So, Ron Rosenberg, executive producer of the forthcoming Tomb Raider
game, wants to justify the Lifetime Original Movie level of beatdowns, oppression, and outright abuse of the younger, more naive Lara Croft as inspiration to make the player "root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character." He wants Lara's transformation into the sassy, tough broad we all remember from the PlayStation days to spring forth from her being "literally turned into a cornered animal," who's "forced to fight back or die," making her a figure that'll make players think, "I want to protect her." Apparently, the quickest route to push a young woman "from zero to hero" is by "building her up, and just when she gets confident, [breaking] her down again."
Um, excuse me? All this sort of treatment, or at least what we've seen Miss Croft endure in the Tomb Raider
trailers and teasers thus far, smacks of pandering to the White Knight (read: dudes who jump to the defense of women they don't know and/or believe the myth of the Friend Zone) and rape/abuse fetishist demographics, and whatever overlap may lie between them. It's kind of disgusting, and seems pretty dismissive both of how players traditionally bond with their in-game avatars, never mind being vaguely reminiscent of a drawn-out snuff film.
I don't know about anyone else, but when I think of classic, enduring characters in videogames, I tend less to recall them being consistently effed over and kicked around. Rather, characters that demand empathy and remain memorable tend to do so through having clear drives, determination, and motivation, rather than being defined by how much shit has been kicked out of them.
Take the many iterations of Link, from the Legend Of Zelda
series, for example. Do players bond with him because he's typically without a family, or has to leave his childhood home to wander a far less innocent world, or he's lost his uncle, or washed up on a completely foreign shore far from familiar lands, or whatever? No! Link's incarnations tend to be remembered for their ability to get up, and push toward saving Princess Zelda and obtaining/restoring/recovering the Triforce, if only because it feels like he should.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
's Tommy Vercetti has his life pretty much literally shot to pieces, and he manages to rebuild himself into a one-man army and empire despite questionable activities and motives. I can't really name any of his opposers, backstabbers, or other antagonists, because it's the rise that matters, not what he had to go through to get there. It's good to be the king, albeit of the underworld, and even better to become so on the player's merits and efforts.
The events of the Halo
series tend to blur together for me, but uniting Master Chief Petty Officer John-117's quests is an undercurrent of one man, the (supposed) sole remaining member of his kind, refusing to drop against whatever odds, massive or miniscule, in order to save the human race for which he's the last hope. People don't get off on feeling bad for the last SPARTAN-II because he's being constantly shot at, hurled through space, and trying to deal with the echoes of his ancient ancestors and their actions.
Hell, did early arcade-goers back in the day identify with Pac-Man
's eponymous hero due to his frequent, tragic run-ins with technicolor ghosts? No! They found their joy in helping him eat a maze's worth of glowing dots, along with the occasional melon, pretzel, or key.
On a similar, think about your own friends and family. Do you "root for" them only when they're going through troubled times? Do you "want to protect" them from the harmful and terrible things the world can do to them, rather than helping them become or remain functional participants in what is, very often, a harsh and unforgiving world? Perhaps you do, but for me, it's the triumphs, no matter how little, in which I find real revelry and appreciation. So it goes for fictional acquaintances as well; would you rather see a character take command of a situation because they've found and risen to a cause or sense of awareness that gives them the courage and confidence to take care of business, or would you prefer they lash out at their troubles like a "cornered animal," desperately grasping at every option until something finally works?
If you picked option B, well... I dunno if we should hang out. Ever. And maybe, just maybe, you should consider professional help.
Even allowing some leeway for Lara to be a bit squishier (in mind moreso than body) in her pre-raiding days, this version of her in the new Tomb Raider
still abandons the core essence of Miss Croft; where's even the faintest glimmer of a sassy, self-assured, borderline sociopath in young Lara? So far, I've yet to see it. Even allowing for the steady stream of abuse, the impression given by this Lara is that she's coping with everything she's falling into, but she's not particularly rising above any of it. Larvae and pupae tend to show at least some signs of the creature into which they'll eventually metamorphose, but where is that in this game?
No one's asking for the new old young Lara Croft to simply suck it up, grit her teeth and plow forward, but for crying out loud, give her some more credit and, while you're at it, more spine. Keep the impalement early on if you like, but have her stop, bite down on something, and patch it up before moving on. Keep the attempted sexual assault, but rather than having Lara vomit in disgust and grief (or at least, in tandem with it, as I imagine anyone's first glimpse of scattered brainpan may induce some nausea), have her tell off the bastard, and seem like she's taking control of the situation. Apologizing to deer before she hunts them to have something to eat? If you're going to show this girl growing a spine, you might want to hint at it sooner than the game's twenty-minute (or however long) closing cutscene.
And if you really, really
feel the player needs to have someone to protect... HELLO! You already pointed out Lara's friend gets kidnapped, and the player, as Lara, is pretty much the poor girl's only hope. You've already got a damsel in distress, so what's the point in doubling up on them?
It's understandable to want to make this Tomb Raider
's Lara Croft a more human, more sympathetic character than her ultrabusty, ultrabadass prior iterations, but beating the living shit out of her and pretty much ruining her entire day, every day, always and forever seems like a really terrible way to do so. Are players really going to want to root for someone whose entire, tortured existence makes them want to cringe constantly?
Didn't think so. If you really want a game character to protect, Mr. Rosenberg, feel free to pick up a copy of Imagine: Little Sisterz
. In the meantime, please consider giving us a Lara Croft whom, while maybe not quite ready to shoot all the baddies, climb all the things, and raid all the tombs, shows even the slightest signs of being someone who'll one day be a capable, competent (albeit polygonally rendered), and inspiring young woman. You know, as opposed to a digital punching bag that's got a fair amount of deviants working out new and creative ways to game one-handed.
LOOK WHO CAME: