The internet is SUPER interested in women today. I mean, it’s interested in women everyday, obviously, but today there’s a peculiar kind of hysteria around the female form.
More specifically, Lara Croft’s form. You know? Lara Croft with the eyes and the backpack and the irrational hatred of endangered species and the butler and the back pain?
The drama centres around Crystal Dynamics’ forthcoming Tomb Raider game, which examines the origin story of gaming’s arch-heroine as a 21-year-old woman.
Lara Croft, the archaeologist daughter of Lord and Lady Henshingly-Croft, was the first video game character to step from the confines of her medium to be adopted by the mainstream media as one of their own.
Mario and Sonic may have invaded the cultural landscape, but they did so as poster mascots for pre-teens. Croft, meanwhile, found herself on the cover of Face magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Time, her smooth polygonal face and fulsome bust doing more to move gaming from its position as nerdish niche to aspirational hobby than anything before it.
If Wipeout made gaming acceptable to a generation of clubbers, Tomb Raider made the medium respectable in both the eyes of the style press and middle England. What other game has had its heroine turned into a backing dancer for U2, and a model for the bastion of British propriety, Marks and Spencer? As a result, Lara Croft did just as much for her medium outside the confines of her game as she did inside of it, an inexhaustible icon both in terms of her athleticism and marketing clout.
But in the forthcoming Tomb Raider – developed by the talented team at Crystal Dynamics – who worked on one of Hookshot Inc.’s favourite downloadable titles, Lara Croft and the Guardain of Light – the historically confident and strong female protagonist is show beaten and broken on a tropical island.
At this year’s E3 I and a slew of other journalists were shown a 30 minute playthrough of the opening section of the game, a demo that ended in an attempted rape scene, in which the player was required to hammer the x-button to evade sexual abuse at the hands of her captor.
It was an unpleasant moment that felt somewhat incongruous to the preceding 25 minutes, but I have enough trust in Crystal Dynamics to believe that it will have its purpose and place within the wider narrative arc of the game (indeed, I have more of a problem with the game’s Uncharted-ification, which appears to have taken much of what I love about the series and this particular developer’s own take on the Croft myth, and turned into something more stylish and less interesting).
But the problems really started when the game’s Executive Producer Ron Rosenburg spoke to the blog Kotaku implying that the attempted rape was crucial for players to understand how she came to be a strong lead in later life.
“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.”
I’m sure there’s been a great deal of gnashing of teeth at Crystal Dynamics this past few days, the team feeling as though they have been unfairly represented by their exec. But at the same time, the scene is undeniably a part of the game, even if the studio has been quick to point out that “sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme we cover in this game.” (NOTE: It may not be a “theme” but it’s certainly a feature).
For many, the main issue is not the inclusion of such a scene (after all, we routinely commit myriad atrocities in our video games on a daily basis) but rather the idea that a female heroine must have endured some great travesty for her to have grown into a strong lead.
Why couldn’t Lara Croft have just been born this way, like Master Chief, or Marcus Fenix or Mario? That’s certainly been the implication in the previous Tomb Raider games.
As Mary Hamilton pointed out in a column for The Guardian yesterday: “Lara has always been a pragmatic survivalist with a keen sense of adventure; to decide that she needs to be tortured in order to be able to kill goes against what we know of her history and personality so far.”
Debate will continue to rage.
But for now it got me thinking: what strong representations of women are there on iOS? Which reminded me of Charles Cecil’s wonderful Broken Sword series, and its female co-star, Nicole Collard.
Nicole, or Nico as she’s affectionately known, is perfectly imperfect. A French freelance journalist she’s strong, sexy, determined and she saved my ass just as many times as I’ve saved hers. As far as I’m aware, she managed all of these things without having to first endure sexual trauma. She may not have the athleticism of Lara (or the cleavage and rare tiger-filled trophy cabinet) but she’s a rounded, believable and inspirational character. And she was this way long before she was kidnapped by Aztecs.
Buy Broken Sword – The Smoking Mirror: Remastered (my personal favourite in the series) for iOS here.