Lara Croft, the iconic self-sufficient video game character and, more recently, film character, is often noted for her curvaceous figure and has served as somewhat of a sex symbol over the last two decades. Some gamers have lamented that she has been objectified so readily over the 16 years since the original Tomb Raider video game was released. To be fair, Lara Croft has also afforded the gaming world with a female figure full of abilities and empowerment, filling a necessary gap for video games produced in the 90s when the presence of female figures were scant.
Now it appears that the producers of the Tomb Raider game want to add another layer to her back story. The Guardian reports that the new and rebooted version of the Tomb Raider, due to come out in the relative future, will include a scene in which the heroine will be cornered like an “animal” while aggressive scavengers attempt to sexually assault her. She will be forced to either fight or die during her assault.
So, what is the reasoning behind the creation of such a back story and the actual portrayal of it in the new game? According to a statement made by the executive producer, Ron Rosenberg, the goal is to make Lara Croft a more human, maybe even vulnerable, character that gamers will want to “protect” and empathize with as they play the new game. The New Statesman quotes Rosenberg as saying:
The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualised version of yesteryear. She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.
There are many dangerous avenues of reasoning behind this statement. First of all, is it necessary to impose the sexual assault of a female character on her in order to strip her of her sexuality and to increase her human approachability? Does humanity stem from a female character’s ability to be dominated and subjugated? Finally, are the options for female characters to be either a sexualized vixen or a damaged assailant? Editorials from the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Destructoid point out that Rosenberg seems to be suggesting that this extra back story will suddenly change the way Lara Croft is viewed as a female character for all gamers.
Is this the best way to portray the horror and aftermath of such brutality on females? Admittedly, we need to address issues of sexual violence and abuse in our culture at large. A handful of movies and stories have actually attempted to tackle the brutality of such acts. Stieg Larsson’s thriller trilogy and his vengeance-seeking heroine, Lisbeth Salander, in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a current example of a popular book and movie series that has illustrated the brutality of sexual abuse.
So we might ask, what is the difference between adding Lara Croft’s near-rape to the video game and enjoying the film or novel versions of Lisbeth Salander’s attacks? The worry is that such a cursory story addition in a video game may just make the physical and sexual attack of Lara Croft a spectacle and a piece of entertainment, thereby trivializing the real impact of rape on survivors.
Many commentators feel skeptical that such a move on the part of the producers of the video game will actually get into dialogue with the issues of rape in current society. The addition of the story could, in theory, push players to consider the impact of violence on women, but from what can be garnered from the interview with Ron Rosenberg, it looks as though the game will use the narrative of sexual assault primarily for entertainment’s sake.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Wang