Welcome to Casual Fridays, where we kick back, relax and take off our pants. In Typing About Games (TAG), two of the Piki Geek staff face off in a no-holds-bar chat conversation. Beliefs are challenged, points are exclaimed, hype is harnessed, and video games are dissected like insects. Enjoy a look into the discussions that plague the Piki Geek chat day after day.
The upcoming Tomb Raider reboot has definitely drawn a great deal of attention, thanks in no small part to the incredibly rough treatment it seems to be giving to protagonist Lara Croft. In this week’s TAG, Johanna Armstrong and Jeroen Amin discuss the implications of this new take on the iconic heroine.
Jeroen: Lara Croft. Grindhouse queen or slap in the face of feminism or just a poor girl in a terrible, terrible situation?
Johanna: That’s a lot of options. “Slap in the face of feminism” is going a little far.
Jeroen: I’m just quoting Kotaku commenters. Or paraphrasing maybe. To be honest, I don’t even understand what half of them are saying. All I know is that they want her to be as manly as possible in order to advance feminism. I don’t know how.
Johanna: Ohhhh that’s some nice research there, Jeroen, Kotaku commenters…
Jeroen: Hey, one of us has to identify with normal people. Or, well, normal video game news site commenters.
Johanna: Are you talking about the sexual assault scene? Is that part a slap in the face of feminism?
Jeroen: That and Crystal Dynamic’s intention to break Lara down before she rises. You know, that whole phoenix from the ashes theme.
Apparently that’s sexually exploitative if she’s showing emotions during it.
Johanna: I don’t think it’s her emotions that are irksome. It’s reasonable. I like that she’s being more human and reacting to the world and circumstances around her. But Crystal Dynamics did go ahead and said the player would want to protect her, that she was a “cornered animal”. In the trailers, she gets tied up all the time, gets hung upside down, captured, the environment is torturing here. She isn’t the hero, or the developers aren’t trying to show her as the hero. The player is the hero, there to hold Lara’s hand and save her from all this trauma.
Jeroen: That was the statement of one person, who was likely just speaking outside of the immersive nature of games. How often do you find players actively or passively adopting the mindset that they’re just playing God to the character on screen in these types of games?
Johanna: How the player views the characters they play is up to the developers. In Half Life and Portal, you’re intended to forget that you’re Gordon or Chell. In other games, like most third person games, you’re supposed to see yourself as an extension of yourself, a reflection of yourself, which is kind of like the film analysis idea of main characters– they are better versions of you and playing them is a sort of dream fulfillment. But that’s the case mostly with men. When the main character is a third person woman, she’s usually eye candy meant to keep you interested while you play through a banal storyline. But in this case, it’s not a stretch that you’re supposed to feel like your saving the character from her circumstances. I definitely don’t think the player is meant to feel like he is Lara.
Jeroen: But, at the same time, people are actually clamoring for a less emotive Lara.
Jeroen: Go across some news comments, Reddit and some game boards. People are actually mad that she’s not stoic. They’re angry with the combination of brutal circumstances and Lara showing emotion. Just look at this comment on Kotaku, the highest rated one there. Well, that’s if you can make heads or tails of what she’s saying. Choice lines: “So lets see…let’s remove Lara from being fully badass to weak ‘Whedon-flavored female hero’ bullshit because you know…that’s exactly what I want to see in Lara. Not a confident badass fully aware of her sexuality. Nope, can’t have that, might scare the boys are TARGET DEMO.” Yes, nevermind the massive popularity the earlier games with the Lara she described had. Those were scaring the boys. Besides, I thought Whedon was famous for writing good female characters?
(Apparently boys are afraid of this Lara Croft and didn’t contribute to its best-selling success)
Johanna: Yeah I thought so, too. Anyway, you were berating me for pulling a quote from a single person AND HE WAS A DEVELOPER.
Jeroen: He is an executive producer. We’ve both seen what kind of stuff people can say about their games that should always be taken with a grain of salt. Either way, he made his statements about what he thinks the game is. But here is someone who is a good example of community outrage, supported by many others, making this point. The point that she’s not enough of a man anymore…I think. (Good example of producer vs. developer statements: Doom 3′s flashlight)
Johanna: The problem is this: for a woman to be strong, she has to act like a man. The minute she stops being a man, she’s reduced to helplessness.
Jeroen: She doesn’t turn out to be very helpless what with the whole killing a lot of people and ripping throats out.
Johanna: They could have kept the stories of past games and just had her be more human about it. Instead, they wanted her turned into a ragdoll.
Jeroen: Won’t argue with that but she’s not exactly a limp damsel in distress either. Most of the gameplay footage we saw at E3 was her killing a lot of people.
Johanna: No but she sounds and acts like one. With, like I said, the heroic male player swooping in to save her.
Jeroen: And then a very, very excessive fall through a jungle.
Johanna: She shoots people with a bow and arrow. She’s not stabbing backs or slitting throats.
Jeroen: Yes she is. She rips a guy’s throat out with a knife when she sneaks up on him.
Johanna: Zelda’s weapon of choice is a bow and arrow and she, next to Peach, is the iconic damsel in distress.
Jeroen: I’m not too sure you can directly compare Peach and New Lara here.
Johanna: She’s not running around guns blazing like we have known her to do.
Jeroen: Not from what we’ve seen. But she’s effectively doing the same thing, if with different equipment.
Johanna: She is not running in bows blazing.
Jeroen: You ever play the original games? You never really ran in there either. You kept your distance, kept moving side to side and kept hitting the fire button until the enemy died. If anything, this is the most direct and personal combat in the entire series. There’s never exactly been executions before.
Johanna: But that might have to do with recent developments in gaming. Everyone wants to make a stealth game.
Jeroen: Perhaps, but you can’t exactly say the bow and arrow are womanly and signify a damsel in distress. Unless Prophet from Crysis is one too. Or the lead in I Am Alive.
Johanna: Actually, it is a common thing to say. That the bow and arrow are weapons for women. Because it keeps them out of direct combat. It keeps them on the edge of the fight rather than truly being a part of it.
Jeroen: The modernization of which are basically guns, though. And we only see Lara taking people out a rather close ranges with her bow and arrow. She’s right in the thick of it.
Johanna: I disagree with your first statement. Unless we’re talking about snipers.
Jeroen: Why’s that? Most combat happens at a range of 300m in real life.
Johanna: In real life, being the key phrase.
Jeroen: Pretty sure the effective ranges of the bows and arrows we see in video games is much, much less and more akin to the firefight distances we see in games. 50-100m.
Johanna: Anyway, the point isn’t what weapons she uses or how. I mean, yeah, I said that she’s usually on the edge of groups and taking people out stealthily one by one, rather than shooting the hell out of any enemies that come her way. But that goes hand in hand with her “new persona.”
Jeroen: You saying she’s Sam Fisher?
Johanna: Well, trailers for Splinter Cell don’t involve him getting tied up and pushed around and falling all over the place and crying out like some kind of S&M video.
Jeroen: I keep telling you to go to the more mainstream sites…Anyway, that’s back to the theme CD is shooting for. Good? Bad? Dunno. I’ll wait and see. But why does Lara have to be stoic and emotionless through it all to be a good female character? I don’t get it.
Johanna: She doesn’t have to be stoic and emotionless, I already said if they kept the same story and situations as before and gave her a more emotional reaction to the circumstances around her, that would be cool. But instead they decided that to be more emotional, she has to be tortured.
Jeroen: I’m pretty sure she’s not emotional because she’s tortured. It’s not like she went from being stoic on the ship to freaking out as soon as bad things started hurting her.
Johanna: No, but apparently that was the only way they can express Lara’s emotional nature. Part of her being tortured is, I suspect, because male writers aren’t sure under what normal circumstances a woman would be emotional. So what can they do to make her life miserable? How about killing her friends, attempting to rape her, stabbing her with pikes, throwing her down a waterfall, ragdolling her down a hill, tying her up, slapping her around. Because those are “acceptable” situations for a woman to get emotional. There’s no subtlety.
Jeroen: I’m not sure what kind of subtlety is expected in the situation the game takes place under. Shipwreck, hostile jungle territory, inexperienced guerrilla warfare against insane odds. On top of that, I’m not sure why the developers are getting blasted for not making the situation anymore grounded in, well, any other circumstance. While the stuff that happens to her is stupidly excessive in terms of environment.
Johanna: There are plenty of shipwreck games where the character doesn’t get turned into a hackeysack.
Jeroen: I don’t get why it’s so unrealistic that hostile people might be trying to kill her. And in those games, you end up magically fine on an island and have to survive peacefully like it’s Castaway. I can get taking issue with the torture porn feel for the sake of breaking her down. It is pretty excessive already. But people are actually complaining that she’s feeling the hurt too much from those circumstances?
Johanna: I understand realism, and the game does some of that pretty well. But it’s excessive enough to feel like they are trying to make a point. Which is to break the girl.
Jeroen: But then once she rises from the ashes, she’s kicking ass way more than we’ve seen her do it before.
Johanna: Well, we haven’t seen the ending yet.
Jeroen: You know, when she doesn’t wind up falling into a waterfall and off a cliff. And through a canopy. And down another cliff. And into a plane. Then through the glass.