see the protagonists overcome some form of adversity. I don’t think quite what you've said is the reason I watch a horror movie, or would play a game like this, but even if that were the case wouldn’t it be the same for both men and women? Does this mean that women can’t be depicted in any ‘action’ environment where they’re under physical threat in any media without it being improperly ‘titillating’? The issue I’m getting from this is moreso that women are inherently considered by society as titillating. This game can’t get around that by itself.

I suppose the real question, and to my mind the one that really matters, is what the result of this scene will be. Will more men sympathize with Lara and actually have any emotional response to the scene, or will more men just be ‘titillated’ by it and go on with their lives unchanged? I don’t know the answer to that. The only thing I could think of that would remotely weight this scene towards empathy rather than titillation without dramatically changing the context would be putting a higher-cut shirt on her, which I would be all for but I don’t personally believe would ultimately change the perception much. I could be wrong.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:59 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


As much as Lara Croft is a sex symbol, she's also a power fantasy. This is a person who regularly fights tyrannosauruses and wins, right? So I can understand wanting to establish her vulnerability as a way to bring her down to earth and make her more relatable, and I look forward to seeing the same technique used to increase the relatability of other similar characters such as James Bond, John McClane, and Batman.
posted by baf at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I did not say it was an unacceptable way for Lara to react, six-or-six-thirty. I said it was a stereotypical way for a fictional woman to react -- and it is the way pop culture overwhelmingly tends to portray women's reactions to rape / threats of rape. And these storytellers could have chosen a different way for Lara to react that would not have been reinforcing a stereotype that portrays women as natural victims with little agency. But they chose this way. Why did they choose this way?

Also, I really, really don't buy the "the camera accidentally fell on her boobs" argument. Uh, nope. Just nope.
posted by BlueJae at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I really, really don't buy the "the camera accidentally fell on her boobs" argument. Uh, nope. Just nope.

As ridiculous as this idea would be in a movie (hello editing!) it's even more ridiculous in an animated cut scene.
posted by straight at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The difference with the older games is that usually in them Lara's dying was due to something the player did wrong, not because she was the victim in a cut scene...

I'm not a fan of QTEs as a gameplay mechanic, but they are still a gameplay mechanic. She doesn't die in a cut-scene unless the player mistimes button presses -- "does something wrong." I'm not sure that's a vital distinction anyway.

I haven't played all of these, but I certainly never thought the deaths in Dead Space were nearly this fetishized. Isaac's deaths are almost comical.

I wouldn't use "comical," but I also didn't find the Tomb Raider scene titillating.

Maybe just because Isaac's behind the mask.

An interesting point. The mask might be a part of it. One one hand, the player can identify more easily with a faceless protagonist, but on the other, it's also difficult to summon any sympathy for someone who never visibly reacts emotionally.

Lara's death scenes seem to focus on her emotional state in a really creepy way. Like, early one when you can get crushed by boulders, one lands on her abdomen and she lies there suffering for a few seconds before a second one crushes her face, with the camera training on the whites of her eyes. I'm not the first person to compare it to a snuff film.

Again, part of the grand tradition of Tomb Raider games. Jump to :44 and you'll see just what you're talking about. Also, the infamous drowning animation is right after that.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:21 AM on March 12, 2013


baf, see fight or flight's comment above regarding the "vulnerability" trope used by writers. I've read the same, though I also cannot recall where.
posted by CancerMan at 10:22 AM on March 12, 2013


Also, I really, really don't buy the "the camera accidentally fell on her boobs" argument.

For the record, I never said this and don't really appreciate the characterization. I just feel like your comment was overstating how much and often her breasts were within the shot.

I said it was a stereotypical way for a fictional woman to react -- and it is the way pop culture overwhelmingly tends to portray women's reactions to rape / threats of rape. And these storytellers could have chosen a different way for Lara to react that would not have been reinforcing a stereotype that portrays women as natural victims with little agency. But they chose this way. Why did they choose this way?

Again, I think context is important. Reacting in a louder way would have not been beneficial to her scenario.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Despite many suggestions from (male) friends (who I played bomberman, Goldeneye, Quake with) that I'd (not male) love playing Tomb Raider, I never once did because all I knew of it, all I ever saw of it, all I ever heard about it was TITS! TITS! TITS! oh, tight ass, too. Oh, yeh, you'd like the game play, too. The framing is too uncomfortable to even try playing the game to see if the gameplay was any fun. So, as noted above, it's hard to give the benefit of the doubt to the game designers here.

On the other hand, I loved the hell out of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requim because it was all about the sanity meter. I was pleasantly surprised that the first playable character was a woman and then annoyed that out of the 12 characters you have to play to win the game, 10 are men, 1 is a slave girl and 1 is not.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:50 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, maybe, if you found that scene titillating then you are the one who has been primed to see it that way by a culture that tends to fixate on viewing women in a certain way.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:51 AM on March 12, 2013


Blaming her reaction on the context isn't a very strong argument when the reaction and the context were written by the same person.
posted by baf at 10:51 AM on March 12, 2013


The new Tomb Raider is not the first game to work rape into a storyline, but it is certainly the most well-known.
As for that scene, it is true that last year, the game’s executive producer stated plainly that Lara faces characters who “try to rape her,” implying that it was a defining moment in her character development. I don’t have room here to explain the plethora of things that are wrong and insulting about that (and if you really don’t understand, I’d suggest starting here). Thing is, nothing of the sort happens in this game. There is no rape, attempted or otherwise, in Tomb Raider. What does happen is the clip everyone has seen, in which a man strokes Lara’s side and a struggle breaks out. That raised some major red flags for me when I first saw it, but having played the scene in full (several times)…honestly, in a world where those comments had never been made, I doubt I would be writing about it now at all.
From The Mary Sue's Tomb Raider review.

Finished the game yesterday. The above pretty much sums it up.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Blaming her reaction on the context

That's odd, I thought we were talking about the viewers reaction.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:07 AM on March 12, 2013


I shouldn't have followed the rape in videogames link. Not because the list was long - at just over 30 games out of millions, there were even fewer than I had been led to expect.

No, I read the description for RapeLay. And, just, ugh. World of ugh.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2013


I haven't played it but I been watching LPs of it. Here is the scene within a playthrough. It seems less harrowing than it did when I saw the E3 trailer. Maybe I am a bad example, I never found it titillating. After the E3 trailer, I thought it was horrifying and perhaps it was a good thing to force the male gamers playing it to confront it. In context, it seems kinda weak.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2013


From the link eyeballkid posted (my emphasis):
[...] there are indeed a number of ways in which Lara is portrayed differently than a man would be. You’d be hard-pressed to find a male action hero shown panting with fear, shaking with cold, holding his best friend’s hand reassuringly, or any of the many other emotive things we see Lara do. That’s not a mark against Tomb Raider. That’s a mark against how other heroes are written. What I found here was a character far more believable than all of the gravely-voiced, iron-jawed, emotionless dudes out there. Lara felt flawed and mortal, and for that, I admired her perseverance all the more. After the countless times I’ve wished to see a leading lady given the same chance as the gents, now the shoe’s on the other foot. I’d love to see a fixed-gender male protagonist portrayed with as much honesty and depth as Lara Croft.
I like this, because there's nothing inherently 'weak' or 'incompetent' about women characters with traditionally (or if you prefer, stereotypically) 'feminine' characteristics or behaviors like those mentioned in the article. Human behaviors. And I think in some ways that might be a better thing to portray than a stone-jawed, purely 'masculine' woman, because femininity (whether in women or men) is what gets most vilified--even by women, and as evident in the attitude society has towards effeminate men. And that's a perception that really needs to be changed.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:29 AM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I suppose you could argue that Lara was just pretending to be all stereotypically demure and girly-vulnerable in order to surprise her attacker with a knee to the groin, but they sure didn't give any cues in her facial expression or dialogue to make that clear.

Given the entire point of the game is that it is a reboot presenting Croft's origin story, having her be a tough as nails ass-kicker the very first time she confronts up close and personal danger would both defeat the purpose and make no sense. It would be like young Bruce Wayne saving his parents in the alley by beating down the robbers with his mad combat skills.

It seems like I'm the only one here who has actually played the game we're talking about. In general the game is most certainly not titillating and is much. much better at making one empathize and feel for Lara Croft than any of the previous TR games. Or most video games in general. There is absolutely no comparison between this and, say, the Assassin's Creed games which have very similar gameplay in many respects.

I think it's a pretty dang good game. It does put you on rails a bit, as RPS points out, but for some reason that doesn't bother me in TR like it would in an RPG. They are very different types of games. Frankly, I'd put away my 360 for something close to a year because I was so over console gaming compared to PC gaming, but I specifically bought TR for the 360 and I'm glad I did. It's a great game.
posted by Justinian at 12:03 PM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


It seems like I'm the only one here who has actually played the game we're talking about.

Played it. Agree with pretty much your entire assessment of it. Because of all the press prior to the game's release I spent the first half waiting to cringe at what ever bullshit was coming down the pipe. That moment never came. The second half of the game I was wondering how high The new Lara would end up on my list of greatest video game heroes of all time.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:12 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I almost always watch LPs before playing a game now, so I don;t waste 60$ on a game I'm never going to finish. After watching the LPs I'm definitely going to buy it.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2013


Played it. Agree with pretty much your entire assessment of it.

Same here. I'd compare it less to the Assassin's Creed series and more to the Uncharted series, although the latter is only available for the PS3, unlike TR and AC, and therefore is limited in exposure, relatively speaking. And Nate Drake's a fairly complicated character himself. Yes, there's a lot of action-dude tropes he follows, but the relationships with both male and female characters in the series are pretty solid and tend towards the unconventional, especially his ex (a burglar voiced by the always-awesome asskicking lady from Farscape, Claudia Black).
posted by zombieflanders at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2013


Claudia Black you say? Will investigate.
posted by Justinian at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2013


Fair warning: she's only in the 2nd and 3rd games.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2013


It seems like I'm the only one here who has actually played the game we're talking about.

I'm playing it together with my girlfriend, and we're about half-way through. (I think?) Titillation is not a vibe we've gotten from the game in general, and definitely not from that scene.

I'd compare it less to the Assassin's Creed series and more to the Uncharted series

There's interesting history with the two franchises. Uncharted borrowed a lot from the Tomb Raider games of old, and the new Tomb Raider borrows from Uncharted right back. Among other things, Amy Hennig, the lead writer on the Uncharted games, got her start at Crystal Dynamics (makers of Tomb Raider). So far, I'd actually rate Tomb Raider more highly than the Uncharteds. True, the dialog and characterization aren't as cracking as Uncharted, but man, the controls are tighter, and there's much more exploration.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:01 PM on March 12, 2013


"Does this mean that women can’t be depicted in any ‘action’ environment where they’re under physical threat in any media without it being improperly ‘titillating’?"

My point is that the way we should women being under physical duress is very different from the way we show men under physical duress. Nathan Drake gets the shit kicked out of him in Uncharted, but he mostly shakes it off. These death scenes are specifically about Lara's pain and suffering. When are male death scenes this psychological?

And I'm not saying psychological trauma is bad, per se, but bothersome that it's so commonly put in a female character's story, not a male's. This kind of torture and sexual violence involving women is pretty rampant in superhero comics as well, I've gathered. Yes, it happens, to men, but it's generally handled differently.
posted by Peevish at 2:48 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


As others have pointed out previously, the death scenes in the first two Dead Space games are very similar in tone and style to the death scenes in Tomb Raider. So that answers your question.
posted by Justinian at 3:16 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You’d be hard-pressed to find a male action hero shown panting with fear, shaking with cold, holding his best friend’s hand reassuringly, or any of the many other emotive things we see Lara do.

Just to give another shout out to The Walking Dead, you're an action hero, but about half of the game is about you learning how to be a dad and dealing with other people's feelings. You're often wounded and there are times when you depend on a 9 year old girl to save you, both physically, and perhaps more importantly, spiritually. It's really a landmark game.
posted by empath at 3:19 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


The new Tomb Raider has taught me an important life lesson: There is no problem which cannot be solved through setting everything on fire.
posted by Justinian at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also shotguns.
posted by Justinian at 4:36 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


One more thing about fire, it only burns what you need it to. Wooden tunnel support beams are immune.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:42 PM on March 12, 2013


The new Tomb Raider has taught me an important life lesson: There is no problem which cannot be solved through setting everything on fire.

Also shotguns.


Oh, man, there's an upgrade that has your name on it.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:10 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just found out that Lara Croft is one of the doctors on Grey's Anatomy and now my mind is blown.
posted by Justinian at 7:42 PM on March 13, 2013


Finished the game. Liked it a lot. The only thing I really don't like (which many games of this type suffer from in my view) are the collectibles scattered about all over the place. Because I am compelled by obvious mental defect to find all of it, which causes me to stop enjoying the game as much as I turn into a glorified scavenger hunter instead of a tomb raider. I understand they are optional. See previous sentence about obvious mental defect.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian: The only thing I really don't like (which many games of this type suffer from in my view) are the collectibles scattered about all over the place. Because I am compelled by obvious mental defect to find all of it

Relevant.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:59 PM on March 14, 2013


So how is the game?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:32 PM on March 14, 2013


Wooden tunnel support beams are immune.
fucking weak
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:05 AM on March 15, 2013




This Isn’t the Article I Wanted to Write About Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider triggered me, sure. But it didn’t do it needlessly. It didn’t do it tactlessly. It didn’t do it for a cheap rise. It instead captured a real emotion and a real experience millions of women will encounter in their life. Some of them won’t be as lucky as I was. Some of them won’t be as lucky as Lara Croft was, either. Some of them won’t survive. Some of them will be silenced forever.
posted by Artw at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how is the game?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:32 AM on March 14 [+] [!]


Staberriffic.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:05 AM on March 25, 2013


blasdelb: I would play the shit out of a game that had Bourne, or Kratos, or Vin Diesel or whatever crying his eyes out over a deer dying in the way deer actually die when you shoot them with an arrow to eat and then shooting a dude from a place of vulnerability and watching him die in a visceral disturbing realistic way before that slowly escalates to the more standard rampage...

Errant Signal had a vid about Spec Ops that looked at it as a violent shooter that critiqued violent shooters. Not necessarily a game that explicitly uses the character's emotions as a game mechanic, but definitely one aimed at making the player feel at least a little bit queasy about the unthinking murder spree that typifies so many games in the genre.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:21 AM on March 25, 2013


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