When I first saw footage of the new Tomb Raider game last year at E3 2011, I thought it looked pretty damn cool. Sure, we had no gameplay and only a cinematic, but it was gorgeous. I really dug the new, grittier, less cartoonishly-buxom design of Lara Craft. The teaser video involved Lara suddenly finding herself on a flooding, sinking ship. She nearly drowned before being rescued, then as she later leaps across a gap caused by the boat splitting, she ends up falling into the water. After a fade to black, we see Lara on a rocky shore surrounded by the shipwreck, having to mend a broken bone or some other wound with a strip of cloth. She stands, as bruised and muddy as I would expect any shipwreck survivor to be, and the video ends with the tagline, "A survivor is born."
Earlier this week, we got to see more of the game. There's a little bit of story revealed in new cutscenes along with actual gameplay. In the E3 2012 presentation, Lara sneaks, hunts game and bad dudes with a bow and arrow (WEAPON OF THE SHOW), jumps, ziplines, and dishes out some fierce melee takedowns. She also, as action game heroes often do, gets shot at and knocked around quite a bit. She falls down a waterfall, steps into a bear trap, and crashes into trees while trying to parachute to safety (while seemingly breaking her ribs in the process). In the new Tomb Raider game it seems Lara is stranded on an island surrounded by armed thugs, and she has to find a way to just to survive while surely solving some sort of mystery and evil plot. I get sort of a Snake Eater vibe from it - we see Lara shoot a deer, perhaps to get food? And there's also speculation that injuries sustained will affect gameplay. Maybe you'll need to treat them as well like in MGS3. This is of course mixed in with Uncharted-inspired cinematic action and quick time events.
My impression last year and this year was, overall, that the game looks fantastic and I can't wait to play it. I sympathize with those who are bigger fans of the franchise than I (I never got into it back in the day) who are bothered by the new direction this game is taking. There haven't been any tombs or puzzles, and many are also worried about this being a repeat of Other M in its execution of the origin story. Valid criticisms all around, but that's not why I'm writing tonight.
People seem very bothered by the fact that the main character in this gritty action game is getting hurt, and they're bothered by it because Lara's a woman. There have been countless quips about how the devs must "enjoy" seeing Lara suffer, or that the game is rather sick in how it's all about a woman being beaten while moaning. I get the sense that people are some combination of concerned and offended by what they must perceive as a vile promotion of wife-beating and sexual perversion. My guess is that many people are so eager to jump to the rescue and play the white knight that they fail to consider the context and don't realize just how sexist they themselves are being.
There's a commendable movement in gaming culture to bring about gender equality, and I'm all for it. We need female gamers being treated equally rather than as jokes or attention whores. Personally, I wish we could do away with labels like "girl gamer" as an identity as all it does is encourage the distinction rather than homogeneity. Additionally, we need more strong female game characters with roles other than damsel in distress, helpless ditz, or sex appeal. More Samus Arans and fewer Princess Peaches, I say!
But these strides towards equal representation of male and females in video games fall flat the second you act like women protagonists shouldn't get hurt. All this does, in my opinion, is reinforce the notion that women are inherently just frail, weak, or even incompetent, that they are less able to defend themselves, overcome obstacles on their own, or save the day on their own. Instead of feeling sorry for Lara Croft, we should be cheering for her. Remember the tagline? She's a survivor. She's tough. Are some of the hits really gruesome? Sure. We're meant to reel and wince. It's meant to look painful as fuck, especially in a game aiming to look realistic, because bear traps and broken ribs are painful. And Lara gets up each time, shakes it off, and presumably continues to kick some more ass (and hopefully find some treasure and solve some puzzles!). So she's automatically far more tougher than you or I. Please, hear me out: you aren't as progressive as you think you are if your gut reaction to the new Tomb Raider footage is "poor Lara! what are they thinking!"
As for the sounds Lara makes - screams, grunts, moans.. these are sounds any human being will make when shot, stabbed, or tossed over a waterfall onto a glass window. I don't know what kind of porn some of you are watching, but I don't get off on girls in pain (call me old fashioned) so "sounds like rape!" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when I hear a girl picking bullets out of her shoulder. I know a lot of these comments are meant to be jokes, but again they're jokes hinging on the notion that when a girl makes painful, guttural noises that she must be having sex. Can we all try to move forward a bit?
While I'm here, there's another semirelated mini-rant I want to get off my chest by jumping back to October of last year to another game that all of this Tomb Raider nonsense reminded me of - Batman: Arkham City. When Arkham City came out, there was some hubbub over the fact that the bad guys in the game call Catwoman a bitch. Let me repeat that - people were offended by bad guys calling someone a bad name. Of course it's offensive. They're criminals. Murderers. They aren't going to call their woman enemy "ma'am". They're going to be obscene, because it's meant to be mean. I don't condone the language Two Face and his thugs use towards women, but I expected it. And I saw no reason to complain about it unless you wanted to invent controversy.
I'm glad so many people are proactive about trying to stop mistreatment and misrepresentation of women in video games. But many of you need to reign it in some. Put some serious thought into the arguments you're making and the situations that are upsetting you. Don't sacrifice equality in the pursuit of it.
You may now carry on debating the amount of QTEs and Uncharted influences and I'll resume being excited about bows and arrows.