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 the new Lara Croft game insist that she is not going to almost get raped.
Of course, they said this after having first said ? apparently accidentally ? that she is going to almost get raped.
But let me back up.
A development company called Crystal Dynamics 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 games that have come before. It's?a prequel. And it's a prequel designed to give us a very different look at the Lara Croft who has spent the last 16?years inspiring admiration and derision for her adventurous ways, her ever-increasing breast size and her short-shorts.
This new "Tomb Raider" tells us 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 from the looks of it so far, this new Lara is a lot more human and a lot less outlandish caricature.
Last week, Crystal Dynamics showed off their work in progress at the Electronic Entertainment Expo by releasing a new trailer that showed Lara in some very serious peril. And it was there that "Tomb Raider" producer Ron Rosenberg told game site Kotaku.com that the trailer showed a young Lara Croft experiencing something disturbing that would change her forever...
In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She'll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
"She is literally turned into a cornered animal," Rosenberg said. "It's a huge step in her evolution: she's forced 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 controversy was born. For starters, you can't say "rape" and "video games" in the same breath without upsetting people. Rape is about as serious a topic as it gets and that word "game" in video games suggests that the two can simply never cross paths without the one somehow making light of the other.
And the suggestion that Lara needed protecting by gamers ... well ...?
The controversy kicked into gear with?Jezebel.com calling the trailer ?"torture porn" and other critics panning the yet-to-be-released?game for?turning Croft into a victim. Meanwhile,?Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher issued a statement explaining that "attempted rape" was not, in fact, an accurate description of what happens to Lara. He explained:
In this particular selection, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.
Here is the trailer so you can see for yourself.
Attempted rape may, indeed, be too strong a descriptive. But sexual assault is certainly implied. And since I am a woman who plays video games it is expected that I should have an opinion on this topic. And so here's my opinion:
Like many people who were disturbed by 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 complicated and haunted? Toss a sexual assault into her past. Likewise, if you want a male character who is complicated and haunted, feel free to?toss a parent's death into the past (I'm lookin' at you?Batman, Spider-Man, Super?Man etc).
That said, here's the thing: Sexual assault is so very tragically incredibly common in our real world,?I have to wonder: Why shouldn't a female character confront this very situation in a video game?
I like this newer, deeper, more complicated Lara Croft that Crystal Dynamics is crafting. I like that they have rebooted 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, I don't see how -- in an adult-rated game, which this will surely be --?a back story 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 video games to grow up and explore darker more disturbing territory.?
Please, for a moment, forget the word "game" in video games. In many ways (though not all), that word is a hold-over from the past. What we often have today are interactive stories. So why can't these interactive stories explore serious matters and the serious impact they have on the characters in them?
They can?...?and they should.
Meanwhile, I'm not buying the argument that the above scene somehow makes Lara a "victim." The assault scene is not used to advance a male character's story. This is HER story. And she fights 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 the pawing 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 stood its ground and said, "Yes, Lara faces a horrible situation. But Lara is a fighter and she is a survivor."
Because, you know what? That is exactly the kind 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.?