Thursday, 14 June 2012

Feminism, Objectification, Tomb Raider: E3, The Verdict

Yesterday, I posted a picture of Lara Croft as a Disney Princess using Disney Princess Creation tool. I tried to make a Disney Princess version of myself, but when I realised the tool didn't have glasses (because there's no such thing as a myopic princess, apparently), I moved on to Lara, at which point I discovered the tool didn't even have the kind of clothes that would facilitate going outside, let alone go adventuring.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess, apparently.

Little did I know how relevant it would turn out to be once I finally got round to catching up on all the Tomb Raider coverage from E3. Not since Lara Croft first emerged in her short shorts has the series attracted so much feminist ire (here, here, here, etc). So even though the Well-Rendered High Horse died long ago from malnutrition and neglect, I'm going to exhume its corpse and flog it a little as I try and determine why this is, and whether it's a bad thing for the series.

Now would be a good point to mention what finally prompted me to sit down and watch the E3 coverage properly. This morning, someone said to me that he found it interesting that despite countless references to the ways in which Lara Croft appeals to woman, she has always been designed to appeal to men, and that even though she's now far less cartoonish than she was in the 90s, that's because men are now looking for a deeper and more interesting character.

Lara Croft from the first Tomb Raider (2013) trailer.

Now, I can't remember the precise wording of the statement, but that doesn't matter because a) I'm not attributing it to anyone and b) I'm simply using it as a way into my discussion of the new Tomb Raider footage.

You see, the statement annoyed me, greatly. And whenever I get annoyed, I always try to ask myself why, because failing to examine the reasons things upset you eventually leads to fundamentalism or, worse, humourlessness.

So let's unpick my reaction to that statement. Gosh, aren't you glad you decided to read Well-Rendered instead of going outside!

Why does being told that Lara Croft is designed for men irritate me? What's wrong with that? As a percentage, most players of single-player AAA action games are male, and although the Tomb Raider series has an unusually large percentage of female gamers for this kind of series, most of the people likely to buy are still men, so it makes commercial sense to market the game at them. Marketing is largely about identifying your demographics and acting accordingly.

Classic Lara.
So I suppose I don't find the statement irritating in itself. It's just that because it was about Tomb Raider, something I feel strongly about, I took it to its illogical conclusion and heard the implication that Tomb Raider is a male fantasy, and that as a woman who plays the games, I'm buying into it.

But even if that was what was said, why would that be offensive? Why shouldn't a male fantasy also appeal to women? Are all male fantasies automatically derogatory to women? I'm pretty sure that the powerful, unpredictable, independence that 19-year old Toby Gard found so appealing in his most famous creation is just what drew so many women (like myself) not just towards Tomb Raider, but towards gaming as a whole, and I can't see what's wrong with that

Even if you are of the opinion that the main reason Tomb Raider is appealing is because it stars a posh explorer with big tits, is there a reason why women shouldn't want a part of that? Should a woman feel guilty - anti-feminist, retrogressive - about enjoying becoming such a character?

The Lara I wanted to be.

And is there any reason for said woman to feel enraged if someone says they do?

Not really. Tomb Raider fans should get enraged if someone suggests that its a bad series that's only successful because of Lara's rack, just as a Deadly Premonition fan should fight to defend that game against anyone who says it's just a budget knock-off of Alan Wake, but they shouldn't get upset when someone dares suggest that their tastes overlap with those of a teenage boy.

It only becomes a problem when the character is being wholly objectified. I say wholly because I don't think anyone, real or fictional, who makes it into the public eye isn't objectified to some degree, whether it's a genuinely talented singer being styled to within an inch of her life, or a middle-aged author being made to look handsomely world-weary in his inner-book jacket photo (remind me again why we need those?). There's a world of difference between wanting to be Lara Croft because she looks sexy while she's being independent, and wanting to be Britney Spears (circa 2000) because everyone wants a piece of her helpless yet inviting body.

The "Virtually Yours" poster from around the time of Tomb Raider II , which I've always heartily disliked.

Which is what brings me to the second half of the statement - does this "deeper and more interesting character" that's now meant to appeal to men involve being objectified in the worst way?

If you're a Tomb Raider fan who's been on another planet for the last week, or a Well-Rendered fan who's trudged through yet another Tomb Raider rant because it's raining outside, here's a quick summary. In their "Crossroads" trailer for the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, Crystal Dynamics feature a scene that shows Lara defending herself from what looks like potential sexual assault by killing her assailant.


For those of you only interested in the controversial bit, it starts at 2:21.

As if this alone wasn't incendiary enough, Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg said in an interview with Kotaku that Lara's enemies "try to rape her", a statement later contradicted by a much more official statement by Crystal Dynamics Studio Head Darrell Gallagher.

Look, it's so official it's got its own graphic.


Now, I understand why Crystal felt the need to produce this second statement, just as I understand their decision to include the offending scene in the trailer in the first place. Sexual assault is an extremely difficult topic to address, and a reboot of a major action video game franchise is perhaps not the place to do it. It seems like damage control following a hastily-made statement from someone who was tired from days of interviews.

If you read the statement carefully, you'll see that they never quite deny that the assailant was planning to rape Lara, of which I'm glad, because it's hard to imagine what else he was planning from the video, and the studio shouldn't have to backtrack if they've written a story with narrative integrity. I also don't think there's anything inherently wrong with writing a story which involves sexual assault as a major plot point or catalyst, and it's only because game development is such a lengthy process that potential customers need to be updated every six months that we're even discussing it. Let's not forget that no-one's actually played the game yet, so blasting the developers for an insensitive portrayal of sexual assault is premature.

Though it sounds unbelievably insensitive (or just downright offensive) when taken out of context, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with Rosenberg saying that the episode turns Lara "...into a cornered animal. And that's a huge step in her evolution: she's either forced to fight back or die and that's what we're showing today".

(That said, "evolution" is probably not the best word he could have used in this context, but since it was uttered in a spoken interview, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant "character arc".)



Anyway, why don't I find the premise offensive? I would if Lara was being punished for the way she dressed or acted. From all anyone's seen of the game, it seems Lara is threatened, and rather than submit, she defends herself with violence. It's not the place of video games, or entertainment in general, to moralise, represent the way human beings should behave, or tell stories of healthy redemption. It's not comfortable, but it seems unfair that a video game depicting self-defence is roundly criticised where films that feature women perpetrating violence as an act of revenge following sexual assault (Thelma & Louise, Kill Bill) are given the benefit of the doubt.

It seems unfair, that is, until you read Rosenberg's suggestion that "when people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character, [...] they're more like 'I want to protect her'".

Oh dear. Suggesting that people would rather protect (infantilise, disempower) your female character than embody her is at best the act of a man sorely in need of PR lessons, at worst an example of appalling mysogyny.

Or is it? I heartily disagree with the idea that people don't want to become Lara, certainly. My feminist hackles rise at the very suggestion that motivation in a video game that stars a female protagonist comes from the desire to protect the wilting flower. But then I question myself and realise that when I played the wonderful Limbo, every death made me guilty for not protecting the small child I was controlling, and I desperately wanted to save him from the hostile world.


So although Rosenburg's suggestion is crassly reductive and politically incorrect, I'm not sure it doesn't have a grain of truth to it. Young Lara's vulnerability is striking not just in contrast to the way the character looked in 1996, but also in the context of game characters as a whole, at least outside the survival horror genre. Many people, myself included, would want a young girl like that to escape her terrible situation, and whether that's because we're looking at the situation for a first-person or a third-person perspective, it's still a solid premise for a story.

Specifically, for a Tomb Raider story.

Yes, we've finally got to the point of the article! Congratulations if you made it this far!

When the first gameplay details and videos surfaced, I thought Tomb Raider sounded pretty, well, lame. Heavy on plot, scripted action sequences and NPCs, I thought the game looked like it was trying to appeal to current trends rather than just be Tomb Raider. Gaming does not need another cinematic action yarn, I thought. Tomb Raider is going to be compared to Uncharted anyway, so why make it easier for people to write it off by trying to do the things Uncharted does better than any other game, ever?

The fact that there will reportedly be fewer puzzles in this game (link forthcoming! I always try to cite my sources, but I've lost this one) also concerned me. To me, the game's always been about puzzles and exploring, and turning away from one of those for the sake of action and story just seemed like the series was shooting itself in the foot. Who does large physical puzzles better than Tomb Raider?


I think the best Lara Croft game of the last ten years has been Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, an ingenious isometric puzzle-platformer with incredibly tactile and satisfying puzzles for both one and two players. If Crystal Dynamics are that good at gameplay and level design, I thought, why not use those skills to make a AAA Tomb Raider game?

Then I realised, they have. It was called Tomb Raider: Underworld and it was underwhelming. Besides, if they can get all their brilliant platforming ideas into a little downloadable title, wouldn't they have to spread them a bit thin to get a full-length release?


With that in mind, what's left for Tomb Raider? If Crystal have got puzzle-platforming down to a fine art in arcade form, and Nathan Drake's got big-budget adventuring all wrapped up, what's an archaeologist-adventurer to do?

The answer is either retire gracefully, or take a risk. And even though I'm still a bit skeptical about how it will turn out, I really can't begrudge my favourite explorer and her current custodians for doing the latter. It might not work out, it might be a feminist nightmare of disempowerment, it might be an underwhelming, poorly-executed "cinematic" action game that's about as thrilling as all the other superhero "origin" stories Hollywood insists on churning out. That's "not at all", in case you were wondering.

Or it might be great. It just might. It might not be the game we grew up with, but it may forge its own identity and become a powerful, compelling story in its own right, maybe even with some decent gameplay.

For all I write about Tomb Raider, I don't think it should be reserved a permanent place at the high table of gaming just because it's got a great legacy. If it really has passed its sell-by date, lay it to rest, let something else take its place, give new designers a voice, but let's give it one last chance to prove itself.

I hope it can.

22 comments:

  1. I'm trying to give the new game the benefit of the doubt. It hasn't been released yet so it's impossible to judge the whole game based on some gameplay videos and interviews. The trailer and that scene in particular have left me feeling a bit disappointed and somewhat uncomfortable. I'll be honest: I'm not a huge fan of games with a gritty storyline and am not particularly fond of violence or gore. The previous Tomb Raider games (with the possible exceptions of Angel of Darkness and Underworld) were fun to play and I've been fond of Lara as a character ever since I played the first TR game back in 1996 so it pains me to see her in such a sorry state in this new game.

    Lara's self confidence, spirit and fearless attitude were the very things I lacked as a teenager so she became something of a role model. While I can understand that the developers want to turn back the clock and show us how she came to be that kick-ass adventurer, I'd rather remember her as she was. The game looks great in its own right...but it just doesn't feel like a Tomb Raider game. The Lara I admired is gone and her world seems so much darker and violent. Perhaps it's too early for me to jump to conclusions so I will no doubt buy a copy of the game once it's out. Let's see if I've changed my mind in a year's time...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Kelly,

    Despite thinking Crystal seem to have made a good decision, I agree with you.

    It's a thoroughly different game to the game I fell in love with all those years ago, with its vast puzzles and strong heroine (who, as a lumpy and awkward teenager, I found inspiring).

    When you said it made you feel "uncomfortable", it made me realise that it hadn't actually registered emotionally with me; perhaps because it's so far removed from what I think of as "Tomb Raider", perhaps because I became consumed with analysis.

    But now that you mention it, it does make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but then I guess it should. This is not a good situation for a young woman to be in. It's doubly unsettling when you think that survival horror aside, this is pretty uncharted (oops, wrong word) territory for any game, let alone a Tomb Raider game.

    I've said that I was hoping for puzzles from a new game in the series, but if I'm not going to get that (and why aren't I satisfied with Guardian of Light, that game was awesome), I feel, well, at least Lara's not going quietly into that good light, and she's not growing old gracefully. She's doing something new, and though I might not be totally comfortable with it, I have to trut that it's the right thing for her.

    Because if you love someone, let them go, you know?

    Mary

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well said. I guess I'm just too attached to the character and the old games. I have a feeling that I will enjoy this game more if I try not to compare it too much to the previous games and just see this as a completely new series..

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am glad I read the article, because it's frankly a bit too hot to go outside. Now it's time to vomit up my ill-considered opinion. ;-)

    First, the necessary background: I'm not a huge Tomb Raider fan, more out of ignorance and not having played the series much except for TR 1, 2 and Underworld. I know enough to have the impression that it's basically an ancestor of Uncharted with more puzzles, less gunplay and a preternatural set of boobs.

    My impression of the E3 trailer is one of extreme discomfort. I've thought about this and I believe that it's chiefly because I can and do put myself in to the character, be it male or female. The notion of playing a "fragile" and somewhat terrorized Lara Croft puts me in an uneasy place. Watching that trailer, all I can remember is her screaming in a high voice and acting shocked in very non-herione-type ways. It had a pretty creepy vibe to it.

    There's a good discussion to be had here about pushing boundaries and the like. But to be blunt, the notion of crawling into this particular Lara's skin is too much "Memoirs of a Geisha" and not enough "Tomb Raider" for my taste. Whether that's because I'm a guy or because it's just awkward or because I have repressed memories from a former life, I can't say. ;-)

    But a "Memoirs of a Geisha" game would be interesting. Activision could sell paper fan accessories (a la Guitar Hero) for the fan dancing sequences. SUMO POWER ACTIVATED!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kelly, yes. I recently re-played Tomb Raider II, and realised how different it was from Legend, even, let alone this new game. Gameplay that combines 3D action with classic point-and-click adventure game puzzling, dark humour and strange fantasy landscapes, a far cry from a character-driven plot and physics-based puzzles.

    I know what I'd really *like* is just another "classic" Tomb Raider with massive levels and difficult puzzles, but that probably wouldn't sell and it probably wouldn't be as good as Tomb Raider II anyway, so what's the point? As I say, there are so many great puzzle/adventure games out there which deserve to be played, so it's not like my fix must come from Lara. I too will be playing this game with an open mind when it comes out.

    Brad, that idea is so good I would be careful about expressing it on the internet. I remember when Guitar Hero came out I thought "haha who is going to buy massive peripherals for just one game" and then everyone started doing it.

    Seriously though, it is interesting how people tend not to get too upset about "torture porn" films (Hostel etc), and feel safe to ignore them if they're not their cup of tea. But when there's interactivity, it makes everyone slightly uncomfortable, because as soon as you control a character (on either side of the nasty fence), then there's a sense of responsibility.

    I'm not a great fan of the series, but I thought the horrific airport sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was so... powerful? Not profound, not artistic, just possibly the most disturbing moment in any video game ever. I'm very glad they included it because for just about the first time in a game I actually felt revolted at what I was doing with a gun. I had a pretty unpleasant emotional response that actually made me consider why I like killing things in video games. It's affected me in the long term and has genuinely increased my involvement with games like Deus Ex, where I am given the choice.

    Though it's obviously a response that I turn off when embodying Nathan Drake, as whom I have probably killed about 20,000 people by now.

    You're on the other end of the inhumanity in the new Tomb Raider, but I don't mind being made to feel uncomfortable; at least I'm feeling something.

    Well, provided it's a good story. I really dislike the "torture porn" genre, I would rather eat my own eyes than watch The Human Centipede and I cannot understand why anyone would want to play Rapelay. Plenty of great bits of fiction use unpleasant emotions to tell their story, but plenty more just make you feel icky, I hope Tomb Raider is the former.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've been thinking about this ever since I heard about the trailer the other week, and I can't decide what I think of it.

    On one hand, a game, as an entertainment/artistic medium, should theoretically be able to address things like sexual violence, or at least admit they exist. Theoretically.

    On the other hand, those “you'll want to protect her” comments aren't really doing the game any favours (also, damn you for making me go to Kotaku), and it's understandable that people are annoyed. Then there's their promise to “break her down again” once she “gets confident”. I realise that Rosenburg was supposedly tired after a lot of interviews (can't remember the source; might have been one of the links in this article), and I'm sure (or at least I hope) his choice of words don't reflect any deliberate malice or misogyny on the part of the developers, but I can certainly see how it could have made fans of the series angry.

    “When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character”. This statement is nothing but balls. Like the other Brad, I do put myself in Lara's shoes (not literally as I'm sure they wouldn't fit), or at least I did with the classic games. In fact, that might be why I'm not all too angry myself – the only real Lara, to me, is Core's Lara.

    I probably won't be buying the game because it won't be the Tomb Raider I know and love (I'm not saying it'll be a bad game). I'm an unapologetic TR hipster, and I haven't bought anything more recent than Angel of Darkness, but I won't go into that. I'm glad that classic Lara lives on in the level editing community (well worth a look if you want some classic TR action but you've exhausted the official games).

    All in all, I'm on the fence.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I read this after I wrote my own blog entry about the new Tomb Raider. I really enjoyed this. It's a different take than mine, but I was feeling the protecting angle. I like the way you used Limbo as a protecting reference. Poor little kid.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi "other Brad",

    Sorry I made you go to Kotaku. I didn't mention the bit where Rosenberg goes into "breaking her down" when she gets "confident". Again, I can see what he was getting at from a game/narrative perspective, but he chose the absolute worst, most terrible words to do it.

    I tried to think of other games that use this as a narrative device, and I came up with Uncharted 3, which breaks down the confident character thus: drugging him, insulting him, revealing his darkest secrets, holding his loved ones hostage, having him kidnapped by pirates, beaten by them whilst tied up, having the pirate ship sink (because he blew it up, but let's not go into that), having him washed ashore and then get three hours' sleep before he's involved in a plane crash (that he kind of caused, but again, never mind) that leaves him wandering the desert, dying of thirst.

    He's tortured and starved, and it results in character development that makes for an emotionally satisfied ending. The difference, I think, is not that he's a man, but that he's an overconfident man who's scared of commitment and puts himself in stupid situations. He doesn't deserve to be tortured, but he certainly did less to avoid it than Lara and her shipwreck.

    (point of slightly unrelated debate - is the above paragraph different from saying that it's less troubling if a woman in provocative clothing who goes out to a bar alone and drinks a lot is a victim of sexual assault than one who walked back from the library at 10pm wearing jeans and a jumper? Of course, neither deserve it, and neither were "asking for it".)

    I do think that Lara's being a woman makes Crystal's portrayal of a darker version of this process more tricky, and they probably shouldn't have got Rosenberg to talk about it, and yes, the idea that people don't project themselves onto Lara is, as you say, "nothing but balls". And their decision has likely turned off many TR "hipsters" such as yourself. I understand, and the reason I'll be playing it is because I like both kinds of games, the old-school puzzle-adventuring, and slightly more action-orientated cinematic story-driven games. If I wasn't so keen on the latter, I'd probably give it a miss too.

    By the way, I loved Angel of Darkness, don't know if that makes me a less reliable source of Tomb Raider comment. Perhaps.

    Dustin, I went searching for your blog, and to save other readers from doing the same, here is a link to the post you mention: Tomb Raider

    I liked you post, I think it's much harder for a man to write something like that than it is for a woman, for example, Escapist editor Susan Arendt, who wrote something similar that I also really like). I agree with pretty much everything you said, though I'd say that even if the Crystal Dynamics damage-control statement was stretching it a little when they say the scene wasn't "an attempted rape", that wouldn't make your points any less valid. Why is everyone focussing on her being beaten down, when the whole point is the fact that she gets back up and grows stronger?

    Possibly because she is a woman. Also because Rosenberg needs PR lessons.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for this, Mary :) I don't really have much to add, other than that I also don't understand the protection-not-projection comment. Even when I was playing Limbo (great game, btw!) I was playing *as* the boy going to save his sister, rather than some benevolent force trying to protect him.

    As for the splitting of puzzles out into a separate game, I think that's a pretty smart move. As you suggested, it's allowed them to appeal to a wider audience with a big blockbuster game, and the TR fans who enjoyed the puzzles have a whole game devoted to that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for the kind words.

    I think Escapist editor Susan Arendt nailed it when she said {...I would rather not focus on what's knocking Lara down, and instead applaud the way she keeps getting back up.}

    I was wondering if this game would be open to such controversy if this wasn't a Tomb Raider game? If this was a brand new IP with a heroine with the name other than Lara Croft? It is a reboot after all, a reset if you will. I'm sure come from big names like Square-Enix and Crystal D I'm sure it would make a splash, but would it stir the controversial pot? Even if it did make waves I think it would be on a much smaller scale.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think a huge part of why there's such a strong reaction is solely due to it being Lara Croft, and moreover, Crystal Dynamics attitude here. They're basically spending a huge amount of PR time and energy showing the parts where they push her down, and not so much time showing her getting back up. It almost smells designed to create controversy, but I may be ascribing logic to what is merely gross stupidity.

    If this were an unknown character, IMHO there would hardly be such strong feelings (male or female). I would still personally be uncomfortable playing the character, but I wouldn't have this nagging "they're doing this for $$" thing in the back of my mind. I think this also goes towards what Mary was saying about those unpleasant shock/horror movies like Hostel and Human Centipede. Those characters are designed to be disposable and have no fan base with a history of 15 years. That doesn't make those types of movies right or more palatable, but it does negate a lot of the emotional investment you might otherwise have with the characters.

    In a semi-related vein, I haven't played MW2 (nothing about the words "modern warfare" appeal to me), but I have heard that the "airport" scene is powerful from several people now. These sorts of engaging scenarios really draw me in, and I'd like to read an article that explores more of these in other games. I can think of one other example that hasn't been mentioned yet - the "Cristina" sequences in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. (Excuse the deleted post - wanted to make a change)

    Hi again Mary.

    I've never played the Uncharted series (they sound good, but alas, no PS3 here), but I see your point. I don't know if the response would be the same if it had been a female character, though, as I haven't played any games recently which are character-driven in the sort of way you're describing (the closest thing would be Prince of Persia 2008, which I never finished and didn't enjoy much for gameplay reasons). My gut tells me that there would have been controversy even if Lara had walked into into those situations rather than had the situations walk into her - but I have no evidence and can't claim anything more than that.

    Not having played Uncharted, I don't know how far I can compare Drake's misfortune (sorry) to the case of a woman who wears less being a victim of sexual violence. Thinking in terms of the “typical” action game, though, I'd say no, they're not the same. At least not in games where the protagonist has chosen, or is implied to have chosen, their path in life (such as those where you play a soldier or mercenary).

    There are so many differing viewpoints about this kind of thing that talking about this in other places on the internet is like navigating a minefield, so it's refreshing to see a reasonable article about it.

    I have nothing against Angel of Darkness, by the way. It's the fact that Crystal needed to reboot the series that bugged me. It was as if they were saying classic Lara, our Lara, wasn't good/cool/modern enough. I'm sure the CD trilogy are decent games in their own right, but I've never been too keen on playing them.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember being super excited for Angel of Darkness. I watched every trailer and read every article in every game mag I could get my hands on. I was going to buy it and they had a demo on a console in the store, after about five minutes of playing it, I decided not to buy it. I can't remember what the big turn off, I think the controls where different? Afterward, I read all the negative reviews about the game. So I never played any more than those five minutes out of the demo.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Henry, I think some gamers project, some protect, and it was pretty reductive for Rosenberg to suggest that in any one game, they only do one thing. Especially when that suggestion makes it sound like people are only interested in protecting, not being women. And I agree about splitting the IP, though it sounds drastic when I'm wearing my fangirl hat, as opposed to my rational person hat.

    Dustin, I think it would have drawn less attention were it not a Tomb Raider game, though it may still have raised a few eyebrows. Survival horror games often do unpleasant things to their heroines, but it tends to be irrational torture inflicted by other worldly beings, and not for the sake of building a character. Characters like Chell in portal overcome the status where we find them at the beginning of the game, but Portal's not about her, it's about puzzles and GLaDOS. Chell is a transparent avatar for you. So I think what TR is doing is actually quite unusual, and certainly risky in that they're doing it with a woman. Visceral injuries don't tend to happen to them in gaming in the same was as they do with male characters, and I think that has much to do with the uproar. I don't think injuring men is less bad than injuring women, but we're pretty used to the former.

    As for your second point, the AoD controls were nightmarish, the whole gam was unfinished and buggy and there were some disasterous design choices (dialogue trees, anyone?). But the story was great, the environments supremely creepy and I'd love to see the whole trilogy as it was meant to be. I think it would make a good comic, actually.

    Brad Oliver, though I am generally of the opinion that one should never attribute to malice what can also be attributed to stupidity, the thought had crossed my mind. That said, when you look at the way anything with a narrative markets itself, especially "dark" things, it's always with the threat first, leaving everything else until later. Furthermore, that's what this game is about: survival. So I guess they must show what needs "surviving". Still, I'd like to see more gameplay, see what "surviving" entails. My major concern for this game is actually that the gameplay will be boring/bad, something no-one really seems that concerned about.

    And as far as the character's legacy goes... I love the character, so much, which is why I've written so much about her, but if they've taken one version of her as far as they can, they either put her out to pasture or do something else. I don't think there is a right choice.

    Brad, I do think that Drake's situation differs only in that he kind of asked for it by going around stealing stuff from people with no regard for the consequences. I don't think his being a man should have anythign to do with the reaction, but for the public, of course it does. Were the stories of the game reversed, I'm pretty sure tying a woman up in a chair and having her puched by a pirate would not go down to well, regardless of how she got there.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I agree that Portal wasn't really about Chell, but since it's been brought up. Everyone always talked about Portal being a puzzle game or how funny it was, and it was both of those things. But I always got this sense of dread playing Portal (Portal 2 to a lesser extent). Your all alone, some robot is talking to you over the loudspeakers. You start finding the secret holes in the wall with the cryptic writing. I thought the atmosphere was absolutely frightening. Am I along on that one?

    I too never played MW2 or any of the other ones. I remember, playing a couple of the Call of Duty games back in the day, but I've never any good at FPS. I prefer games where I can see my character.

    I played the Elder Scrolls games, though they aren't shooters, but even on those I could only play for short amounts of time. You can turn to third-person view, but in Morrowind and Oblivion it was so bad that you almost thought you broke the game if turn third-person on by accident. Skyrim is better, but you can tell First-person is they way they want you to play the game.

    As for the Tomb Raider gameplay, the first gameplay demo at E3 last year looked like it was mostly quick-time events (which I hate as a general rule--though some games can and have pulled them off). The gameplay they showed this year was mostly action, which I think was an odd choice given that they show the Crossroads trailer that shows Lara falling apart after having to kill someone, then the game demo shows her gunning down around a half a dozen guys. Here's a link to that demo http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/06/04/tomb-raider-microsoft-gameplay-demo-e3-2012.

    The bigest thing about the gameplay is the feel of it. I think the shooting part doesn't look to bad, but how does it feel when you get it in your hands? With the delay to March 2013, I'm hoping that it does give them the extra time to polish it. It also shows to me they have faith in the game so their not going to rush it out for the holiday season.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This show a little more of the gameplay of Tomb Raider, some of the stuff that was just behind closed doors. There's a couple flashes of the menus and xp poppers when after fights.

    http://www.tombnews.com/news/2012/06/2301/

    ReplyDelete
  18. I just got this game a few nights ago. I'm a mid-twenties male, and most video games don't even appeal to me anymore (just gets harder and harder to feel impressed).

    But Tomb Raider 2013 has dominated my evenings. It is actually hard for me to stop playing. The level of genuine badassery is off the charts.

    I, for one, didn't find it hard to experience the game from her point of view. I didn't feel like she was 'vulnerable', and that I as the player was simply there to 'protect her'. For me, this game was an experience of total empathy.

    I put the game on the hardest difficulty level, and about mid-game, was dying ALL the time (and getting pretty pissed about it, too!). Combine that with the fact that Lara herself was constantly getting beaten, cut, stabbed, bruised, starved, burned, maimed, chopped at...etc, and I'm left with a surprisingly intimate feeling of mutual frustration shared with this incredibly unlucky heroine.

    When I got Mr. Grenade Launcher, and the game became temporarily easy, and for the first time all the baddies were running AWAY from me instead of towards me, it was damn encouraging. When Lara then said, "Thats right, run you bastards! I'm coming for you!" ... it was as if she took the words right out of my mouth.

    Tomb Raider 2013 rocks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice to hear from someone who enjoyed it so much!

      Having played the game, I agree with you about the empathy, and I think a lot of it comes from how visceral her being "beaten, cut, stabbed, bruised, starved, burned, maimed, chopped". The reason this is effective rather than numbing, is largely down to the quality of the motion-capture and animation.

      There are lots of mo-capped characters, but this Lara was really the first one I've played who felt real as opposed to superhuman. She stumbles when she falls, she jumps and lands with real weight and she has to heave herself onto ledges with real effort. The realistic nature of her movement made her feel far more vulnerable than most game characters, which meant I empathised with her more: I would fall over a lot too. And it would hurt.

      I quite liked it when she said "I'M COMING FOR YOU" because it felt sincere! I didn't want this facade of the reluctant killer at that stage in the game. It was actually quite brave to make her say something that gleefully homicidal, but it worked because in a game, blowing up people with a grenade launcher is fun. To have the player enjoying it means the character has to "enjoy" it on some level (or at least find it cathartic) in order for their experiences to be in sync, just as they were during the more "frustrating" moments of the game.

      It does rock.

      Delete
  19. First of all I need to say this because it's so rare to find these days, I'm utterly in love with the way you keep us on track with your open mind. You are very aware that answering every question just asks several more, and it's refreshing to read someone truly looking at all sides.

    It's very difficult to say about the conflict of whether we want to protect Lara or whether we want to be Lara. I know for a fact that I was absolutely her when I was playing the game, as I was in every Tomb Raider, but I wasn't in the beginning. It took a while, at first I wanted to make sure she was okay, to get her food, to keep her alive, to understand what was happening. But at some point I realized that I WAS her, it was her strength and determination that drew me in and showed me just how strong she, or I, or we or whatever to call it, could be. And that never had anything to do with her gender even when I wanted to protect her.

    But with other people it might not be the case, I think people have different attitudes to any kind of narrative unveiling before them, in the case of controlling the character I think the sad truth is it's vulnerable to a sexist attitude of "let's protect this helpless female" when it has a woman protagonist.

    You explained the attitude towards the Tomb Raider fanbase perfectly, I don't know about your sexuality and I hate to act as though the default is 'straight', but I do often think how strange it must be for the heterosexual female fanbase to witness the attitude towards Lara's sex appeal. For me, as a bisexual man, it's possibly even stranger. Because I do think Lara is sexy, and the truth is I like her boobs, it's honestly true whether appropriate or not, the pixels are creating an image that my hormones respond too and that's that. But I also take the character very seriously, and occasionally find myself resenting the sexy image of the character but only because it makes me feel like I'm not treating her seriously enough. But you're very right, the image is directed towards males, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as she can be a strong individual who can take us on a great adventure.

    And though I might get argued back on this, possibly by even you, I honestly think that is what made her a successful character, her strength. Big pixel boobs come and go, they're great don't get me wrong, but Lara Croft makes you feel powerful, and if you chopped her tits off it wouldn't make a difference. The element of sexuality to her character is appealing, and when it's not being exploited that's absolutely fine.

    ReplyDelete