Victimhood in Place of Heroism: The Trope of Rape as a Crutch For Poor Writing
I never cared much for Indiana Jones until the Ark of the Covenant sprang open, letting forth horrifying angelic spirits that proceeded to try and sodomize our previously stalwart, ruggedly handsome hero.
That’s a sentence you’ve never read before.
Here’s something else you’ve never seen before: an iconic male action hero suddenly sexually victimized as a cheap plot device to increase drama and make them pitiable.
Unfortunately for female actions heroes they have vaginas, which means even if they spent the last decade leaping across spike filled chasms and shooting dinosaurs, they are not immune from being trotted about as victims in need of a big strapping paternalist (the player) to save them.
“”When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’”
The new Tomb Raider showcased at this year’s ‘E3’ saw the eponymous series protagonist Lara Croft stranded upon a secluded island, being forced into an extreme survival scenario, battling not only nature and the elements, but merciless treasure hunting mercenaries. It sounds like another classic tale of action adventure. That is until you see her being tied up, menaced, taunted and groped by one of the mercenaries before attacking his genitals then finally falling to her knees, her cleavage on full display while she moans breathily. In just a few seconds Lara went from being one of gaming’s most iconic action stars to being a struggling heroine in a torture porn film.
“They try to rape her, and…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…”
While rape can serve a narrative purpose it is rarely ever put to use appropriately, it is instead a cheap shock tactic presented as aggressively and viscerally as possible in order to stun the viewers into believing they’ve seen something meaningful when in actuality all they’ve seen is something pornographic. In a lazy attempt to add emotional depth to the character, the developer Crystal Dynamics is exploiting the horrors of rape instead of developing the character or her story. This is not only poor, exploitative writing, it is a sexist trope that would never be tolerated in a game featuring a male protagonist. Imagine Lara’s male analogue Nathan Drake of ‘Uncharted’ being beaten, restrained and having his ass fondled by his enemy. It’s hard to even conceptualize because such a thing would never, ever even be suggested, let alone animated, let alone shown at ‘E3’, let alone be bragged about as a key plot point.
Instead of emotionally investing the player in a well-crafted story with escalating action they cheaply resort to ‘upping the stakes’ by arbitrarily causing catastrophe to strike. It is a juvenile attempt to lend gravitas to the story, trying make it ‘mature’ and ‘serious’ by showcasing sensationalized sex and violence instead of building a meaningful world with good characterization. This adolescent idea of extreme sex and violence as signifiers of maturity is a pervasive problem in the videogame industry; whether it’s a cynical attempt to appeal to their stereotypical young male demographic or simply a lack of good writers is debatable. What is undebatable is the dearth of actual mature/sophisticated stories and writing in games.
But perhaps the most egregious error displayed is the blindness shown by the developers, who clearly don’t understand what made the character and the franchise popular in the first place.
The draw of Tomb Raider has never been its story telling. The stories are silly and fantastical but this is rarely mentioned because the story only serves a device to send Lara to gorgeous locales for thrilling, globe-trotting adventures . Juxtapose being transported to the mythical Arthurian world of Avalon with the gritty portrayal of attempted rape and you see why this is not only despicable, it is an inappropriate tone for the series.
The draw of the series has always been the fluid, mixed, gameplay of platforming/shooting/puzzle solving and the charismatic main character whom we inhabited to do it all. Players do not want to protect the legendary action adventurer: they want to be her. They want to explore astounding ancient architectural sites, swing from ledges, and shoot bad guys with twin pistols. They want to actively be this fantasy hero, who just happens to be a woman. Why Lara’s sexuality is suddenly being used against her now is another befuddling change; although Lara is obviously sexy, with an enormous bust and ass hugging short-shorts, her sexuality was never used to debase her.
What made the Lara Croft character interesting- her intelligence, athleticism, and heritage – were not sexually dependent, nor should they be. The fact that now, after more than 10 games, we are randomly demeaning the character to focus on her sexual vulnerability is not a bold new direction for the franchise or an evolution of her character it is just another tragic footnote in the gaming industry’s history of misogyny.
(Credits: eurogamer.net, kotaku.com gametrailers.tv, screwattack.com, Crystal Dynamics)
This isn’t Hetalia-related, but because rape is used so often in the backstories of OCs (and many of those OCs are female,) I think this is very important for everyone to read.
As the author has stated, rape scenes, can be a sign of lazy writing, and usually are, more often than not. Just because you add a traumatic scene—rape, especially, but murder, character death, abuse—that does not make it automatically more deep. If you do it incorrectly, or do it for the hell of it, it reflects negatively, and it is insulting to people who are victims of rape, abuse, violence, and the likes.