Lara Croft: rape survivor?
Many of us grew up with gaming icon Lara Croft as a symbol of female power and strength: a lone fighter in a man's world - the digital representation of Girl Power. But it seems that this cartoonish image is a bit too one-dimensional for today's more immersive approach, and games designers want to create a more 'human' backstory for the gun-wielding heroine to help players really get into her mindset: a story that involves an attempted rape.
It's not entirely surprising that we're getting an insight now into Lara's imagined past. "Origin Stories" are now an important part of many games, and the majority do revolve around some kind of trauma. Of course, most protagonists in computer games are male, so we tend to see them hurt and spurred on for vengeance in other ways: the death of a loved-one or surviving a disaster are two recurrent themes.
This is possibly the first time a sexual assault has featured in an origin story, but sexual violence against female video game characters is nothing new: the prostitute murders in Grand Theft Auto are just one example. However, this news has already caused a lot more anger among Lara Croft fans than any earlier material. Critics are dismissing the scene as a lazy and in poor taste: it seems that if we have a female character then obviously, the way to do this is for us to see her get raped (or in this case not: she fights off the mercenary character who tries to assualt her in the controversial scene before blowing his head off...)
What seems to have upset fans of both sexes the most, however, is the suggestion that we have to see Lara Croft as being vulnerable. The attempted rape is a heavy-handed way to change the way we look at our heroine, and this is not something we do to male characters to the same extent. Do we need a story like this to make Lara into a credible woman? Frankly, there are tweaks we could make to her body shape to do that with more believable results!
There is also, of course, the lack of respect for female players who may have been in assaulted or raped in the past: yes, computer games are and always have contained violence, but how many male players have fought off a zombie with a chainsaw or killed a six-headed monster with a flame-thrower in their normal non-gaming lives? Rape, however, is something real that happens to real women every day, and does not make easy gaming material.