The Woman, The Victim, The Hero — Video Games
I have always had an affinity for tough female characters and heroines. For my own part, I think they reflect the woman that I am and the woman that I would like to be, a combination of real life character traits and larger than life fantasy grandeur. When I was a little girl I played with Barbies. But my Barbies rarely ever went to dances or out on dates or got married and had babies. My Barbies went on adventures! I used to bury "treasure" out in the backyard and create tiny Barbie sized treasure maps. She would pack up her pink jeep with her tent and sleeping bag, and accompanied by her dog and armed with her treasure map she set off through the woods and across raging rivers and over mountainous terrain to find a long lost ruby! She would swing from trees on ropes and swim through lakes. She would get dirty and sometimes wounded but she would always be victorious!
My childhood home was set in the woods so my taste for adventure and mystery and the unknown was innate. I was a pretty fearless child and I spent a lot of my time with my male cousins, traipsing through the woods and cornfields and lakes, testing my abilities and fears. I was a naturally stubborn, strong-willed, imaginative and creative child, and I would often go toe to toe with my big, scary father because he challenged my freedom with unimaginable things like rules and curfews and chores.
But with his structure and strength, my mother's femininity and kindness, and my own inner wildness, I somehow managed to turn into a proud, confident, strong woman.
So I guess it's no surprise that I am drawn to fictionalized women who are have great strength of character. Women who value honesty and morality, women who are strong and commanding yet maintain their femininity, women who are levelheaded, intelligent, who have a sense of humor, willpower, and perseverance. I strive for these qualities in myself, and I value these qualities in my female friends. And when it comes to entertainment, these are the kinds of women I look up to.
In comic books my favorite heroines are Wonder Woman (of course), and Birds of Prey (Huntress, Black Canary, Batgirl). In books I follow the Kay Scarpetta series written by Patricia Cornwell. And of course there's Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy. In television I'm a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Captain Janeway of Star Trek. In movies there's ass-kicking Alice in the Resident Evil series, and the powerful Selene in the Underworld series. And in video games, there's the one and only... Lara Croft.
Lara and I go way back. Before Buffy or Wonder Woman or Janeway or any of the others, there was Lara Croft. I started playing Tomb Raider nearly 13 years ago when I received a Playstation as a birthday gift from one of my NYC friends. I had never heard of Tomb Raider before and by the time I started playing it there were already four games in the series. As soon as I stepped into those brown leather hiking boots and strapped on my guns, I was hooked. I was vicariously living the most amazing adventures I'd always wanted to go on, displaying the athletic abilities I'd always wanted to have. Lara and I scaled the sides of mountains, hung from the edges of cliffs, fought various beasts with our fists and our guns and our wits. We solved puzzles together, explored ancient ruins and went on the hunt for treasure! We fought bad guys and swam in shark infested waters, battled sea creatures and cave monsters and nursed our wounds and sometimes (often times) we died. We had a love/hate relationship, we gave each other life and yet we also gave each other death. We've been on eight adventures together and so our bond is strong.
Lara Croft is beautiful, intelligent and athletic. She is a London-born aristocrat who comes from immense wealth. After an adventurous experience in the Himalayas wherein she was stranded due to a plane crash, Lara decided to continue to seek out adventure around the world. She is a self-proclaimed mercenary, big-game hunter, and master thief. And due to her mother's mysterious disappearance after tampering with a ancient sword, Lara's interest in ancient artifacts is almost an obsession.
This has been Lara Croft's origin story for 16 years. And now, all of that is about to change.
Yesterday I came across an article with the title: Tomb Raider throws rape, assault, and a hostile environment at Lara Croft to make her a hero. Apparently in the upcoming prequel/reboot of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is a vulnerable young girl who is kidnapped, taken hostage, bound, beat, almost raped, and then barely escapes with her life. She's then stranded in the wilderness, cold, and foraging for food.
Here are some quotes from Ron Rosenberg, the game’s producer, on this absolutely awful idea of theirs:
"The idea is to take a human character, this very vulnerable young girl, and put her through immense suffering, to break her down in order for her to come out the other end of the experience as a hero."
"To actually see what she goes through, to become hardened, to become this tomb raider than we know and love. A big part of that journey is seeing some of the hits she’s taken along the way and why she had to get that inner strength and the inner core to become the woman that we all know."
But why? Why do we even want to take this strong female character who is tough and smart and hard because that's the kind of person she is naturally, and rewrite her so that all of those strong characteristics were born from being a victim? Is it because it shows perseverance in the face of adversity? Do we really need to beat her and threaten to rape her in order to achieve that? Is this compelling storytelling? Or is it just catering to today's audience?
Not many things outrage me. I'm a pretty open-minded person with a high tolerance for bullshit. I like to believe that I see through the thin veil of manipulation that society and the media try to trick me with, and while calmly acknowledging it I coolly ignore it. Whether I am shaped by society or whether I am shaping society by the choices that I make, I cannot say for sure. But I understand that sex, violence, exploitation and revenge are a part of our culture. I'm not unfamiliar to its dark carnal calling. I hear it whispering to me and those whispers come from within. It's a part of who I am and I explore those fancies through horror movies and my own creative writing. But these things do not belong everywhere. They are dangerous beasts that require caging lest all hell break loose. And they certainly have no place in my Tomb Raider.
Historically, we like to put our superheros through trials and hardships so that we may watch them persevere. No matter what life throws at Wonder Woman or Huntress, they emerge victorious with a lesson learned, a story to tell. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy was always facing an apocalypse with impossible odds of survival. She often got her ass handed to her in fights and died more times than I can count. All of these women face fear and violence and brutality. They rely on their strength and their spirit to pull them through. They are tough and you cannot bully them. They are better than us and we want to be like them. So I'm not saying that violence and challenges mustn't apply themselves to Lara Croft. But one of the things that make these women great are that these strong qualities of personality that make them so outstanding are a part of who they are, who they have always been. Sure, they've had training and mentors, they've faced difficulties in youth that made them perhaps tougher or more determined, but they weren't brutalized victims who resorted to strength and willpower because they were forced to. And how will this new "reboot" affect Lara Croft's personality? Will she maintain her sharp sense of humor? Will she still be sexually confident and playful? Or will she be bitter? Hate men? Be cold?
I honestly cannot believe that this is the new direction for Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. It makes me sick and ashamed that I, and my horror-loving ways, are a part of the audience that this type of story is catering to. It's like watching a friend or family member be reborn into hell and knowing that you'll have to eventually tell them, I put you there.