Inadvertent sexism in the outrage over Lara Croft rape attempt!

A conceptual render of Lara Croft in Tomb Raid...

A conceptual render of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. She wields a bow, pistol and climbing axe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



In case you can’t tell from the title, in the latest Tomb Raider installment (and reboot!) the lead female almost gets raped by her captors. This made a shit ton of people mad, and while their intentions were good, the outcome was ultimately…worse.

The game designers explained this rape attempt was to make Croft, who is known for being a gun-toting bad-ass, more “vulnerable” and “human,” perhaps thinking society could finally have a rational discussion about rape.  Boy were they mistaken, judging by the online reaction!  (Which incidentally led to a  detracted statement that could easily be construed as a silencing attempt, almost mirroring the aftermath an actual rape victim would find themselves in.)

The online reaction was the typical knee-jerk foaming-at-the-mouth feminist “oh my god how could they do this to my favorite female hero and literally one of the only few strong female hero’s” arguments. And it was especially nice to see the men wringing their digital hands louder than any one else.

But how often has a video game tackled rape? And have they ever approached the subject in even as remotely delicate of a manner as the latest Tomb Raider?

The answer is a no, again easily answered by the level of outrage.

Mic Wright wrote in the Kernel, “I don’t remember Master Chief ever being anally raped to help us empathise with him more.” Helen Lewis also compared Croft to the male Halo franchise hero in the New Statesman: “Bungie didn’t think that the only way players would root for Master Chief was by having him raped.”

I don’t know how Wright or Lewis can be confused, but in case you dear reader are too, I’d like to take this moment to point out to you that Master Chief is a man, and Lara Croft is a woman.

And not only that, but, RAPE is one of those weird sexual things men have been doing to women since the dawn of time.

The Hebrew Muslim and Christian god condoned and advocated using rape as a weapon of war in the Old Testament, and armies to this day still use it as as demoralizing tool all over the world. Even military contractors and soldiers in modern war zones still rape women, and they even rape  women who are not their enemies but their comrades-in-arms.

Recent statistics for rape in the United States put a sexual  assault or rape at every two minutes, and 1/6 of the female population in America will be raped, or fight off a rapist in her lifetime. Globally, one in every five women will be raped. But you didn’t come here to read rape statistics, and if you’re bored by all those numbers, sorry. I just thought I had to note them, because I laughed when Kellie Foxx-Gonzales wrote, NOT IRONICALLY, on The Mary Sue:

“The responsibility is wholly upon her to protect herself, it is not upon the scumbag rapists who are trying to hurt her. “

Duh, Kellie. Do you not know how rape happens? Women usually have to protect themselves alone, from the men attacking them. And rapists are generally scumbags. That’s why they’re rapists!

Not to keep picking on Kellie from The Mary Sue, but she went on to say rape shouldn’t be in any video game because she’s “had enough of that in real life.”

Great. So now we can’t talk about rape because it happens too much? I thought one of the biggest problems with rape was that people don’t talk about it enough: the crime doesn’t always get reported, etc.

We need to be having more conversations about rape, period, not shying away from them like Kellie suggests. It is highly plausible that an attractive young woman would be raped by her adrenalin-fueled male captors. Writing that does not make me a woman-hater (or a man-hater), I am simply stating the truth, and I have history on my side to prove it. Not only does our inability to  have a discussion about rape trivialize rape, but  getting mad at a video game for bringing up rape is counter-intuitive and well, anti-women.

When Michael Rougeau noted on Complex that this latest video game controversy was prompting conversations of whether or not “rape is … appropriate subject matter for a game,” I couldn’t help but shout “YES!” Why wouldn’t we talk about rape in video games? Video games are the latest entertainment frontier, making them the perfect platform to tackle such a sticky issue.

Allistar Pinsof wrote on Destructoid  he wasn’t sure if video games, let alone Tomb Raider, is ready to depict rape “with respect and honesty.” If no one starts, how can it ever be done well? Pinsof wrote about the rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as being an adequate depiction, but he doesn’t ask how many rapes have already been on film that weren’t respectful or truthful. (Hundreds, if not thousands! NSFW Link)

Judging the infamous Tomb Raider scene in comparison to some of film’s most fail attempts at portraying rape, one has to admit the attempted rape/sexual assault scene in Tomb Raider is at least tastefully done, and a step in the right direction. It’s not as if a naked Croft is tied up in some kinky bondage and pleading for minutes while men laugh maniacally and fiddle with their junk while they wait their turn at her.

UK’s The Sun had the right of it when they called up a Katie Russell at a Rape Crisis who said: “We’d be concerned if this was designed mainly to titillate as this trivialises real women’s experiences.” (Russell didn’t seem concerned.)

It’s safe to say the attempted rape scene in question does not titillate nor does it trivialize rape. (Or else Russell would be concerned)  Rather, the scene does the exact opposite: it treats rape with the severity it deserves. The scene even has gravitas: Croft has to literally kill the man to defend herself, and the creators describe it as a turning point in the character’s evolution. It is certainly not what Kellie fears is “torture porn.”

I was incredibly disappointed to learn (which prompted the writing of this post) that the creators have taken back their words in the face of all the online criticism, and are now calling the rape something else. It’s also entirely plausible that they will now remove the offending scene altogether, and will carry on as if nothing ever happened.

Oh, irony. I’d make a rape joke, but it looks like all the Tomb Raider protesting men and women already have.

5 Comments on “Inadvertent sexism in the outrage over Lara Croft rape attempt!”

  1. Hmm.. It is interesting that the point of focus for many people seems to have been the scene itself. I was never particularly bothered by that. I was bothered by the comments that were made around it. The implication being that the player/character relationship is different because she is a woman. It is fine for me to “want to protect” a character in a game, and for that to be the creator’s intended emotional resonance. However, I find it somewhat offensive to infer that this emotion is peculiar to that character being female.

    I personally have nothing against depicting anything happening to any type of character in any game. ( I would prefer it be handled with taste and respect, however. ) It is just the misguided comments about the thought process behind the scene that upset me so much. The designers didn’t simply state the obvious, which is that attempted rape is something that would likely happen in this situation depicted in the game. And that they were trying to tell a story that is emotionally grounded in reality, even if it is a bit fantastical. They instead gave the scene a wierd emotionally manipulative context, and made assumptions that are just not true.

  2. Denton Clark says:

    Sort of echoing the above comment, I think it’s a matter of context. My problem with having a rape scene (or any act of sexual agression against the player character) in Tomb Raider is that Crystal Dynamics wants to define the player-character relationship in this creepy, unequal, male gaze sort of way. If the game was focusing on what video games do best, that is, forcing you to identify with the character in a more intimate way than you see in other media, then the rape scene could of been revolutionary. But instead they say they don’t want the player self-identifying; they want you watching her and “wanting to protect” her. They want to put a safe distance between the player and the rape, and in doing so, they’re cutting the player off from any meaningful experience he or she might get from it. All that’s left is a scene which seems trivial, exploitative, and altogether tasteless.

    Then again, I haven’t played the game so :-/

  3. Michael says:

    Hello, I would like to bring a rather offensive (to Christians/Bible Scholars perhaps) error you made.

    In the line where you wrote that the Christian God condones rape in the OT, did you realize that the in-line link you used for condones actually takes you to a webpage that DEBUNKS said sentence?

    The misinformation in that line is not only offensive, it continues to propogate ignorance about the Bible itself.

  4. […] actually wrote a blog post about the rape scenario in that new Lara Croft game recently because they said they were going to remove the scene. So they […]

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