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Tomb Raider Developers Deny Existence of Sexual Assault In Game, Miss The Point Entirely

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In response to the growing controversy surrounding the upcoming Tomb Raider game and sexual assault allegedly being included in Lara Croft’s origin story, Darrell Gallagher, studio head of Crystal Dynamics, has issued a press release denying the existence of rape as a theme in the game:

“In making this Tomb Raider origins story our aim was to take Lara Croft on an exploration of what makes her the character she embodies in late Tomb Raider games. One of the character defining moments for Lara in the game, which has incorrectly been referred to as an ‘attempted rape’ scene is the content we showed at this year’s E3 and which over a million people have now seen in our recent trailer entitled ‘Crossroads’. This is where Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time. In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly. Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.”

[Warning: This post will contain a discussion of rape and violence against women.]

Although Gallagher is attributing the outrage to a misunderstanding, Kotaku reports that this press release directly contradicts statement made during an interview by executive producer Ron Rosenburg last week:

RON: “And then what happens is her best friend gets kidnapped, she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island. They try to rape her, and-”

KOTAKU: “They try to rape her?”

RON: “She’s literally turned 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.”

To be clear: a member of the Crystal Dynamic team stated that scavengers “try to rape her” and in response to being asked to clarify that point, stated that “she’s either forced to fight back or die.” This hardly seems like a statement that was misunderstood and taken out of context. Furthermore, regardless of whether we are calling it an attempted rape, sexual assault, or a “threatening undertone,” in the aforementioned trailer, a man makes a movement toward Lara Croft’s hips in a way that simultaneously threatens her life and conveys sexual assault. Call it whatever you’d like, that is sexual violence.

Hence, the question is not how the press and outraged gamers anticipating this release managed to misunderstand Rosenburg’s statement, it’s whether or not the developers are going back into the game and removing any references to sexualized violence so as to render it a theme they do not cover, or if they are just downplaying a very obvious scene of sexualized violence in response to negative attention.

Here’s the thing: regardless of whether or not rape is part of the playable game, the fact that there is a scene of sexual violence in the trailer of Tomb Raider, and the fact that they felt the need to tack that on to the list of adversities Lara Croft must overcome to become a heroine speaks to bad writing and an utter lack of understanding of sexual violence on the part of Crystal Dynamic.

It’s bad writing because somehow Lara Croft, an untrained archeologist who has just barely survived a handful of near death experiences, suddenly turns into a badass protagonist after being forced to fend off a rapist. It wasn’t the pack of wild dogs she fought off, or surviving impalement on a rusty piece of rebar, or seeing her companion murdered and strung up, no, a “huge step in her evolution” is being forced to fight back against her rapist. The thing is, if we’re to believe the trailer, she has already fought for her life, and won. Why add on the implication of sexual violence?

A very common response to critiques of violence against women in video games is that it’s ‘just a game,’ not reality, and that ‘all video game characters experience violence.’ The problem with those arguments is that video games do not exist in a cultural vacuum. According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 5 US women have been raped in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 71 men. Women disproportionately experience sexual assault; and we live in a culture where media, including movies, advertising, and video games, does far more to emphasize that women should expect to disproportionately experience sexual assault rather than emphasize that all people should, you know, do something about sexual assault. I am not saying that Tomb Raider is knowingly, purposefully encouraging violence against women — I’m simply asking, why is a scene with a “threatening undertone” of sexual assault such a huge step in her development, and why was it the climax of the E3 2012 trailer? Why did the developers choose to showcase that, instead of any other scenes in which Lara Croft is surviving against all odds?

The odds of women being trapped on a remote island and forced to fight their way off and hunt animals and murder people in order to survive are probably pretty slim. But 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime in the United States. With those odds, sexual violence is not a theme to take lightly, and certainly not one to tack on to an origin story in order to force Lara Croft to become a fighter. Crystal Dynamic developers, rape is not a plot device– rape is a reality.

(Tomb Raider, via Kotaku.)

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