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'Tomb Raider' Reboot: Lara Croft's Origin Story Reveals a Double Standard

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I really didn't want to comment on this, both because I'm no longer what you'd call 'a gamer' and because there's only so many ways I can point out that mainstream culture, especially geek culture, is sexist as all hell. But if you've been following video game news of late, you probably heard about and/or watched the extended trailer for Tomb Raider reboot.  Long story short, it's an origin story of sorts, and the new narrative turns her into a scared young woman who spends pretty much the entire trailer being menaced and assaulted by big scary men who want to do her harm, both physically and sexually.  The latter part is what has people in an uproar, although I'd argue the whole thing is pretty offensive in principle.  Since she's a female hero, of course her origin story must involve non-stop assaults, female friends being murdered, and an attempted rape, because that's how you concoct character development for female characters, right?

Let's be honest, not only would an origin story for a male hero not have them getting their ass kicked left and right, it usually has them dealing with the rape/murder/etc. of their respective female friends and lovers.  Bruce Wayne didn't become Batman because he was brutalized at a key moment in life, but rather because his parents were murdered.  Max Payne became who he is because his wife and child were murdered.  If you go by Casino Royale, it's not the brief torture that James Bond endures that turns him into an ice-cold assassin, but rather the eventual murder of his would-be love interest.  In short, female heroes are defined by the violence done onto them, but male heroes are defined by violence done onto the people (often women and/or children) in their lives.  Male heroes are avengers while female heroes are victims.  That's the double standard at play and that's why it matters on a societal level.

But having said all of that, what's made it worse are the back-handed defensive statements uttered by the game's producers in defense of said attempted rape scenario.  It's the need to explain what is literally a three-second moment in the above trailer that has made the creators sound even stupider. Comments like "She's literally turned into a cornered animal. And that's a huge step in her evolution: she's either forced to fight back or die..." and "They're [game players] more like 'I want to protect her,'" have only made the outcry worse, as Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Ron Rosenber has basically stated that the male audience is apparently unable to deal with a female heroine who is treated like a male hero in a video game environment.  Oh, and he also now is on the record as saying that getting nearly raped is part of a female's evolutionary process.  Apparently when I played Street Fighter II as Chun Li back in the 1990s, it was because I felt the need to protect her from a rape-minded M. Bison, not because she was among the best fighters in the game.

The sad part of this is that most of the outcry about the would-be attempted rape could have been nipped in the bud with a little honesty right upfront.  Why is Lara Croft briefly threatened with rape? Because she gets captured by a bunch of no-good, murderous scoundrels and sometimes no-good murderous scoundrels don't treat women, especially captive women, very well.  A guy puts his hands on her and tries to kiss her, she kicks him, grabs a gun and shoots him, end of story.  The need to explain this sequence in a way that makes it seem 'empowering' or politically correct is arguably more insulting than the actual sequence itself.  The game's producers couldn't simply say "We wanted to put her in a terrible situation and watch her fight her way out of it" or "An attempted rape is a realistic result of the scenario in question, but we didn't want to be exploitative so it's over in a flash."

Or better yet, they could have decided not to create an 'origin' for Lara Croft at all.  She's an archaeologist, she can survive in any environment, she knows how to kick ass and handle firearms, the end.  But not only did they create an origin that is somewhat offensive on its face, but they created a scenario where Croft no longer gets to make a choice in regards to her own destiny.  Rather than choosing to be an explorer, she has physical/sexual peril thrust onto her and is no longer a hero but merely fighting to save her own life.  In short, she's no longer a proactive adventurer.  She's just another scared little girl reacting to the big scary men around her as we male players 'rescue her' from the various dangers.

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