E3 this past week revealed (or gave more details on) a few big games with female leads: Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, Beyond: Two Souls, and Lollipop Chainsaw. There was also Gravity Rush (released June 12) and Loco Cycle (no release date, only a teaser trailer).
Each one came with its own trailer and, in some cases, gameplay demos. Some are a bit better about portraying women than others, some are causing controversy, and some are so obviously pandering to horny teenage boys that, while watching trailers and demos, my eyes almost fall out as I roll them. Since Gravity Rush and Loco Cycle didn’t play much of a part at E3, I won’t grade them. At least not yet.
Tomb Raider: C
First, I want to take a look at the game that has been causing so much trouble: Tomb Raider. While Lara Croft has certainly taken a turn for the realistic (I’m not aware of any archaeologists who wear hot pants and go into dig sites packing heat), more reasonable proportions and attire have severely impaired her strength and attitude. In fact, developers have gone so far as to state that players are, “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.’ She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper.”
The player doesn’t feel intimated by her or think she’s a badass—they feel bad for her and want to save her. She’s turned from ice queen, bear-killing sexualized object, to a weak, virginal damsel in distress sexual object who needs the strong, male player to guide her along safely.
Executive producer Ron Rosenberg stated, “She is literally turned into a cornered animal.” And now there’s controversy surrounding the attempted rape scene in the game, which is now being denied as being an attempted rape. The scene is pretty tame and only a few seconds long; it’s a thug trying to cop a feel (I have a distinct memory of him saying, “It’s been too long,” but all that I can find is the edited E3 trailer and not the extended gameplay scene), his hand on Lara’s waist. She fights back, he tries to pin her to the ground, they wrestle with a gun, and she blows out the back of his head. It was reported by many as being an attempted sexual assault, but Crystal Dynamics studio implemented some delayed backpedaling.
They released a statement saying, “In this particular section, 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 of categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.”
To be honest, of all the things in the game when I first saw the trailers, what annoyed me wasn’t that particular scene—it was all the beatings she was taking, all the grunting and helpless crying she was doing. It was bordering on an S&M video, with Lara getting tied up, slapped, thrown around, hung upside down, essentially being tortured by the writers and developers.
So why didn’t the assault bother me? I’ve already written an article about the treatment of sexual assault in games, where I wrote that the (possibly accidental) removal of the infamous Pyramid rape scene was, “like saying that rape is something we should deny, something we should hide under the rug and pretend it doesn’t happen. It removes one of the only truly horrific displays of sexual violence in gaming and leaves us with shit like Custer’s Revenge and Rape Lay.”
That idea is even more pertinent here, when the developers are, in fact, actively denying that it was an attempted sexual assault. That was probably the most reasonable thing to happen to Lara throughout the whole trailer. If you’re a woman that runs into an all-male band of thugs on a deserted island, who have been in close quarters for who knows how long, unless they have a leader that tells them to behave themselves, then rape is essentially inevitable. It’s an indisputable fact. Should we pull some statistics? While it’s hard to get rape statistics from bands of guerilla soldiers or bandits, there’s the next best thing: the military. One site reports:
The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That’s about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed… The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported…
The Guardian reports: “Last year, there were 3,158 cases of sexual assault reported within the military… The DoD estimates that in 2010 alone, over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military.” Guerillas and bandits have, however, been known to rape women they encounter, so much so that it is considered a weapon of war.
So why should Crystal Dynamics deny that it happens? One of those bandits sexually assaulting her MAKES SENSE, and it’s one of the most reasonable moments of the trailer, all things considered. It wouldn’t have been gratuitous (like I said, it was just a nod, not in your face), which can’t be said for all the other violence the developers decided to subject her to.
The game is set for release March 5, 2013.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation: A-
There wasn’t a lot revealed by Ubisoft about AC3: Liberation for the Vita, only a trailer played on the brand new white Vita. The website for the game reveals a little more, including a bio which reads that she’s, “an Assassin of mixed African and French heritage.” This is awesome not just because she’s a woman – which is rare in a protagonist – but also bi-racial which is especially rare. For extra bonus points, she’s actually dressed as an Assassin, and not a sexy Halloween costume version of an Assassin.
Her extended biography on the site further explains, “She will play a pivotal role in the turbulent birth of a new nation as she fights for freedom, not only for herself, but for her fellow citizens,” and that, “Aveline strikes mortal fear into the hearts of those who stand in her way.” While AC3: Liberation is a Vita spin-off of the console-bound Assassin’s Creed III (with male protagonist Conor), it sets an excellent precedent for AAA games. Ubisoft is quick to deny that it’s just a port of ACIII with a replaced main character, writing,
Designed exclusively for the PlayStation Vita system, you’ll take full advantage of the Playstation Vita system’s dual touchpads, motion detection, and built-in camera to execute slow-motion chain kills, pickpocket unsuspecting victims, and pursue your enemies in a canoe. This is no mere port; it’s an immersive experience designed purely for the PlayStation Vita system.
The trailer shows her leaping from rooftops and trees, tackling soldiers, shooting guns, stabbing people in the face, jumping onto and riding renegade horses, and wading through swamps. While nothing has been revealed about the writing for the game, such as her personality, dialogue, or her personal history, so far things look awesome. She’s badass, works alone, dresses like any other Assassin would, hasn’t sacrificed any of her femininity (long hair worn in braids, feminine facial features and figure, there’s a flash of her wearing time-appropriate dress, and not sexy Halloween costume time appropriate dress), she’s good at what she does, and she will, it seems, be playing an important role in the history of the Assassin Order and the Templar Order.
The game is due for release October 30, 2012.
Beyond: Two Souls: A
At E3, we got an introduction to the game Beyond by David Cage, who announced the game by saying:
Death is the biggest mystery of mankind. What will happen after we die is something no one knows. We all have our hopes, our fears, our doubts. But what’s on the other side remains unknown. Jodie Holmes knows a little bit more about all this than you and I. As far as she remembers, she has always felt a link with an invisible entity—some presence around her, spirt or ghost, she doesn’t really know. Something living between our world and the other side. Beyond tells Jodie’s story over 15 years of her life. We will see her growing, evolving, learning to live with her difference, and discovering more about what’s Beyond. For the first time in a video game, we will live the life of a character; go with her through happy and difficult times, and help her to become who she is.
He then went on to reveal the first scene of the game, where a shaved Jodie Holmes sits quietly in a chair at a police station while a kind and gentle officer tries to get any sort of information out of her – her name, where she’s from, maybe the name of a friend, what happened to her. But she doesn’t say anything. Noticing a scar on his head, he shows concern and asks if it’s recent, getting closer to get a better look. A cup of coffee flies into and shatters against a wall. Disconcerted, our friendly officers leaves Jodie in the room alone.
Now by herself, and looking ominously up at the camera, she says one of the only lines she delivers in the six minute trailer: “I know. They’re coming.” This leads to shots of a SWAT team creeping through the station, asking where she is, and presumably cornering her in the room where the officer left her.
They open the door, but before anything can happen, the scene jumps to a montage of Jodie Holmes on a motorcycle (she now has hair, so this is a different time in her life) riding away from a helicopter chasing her, her getting attacked by a dog, getting kicked in the face, a gas station exploding, a SWAT guy on fire, a SWAT guy getting possessed, a clock tower falling down, a helicopter crashing into the street, a police car spinning through the air, Jodie presumably jumping out of a moving vehicle into the street, running through the woods while being chased by men shouting “That’s her,” getting attacked by (but blocking) a guy with a pipe, jumping off the roof of a train in slow motion with a forcefield of sorts, picking up a soldier on the ground by the scruff of his shirt and saying, “Tell them to leave me the fuck alone, because next time I’ll kill everyone.” She then looks up into the sky, all covered in scrapes and blood, and says, “Come on, Aiden, I think they get the message,” before limping away from the exploded helicopter and other apocalyptic wreckage.
There was also a gameplay demo involving the train scene, where Jodie and Aiden are caught by police but escape through the roof, jumping into the nearby forest where they are further pursued by cops. They fight off police dogs, and Jodie climbs up a slippery rock face. In addition to telekinetic powers and the ability to protect Jodie (he creates the forcefield to protect her as she jumps from the train), he can also possess people, putting them under the player’s control, and is also the force responsible for the clock tower, the exploding gas station, and the flipping cars. Their team work eventually frees them from the police’s chase, which is when Jodie makes her statement to the SWAT officer on the edge of life. During the demo, Cage said, “It’s about death, it’s about separation, it’s about mourning. All the things that you usually don’t find in video games.”
So far, it looks amazing. The game sounds huge (it covers 15 years of her life and is supposedly a sandbox), and we’ve only gotten a glimpse, but so far Jodie sounds like a strong, resilient woman who manages to cope exceptionally well with very difficult circumstances. Unlike Lara, who developers suggest players will want to protect, the player is there to witness Jodie’s story. You can argue that Aiden is Jodie’s protector, but it also sounds a bit like Jodie is Aiden’s protector—they keep each other company, and they keep each other out of reach from people who might try to hurt or separate them. It looks like she goes through just as much trouble as Lara, but we aren’t privy to every physically painful moment. We see her fight off dogs, we see her get kicked when she’s down, we see her wounds and her scars, and we know she’s been through rough times, without being forced to watch her rip pikes out of her abdomen or get thrown through the jungle like a ragdoll in a dog’s mouth. She’s young, strong, and brave, and you want to root for her because you believe she can get through it herself, you don’t feel a sense of pity or a pull to try and protect her. She can, it seems, handle herself well enough.
Lollipop Chainsaw: F
I don’t know what you’re expecting to read here. Juliet Starling is about as one dimensional as you can get, and it’s what the developers wanted. I don’t have anything against cheerleaders—I think that if there were a zombie apocalypse, cheerleaders would (as most athletes would) be in a better position than most people to survive. But this game isn’t about real cheerleaders. It’s about what horny teenage boys think high school cheerleaders are like because they spend more time in front of their TV than actually trying to get to know the girls they go to school with.
In fact, the reason this game would be so appealing to those with rampant male libidos, as opposed to any other audience, is because, as writer James Gunn puts it: “I think we’re the only game with stripper pole moves in it, where you can kill zombies through certain stripper pole moves. You can utilize a stripper pole to kill zombies…” Worried about jerking it to an underage high school girl? Gunn puts your concerns to rest: “Coincidentally, it is Juliet’s 18th birthday on the day of the game.”
So Juliet is the ideal girl in the way Edward Cullen is the ideal boy. They are both so sickeningly stereotypical that you want to gag yourself because the flavor of your own vomit is preferable to the taste those two characters leave in your mouth. Edward Cullen is a martyr for Bella and goes so far as to claim he’s something like addicted to her, and he’d sooner kill himself than ever cause any harm, and he places such a high value on her virtue and the purity of her soul that he won’t sleep with her until they’re married. Juliet talks like a sailor with a voice sweet enough to give your ears cavities and fights zombies in a mini skirt and knee-high socks, with her boobs all pushed up into a convenient cleavage package for any curious boys to ogle at, openly inviting dudes to check her out as she executes some deadly stripper pole moves into the faces of the undead, and god forbid she ever makes a face that expresses that she doesn’t totally love what she’s doing.
She’s every (stereotypical) guy’s dream: a legal high school sexually liberated cheerleader who loves zombies (omg we have so much in common!) and has bad enough manners to make them feel like they wouldn’t have to change a thing about themselves to score with her.
Oh, and did I mention the game lets you change her outfit? For some reason, Suda thinks that lends replayability to the game, which was released on June 12 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. If women are offended by what Twilight presumes they look for in a man, men should be offended by what Lollipop Chainsaw assumes they look for in a woman.