June 15, 2012 at 11:48 AM ET
It seems one of the most famous female characters in video game history has found herself embroiled in yet another controversy. Lara Croft –- famed heroine of the Tomb Raider games –- has landed at the center of a very big brouhaha after word got out that she is going to almost get raped in her next video game.
Let it be said, the people making thenew Lara Croft game insist that she is not going to almost get raped.
Of course, they said this after havingfirst said – apparently accidentally – that she is going to almost get raped.
But let me back up.
A development company called CrystalDynamics is making a brand new Tomb Raider game. It's called ... well ..."Tomb Raider." But it isn't a sequel to the many Tomb Raider gamesthat have come before. It's a prequel. And it's a prequel designed to give usa very different look at the Lara Croft who has spent the last 16 yearsinspiring admiration and derision for her adventurous ways, her ever-increasingbreast size and her short-shorts.
This new "Tomb Raider" tellsus about Lara before she became Lara of the short-shorts and um, breasty-breasts.It's a reboot of the series that delves into darker, grittier territory. (We've seen the same kind of character reboot with the new Batman/Dark Knight films -- hello brooding Christian Bale.) And fromthe looks of it so far, this new Lara is a lot more human and a lot less outlandishcaricature.
Last week, Crystal Dynamics showedoff their work in progress at the Electronic Entertainment Expo by releasing a new trailer that showed Lara in some very serious peril. And it wasthere that "Tomb Raider" producer Ron Rosenberg told gamesite Kotaku.com that the trailer showed a young Lara Croft experiencing somethingdisturbing that would change her forever...
In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft willsuffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She'll get taken prisoner by islandscavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
"She is literally turned into a corneredanimal," Rosenberg said. "It's a huge step in her evolution: she'sforced to either fight back or die."
He also said that when gamers play this new Lara, "they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"
And BAM, just like that a controversywas born. For starters, you can't say "rape" and "video games" in thesame breath without upsetting people. Rape is about as serious a topic as itgets and that word "game" in video games suggests that the two can simplynever cross paths without the one somehow making light of the other.
And the suggestion that Lara needed protecting by gamers ... well ...
The controversy kicked intogear with Jezebel.com calling the trailer "tortureporn" and other critics panning the yet-to-be-released game for turning Croft into avictim. Meanwhile, Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher issued astatement saying that "attempted rape" was not, in fact, an accurate descriptionof what happens to Lara. He explained:
In this particular selection, while there is athreatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes anyfurther than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault ofany kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.
Here is the trailer so you can seefor yourself.
Attempted rape may, indeed, be too strong a descriptive. But sexualassault is certainly implied. And since I am a woman who plays videogames it is expected that I should have an opinion on this topic. And so here'smy opinion:
Like many people who were disturbedby this news, here's what nags at me: It's always rape with women characters.As character development tools go, it's the quick-fix. You want a woman who is complicatedand haunted? Toss a sexual assault into her past. Likewise, if you want a malecharacter who is complicated and haunted, feel free to toss a parent's death into his past (I'm lookin' at you Batman, Spider-Man, Super Man etc).
That said, here's the thing: Sexual assaultis so very tragically incredibly common in our real world, I have to wonder ... Why shouldn't a femalecharacter confront this very situation in a video game?
I like this newer, deeper, morecomplicated Lara Croft that Crystal Dynamics is crafting. I like that they haverebooted her story and that they are taking the time to give her some real depth.I like that she is more than guns, shorts and boobs. And for the most part, Idon't see how -- in an adult-rated game, which this will surely be -- a backstory that includes a near sexual assault is entirely out of line.
We see this kind of thing quite frequently in film where it is, apparently, OK to explore themes surrounding sexual assault. And I take issue with those who refuse to allow videogames to grow up and explore darker more disturbing territory.
Please, for amoment, forget the word "game" in video games. In many ways (thoughnot all), that word is a hold-over from the past. What we often have today are interactivestories. So why can't these interactive stories examine serious mattersand the serious impact they have on the characters in them?
They can ... and they should.
Meanwhile, I'm not buying the argumentthat the above scene somehow makes Lara a "victim." The assault sceneis not used to advance a male character's story. This is HER story. And shefights back. And she kicks serious arse. And that, my friends, is awesome. It is what I hope any woman -- myself included -- would do when faced with thepawing hands of an aggressive jackass (be he an island scavenger or not).
Frankly, I wish Crystal Dynamics had not backtracked on their story. I wish the company had stoodits ground and said, "Yes, Lara faces a horrible situation. But Lara isa fighter and she is a survivor."
Because, you know what? That is exactly thekind of women video game characters we need to see more of.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.