The Tomb Raider Controversy: A New Perspective

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Crystal Dynamics has gotten a lot of heat for a racy scene in their new Tomb Raider reboot.  That heat has added more fire to a burning argument about sexism in video games and its industry across the web.

Tomb Raider, set to launch on March 5th of next year, is set to redefine a character who was mostly recognized for her disproportionate physique and a game series not known for realism or story.  It’s a gritty reimagining, starting us off with Lara in her youth before she has become a hardened adventurer, and it doesn’t seem targeted to the squeamish or faint of heart.

The main theme of the game appears to be how enduring pain defines one’s character, seen physically by how much punishment Lara endures in the footage and limited gameplay we’ve seen so far.    With her ship split in two during a storm on an isolated island, Lara will have to find food and water to survive, handle lingering wounds, and face savage adversaries, the most savage of which may be human nature itself.

This is where the controversy begins.  In an interview with Kotaku, executive producer Ron Ronsenberg used the “rape” word to describe a scene where a captor attempts to sexual assault her before she fights him off.  Since then, Crystal Dynamics has backed off from that choice of words, but it’s too late.  Now a massive storm of criticism and debate has surrounded the game, right in time for several other controversial discussions about how women are portrayed and treated in the video game industry.

So, this would be a prime point for me, the author of this piece, to break into passive voice and start editorializing about my opinion on the matter.   After all, everyone else has, why shouldn’t I chime in?  Well, honestly I don’t think my opinion really holds a lot of weight for one very important reason.  I’m a guy.  And while that alone may not be enough for me to exclude my own words on the matter, I just felt like there was a voice not being heard between all of those who are defending and detracting the scene and situation in question.

So I decided to ask three women what they thought about the scene, each with their own unique perspective that I felt hasn’t been shared, and are probably the most important angles that people are attempting talk from without really getting the story from the primary source.

First was Morgan, a close friend of mine who herself was in an abusive relationship that involved violent sexual assault.  She’s also a gamer, and commonly plays action games like the newest Resident Evil titles.  I laid down the conditions that she didn’t have to watch the footage if it made her uncomfortable, that she obviously didn’t have to do this, and that outside of explaining why I was writing this piece at all, I let the scene speak for itself.  This is what she had to say;

“I thought the way that Lara Croft handled herself was empowering….That scene notwithstanding, I want to play the game, it looks pretty cool”.

It isn’t what I expected ether.  She went on about how the scene didn’t bother her, and she’d seen worse, far more upsetting stuff.    Next was Megan, again a victim of sexual abuse, but while she plays the occasional puzzle or casual game, she isn’t really a gamer in the trappings that most of us identify with.  She had already heard about the controversy before hand, but had not seen the content in question.  She had this to say;

“Lara Croft is a badass   I’m not sure what the big deal is about…    The situation is realistic, and she fights off her attacker…. I think it’s a little insulting that a game showing sexual assault in a realistic setting is called anti-feministic, because those kinds of assaults happen, especially in the situation Lara Croft was in… I think it’s empowering because it shows her fighting off an attack, and it shows that even though women face the threat of sexual assault more often than men, it doesn’t mean they are helpless or weak.”

Noticing a pattern?  Ok, that’s two twenty something females, so I bet you’re thinking that I just hit up my female friends to see what they thought knowing what they’d say.  So I decided to go the distance and really push outside of the normal boundaries, and ask a middle aged mother what she thought of the scene in question.  She’s asked to keep her identity and profession undisclosed, but she is in no way a gamer, and from an entirely different generation from the gaming crowed.  She had this to say;

“That’s it!?   She took care of his ass! I don’t see what the problem is here….Sexual assault is something all women face, why should Lara Croft be exempt?  Even if the rape did happen, it’s realistic in this situation… it’s something that happens to both men and women, but more likely to women.”

And there you have it.  I cringed when I began showing her this because I knew it wasn’t what she was expecting.  There was a point where the footage buffered where we stopped for a bit and said that the game looked “intense” and there was the understandable musing about how games have changed, but even that was muted from what most of her generation used to say about games during the Mortal Kombat and Doom era.

After this little experiment I was left wondering exactly why this was such a big deal in the first place. We’ve been through so many other taboo subject matters, many of which in relatively short time frame that I’m honestly not sure why this is even a “thing”, especially after speaking with these three ladies.  I wonder if we aren’t making a mountain out of a molehill this time, considering those who are supposed to be the ones most likely to be offended simply aren’t.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.  If you are willing, and this kind of thing doesn’t upset you, the link to the trailer in question that has the upsetting footage is right below this paragraph.  Feel free to form your own.