Should We Restore Our Faith in the New Tomb Raider?
Sophie Prell over at the Penny Arcade Report brings us an in-depth look into the controversy and context of the “rape scene” in the upcoming gritty reboot of the Tomb Raider series.
Playing the entire scene in context Prell notes the emphasis on survival during the fight to the death rather than sexual abuse, as failing any of the Quick Time Events during Lara Croft’s fight with the male antagonist ends in her gruesome death, choked or shot to death, rather than being raped. Shortly after E3, our managing editor, Richard Clark, wrote about the E3 trailer and the scene in question and concluded that an action-packed shooter was not the right context to explore the horrific nature of sexual assault:
Forget the intentions of the developer or the thoughtfulness of their execution: this is a game people will buy because they recognize the Tomb Raider license. They will go into this with expectations of empathizing with a female character – they will watch her. As much as I want to wish the best about the audience, we’re just not there yet. And games aren’t made in a vacuum. As much as I want to “wait and see”, I’m finding it hard to convince myself that this is anywhere close to a good idea. When Croft is assaulted sexually, it’s not a life altering event, but a story beat – it’s one more obstacle that comes after being attacked by a wolf and before dodging flying plane parts. It’s one “exciting” event in an action story. It is, by definition, trivial.
I can’t seem to move past this concern. Tomb Raider is a silly game – that’s okay. It’s even okay to make a silly game a little more serious. But in this game, the only way we are given to interact with such a life-altering event is to punch, shoot and climb. These are inadequate mechanics for dealing with such a serious subject – they change the focus from the internal struggle of such an event to the next available spectacle. Why add the sexual assault beat to this game in the first place? As an easy way to portray the evil heart of the villain? As a quick way to draw attention to Croft’s desirability? As a way to make the gamer gasp and feel they are playing something profound?
Those reasons aren’t enough for me.
Similarly, because of the sexualized way the attacker touches Croft, Prell reiterates that the scene still leaves her feeling uncomfortable.
However, Prell asks Lindsay Allen, a former employee at a local domestic and sexual violence prevention service, whether or not she believes the scene belongs in the game to maintain an artistic honesty, despite its brutality, “I can see where people might be disturbed that they’re using her victimization as a tactic to shock or get attention for the game, but the fact of the matter is, so many women are victimized in that way every day,” Allen said. “To say it shouldn’t be used would be… they basically wouldn’t be portraying things in a realistic way.”
Prell also wanted to know if gamer’s are ready for this type of realism, asking Roxane Gay, Associate Professor of English atEasternIllinoisUniversity, whether some topics such as rape should remain undiscussed.
“No . . . there are certainly writers who are not capable of dealing with certain topics in fiction because they cannot handle the subject with care and thoughtful consideration.”
Women are often used to create drama in a narrative by being made vulnerable to sexual violence. A dead girl’s body is splayed open and mutilated in a crime procedural drama. A medical drama features a dramatic rape storyline. It’s not at all surprising that the a woman as sexually vulnerable prey is a trope that has found its way into video games. It’s simply there because it’s a lazy choice to suggest that a woman would be sexually vulnerable on an island with savage men.
So far, it may remains to be seen if studio head David Gallagher and the team behind the Tomb Raider reboot will be able to convey the overall theme of survival in extreme situations with care and consideration, and without portraying sexual assault in a thoughtless manner.
What do you think? Have the comments of Hughes, Gallagher, Allen, and Gay reassured you or do you still feel like this is the wrong context for exploring an incredibly painful subject for so many people in the real world? Can a game in which the vast majority of what the player does is shoot and stab people handle sexual assault in a nuanced and thoughtful way? Or is there something unhealthy about how players will control Croft as their avatar through such a scene?