Monday, March 11, 2013

"You'll Want To Protect The New Lara Croft"

WARNING. THERE'S SOME GROSS SHIT ON THIS PAGE. WARNING.

Tomb Raider is a 2013 release, re-inventing a classic adventure series with a grittier, more survival-based mood. It depicts heroine Lara Croft as a younger, more inexperienced, more vulnerable character and details her transition from a "normal" girl to a hardened killer as depicted in later games. Through the game we see aspects of her character that we took for granted in previous games explored from a more human element, giving them extra weight and allowing for the kind of character development that prior games sorely lacked.

All of this is fucking bullshit.

Tomb Raider 2013 is a change, yes. It is a transition from one genre to another: a transition from "action-adventure" to "action-survival". Which is to say, a transition from a genre where female protagonists are incredibly rare to one where they're actually really common. Here is a list of survival-horror games that have female protagonists:

- Silent Hill (3 only)
- Fatal Frame (series)
- Resident Evil (series)
- Clock Tower (series)
- Parasite Eve (series)
- Haunting Ground

Now compare that to the list of action-adventure games with female player-characters:

- Tomb Raider
- Metroid
- Beyond Good & Evil

The difference between the genres is pretty clear. Women are "allowed" to be in survival horror games (not exclusively, but in a far more balanced ratio than any other genre) for the same reason women are "allowed" to be the leads in Slasher flicks - because it's part of the appeal. One could give a reason like "men have natural survival instincts to protect women", but if that was the only reason you wouldn't get detailed gruesome deaths combined with fanservice (Haunting Ground especially was absolutely HEINOUS for this). Action-adventure games have a certain dignity to them, a certain empowerment. Protagonists in action-adventure games do not die horrendous, upsetting deaths. They get shot a few times and their ragdoll kicks in and that's it. They do not get impaled. They do not get assaulted. Their corpses are not lovingly panned over once the deed is done.

Cool.
The question is, why did Tomb Raider "need" redefining? Why did it need reinventing? Look at that list again. Of those three franchises, "Metroid" fucked everything up with Samus' characterization in Other M, and BG&E is a neglected afterthought that the game industry only keeps around to point to when people say there's no female protagonists. So what was so bad about Tomb Raider being a fairly normal action-adventure game, akin to Uncharted or Metal Gear in terms of tone?

I can't say what that is on my own. But anyone who remembers the initial E3 debacle remembers things like a PR executive mentioning "rape", or the exaggerated ways in which Lara squealed and cried (rather than grunting and yelling like an actual woman in danger would). Things that make it seem less like "this is just a serious action game" and more like "there's something really creepy going on here". Yes, they eventually brought in Rhianna Pratchett to write the game based on her writing on games like "Overlord" and "Heavenly Sword", but that doesn't exactly match the tone they were going for, does it?

Cool.
So maybe I don't know EXACTLY why Tomb Raider 2013 is a grim, serious reboot where Lara is constantly soaked in blood and afraid for her life. Maybe I don't know for certain that it's some creepy kind of sexualization designed to replace the overt form present in previous games (and who can really say that it was worse compared to what's essentially gore-porn?) Maybe I can't cite exact quotes from the dev team apart from all the ones made at E3 that they hurriedly rescinded. Maybe I don't know this shit.

But here's what I do know: they took a female protagonist out of a genre where she was one of the few representatives of her sex. Then they put her into a genre where women are incredibly common and sexualized despite being horrifying and gory. They put her into the same genre as THIS FUCKING BULLSHIT. They reduced her agency and capability, ostensibly for the sake of  telling a more realistic story. But that hasn't happened to a male character, has it. That hasn't happened to Nathan Drake. That wouldn't happen to Indiana Jones. No, he's fine. He's cool. Everything's cool.

Cool.

17 comments:

  1. Jesus. It's amazing that they fucked it up, when all it would have taken would be to do a more realistic looking Lara Croft in an upbeat, adventure-style "Uncharted"-ish game.

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    1. Worth noting is that the first thing they tried to say about the new game is that it's "realistic" and ergo "not sexist" because now Lara has smaller breasts. And as it turned out, that was the extent of their "less sexist" decisions, if it can even be counted as one.

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  2. Christ, I get why the "cinematic" paradigm has taken off with the current generation, but what the hell triggered this shit? Why are video games actively going BACKWARDS with their representations of women?

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  3. Shit, this is actually fucking scary.

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  4. This is just getting silly. Another awful blog-post about the same BS other people are trying to force as an actual problem. Is this crap just for page views or something?

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    1. "Force as an actual problem". I agree, the fetishization of gore and the depiction of women as helpless (until they get hardened and become "real killers", of course) is just a totally unimportant concept.

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  5. It's a nicely written article, but I'm assuming you haven't actually played the whole game yet? I finished it yesterday. The first few hours feature the vulnerable de-powered Lara in a variety of horrible situations (as depicted in the promos), but while the slasher/horror inspired scenes continue sporadically until around the halfway point, after that we spend a good few hours with a much more assertive, aggressive, "empowered" Lara who is no longer reacting to danger, but seeking out solutions and answers. It isn't a flick of a switch, but as the player gradually upgrades their weapons and skills and become more powerful/effective in combat, the whole atmosphere of the game shifts towards action, and there is a clear recognition from other characters that Lara is dangerous and "kick ass". By the end of the game, Lara literally battles an entire army.. just like your standard OTT third person shooter protagonist killing machine.

    I'm not saying that makes what you are saying WRONG necessarily. Just that it's not the whole story. What you assumed is oddly enough, what the marketing wanted you to assume. Maybe that's what sells games. I do agree on the new death scenes though, they weren't called for and are increasingly out of tone with the rest of the game The irony is, I did want to protect her.. as in I really didn't want to die and have to sit through one of those overly grisly fatality scenes.

    PS: Game is great. People should buy it because it's awesome.

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    1. I was aware of the fact that she does kill a lot of people, but mostly this was countered by the fact that the game HAD that period of vulnerability before she became a "hardened killer", whereas most action games forgo it (because why would a man need to become hardened? Dudes are already all killers, right?)

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    2. The "period of vulnerability" is something every hero/heroine goes through in their origin story. It is the necessary catalyst that changes them. Without it the reader/viewer would have no reason to empathize with the character.

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  6. I'm not sure why you think Tomb Raider 2013 is survivor horror, but had you played the game you would see that you are wrong.

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    1. Because the game is marketing itself as such. Almost none of the promotional ads/videos suggest that the game is in any way similar to Uncharted. Also, it's been stated by one of the developers that the player should feel as if they want to protect Lara, as opposed to making the player feel empowered by playing as her character.

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    2. It's incredibly unfortunate that, I believe it was the producer who said that.
      I'm still having a hard time following you on the horror aspect you surmised from the promotional material.

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  7. The problem might not be with the game itself, but with the trend the positive reception of the game might start in the industry of having only slasher film female leads. This could be a good thing though, since more female characters might be leads in video games. Something is better than nothing.

    By the way, I'd recommend watching Conan O'Brien's "review" of the game.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCe8-1dbXZc

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  8. Thanks for the article. I've enjoyed reading your archives.

    I don't much mind whether Lara Croft's meant to be a scaredy-cat or a badass, but this game's problem is that it wants her to be both at exactly the same time. They try to sell the action stuff as an animal-backed-into-a-corner thing, but they're never willing to go the distance with it. The parts where she's threatening enemies and kicking ass are laughable, because they never allow her VA's performance and the animation to sell her as the kind of desperate animal that could do that kind of brutality.

    There's a base line of feminine vulnerability they never allow her to cross, presumably to avoid troubling male players who "want to protect her"; but it just leaves it a game about this whimpering scared girl, without a hint of meanness or primal aggression about her, inexplicably mowing down big hardened guys in their hundreds. She's all fear and no hatred.

    It's deeply silly stuff.

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  9. So, which is worse: Old or new Lara?
    I'm just baffled with your reaction to the ads of "Lara you want to protect". Yes it is silly I agree about that. And about this moment of vulnerability of Lara, what's wrong about it? Care to elaborate more?

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  10. Far Cry 3 also gave it's protagonist a "period of vulnerability" before you become competent. That period lasts about half the tutorial, and Tomb Raider's doesn't last long either. The intent is the same: developers want to move away from Protagonists that begin and end their arcs as unstoppable killing machines.

    We haven't done it as well as Die Hard yet; as soon as you get a gun, you snap into the pitch-perfect headshots you'll be using for the rest of the game. But I think the intent is solid.

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