A preview video revealing the upcoming Tomb Raider game (releasing on March 5, 2013) has recently prompted some taut discussion about how the main character in the game, Lara Croft, is physically attacked by a male marauder, but survives his substantial onslaughts and even a potential sexual assault. This new experience might reflect audience desires towards the latest video game content trends – sex, drugs, and extremely real life violence scenarios that usual involve high crime and primal life struggles against various threats. After watching the video, I had several thoughts on the subject from many personal perspectives including character development in media, close experience with sexual assault advocacy, and video game criticism.
I also see an overall theme where men (typically depicted as more physical) are viewed as conquerors when they “win” while women (typically depicted as more emotional) are viewed as survivors and come out on top because they are “tough”. The entire “gender equal” concept can be inspiring and disturbing at the same time. In this example, Lara might create the mindset that it should be difficult to beat up a woman while she unfortunately experiences a high personal cost for this “victory”.
Player Gender Roles
Males playing games as female characters when male characters are available. Common? Probably not. Many role playing games would be a recent exception due to their increasingly gender-equal character caches. Primarily female character caches (e.g. Dead or Alive) play on these roles, but never create a deeper experience like the recently female character exclusive Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom PlayStation Portable game.
As the players make decisions to control characters, they might ask themselves “could I emulate this character? Do I want to?” Any character might need rescuing, but virtually all characters need some type of help from the player. Even in an “invincible” cheat mode the players still needs to move the character and achieve objectives.
How the player relates to the character is primarily important. Clothing can be an important part of a person’s mindset. Does a female character wear less clothing to seduce characters then perhaps kill them or is she making a statement. The ideal appearance also factors into character development. In this video, developers balance Lara’s aesthetics by making her attractive as well as “tough”.
Appearances aside it basically comes down to character strengths. Should male and female characters have equal skills? This status depends on the player needs/wants and character development. Lara might have more agility and better movements than many male video game characters since she must travel extensively and conquer unfamiliar environments to gain more treasure. The improved graphics in the video definitely showcase the improved and more fluid movements.
As game developers and producers create characters, players can ask if these creators have life experience similar to the character’s? What is their research process? Are they in a relationship right now or are they just projecting stereotypes, media influence, etc.
Lara’s Character Development
Lara is certainly not a useless character. She’s resourceful, patient, confident, and respectful though her morals (i.e. stealing) come into question at times. The best character development makes the player engage a character outside the game and even considering the character’s life as a separate entity.
In this newest game, Lara appears grittier and her actions reflect this change while creating some amazingly thrilling terrain conquering action sequences and literal cliffhangers. Her clothing choices are more practical here and match earth tones in the environments as opposed to the usually one color garb in past game installments, films, etc. This slight wardrobe alteration creates definite improvement that producers and developers can develop into several experiences. Lara’s less pristine, sleek appearance often made me feel that she was better than the others and not willing to get really dirty. I also see this change as a great chance to see her with friends not servants.
The Heroine Archetype
Creators develop the physical and mental in Lara As a strong heroine archetype who would fight or at least try to get away and strategize her actions instead of letting someone capture her. I’m hoping for more spiritual development, especially relating to the artifacts she tracks or finds. Accentuated female feature can mean bigger sexual content, but Lara’s less voluptuous appearance in this new game diminishes the “ogling” factor for players and developers while the risk of perversion and worse are still there, which leads into the next topic…
Video vs. the Actual Gameplay
I am always deeply troubled when male players say “why doesn’t he just [take] her?” in any film, media or game where a player-controlled female character comes under compromised physical position or even a possible sexual attack (e.g. the beginning sequence in Heavy Rain involving journalist Madison Paige in her apartment).
This grittier Tomb Raider game seems to increase more compromising sexual situations for Lara. We don’t know what the resulting actions within this upcoming game might be or if they will be player controlled, but, there seems to be an invisible line where even if players don’t try to help the character or “let the scene go” with no action the female character does not experience a prolonged sexual attack though the results still might involve considerable injury and even death.
Does this increase in on-screen violence and crime reflect producers and developers increase the stakes (Lara wants to steal a huge, high profile treasure); attract the worst possible thieves/adventurers, or just create a “wrong place at the wrong time” scenario. Lara learns in any of these scenarios.
Overall, I feel this game preview video uses a player’s potential fears to create a stronger connection to Lara Croft through the crimes committed against her and situations where her familiar adventurous will is taken away.