Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When you don't get to hit the replay button

I posted this link on twitter earlier this morning with the added comment that turning a woman into a cornered animal was not a huge step in her evolution.

Judging from the comments I got there - telling me I was wrong, because this made her hardcore, or that I had misread the context - I am probably going to regret writing this, but there are times that I can't be silent, even when I know speaking is going to hurt. So.

In case you don't want to click the link, here's the pull quote:

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."

Let's just skip the bit where you tell me it's just a video game, and that violence, and violence against women, is part of art. I know that. 

The reason that I have a problem with this, the reason I am writing this post, is that the executive producer of this game seems to be saying that getting raped is losing the game.

I'm going to try to start from a position of generosity here. I'm going to assume that the reason being raped is treated like one of the worst things that can happen to a woman is because the writers and producers of this game understand that it is. Being raped is horrible, and horrible doesn't even begin to be a big enough word to cover being raped.

But I have a huge problem with there being a game where, if your female character doesn't fight back well enough, she gets punished by being raped. And my problem is because this hews too closely to the actual reactions rape survivors get.

Here is what we get asked: What were you wearing? Did you know him? Did you scream? Was your skirt too short? Were you in a bad part of town? Did he spend a lot of money on dinner? Were you wearing a bra with that dress? Did you let him touch you? Did you hit him? Did you fight back? Did you fight back enough?

Let me tell you about a legal standard, the standard of "utmost resistance." This was the requirement that a woman had to meet to prove that she had been raped. She had to fight back to the maximum amount of resistance she could, otherwise it wasn't rape. She must have wanted it.

Game over. She lost.

Excuse me. I need to go throw up.


  1. I'm with you--this is absolutely disgusting.

  2. Ugh :/. It's hard for me to understand how so many seemingly "smart" people don't recognize this as a huge cultural problem. #fail

  3. I can't get past wondering why attempted rape belongs in a video game, full stop. Why was that even an idea? How did it get past brainstorming?

  4. I honestly don't have any coherent words, except -- what the unholy HELL? I can't even. That is a) a really bad idea for a video game and b) so thoroughly callous/disrespectful/nauseating that I can't even process it.

    That is disgusting. I played Lara Croft way back. I liked that she kicked ass. But this? Hell no.

  5. As a gamer, this turn in Lara Croft's history is troubling. I mean, for now I'm willing to stand back and see how it actually happens -- until the game is on the shelves there's still the chance for the company to reneg and decide that, yeah, this is a bad idea.

    But I'm worried. I was really looking forward to this game being released, but now? There's dread instead of excitement.

  6. Jesus, how the hell did this one get past everyone working on the game! Don't want to imagine the board meeting they had on this one. Bad idea doesn't begin to cover it.

  7. Yeah, I've actually thought the preview footage for this game looked pretty exciting - but that quote is not one I'd seen before now and it is problematic to say the least.

    Maybe it's naive of me to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he just was not expressing himself properly, but I do honestly believe that there is zero chance that there are any fail states in the game that actually result in Lara getting raped, if only because I simply cannot imagine any game let alone a AAA title like this shipping with that sort of content.

  8. Right. Okay. I disagreed with your initial summation, and to a large part I still do.

    I can see that from a writing perspective, they wanted to get to the point where a human being becomes the kind of person who can do backflips while shooting two guns at the same time.

    But having read your point of view, I see where you're coming from.

    I suspec that in the game, a) No, the character won't actually get raped and b) that she'll end up shooting the attempted assailant in the dick or something.


    What you've written has provided food for thought and a deeper analysis of your point which I initially disagreed with.

    As you have expressed your point of view with clarity, what possible regret could you have for writing this?

    It's definitely made at least one person who disagreed with you think about it in a different light.

    1. BADALEX, I'm guessing she worries she'll regret posting this because she's worried she'll end up getting something like the comments that are on show in this blog post: http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/24474432605/harassment-misogyny-and-silencing-on-youtube

      This quote sounded horrible just on the face of it when I read about it on Chuck Wendig's blog. I have to admit I never even thought of it from this angle. It now seems 100x worse.

    2. Welcome to the internet. It can be a rough place. I have...very little respect for women who think they deserve special treatment on the internet basically.

      The internet is a messed up playground and the comments there are fairly mild compared to some of the things I've seen over the years.

      You can't deal with it?

      Stay off the internet. It's that simple.

    3. You know, I had just finished being glad that everyone here had been civil and polite.

      I will ask you once, to please maintain a tone of civil discussion. Otherwise, please take your views elsewhere.

    4. //please forgive the derail//
      And I have very little respect for people who don't realize that women do get special treatment on the internet.
      Very special treatment.
      As in: they get harassed more than anyone else.
      According to studies, they get harassed TWENTY FIVE TIMES more than anyone else.

      You know the saying "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?"
      Here, it's as if the kitchen gets twenty five times hotter when a woman walks in. And when men go in, they're like "but it's not that hot! I can handle it! If you can't handle it, get out of the kitchen!"

      The problem isn't the women. The problem is the kitchen.
      //End derail//

      Kat, great post. I agree: making rape a "punishment" for playing the game badly reinforces the idea that rape is preventable.
      Also, are there any prominent female characters who aren't going to have a rape backstory/be threatened with rape at some point? It seems to be the default "let's give that woman a backstory" setting...

    5. "The problem isn't the women. The problem is the kitchen. "

      I'm totally stealing that. It's a perfect summation.

  9. I'm with you on this one, Kat. Pushing a female character into a corner isn't a way to make her relatable, it's a way to say that one actually believes no woman can be tough out of her own free will, only as a reaction to the "toughness" of a male.

    Despite it being a video game, and despite the (probably) unrelated intentions of the creators, this spin on Lara Croft reeks of covert misogyny. And I don't care what they wrap it in, if it looks like it and quacks like it, it's probably it.

    1. Well, that's completely erroneous and wrong. It isn't about reacting to the 'toughness of a male' it's about growing stronger through adversity.

      You do realise that Lara Croft shoots people without remorse right? And that's not 'normal'?

      So you have no problems with Lara Croft killing people, but that she might have developed a certain...disregard for human life through negative experiences you equate to covert misogyny?


      No, it's not covert misogyny. That's just dumb.

    2. I'm trying to come up with a single male heroic character that got tougher due to being raped... and I'm coming up blank. Maybe someone else knows of one.

      In the Tomb Raider movies, Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft was certainly tough, uber-competent etc... apparently without being raped. My point is in agreement with Vero, that a woman ought to be able to be tough out of her own free will, or out of her own professionalism as an adventurer if you prefer.

    3. One, she doesn't get raped. Two, plenty of males characters go through all sorts of hell. Three, to hell with this. After having actually watched the trailer, here,


      Oh look. All the outraged comments turned out to be bullshit.

      Oh look. Lara Croft is portrayed as a real human being, weak, scared, trying to be strong in the face of horrible shit...and overcoming it.

      Exactly like the initial report said. Does it make me feel more protective? You bet.

      Does it make her seem more human? You bet.

      So instead of a two dimensional cartoon figure with porn star tits, it's a real human being.

      And people were complaining.

  10. I just want to thank all of you for being thoughtful and considerate and engaging in civl discussion about this issue. I am deeply grateful for that.

  11. I remember being so thrilled to finally have a female game protagonist who was smart and capable and tough that I overlooked the obvious fanservice (the booty shorts, the jigglyboobs, the impractical hair).

    But this? This has rolled all of it back, not just in game ways but, as you point out, in ways that echo distressingly real world situations.

  12. So . . . if I'm following this, if the player doesn't fight back, they get to watch Lara Croft get raped? Why do I foresee a lot of saved games right before this point, so that people can watch this happen? Do nothing, get a dose of virtual violent porn?


    1. I suspect it'd be a fade-to-black sort of thing, if only to keep the ratings sellable. Not that that makes it any better.

    2. ...ugh, never mind. I'm seeing accounts that it's not a cut-scene. Going to go look at baby pandas and try not to be rage-sick, now. :/

    3. @Maniai Do you happen to have a link? What I saw in the E3 video looked like a cut-scene, not something you could actually fail at. Is there more of this somewhere I haven't seen?

    4. Unknown, I honestly don't have any actual links, just commentary I saw on another blog post (terribleminds.com) from someone who had seen more gameplay. Sorry, I know "facts facts facts" are what everyone wants to scream. Frankly, even a cut-scene isn't okay in this situation.

    5. @Maniai No, it's cool. I was just wondering if there was something more concrete out there that didn't require me to Google something horrible at work.

      I think there's an interesting and difficult discussion that could be had about what it means to have it be interactive, a punishment for failure, a cutscene, etc. See my (way too long, good grief >.<) post in reply to Bookworm-airhead and games as art.

  13. I'm not a gamer and therefore have no understanding of gaming or how they are created or story-boarded, or how other ones compare to this scenario, but I cannot for the life of me understand a situation in which the violent sexual violation of a woman is proposed as part of 'entertainment' and no-one involved in the creation of the game has pointed out how very fucked-up and completely unacceptable that is...

    1. That's understandable. But most gamers and game developers consider games to be an art form -- a very young one, yes, but still an art form. So including rape in a game would be somewhat equivalent to including it in a movie or a book.

      In other words, I don't think most of them feel it's inherently wrong -- no more than making a movie that includes rape as an issue is inherently wrong.

      I suspect the line of thought went "we're trying to make this more gritty and realistic, and what's something a woman trapped alone on an island full of pirate-mercenary-thug-killers would fear?"

      This isn't a defense of what they're doing. Just an explanation of why they thought it was okay to start down this path.

      Here's an example... no one thinks that a graphic novel can't tackle the subject of rape -- ever, unacceptable -- even though they're entertainment. But I don't think anyone thinks that mainstream superhero comics have done anything but a miserable, exploitive job of using rape.

      I think this is comics -- not unacceptable as a concept, but with little faith that what's happening here isn't going to be horrible at worst or just dumb at best. I think most of the people involved see it the same way -- games can and should tackle challenging subjects and try not to do a terrible job of it.

      The other opinion is that games are something else. Not an art form, and not allowed (socially, not talking about laws) to tackle the same things books and movies etc. do. A lot of people feel the same way, but it's very much not the opinion among devs.

      Now, this is a bit of a Catch-22. If games want to be an art form that's allowed (again, socially) to explore troubling topics, we have to start making games that don't do a shit job of exploring those topics... and games are a unique medium, so it will take some serious work, and probably some serious mistakes, to get there.

      Note: I don't think this counts as serious work or a serious mistake. It doesn't seem like they've really thought this through well at all, though we don't know for sure.

      Sorry for the long post... hopefully it's at least somewhat helpful.

  14. Just to show how horrible that article is - let's do a quick experiment. Let's use the same verbiage for a gritty reimagining of another 90s action-game icon.

    You’ll ‘Want To Protect’ The New, Less Beefcake Duke Nukem

    In the past, Duke Nukem didn't need protecting. He was a fearless daredevil, a crack shot in a wife-beater with enough attitude to scare off a pack of bloodthirsty gorillas.

    But in the upcoming Duke Nukem reboot, things will be different. He hasn't become that man yet. And executive producer Ron Rosenberg says you'll want to keep him safe.

    "When people play Duke, they don't really project themselves into the character," Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a male protagonist.

    "They're more like 'I want to protect him.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with him and trying to protect him.'"

    So is he still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Duke a little bit differently than we have in the past.

    "He's definitely the hero but— you're kind of like his helper," he said. "When you see him have to face these challenges, you start to root for him in a way that you might not root for a female character."

    The new Duke Nukem isn't just less battle-hardened; he's less muscular. Gone are his ridiculous proportions and skimpy clothing. This Duke feels more human, more real. That's intentional, Rosenberg says.

    "The ability to see him as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear," he said. "He literally goes from zero to hero... we're sort of building him up and just when he gets confident, we break him down again."

    In the new Duke Nukem, Duke will suffer. His best friend will be kidnapped. He'll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape him.

    "He is literally turned into a cornered animal," Rosenberg said. "It's a huge step in him evolution: He's forced to either fight back or die."

    It's some dark material, the type of content you might not expect from an action-adventure game like Duke Nukem. But Rosenberg isn't worried about alarming people too much. He says players will see right away that this is a darker, "more mature" version of Duke's story. He compared it to the origin story of a comic book like Spider-Man or Batman, saying he thinks it "has that feel to it."

    "We're not trying to be over the top, shock people for shock's sake," he said. "We're trying to tell a great origin story."

    1. Not sure what you're trying to say. If you're thinking that somehow undermines the point of the OP, I don't think it does. A game where you feel protective of a male hero that you would have expected to be tough but instead is frail... sounds super interesting.

      But it's not a common, over-used trope. It suggests a developer trying to do something interesting and different, and being pretty bold about it by un-macho-izing a character that stands for so much macho BS. I would be interested in that game.

      But when it's a woman who's been de-powered, it just stinks of lazy art. (Maybe it's not... but it stinks of it. And they aren't doing anything to reassure people that this won't be what it smells like.)

    2. This was the first thought that came to my mind when I read the story. Nobody did that to Duke Nukem. Or Kratos. Or Link. Or Mario.

      That follows the trope: male charachters (in comics, film, whatever) never get raped unless it's a completely extreme scenario, meant to shock the whole world. For a female charachter, it's always a plot device.

      I remember playing a game with a nephew, who was then 9 years old, maybe. The main charachter was a woman - fighting aliens an stuff. He asked me, "how am I supposed to do all that if I'm just a frail little girl?", and I answered that the charachter was not a frail little girl, but a badass heroine. Wrong as it could be, the game was maybe the first (and rare) experience he had of seeing a female as the subject of her story, doing (great) things for herself. And never being sexually abused as a punishment.

  15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVyMklTUPrw

    Priorities, people.

  16. kat, i'm very much with you on this.

  17. Have you seen this article?

    Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. Especially when you're made out of pixels

    "Ms. Pac-Man had to wear lipstick, a beauty mark, and a great big girly bow on her head. Despite being a limbless yellow disc, we were expected to find her "sexy". (...) but the startling thing is this: 30 years on, the depiction of Ms. Pac-Man in those basic cut scenes is actually more progressive than the depiction of the vast majority of female game characters today."

  18. "doesn't fight back well enough, she gets punished by being raped."

    I believe this is a fallacy. You could say the same thing about ANY violation of a person's rights. I understand there are differences in depictions of sexual violence and non-sexual violence in video games, but I think those differences are irrelevant in your argument.

    In Half Life 2, if you don't fight proficiently enough, you get murdered. Does Gabe Newell subscribe to ancient Spartan views on weakness? I don't think so.

    That's my only grievance with your article. Thanks!

  19. So when Mafia 2 has an attemted male gay rape scene, it's totally ok, but when it's a woman being assaulted, it suddenly becomes "heinous and horrific"? I'm getting tired of the feminist double standards.