The Victimization Of Lara Croft

I was hopeful. I saw the new take on Lara Croft way back when and thought, well, color me intrigued. The old Lara Croft never really spoke to me — comic book proportions, sassy British accent, short-shorts, whatever. No harm, no foul, but not the game for me. And then along comes this new reimagining — Lara Croft by way of John McClane. A rougher, tougher hero — kicked around but triumphant.

I was good with that.

I’m not so good with it now.

I refer you to this article: You’ll ‘Want To Protect’ The New, Less Curvy Lara Croft, at Kotaku.

From that article:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.’”

So is she still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Lara a little bit differently than we have in the past.

“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”

Well, sure. Because who could possibly relate to a — snerk, gasp — female protagonist? Better instead to assume that we’re just helping the poor dear along. Because if we don’t, well…

In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.

“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.”

Ah! See, there it is. If we don’t act as her helper, we’ll “help” her get raped.

Aaaaaand then killed.

As a storyteller, this is troubling on a number of levels — that we humanize a female character by making her weak, by forcing her into the role of the victim. I’m not saying there’s not a mode for a story where a woman fights off brutal male attackers and triumphs against them. There is. I’m also not sure that Tomb Raider is it. Especially since we had a character who was shallow, yes, but she was also a wealthy confident ass-kicker who brooked no bullshit. She wasn’t a potential sexual bullseye for a bunch of island thugs. Is this our current idea of a strong female character? A bloodied victim? An abused teen girl? Is there no middle-ground between “super-bazoomed comic book heiress” and “survivor of torture porn island adventure?” Can’t we scuff her up but keep the rape out of it? And can’t we come to her being a strong relatable character not because she’s a woman, not despite the fact she’s a woman, but regardless of it?

As a human fucking being, this is troubling on one particular level: that all women can hope for is to get out alive and, y’know, unraped. We already approach rape in this culture like it’s a pothole in the road you need to avoid — as if the power to not get raped is solely in the hands of the woman. As if the onus of responsibility is not at all on the scum-fuck rapists. It always seems to be a message of How Not To Get Raped as opposed to How Not To Be A Shitty Fucking Rapist. Nobody’s saying women shouldn’t learn to be strong and protect themselves — but it’s not a woman’s responsibility not to get raped.

And yet, that’s what this Tomb Raider appears to be saying.

This doesn’t make her bad-ass.

It doesn’t make her or the situation “more real.”

(As if that’s what games like this need — a hard high dose of rapey reality.)

It doesn’t improve her or make her stronger.

It goes too far. It pushes too hard. It weakens her deeply.

We cannot “relate.” We need to “help” and “protect” her.

We turn her human by “literally” making her a “cornered animal?”

All this says some very scary things about how we look at women, I think.

(A caveat: this is based on this one article and some game footage. For all I know, the game will come out and not be this at all — but by all indications, we’re in for some trouble with this one.)

(Also check out this post by Kat Howard.)

82 responses to “The Victimization Of Lara Croft”

  1. In stupidity, this is the equivalent to give Mario a Peyotl problem to explain his vision of Goombas and Koopas. There’s a lot of self-indulgence to creative directors in the video game industry. Remember David Cage who said Heavy Rain would revolutionize the industry by appealing to the players emotions? Then he shat out one of the most cliché-ridden script ever. Yeah it was a bulky script for video games, but for any other narrative standard, it has at LEAST two useless lead characters.

    Lara Croft has been heading down the shitter at a painfully slow rhythm for the last decade. Maybe this is the fatal blow. I was looking for a subject for my video game post at my place this month. I think I found it.

  2. I would love to say I’m shocked and outraged, but really, I see this sort of thing so often that it just makes me sad. Rape Culture is invading everything, and the more rape is used in this fashion, portrayed in this way, the easier it gets to rape women consequence free.

    Unfortunately, I know this all too well.

  3. Okay, you’re drawing a blank now, I get it. Defending women’s rights and getting heat for it – by a woman. I can explain.

    Andy Dufresne is the hero in the movie “The Shawshenk Redemption”. In it he tries to avoid rape and fights for survival in a prison he finally escapes from. The plot is so similar to the game, it’s a no-brainer that I used it to test the validity of the article. Andy is a more faceted character than Lara, but still it’s the same. So if the plot is the same, the article should at least somewhat fit the movie, right? Such an article would then be titled “The victimization of Andy Dufresne”. (That’s already telling). Here are quotes from the article changed as if they are about the movie (and then commented by me). I’d say the problem becomes apparent pretty darn quick.

    “It (the rape plot) goes too far. It pushes too hard. it weakens him deeply”
    Escaping from or surviving rape with dignity is actually an uplifting plot in both SSR and LC. Why? Because Andy survives every time (obviously), Lara survives every time the game player survives. Does Lara commit suicide, go insane or waste way in a crappy flat at the end of the game, no matter if the player avoided the rape or not? No. It seems that well meaning male outbursts on female rape often mask an uncomfortable reversal truth. Rape for men is a huge loss of dignity, power, worth and value in the social order. So when a man is in Lara’s shoes, he experiences rape still “as a man would” and apparently, there is no coming around from that for a man. It’s “the felt end” for him, versus “a horrific but survivable end” for a woman. I guess that’s why a man wants to censor the story. For male players that avoids the defeat moment. For a women, the hugely interesting part begins exactly at that moment. Finally I get to try how to survive or fight off rape with dignity and power without going through real rape. Unless of course some guy didn’t censor that part of the story in a misguided attempt to protect me (or rather himself?). No shame in a male fear of rape, only, that if it’s really about the man’s loss of face during rape, not the woman’s, it makes the heroic female defense hollow and not credible. The title of the article is then wrong, too. I would have to be “How men experience victimization when they are Lara Croft”.

    “It’s troubling that all he can hope for is getting out alive and unraped from this prison”
    Yes, that’s pretty much what Andy and Lara can hope for and it’s not overly negative. Remember how much screen time it takes up for Andy in the movie to fight off the rapists? Because that stuff just takes center stage in extreme locations like prisons and wild islands. Sure, reality is troubling, but humans make stories about cruel realities. I don’t see where the problem is.

    “the movie seems to be all about this message “how not to get raped” where it should be about “how not to be a shitty fucking raping prison inmate”
    Wy? Where is the commercial value in a preachy storyline smelling of a high school lecture about how bad rapists are. Imagine the SSR plot showing how not to be a rapist. Who watches a story like that? It’s boring. Not showing the hero with a fighter’s mind getting into rape danger and fighting free of it because it doesn’t put enough blame on the perpetrator goes against all good storytelling rules. And it’s also not “all about” the rape either. Nor does the rape plot make the world a worse place simply by depicting reality. When I read these constructed arguments, what I’m really hearing is: “I have a personal issue around my own shame, loss of face and falling on the social ladder in relation to rape, but I’m ashamed of that weakness so I blow myself up as the strong defender of the weak female”. Nothing against good intentions, but this is a Jerry McGuire move. I know you really really want to defend women, but you gotta be truthful about your motives, otherwise you come across as phony. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of phony pathos in the article. That’s a red flag. I’d never would want my female rights defended by someone who’s not honest about their own interest or driver in the subject.

    “being under threat of or being raped doesn’t make him stronger”
    Says who? Yes it does if the story is written that way. Luckily, it is. In movie and game the hero comes out stronger at the end by surviving the rape or rape threat without going mental. Why would any other form of attack have the potential to make a character stronger – except rape? is Is again, because for men, rape seems too shameful, to ever recover from. Millions of women have to do it every year and it might be nice if they had some role models encouraging fighting. The last thing we need are guys removing rape stories from the media and robbing women of the change to learn through observing how one can survive or battle rape powerfully and gracefully. The rapes won’t suddenly disappear. Rapists won’t suddenly change their mind. All that censors achieve is to remove the learning experience, leaving the woman without any inspiration as to how to deal with this.

    “we turn him humane by literally making I’m a cornered animal?”
    Cornering a lead character in a tight situation is what is done in plots to bring out the humanity of a character. There are a lot of scriptwriting books on the subject. That doesn’t make them an animal, unless the writers choose to portray them that way. Andy is not portrayed like that, nor is Lara. For me Lara and Andy are at best cornered fighters . Never animals. Rape obviously is an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity, but if the story doesn’t actually show that, then the viewer or gamer is obviously projecting his own fantasies or fears into the story. It simply is not in the script.

    “this movie says something very scary about how we look at men”
    If you’re under 12 maybe, but grown ups normally can handle movies that show the nature of the beast that is reality, (no matter if it’s a man or female subjected to the scary act) if the crime is not glorified, which neither movie nor game do, then what scare is this really referring to?

    “as if that’s what this movie needs – a hard high dose of rapey reality”
    If the writers think that’s what it needs, yes. There are plenty of pink pony movies and games if one can’t handle realistic stories involving rape. No shame in avoiding reality. But not a good basis on which to lecture other writers on what one thinks their story needs or doesn’t need. It’s condescending.

    “the rape doesn’t make him or the situation more real”
    If I imagine the movie (or game) without the rape, is the situation more or less real? Obviously less real up to the point of childishly naive about reality. Trivializing the world doesn’t prevent rape. It just closes it’s eyes to it.

    “it doesn’t make him bad-ass”
    Again, that’s up to the writers to decide. It can make him bad ass, or not. Depends on the character development that is decided BY THE WRITERS. Both can be interesting to watch, if there is a moral wake up point at the end.

    “is this our idea of a current strong male character? A bloodied victim? An abused teen boy?
    That comment is so badly out of line, as made obvious by mapping it to the movie. Rape is bad enough. Guys who push women from imagined pedestals , reducing them to a blodied teen just because they were raped, that’s just the kind of kinky fantasy we don’t need here. For me, neither Andy nor Lara are ever at any moment portrayed as a bloodied teen. They are grown ups in trouble.

    “is there no middle ground between a super hero and a “survivor of torture porn prison adventure?”
    Why with for a fantasy middle ground when you can have reality. You want to have the story take place in a supermarket? In an office? Sure, but that’s a different story. Nobody needs to buy stories that take place in extreme places, if they don’t like what naturally, realistically occurs in these places.

    You remind me of one those guys 100 years ago who would say with warm fuzzy compassion that it’s better women don’t vote or join the military so their precious dignity is not tarnished by the cruel realities of life which turn them into cornered animals or teenagers. For me, women are precious and dignified before, during and after rape. And I want to see how you can survive rape with dignity because we all know the chances for me to get raped are about a million times higher than for a man. I need to see female survivor stories and I don’t want them censored by men who project their own shame and loss of face into them and who openly describe raped women as bloodied teens. If I was raped and you’d stand up for me, the bloodied teen, I’d kick you for calling me that. I’m not a teen. Ever. Or an animal. I’m a human being, in real life, or when I “am” Lara Croft in the game, and the only one who I can see who reduces me besides the attacker, is you.

    If you still don’t get what the problem is, watch this movie: “The man who would be king” with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. Two guys get lost in Tibet and one of them is seen as a god by an isolated living mountain tribe. He enjoys the special attention until one day he is injured and bleeding. Suddenly the towns folks think he’s “not so special” any more. The imaginary image was tarnished and they get angry and throw him into a ravine. – I as a woman don’t want you to glorify me, then when I bleed, you throw my reputation and worth into a ravine.

  4. Sometimes the gaming industry really makes me wonder. As someone that has had men (try) to rape me in the past, their presumptuousness and ignorance is downright offensive. Making Lara like a “cornered animal” does not make her relateable. In fact, it fucking pisses me off. Make her relateable by adding more to her–show a softer side of her during an arc of the story–anything but, of all things, rape.

    I would rant more but my spleen hurts and I don’t want my rage to somehow magically make it explode. Brb punching babies.

  5. I find myself disturbed by the overall trend recently between Marvel Comics and now, Lara Croft, where women are not only diminished and exploited, but the creators see no purpose in even HAVING female characters unless there is a disturbing amount of sexual content involved.
    Okay, I don’t have a problem with sex in writing, even if the character is reasonably promiscuous, but sex should not be their entire PURPOSE. I’ve been a geek for over 8 years, and this is the VERY FIRST time, I feel like as a woman, I’m being told by comic and game developers that “chicks serve no purpose as valid characters, but we’ll have them on if they’re hot and always getting laid/raped.” This is the first time I feel ashamed to be associated with comics. I find this deeply disappointing.
    I really really hope they don’t go this route with Lara Croft.

    For more information, on the Marvel comics,

    And more disturbing:

  6. ok setting aside the rape which is just stupid, You should be trying to protect lara croft for only one reason. She is not lara croft, heck this is her first trip anywhere’s she dont at lest i think she dont know anything AT all about survival period. In this game she learns to hunt, shoot? Kill, find treasure etc.

    Now my hope is that by the half way point we dont need to hold her hand in fact it just the oppiste she is holding are hands and guiding us. For what i have heard you start off with quick time events BUT at a certain point when she learns that skill you no longer have to think about it.

    Shooting a bow and arrow: start out quick time event as you master the bow no more quick time event. At lest from all the stuff i have seen that what they are doing although yes it hard to know what they are doing until we play it are self’s.

  7. @Steve Ward

    From what I’ve seen, that does seem to be the mechanic they’re going with. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that that would be bad. Hell, that would be freakin’ awesome. Quicktime events in which you slowly gain proficiency makes perfect sense in an origins story, but there’s one place where I disagree with you:

    During video games, I never feel like I have to protect the character. This isn’t because they are or are not bad asses. That’s irrelevant. Turn the difficulty up high enough on any game and even the bad asses look less bad ass. No, just like in every story–book, movie, etc.–I feel like I AM the character.

    When I play Infamous, I don’t feel like I’m protecting Cole as he figures out his lightning powers. I feel like I’M figuring out MY lightning powers. And there are morality and skill choices in that game which would probably be similar to the new Tomb Raider. However, nobody worried that we couldn’t connect with Cole, what with him being a dude and all.

    This guy appears to think that since we can’t connect with Lara Croft, because she’s always been portrayed as a really bad ass blow up doll, the next best thing is to want to protect her. No. I don’t want to do that. I want to become her, to live in her mind, to see her choices and experience the game WITH her, not as an outside observer. If we don’t connect with her because as a character she lacks substance, that’s not our fault; it’s theirs. They need to go back and figure out how they can rework the character to get me to care. That’s just called good story telling. But substituting in some bizarre maternal/paternal protection aspect is not the way to do it.

    And as you said, the rape thing is just completely stupid.

  8. I wrote on the topic of using rape in fiction on my blog. These were my thoughts:

    As far as using rape in fiction? Of course it can be used. It is a part of life, a part of history and a valid topic for exploration. SHOULD you use it? I think you need to ask yourself the following questions:

    *Can the power dynamics at play in my plot be served by any other means?
    *Would I play this scene differently if my character were bigger/stronger/differently gendered
    *Am I using the rape as sexual titillation in a non-sexual fantasy scenario?
    *Are the visuals correctly describing rape as about power and control, not sex?
    *Am I dealing with the aftermath of rape for the victim where appropriate?

    I don’t get the feeling that the game designers asked themselves any of these questions.

  9. I mean, everything can’t be the same. Maybe there is room for a game where a heroine must confront the possibility of rape and do something about it. I mean, this can actually happen. Maybe this can be that game that has that type of reality, I suppose.

    That said…Why can’t we also make a game like the Uncharted series, with a character just like Nathan Drake, but a woman (which Tomb Raider has the potential to be). And we leave out the rape. Can we do that?

    I’m okay with a game that puts a female protagonist in a corner and ruffing her up and even threatening her with rape, if we can also have a game where she’s the adventurer heroine and rape never even crosses anyones mind like how no one considers putting Nathan Drake in a situation where he might be rapes (that’s real too, you know. Men get raped too, yet I doubt anyone would even consider putting that in a game, so can we also do the same with a female action/adventure game?).

    I’m fine with this as long as it’s not the only thing we get when it comes to the female treasure hunter protagonist. I still think there’s room for evolution but in a different direction.

  10. Has this guy ever met a Tomb Raider player? I mean, is he JOKING? Lara Croft was NEVER meant to be a damsel in distress that we are supposed to want to “protect.” I am absolutely horrified that this misogynist jerk is going to take our best female protagonist and essentially turn her into the princess from Donkey Kong. Also… attempted rape? Never fun or entertaining. Not in real life, not in gaming. Ever. No exceptions. This is the first time since the original Tomb Raider came out that I will not buy the newest game. Instead, I’ll mourn the Lara I’ve PROJECTED MYSELF into all these years, and start looking for another strong female character-driven game.

  11. I really appreciate this post for broaching such a serious and dark topic as rape, even if it means being critical to what I’m guessing is a popular thing. Clearly I know nothing about video games. Anyway.

    I did notice one line though: “Can’t we scuff her up but keep the rape out of it?” I have seen this a lot in books and I have a problem with it. Like there’ll be a woman who’s gorgeous and also happens to get captured by enemies and kept for days, months, once I saw a year. And never raped. Starved, maybe beaten, by a bunch of horny guys who make lewd gestures and comments… but never raped.


    And okay, I’m sure this does happen, but when I see it as a pattern, then I read that as: “rape would be too difficult for me to deal with and so let’s pretend it didn’t happen even though we all know IT DID.” And that’s I’m not okay with. That’s sweeping it under the rug and it doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

    However, is a video game the place to properly analyze her psychological reaction to rape (or ATTEMPTED RAPE, which still has serious and lasting repercussions, by the way)… well, probably not.

  12. “Nobody’s saying women shouldn’t learn to be strong and protect themselves — but it’s not a woman’s responsibility not to get raped.”

    Yes. This. I’ve seen it said in various places online that women shouldn’t be told to protect themselves because the onus should be placed on the men who rape. While some of that is true, in the world we live in, women should know how to defend themselves to some extent. Women bear none of the blame, but it’s smart to know what to do if they ever find themselves in such a situation.

    I do appreciate Amber’s comment about the reality of rape as portrayed in books (especially in some of the romance novels I’ve read). It happens, so if you’re putting your character in a situation where this is a big possibility, most times it should be addressed, or a reason given for it not being an issue. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum, where we’d rather not talk about such a terrible thing, and so women might be underprepared, or at least unaware that it is a reality she could face at some point in her life. Then later blame herself or feel ashamed that such a thing did happen.

    But props to you, Chuck, for tackling the issue in a thoughtful and reasonable way.

  13. Indeed it kind of was. But it doesn’t make sense that after all those years’ of having huge boobs, she all of a sduedn has normal’ ones. Not that I care much, but it does kind of make her another person. Her face is different as well and it looks like a fucking anime. Old tomb raider was awesome and I don’t get how you would like this if you don’t like old’ tomb raider. Is it just about the way it looks then? What sucks about old tomb raider anyway?GD Star Ratingloading…GD Star Ratingloading…

  14. […] Nevertheless, her experience with the gang has added to her hardness. If you look closely and pay attention though, she was tough even before Pope’s gang. She was just biding her time. We find out later that she survived cancer in her youth and this is what actually made her the mature, world-weary young woman she is now. Once she joins the 2nd Mass, a regiment in the Massachusetts Militia, we see that Maggie is a skilled fighter. She can handle a gun as if she was trained to do so. She rides motorcycles and is a strong hand-to-hand fighter. Most importantly, she goes into battle without fear. She carries herself tall and with a brick-sized chip on her shoulder. This season, we’ve seen a bit of a lighter side with her smiling and teasing. Her sarcasm is right up front and center but she’s a good soldier and follows orders because she believes in the cause. […]

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