Mon
Jun 18 2012 4:00pm

The New Lara Croft, Now With 100% More Torture!

The New Lara Croft, Now With 100% More Torture!

A woman hangs upside down from the ceiling of a creepy cave. She awakens, groggy, next to what looks like a caccooned corpse and, terrified, fights her way free. The cave is full of candles and a splayed corpse, displayed ritually in what looks like a shrine. Disoriented, she fights her way to escape only to discover that the island is full of more horrors than she can possibly imagine.

Sound like the set-up for the latest torture porn escapade ala Wrong Turn or Saw? No way, game fans. This is premise for the newest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise, now with 100% more gritty action, claustrophobic caves and, oh yes, burly male kidnappers. We travel back into Lara’s past in this gorgeously rendered prequel to answer the question of just how little Lady Croft became the world-renowned Tomb Raider.

The answer, it seems, is through a little healthy application of torture porn tropes and Hunger Games-style rip-offs. Check it out!

It’s pretty obvious that from this start, this new Tomb Raider video game was out to revamp and, in many ways, salvage the character of Lara Croft. The series has taken a lot of flack for Lara’s pretty obvious fan service and the character’s redesign deals with Lara’s reality-defying physical proportions by slimming down Lara’s curves to make her less busty. This is a younger Lara, designed specifically to inspire gamers to want to root for her as a female protagonist rather than as just a sexy icon. It sure helps that she looks a hell of a lot like Katniss Everdeen these days, right down to the bow and arrow action, but we’ll ignore the attempts to cash in on other franchises. This new Lara is coded to inspire empathy rather than just hormones in players—you’re supposed to want to help get her through the trials and tribulations of the new game. And she could use the help, considering the designers of this game seem intent on putting Lara through the horror movie ringer to evolve her into a tough female protagonist. This includes throwing in some creepy kidnappers who grab Lara and her best friend and, in classic up the ante fashion, attempt to rape our heroine.

You read that correctly. Because overcoming the trials and tribulations of a shipwreck on a deserted island isn’t enough to prove someone a badass, there’s just got to be some kidnapping rapists to round out the package.

The game centers around Lara’s attempts to survive the rigors of the island with a whole lot of panting and screaming in the mix (because that’s what women do all the time while trying to survive, waste their oxygen on screeching like howler monkeys), all while out to rescue her best friend from some unknown filthy kidnappers. This is a noble cause enough, but things get so much worse when Lara is grabbed and one of the guys gets a little hands-on. Faster than you can say “things just got real” Lara’s picked up a gun for the first time to defend herself and is now well on her way to becoming the gun-wielding badass we recognize. If that feels a little exploitative to anyone else, you’re right on board with my reaction to the plot choice and the trailer as a whole. 

The New Lara Croft, Now With 100% More Torture!

The use of rape in the evolution of tough female protagonists is a touchy thing. Far too many creators believe that using that kind of assault in a backstory is a quick and easy way to give a female character something heinous for her to overcome. Want to prove a bad guy is the most evil, horrific creature to crawl the earth? Write in a rape scene and they are instantly coded as The Worst Ever for audiences. It’s an easy fall-back for upping the stakes for a female character while giving a moment for audiences to point to as a pivotal turning point for the heroine. There, they can say, is where she didn’t just get mad, she got even. But is that inclusion necessary? Isn’t it enough that she’s shipwrecked, nearly died in a cave-in, and her best friend is kidnapped by unknown men who are after her? Nope, Lara learns to pick up a gun and defend herself as her first step as a gunslinging heroine to defend herself against rape. Of course. 

Game designer Ron Rosenberg is quoted as stating that the rewrite for this version of Lara is an attempt to make her someone you’d root for more than a male character. He indicates that the process of building up Lara into a hero involves breaking her down first and making her suffer, while attempting to inspire feelings of protectiveness in the audience rather than character identification. “She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg states in a recent Kotaku article. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

So the attempt to evolve her as a character outside of a sexualized icon has centered around turning her into a cornered animal? That’s the strategy for humanizing her as a character? To paraphrase a movie once: I do not think this means what you think it means.

The New Lara Croft, Now With 100% More Torture!

A good test for whether this part is necessary is to remove Lara from the story and substitute her with Drake from Uncharted. The rest of the game trailer certainly has a very Uncharted-esque feel to it, which speaks volumes for the designers knowing what treasure hunter game titles are selling. But if a young Drake was tossed into this plot line, would the writers be so quick to include an attempted rape as a way to further the character? Probably not. And that flunks this plot as a vehicle for gender-equal character evolution.

The New Lara Croft, Now With 100% More Torture!

Overall, the upcoming Tomb Raider looks to be a visually stunning dark action-adventure. But if you were looking for some treasure hunting, animal fighting, butt-kicking Croft action in this prequel, it seems most of that has taken a backseat to a jungle gauntlet set to forge Lara from screeching co-ed into stoic badass. Too bad the road they take is half The Last House on the Left and half Taken (if Taken was set on the island from Lost.) I applaud the attempt at renovating the character with a less sexualized image, but I think a very important point about creating Lara as a person has been missed in their rush to write her as a woman, and in the process they’ve fallen into the mess of one of the most overused and distasteful cliches in female protagonist history. Tropes firmly in place, I’m sure this game is going to do very well, but the creators have got a lot to learn if they expect that they’ve improved Lara’s stereotyped status.


Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com

19 comments
lecriveur
1. lecriveur
“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg states.

Really? So she's a shapeshifter now? He didn't mention which animal she morphs into.
Thomas Jeffries
2. thomstel
A good test for whether this part is necessary is to remove Lara from the story and substitute her with Drake from Uncharted ... if a young Drake was tossed into this plot line, would the writers be so quick to include an attempted rape as a way to further the character? Probably not. And that flunks this plot as a vehicle for gender-equal character evolution.
While I don't particularly want to experience rape (attempted or no) in my entertainment media, I'm curious about this statement. It seems a little dismissive, and biased toward your perception of the entertainment industry. I think the concept of switching genders and taking stock again is a great way to shed light on gender-based discussions.

I can think of a few instances of "captured male protagonist in isolation" from recent media (let's say...Sayid from Lost's first season, and Butch & Marsellus in Pulp Fiction). In the first case, Rousseau could have subjected Sayid to any number of unpleasant things, sexual or no, but in true Lost fashion, the writers chose to just layer more mystery on top of mystery. In Butch & Marsellus's case, the sexual part is very much present in no uncertain terms in addition to the violence that evolves as Butch has to harden up and fight to get himself (and then Marsellus) free.

From those two moments in my own experience, I could easily see a gutsy studio with an envelope-pushing story of a young Drake being trapped on a desert island with depraved opposition that are just as interested in delivering lethal harm to him as relieving any of their more perverse proclivities. It'd be tough to stomach (as much as that trailer was when I saw it a few days ago, as was Pulp Fiction in the aforementioned scenes). Would critics consider it exploitative, or instead hail it as a realistic way for Drake to have matured into the person from the Uncharted series?

I don't know, as such a topic and scenes could be handled wildly differently by different writers, media, etc. Each case is its own. While I agree with your general sentiments regarding that trailer being "too much", I can't agree that the industry could never put a male protagonist in such circumstances and see the same wailing, grunting and mental breakdown of the character, from enthusiastic treasure-hunter to survivalist/killer.
lecriveur
3. Herb733
Capt. Aceveda from The Shield is another example.
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
It is pretty unambiguously an attempted rape, however hard the developers may be backpeddling on that; the glee at which Rosenberg chuckles about the attempted rape is...really awful, as is the bald assumption that players-- read here, men, because only men play video games, right?-- can't identify with her as a character so they can only want to protect her. Just...terrible.
lecriveur
5. Peta
I am absoloutely gobsmacked by the inclusion of attempted rape as a plot device. Why on earth was this considered to be an acceptable way of moving Lara forward as a character, making the audience "root for her" and triggering her transformation into kick-ass heroine... Absoloutely agree with your provocation about exchanging Croft for Drake.

In my book this is an absolutely repulsive lapse of the editorial team's judgement so I won't be purchasing this game as a result. Such a shame as it could have been great.
Charles Moore
6. Shadeofpoe
@2

Ok then, take out Drake and substitute FemShep, one of my personal favorites. Now, you could probably argue that without Croft there would be no FemShep.

We can all agree that minus the ending Mass Effect is amazing in terms of character development. We see Shep go through hell and by God we are rooting for that bad-ass up until that faithful showdown with Maruader Shields and his Three Huskateers.

Do you think anything is gained by having some Blood Pack or Blue Suns capture Shep and threaten her with sexual assault?

The question shouldn't be "why is the rape scene wrong" it should be "why is it nessecary". Yes, in the real world girls will probably get raped in a hostage situation. That happens. But also in the real world I don't run around with pistols that have an inexaustable amount of ammo and survive multiple bullet wounds. Rarely if ever does a rape add anything to any character in any kind of story-telling.
lecriveur
7. wcarter4
Some franchises should just be allowed to die. This one made it onto the list in my mind as I was reading an Ars Technica story earlier today about the newest crop of big budget video games.
They came down on Laura Croft and a few titles for their cheap shock value too.

I've never really liked the series before story content completely aside I just dont really like puzzle/exploration games in general.

Overcoming a rape or attempted rape is almost as cliched a way to make a female character look "tough" as it is to take a peasant farm boy, kill his dad, and make him the chosen hero of prophesy. Is also a very pathetic allure to the fantasies of some rather immature guys I'm guessing.

As for whether you could substitute a guy into Laura's place and get the same reaction? Well Deliverance is a pretty scary movie to some men. As a former white water raft guide I can assure you banjo music has a noticeable affect on us male guides (especially near the Chattahoochee river).
lecriveur
8. StrongDreams
As if there is no other reason for a woman to become a bad-ass adventuress than revenge/compensation for rape? Lazy sexist stereotype. Indiana Jones became a bad-ass so that he could save archeological treasures, he (mostly) didn't even keep them for the money. I guess Lara had no ambition in life and would have wasted it bakin' cookies and raisin' kids if not for being brutalized.
lecriveur
9. Gerry__Quinn
Trailer looks good if a tad grim, but the game is a year away. I'll wait for the reviews.

As to whether the plot includes our plucky heroine facing a Fate Worse than Death, I do not give a whit either way. I have half a suspicion that the main purpose of the hints is to excite the blogosphere. The game gets into the public consciousness, and they have a year for any furore to die down...
Thomas Jeffries
10. thomstel
Don't get me wrong: I see that trailer as a base attempt to engage my hormones as much as the "intended" protective instinct. I was just wanting to talk more about the gender flip, which seemed brief and got me thinking.

Can't relate to any Sheps unfortuantely, never played the MEs, but I'm in agreement that any rape scenarios are uninspired storytelling for Lara's later character arcs, and unnecessary in terms of the tone of many stories. In the off chance that the writers are seriously trying to peel away all the veneer and going for maximum realism, then I could see how the topic could fit, just as sexual assault had to be met head-on in many primetime Law & Order-style crime dramas. Given the track record of the spokespeople for the game so far, the nature of video games in general, and the history of the franchise, it's a pretty small chance that's what's going on here though.

I'm curious though, I'm expecting The Last of Us is going to have some similar elements in it at some point, seeing that you're escorting a young girl through the post-apocalypse world of roving bandits and general nastiness. No one there is making it the focus of their press info though as we're seeing here. Wonder if that will continue, or if they'll keep the references oblique.
Luke M
11. lmelior
20-25% of women, depending on the survey you look at, have experienced either rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives. What percentage of young women who are kidnapped face sexual assault? I don't know, but I would guess it is higher. In contrast, 3% of men have reported experiencing some type of sexual assault. Pretending it's not as common as it is doesn't make it a less viable backstory.

Although, I admit that coming out and saying her backstory is meant to evoke protective feelings instead of character identification kind of marginalizes the female audience. Can't it do that for their core 18-35 year old male audience, and create a protagonist that young women identify with? Isn't that what The Hunger Games does? I know I certainly didn't identify with Katniss or the many other female protagonists I've encountered, even somebody completely badass like Vin from Mistborn. Maybe that's because, historically, we 18-35 year old males almost always get a male protagonist to identify with, but there it is.
Ian Gazzotti
12. Atrus
I think this new origin story is totally icky and completely unnecessary to the character. So your reason to become a gun-toting tomb raider is... you were kidnapped and almost raped once? How does that connect?

I very much doubt they would have gone the same route with a male character, or a non-titillating female one. It's just a lazy and cheap way of handling sexy "strong" female characters.
lecriveur
13. GuruJ
Hmm. Based on the trailer, I think the game just squeaks on to the right side of the line. The scene plays as a super-hyped version of the creepy guy who comes on to you in a pub instead of sexual assault or rape played for titillation. Unlike many depicted sexual assaults, Lara is surprisingly in control despite having both hands behind her back. It also fits with the overall tone of the game, ie desperate action to survive.

I do wonder how much of the footage shown is genuinely playable rather than just being non-interactive or QTEs though...

PS. Ron Roseberg's comments were really wrong-headed. But he's the Executive Producer, not (to my knowledge) anyone with substantial involvement in actually authoring the game. I hope they are as pissed off about his comments as everyone else was :)
lecriveur
14. Edgewalker
Much ado about nothing. This is the first time I may play a Tomb Raider game b/c Lara actually seems like a real person and not a busty super hero.
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
11. lmelior

Those statistics are a good argument for why you SHOULDN'T include sexual assault in a video game. Shooting a pair of automatic fifty calibre handguns at a T-Rex is a situation most people can safely approach as a fantasy. Sexual assault is a reality, & one that many people go through; using it for cheap thrills in a video game is insulting & cruel.
Chris Hawks
16. SaltManZ
The complaint is often that guys (on the whole) don't know what it's like to be a woman and constantly live with the threat of rape being a very real possibility. I would think that a video game whose main demographic is probably 18-30-year-old males could be the perfect vehicle for education, if handled properly. Don't do it for "cheap thrills"; it should be a harrowing, eye-opening experience. (This is why the "you want to help Lara" line bugs me the most: the teachable moment exists only if it's the player himself being threatened; once the threat is transferred to a third party, it loses much of its power, its value.)
Luke M
17. lmelior
Are there such outlandish fantasy elements that I missed? All I know about the game are the trailer and this article and whatever bits I've heard over the years since its inception. I've never played any games in this series, but I don't remember hearing about stuff like that unless there was a Turok crossover or something. I was under the impression that there aren't any supernatural elements, and this version, at least, was supposed to be far more dark and desperate. So the fact that her kidnapper inappropriately touches her for about two seconds before she wrestles his gun away and shoots him in the face makes perfect sense to me in that context and doesn't seem cheap at all.

We've already established that the designers would be quite unlikely to use sexual assault against a male protagonist, but would there be such an uproar if they did? Why is Deliverance so highly acclaimed and considered a classic, when it uses male rape as part of the story? Is female rape a cheap thrill, but male rape daring and edgy? Or is it because this is a video game, and apparently video games shouldn't try to tell stories like this?

Or is this a call to authors and game designers to only torture their characters in politically-correct, gender-neutral ways?
Charles Moore
18. Shadeofpoe
@lmelior

Yes, Laura has taken down some pretty crazy things. If you have heard of/know the plot points of Uncharted, then the fantasy elements are all similar. It's all real-world legend base. And previoulsy in the series her pistols where the default weapon, mainly because they never ran out of ammo.

Like I said above, rarely does rape, in any context or any form of fiction, add anything productive to a story that couldn't be told otherwise. Yes, the "squeal like a pig" part is memorable from deliverance. But I've never thought of it on the same level as say Deer Hunter's Russian Roulette scene.

If the developer was out to make an artful, meaningful version of Tomb Raider, then ok, let's have this argument. They aren't though. They are trying to cash in on Croft, tell a new story that is reminiscent of Drake in Uncharted because that was a massive hit for the PS3. And thought that by adding a rape scene they were being cool and edgy. The casual presentation of the scene is testament to that.
lecriveur
19. Ashley Teel
I've been a Tomb Raider fan since 1997. I loved the original backstory of Lara, and it's still the best backstory I've ever read-- "Mom, dad, I hate this posh lifestyle. After my recent plane crash in the Himalayas where I was the only survivor, I'm going to become a 21-year-old tomb raider. Go ahead, disown me. I have the inherieted money from my dead aunt that will keep me in an amazing mansion with obstacle courses, an ATV course, and a butler I can shoot and will still stick around." To a pre-teen girl, that is the most awesome thing they can ever see.
Even Angel of Darkness I enjoyed, because Lara was still the badass woman we came to know and love. Unlike many who have played Angel of Darkness, I actually enjoyed its storyline and the introduction of a possible love interest, even if I had to go through bug after bug after frustrating bug to see what ultimately happened.
Then Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld came out. Anniversary is still the only game in the franchise I've yet to play (Why play a game with the exact same storyline twice?), but I went through Legend and Underworld, annoyed with the revamp of her storyline. Now, Lara had a weakness-- a love for her mother so deep, she'd go to Avalon to find her. Not looking so badass anymore, Lara.
Also, at this point, instead of only the loyal Winston (you know, the loyal butler you can lock in the closet?), they decided to add Zip from Chronicles (he was funny for a 1-time character, but a recurring character? Didn't cut it for me) and Alistor, a ...historian of some sort? As you can tell, I didn't care for him, either. They also decided to revamp every one of the original characters in Anniversary and give Natla more screen time by bringing her into Underworld. And let's not forget Lil DeVille-- I mean, Amanda Evert, the whiny brat that would rather destroy the world then let Lara get her freaking mother back.
When the Tomb Raider 2012 (excuse me, 2013) videos started coming out, I noticed similarities between the original backstory and the new one. Crash in a deserted location, lone survivor, the adventure makes her into the badass woman she is today. In the eyes of this fan, I thought, "Yes, she's back!" Then the latest video came out, and 1 line made my excitement turn sour:
"Ugh, I HATE tombs!"
Even now, the sound of it makes me sigh heavily. Hearing Lara Croft say "I hate tombs" at the age of 21 when in her original backstory she begged her father to go on an expedition at the age of 16 actually brought my excitement down into pessimistic levels. To me, it was like Indiana Jones saying "I love snakes." It took everything I loved Lara for, ripped it to shreds, and threw them in my face as confetti just to sink it in that much faster.
In short, I will be picking up this game for the sake of the gameplay and storyline, but my eagerness has dramatically dropped for its release. Another revamp of the famous adventurer, another fan of the original Lara with spirits crushed.

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