Tomb Raider throws rape, assault, and a hostile environment at Lara Croft to make her a hero
The demo for the upcoming Tomb Raider prequel-slash-reboot shown at an E3 preview event was hard to watch. A group of journalists watched, drinks in hand, as a young girl was brutalized, beaten, almost raped, and this was done for our… entertainment? The game looks like it will be a bleak look at what it takes to survive when both the environment and other survivors want to kill you, rape you, eat you, or some combination thereof, but the content was a little uncomfortable in the context of a group presentation. “It sounds like we’re watching porno out here,” another writer remarked to me as we walked around the event, listening to the kiosks showing the game. Without seeing the images on screen, the loud gasps, screams, and grunts as Lara is beaten sounded sexual. “Certainly that breaking down of the character and building her back up is a part of it,” Crystal Dynamics head Darrell Gallagher told the Penny Arcade Report. “To actually see what she goes through, to become hardened, to become this tomb raider than we know and love, or at least a new version of it. A big part of that journey is seeing some of the hits she’s taken along the way and why she had to get that inner strength and the inner core to become the woman that we all know. There is that sense of seeing it and being explicit about that. It’s part of the narrative.”Ron Rosenberg, the game’s producer, also stated that they planned the content they’ve shown very carefully, and there was an “intentionality” to the way her suffering is shown. “We did a lot of research into survival and people who survived extreme situations. One of the recurring themes was that people who survived had this mantra of just keep moving,” he explained. “You see that in the beginning of the game, where we begin to build her up and give her confidence to cross the ledge, cross the plane, she forages for food and she’s feeling really successful. Then towards the end we start to really hit her, and to break her down. Her best friend is kidnapped, she’s taken hostage, she’s almost raped, we put her in this position where we turned her into a cornered animal.” The idea is to take a human character, this very vulnerable young girl, and put her through immense suffering in order for her to come out the other end of the experience as a hero. Rosenberg brings up Die Hard, another movie where we begin a relationship with a human, vulnerable character and through an intense experience he emerges as a hero. It was important to show her as an innocent, vulnerable character at the beginning of the game. “People really identify with that,” Rosenberg said.
This only works if it’s a reboot, and not a prequel
There is something offensive about the idea that Lara Croft is beaten, sexually assaulted, and barely escapes with her life and it ends up being a good thing. If we consider Tomb Raider a prequel to the original games, the message is problematic: Don’t worry about being attacked, you’ll become a hero if you don’t die! Gallagher pointed out that this isn’t a look into the history of the classical character, but a re-imagining of Lara Croft for today’s audiences. “I would say that the outcome is closer to something like Batman Begins or Casino Royale, where the character at the end is certainly Batman or James Bond, but not necessarily the one from before,” he said. “They share many traits so you can recognize the iconography, it’s the same character, but it’s a more modern version. It doesn’t necessarily lead directly into Tomb Raider 1, with hot pants and a braid.” Rosenberg agreed. “One of our goals is that she’s not a 2D character portrayal. When you get to the end there, are some things that are positive, and some things that are scarring, that she still has to deal with,” he said. The experience will have changed her in a positive way, but what she has gone through will have left a mark. While I was initially bothered by how close some of the images and scenes come to torture porn, or the idea of putting a young woman through such graphic hell as a way to amuse a male audience, after talking to the Gallagher and Rosenberg I’m now looking forward to playing the full game. They’re exploring some uncomfortable spaces with the game, and taking the character down what looks to be the beginning of a very dark journey.