So I have been playing the new Tomb Raider lately, which is just one reason I have not had an update in a while, and I could not help but to think back to before the game’s release. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the idea that the main character of the game, Lara Croft, could be subject to abuse from men. Some were outraged because they felt that the visualization of a woman being abused was inappropriate or sexist. I agree that it would be, if the display was glamorized in a way that made it look as if it was somehow cool, fun, or simply “okay” to do. I would also agree if it the depiction was over the top and sickly, like some sort of snuff film.
At the time, my view on the matter was simply that I would need to play the game to see how it was depicted before I came up with an opinion on it. I am glad I stuck to my guns because the game turned out to be one of the most fun platformers I’ve played in quite some time. No where in the game, be it during gameplay or a cutscene, is there a depiction of Lara being abused in a way that is meant to be received as glamorous or gratuitous.
The story involves Lara and her crew getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island run by male cultists. These guys are no good, probably have not seen a woman in a long time, and violent. They are given orders to kill Lara after she is deemed as a threat by their leader, so in true video game style Lara becomes something of an action hero and has to fight her way out. They do not rape her, although some of them probably have it on their minds, and there are no “Hostel” style torture scenes. Lara instead extracts vengeance on all the baddies and saves the day, of course.
Now, prior to the game’s release, when news that Lara could be subject to abuse by the hands of a man first got out, I read a lot of upset commentary on sites that looked a lot like this:
“Rape shouldn’t be in my video games.”
“I don’t want to see this kind of thing. How could they put this in the game?”
“There’s already enough rape in the real world… why should we now see it in our games?”
“It’s completely inappropriate to have a lead female be raped/assaulted. Lara is supposed to be a STRONG female character!”
At face value, they do not seem like unwarranted opinions. I am sure some of it was expressed by people trying to be chivalrous. Something about such comments struck me in a weird way and after thinking about it, I realized why.
Rape, and the abuse of women, should be offensive. Talking about, or discussing rape and abuse should not be offensive.
To be fair, I also read a lot of well thought commentary about the matter. Plenty of people were afraid the portrayal of rape in the video game would be yet another sexually hyped scenario in which a female character is abused for the sake of eye candy to male gamers, or that the story would be weak in general, giving no substance to Lara’s struggle. This has happened plenty in comic books to numerous female characters and I have even seen it happen to gay male characters as if it was a joke. The character in question, usually female, is raped/abused and the story becomes only a plot to further their male counterpart’s development. Even worse, the depiction of it is crude and insensitive, accomplishing little more than making the villain look more “dashingly villainous and cold!” while the female character portrayed as forever weak, broken, and no longer likable due to her defilement. To top things off, the character often gets shelved and we never see her again for many years. I mean, Galactus forbid a woman find a character who went through something similar and can relate with her, watch her overcome her struggles in her story and heal, thus providing inspiration for the reader’s life.
I completely understood the fear and distaste for this possibility, especially given the Tomb Raider genre’s infamous past with Lara’s over the top sexy appearance.
However, when people are so sensitive to the very idea of having to hear about or face the idea of rape being a real thing, the victims of the tragedy are truly the ones who suffer the most. Over half of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Not only is the shame of the incident so overwhelming to these victims, but there is even more social shame when confronting it. Maybe it is because just talking about it seems to turn even those with the best intentions into defensive walls that want nothing to do with the discussion. Suddenly a person who has been assaulted in such a way has been “defiled” and is no longer viewed as a complete person, a strong person, or a person at all.
I am not the kind of person who will disregard a story because it involves rape or any other awful issue. I will not proceed to argue that it is sexist when a leading character in some story is subject to such a tragedy, just because I wanted to view her as a strong female. In fact, I would like to point out it is truly sexist to assume that once a woman (or man!) is victim to such abuse that she is suddenly less strong, capable, and/or valuable of a person! That is what enrages me.
However, I am also not the kind of person who will sit and enjoy a story where a woman is abused and the abuser is depicted as if he was in the right either because, a.) he’s a cool guy, b.) the story is slighted to make the woman look deserving, or c.) the portrayal of the abuse is manufactured in a way to make audience feel as if rape is acceptable. We are seeing enough of that as evident in today’s real life news stories, aren’t we?