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Tomb Raider - Crossroads: The Truth About The Lara Croft Rape Controversy

by Debbie Timmins
19 June 2012 12 Comments

In the latest Tomb Raider instalment, gamers must protect Lara Croft from a rape. Not only is it distasteful and crass, it is totally out of Croft's character.

The world of video games has got its knickers in a twist over Lara Croft again. Gaming website Kotaku published statements from Crystal Dynamics (the latest Tomb Raider installment) executive producer Ron Rosenberg saying that gamers want to protect Lara and that at one point, scavengers attempt to rape her.

Articles appeared all over gaming and mainstream media. There’s outrage that people may not identify with Lara. There’s outrage that Lara might need protection. There’s outrage at the suggestion of rape in a scene. And there’s outrage at all the outrage about something that doesn’t matter anyway because it’s just a game.

First seen in the original Tomb Raider game in 1996, Lara Croft was a lone adventurer. Throughout the series she defends herself against aggressors and wildlife with pistols, magnums, Uzis, machine guns, rocket launchers and pretty much any handheld weapon you can think of. As well as being a sexual fantasy for men, her independence has always made her a role model and rare power fantasy for women.

What people don’t like is the idea that Lara needs to be cossetted. She was a power fantasy. She was strong.

Let’s start with the people objecting to the article.

1. People don’t identify with Lara

On being asked by Kotaku about the difficulty of developing a female protagonist, Rosenberg said “When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’”

A lot of women felt that he was excluding the female fanbase by not counting them as people who play Lara. Others dislike the implication that men can’t identify with a female character. Rosenberg probably should have said “many people”.

2. Lara doesn’t need protecting

The new Tomb Raider will be an origin story telling how she became the kick-ass woman that we know and love. To do that, she needs to be less powerful than she has been in the past. It’s fine for characters to be vulnerable. It’s great for characters to develop through an arc in games.

What people don’t like is the idea that Lara needs to be cossetted. She was a power fantasy. She was strong. Playing her made gamers feel powerful and strong. Entertainment is full of Damsels in Distress. There’s no need to have Lara cowering in corners, waiting for some big, strong player to come save her.

3. Lara doesn’t need to be raped.

Sometimes it feels like whenever writers want to show a woman in peril, they reach for rape. Man in peril? Attacked by wolves, attacked by other men, environmental hazards, whatever. Woman? Rape.

Apparently being tied up and threatened with murder isn’t motivation enough.

Admittedly, Lara goes through all the other stuff as well and that’s what makes the evocation of rape here even more distasteful. She can’t just find her strength through the natural dangers on a tropical island. As Sarah Ditum said in a live chat on video games website VG247, using rape as a reason to find inner strength implies “She’s been raped into being AWESOME!”

For many raped women, rape is one of the most horrific things they will ever experience. In Mass Effect 2, Jack’s casual mention that she was raped serves to emphasise just how terrible her childhood was. In Tomb Raider, it’s just a way to let Lara kill someone. Apparently being tied up and threatened with murder isn’t motivation enough.

The need for sexual assault over simple assault for female characters is just tiresome. Women are more than just their vaginas. Stop obsessing over them.

Presenting the counter arguments:

4. There’s no rape

Both commenters and Crystal Dynamics have pointed out that there is no rape in the game. The scavenger threatens Lara in a sexual manner before she knees him in the groin. A struggles ensues and if the player is successful, he is shot dead.

Nobody stuck their dick into anybody. That means everything is totally okay. Have a cookie.

Counter-counter-argument: No, there isn’t a rape. But there is a man who shoves Lara against a burning hut, gropes her arm, slides his hand against her body and leans in to rub his face against her neck.

What do people think he was going to do, sniff her hair a bit before cutting the ropes that bind her wrists and letting her go free? Perhaps he wasn’t going to rape her at all, just a bit of plain old sexual assault.

Well done, you. Nobody stuck their dick into anybody. That means everything is totally okay. Have a cookie.

5. The assault actually empowers Lara

People argue that the scene is good in that it empowers Lara and teaches her how to kill people who threaten her. It’s apparently the first time she kills a man after all, and she needs sufficient motivation.

Counter-counter-argument: Nobody is claiming that Lara is disempowered by this particular moment. Seeing Lara learn how to kill people is a good thing (for a rather distorted value of “good”).

The objection is to the use of rape/attempted rape/sexual assault as a transformative device

The objection is to the use of rape/attempted rape/sexual assault as a transformative device. Here’s how casual treatment of rape in media hurts your game by hurting people.

You could even argue that claiming Lara’s fighting response as empowerment contributes to a culture of victim-blaming toward the women who involuntarily freeze during rape. It happens.

6. Portraying rape is fine in other media

Rape, rape attempts and sexual assault are commonly portrayed in films, books, TV. People argue that games shouldn’t be the exception.

Counter-counter-argument: Absolutely, games shouldn’t be the exception. But rape really isn’t portrayed well in other media either. See point 3 above.

Some argue that Press X To Not Get Raped makes it even more distasteful than the non-interactive rape attempts commonly seen elsewhere. Others argue that commonly seeing rape desensitizes people to the nature of the crime.

We all experience death in some form or another, so we understand the implications of real murder despite its common portrayal. We all understand pain, so we empathise with real violence. Most of us are fortunate enough to not experience the consequences of real sexual assault.

All men devolve to rapists without the company of women? Are you sure this is the argument you want to make?

7. Of course the men are going to try and rape her. They’re bad people.

Some have argued that because the scavengers are bad, it’s to be expected that they will try to rape women. They’ve been on an island without women for some time and men have needs.

Counter-counter-argument: All men devolve to rapists without the company of women? Are you sure this is the argument you want to make?

Putting aside the implication that women bear the responsibility for men’s behaviour, this is just gross.

Perhaps you’re saying that because the men are bad, they will automatically be rapists. This is just poor storytelling. Good storytelling in a “gritty and realistic” tale would give actual, believeable motivations to the enemy.

8. This is why we can’t have nice things

Games need to mature as a medium but this can’t happen if there’s an outcry every time someone tries to tackle a difficult subject.

Counter-counter argument: There are plenty of ways to mature in storytelling without jumping straight to controversial subjects. One of them includes developing a character arc for a woman that doesn’t refer to her ladyparts.

Things won’t improve if nobody sees their flaws. It’s entirely up to developers to decide if they will accept criticism and make improvements where necessary or if they would rather shy away into safer territory.

It’s also entirely up to developers to decide the threshold for “necessary”.

There are plenty of ways to mature in storytelling without jumping straight to controversial subjects.

9. But it’s just a game

Games are entertainment. Some say that writers should stop trying to push an agenda where it doesn’t belong.

Counter-counter argument: Games should be open to sociological critique, just like books, films, music and other arts.

Crystal Dynamics have since responded to the outcry saying ” One of the character defining moments for Lara in the game, which has incorrectly been referred to as an ‘attempted rape’ scene is the content we showed at this year’s E3 and which over a million people have now seen in our recent trailer entitled ‘Crossroads’.

“This is where Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time. In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.”

In other words, they’re not supporting the statements of their own Executive Producer and not exploring the theme of sexual assault in any way. How mature of them.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Emma 9:02 am, 22-Jun-2012

How biased and one sided is this article. You can step down from your weak little soap box now. This topic is boring and has run its course, loose your scandal loving tee

Emma 9:02 am, 22-Jun-2012

How biased and one sided is this article. You can step down from your weak little soap box now. This topic is boring and has run its course, let it go scandal lovers.

JC 12:56 am, 23-Jun-2012

I agree with a lot of what this article says. For me the scene from the trailer wasn't tense or thrilling. Even though it was short, I thought it was unpleasant. Any time you see rape in a movie you don't think "Oh wow, this really advances the plot." It's awkward and I never quite feel comfortable watching a woman writhe and scream in terror and pain. Tomb Raider games are action games. They don't need this level of 'maturity'. When was the last time you saw a sexual assault in an action flick? Any time you wanna put a woman in peril, you just tie her to a chair while some guy with an accent and a mustache gloats about his doomsday device. Does it make it a 'better' movie if he is more 'realistic' by trying to rape the wife of John McCain? If I want to be disgusted and horrified playing a game, I'll play Silent Hill 2 to get my dose of rape.

Mute 7:50 pm, 24-Jun-2012

Too be fair, it's being realistic, in the real world if a women who looks like lara got captured in a war zone, chances are they would be raped, it's not very nice to think about, sure, but it does happen, now, she doesn't actually get raped, it's an attempt at it, which most likely ends with her killing everyone.

Chris 8:45 pm, 24-Jun-2012

I'd expect such a knee-jerk reaction from the Daily Mail, not ST.

Arckanum 6:58 am, 25-Jun-2012

Wow, it actually started off as a pretty neutral article that could have been informative. And then it just down spiraled into this massive biased cesspit of your whining about a video game.

Emma 8:57 am, 25-Jun-2012

Completely agree Chris and Arckanum. This is a terrible, badly written article penned by someone who obviously does not like the game anyway.

JC 8:31 am, 4-Jul-2012

In the real world there are also child soldiers in such war zones. Just because it's 'realistic' doesn't mean it's enjoyable.

NUB 7:23 pm, 1-Aug-2012

Couldn't agree more with these latest comments. This same whine happened years ago in a game called Phantasmagoria back in 1995... and no one got hurt from that game either.

Kokoro 6:25 am, 17-Mar-2013

I'm pretty sure if you don't object to the graphic mutilation of Lara falling onto spikes the mention of her possibly being raped is just another bad scenario that may happen. Don't see anyone flipping a bitch fit because she gets penetrated by massive metal spikes, instead of a meat one. lol.

LG 12:25 am, 20-Mar-2013

to Emma: i believe that the author is perfectly entitled to her opinion.

Kate 7:20 am, 24-Mar-2013

to LG: As are Chris, Arckanum and Emma. In fact, more so because they are commenters, not someone reporting on a subject matter. Firstly, everything about this website (see who they syndicate articles to if you have doubts) says 'news' which should be about facts, not opinions. So, actually, yes, she is entitled to her opinion but if she wants to attempt to write articles in a journalistic manner for people to take her seriously, then she needs to write seriously and leave the opinions at home. If you can't write an article with fundamental facts, then you must present an antithesis so whatever you bring to the table to enable readers to make informed opinions. Simply put, you weigh up both sides of an argument, and you don't give your own trashy opinion that boils to drivel and hope to consider it journalistic. Secondly, there are so many holes in her points it is laughable. I'll pick one at random (literally rolling a 10 sided-dice at my desk to pick which point I'll review else we will be here all night going over all the failings). Okay, rolled a 7. Her faux counter argument was: "Of course the men are going to try and rape her. They’re bad people." Her counter-counter argument of "All men devolve to rapists without the company of women? Are you sure this is the argument you want to make?" isn't a counter-counter because she is missing key facts about two very important things: firstly, the facts giving in her OWN counter argument and second, facts about the ACTUAL men on the island. So first, she established these men are BAD men. She has classified them into category (although a very general one at that) but her counter-counter declassifies and puts ALL men - both good and bad - together. That alone makes her counter-counter invalid. While she is correct that not ALL men are bad, that was not originally up for discussion (according to her) because we should just be debating if ALL BAD men would then rape. That, then, though less problematic the point she was trying to make, immediately is grounded because we have to define what makes a man 'bad.' Is 'liar' enough to class a man as bad? Or a murderer? Or a rapist? Etc etc. Perhaps they are different levels or have classifications of bad? This is where it gets complex and why such a throw away counter-counter isn't countering at all but merely giving an opinion that is drivel. Are all men who are murderers, rapists? No. Are all men who are rapists, murderers? No. Then we surely cannot classify them together. Point taken? Hope so or we'll end up beating it to death. So let's get to the second, and in my opinion, more important fact - just in case you are still not seeing the flaws from all that was written above. This fact, actually, is the only worthwhile talking point for the counter-counter. Or even the counter. The men on the Island are, for want of a better term, brainwashed. They are in a cult. Let's look at the bigger picture though: It is a ritualistic cult. Wait, let's back up a bit more and... oh, an ancient, ritualistic cult. A cult that uses females in ceremonies. A quick breeze over those subjects within history and archaeological books (remember, this is a game that draws on archaeological myths, so it is within its right to follow that train of thought) and you'll see why men like that on the Island would do that. Nobody is saying all men stuck on an Island would do that. Nor all men who are bad and stuck on an Island... See the point made? Good. Hopefully the author will too before she attempts to put digital pen to paper and write another 'article' - if she wants to write opinions, then she should tuck it away on some blog, not lump it into something that claims to push news.

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