In the UK Guardian, an article about the Tomb Raider video game franchise by Mary Hamilton that states, among other things that sexual assault is lazy writing that too many writers employ far too often.
[ " The inclusion of the attempted rape scene raises some difficult questions. If the scene is playable, what exactly happens should the player fail? If it is not, why show it at all? Lara is already going through a lot – shipwreck, major injury, a friend's kidnapping, the threat of death – and adding sexual assault to the mix might just be over-egging the pudding.
Then there is the fact that rape is not a naturally occurring event like a rockfall, or a transformative one like a radioactive spider bite. In too much media, its use is a lazy shorthand that allows a writer to paint a bad guy as particularly bad, and a woman as particularly vulnerable (the genders are rarely reversed), without dealing with the consequences or meaning of such an act for any of the parties involved. That doesn't mean no storyteller or video game should ever tackle rape – of course they should, where a story demands it – but if the only reason to include sexual violence is to emphasise a woman's vulnerability or a man's evilness, then it's fair to question why a threat of murder is not enough.
The bigger question, in the case of Tomb Raider, is why the game's designers decided to make Lara Croft so vulnerable. In a recent interview with Kotaku, executive producer Ron Rosenberg said players want to protect Lara, and that the new game would break her down, put her through awful experiences, and make the players "root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character".
His statements take some unpacking, and for fans of the Tomb Raider series they're not encouraging. As a player, I don't remember having many problems projecting myself as Lara – and I don't particularly want an avatar in a game that needs protecting. Players aren't expected to want to protect Nathan Drake in Uncharted, or John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, or Max Payne – so why Lara? Rosenberg seems to suggest it's because she's female – and it's hard to see that as anything other than a sexist approach, an assumption that men can't lose themselves in stories with female protagonists and/or that female gamers simply don't exist.
He also says she's forced to suffer such horrors that she "literally turns into a cornered animal". I hope it turns out that Lara's been a werewolf all this time – but I suspect he means that her character and spirit come under such attack that she's reduced to fight-or-flight responses. The Lara Croft of previous games has generally been intelligent, witty, resourceful and ingenious, as well as athletic, strong and skilful. Lara has always been a pragmatic survivalist with a keen sense of adventure; to decide that she needs to be tortured in order to be able to kill goes against what we know of her history and personality so far.
The idea that Lara – like Samus from Metroid – should have an origin story in which she is weak in order to explain her strength is difficult to swallow. Male characters are generally permitted to be strong without needing a back story in which they are broken – why should female characters be different? Why do we need to protect Lara through an awful ordeal for her strength to make sense? Judging by the comments on Kotaku and elsewhere, I'm not the only one who shares these concerns. " ]
There is more, plus several pages of comments, as you would expect. Many of the comments come down to, rape-rapey rape big frackin' deal it's an action game what's your problem men get raped too lighten up get out in the real world find a job blahblahblah -- also as you would expect.
The link included at the top of this pull, " too much media" takes you to the site, Gaming As Woman: a collection of thoughts on womanhood and (mostly) analog gaming, to the entry titled, "Geek Media – What’s With All the Rape?" which is well worth reading.
It is a relief to see, finally, a pushback against the enormous amounts of rape, violence, humiliation and degradation meted out to women in entertainment media in general, and geek-nerd entertainment media in particular (because I foolishly had always assumed that sf/f sorts were smarter than that). I personally have been long deeply disturbed and deeply concerned by this, and finally gave up saying anything because I always got slammed by males, females and even feminists for objecting to the ever-increasing violence of our popular culture and how women in particular are victims of it. I was a spoilsport because it's so much fun!
It comes through to me as sensation as substitution for something happening, i.e. story telling. I have also long believed that constant and continuing scenes of violence blasted into our brains has an effect on how we think and how we behave, and is detrimental to our society on every level, just as big monoagribusiness degrades the planet and finally makes it incapable of producing food at all.
This may explain the depths of delight I've taken in the television series of The Good Wife*, White Collar and Sherlock. Women -- no one, in fact -- is casually raped to make a motivation, no one is casually beheaded to throw out waves of blood with which to swag the screen. We depend instead on good, smart writing to make actual stories.
* If it is gorgeous kickass women that knock off your sox, I give you Kalinda Sharma, though it's her kickass brain and her poise that turns me on; I was a little disappointed in this season's finale, because it seems the showrunners even for The Good Wife couldn't resist making Kalinda all vulnerable and endangered.