Mar 17, 2013

The One Where I Review Tomb Raider & Infuriate Feminists

So I finished my initial playthrough of Crystal Dynamics' amazing new release Tomb Raider, and it is pretty damn good.   There has been a lot of talk on gamer forums recently about it being "Game of the Year".  While I can't argue with that at the moment, there's some top shelf amazing looking games coming this year, such as Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us and Watch Dogs.

The storyline of this is decent, I guess.  I wasn't that caught up in it, but I think the big reaction it is getting is from the dark tone that the game has, and the eye popping graphics.  There's also some really brutal fight scenes in the game as well, which I think adds to the appeal for a lot of people.  And there's this real sense of danger that the main character, Lara Croft, finds herself in.  This is an 18 year old college girl that is shipwrecked on the island and has to fight off these waves of increasingly more powerful bad guys to achieve your goal by the end, which is to rescue your friends from some guy trying to bring back their leader.  Or something.  As I said, I didn't really care about the story, but the story did lend a certain suspense and danger as it relates to Lara.

                                                   MORE AFTER THE BREAK

I can't help but wonder if a lot of the impact of the story (The danger Lara is in, etc) is a direct result of it being an 18 year old female? At least as it relates to male gamers.  I don't pretend to speak for female gamers out there. I mean if that was a male character, there'd be some emotional pull there (such as Drake in Uncharted 2), but not as much. Because I think it's inate for men to feel protective of a woman in mortal danger. Sorry if the feminists get all upset at me saying that, but it's freaking true. That's not something that diminishes women to say that either.

I'm not saying that to infer or imply that women can't protect themselves, or they aren't righteously independent women who do not need to rely on a man to "save them", I'm simply making an observation based on, what I view, as common sense logic.  Now are men wrong for feeling that sense of wanting to "protect" or whatever you want to call it, women?  Maybe some women would say the answer is yes.

As I said, maybe that's a gender specific thing?  I'm sure women who play this would have a different reaction, but I think that in general, unless you're a sociopath, I think if you see scenes of women being brutalized, it's jarring.  It's something that sets uneasy with you and it SHOULD make you feel uneasy.  I don't think that's a detrimental mindset against women to say that, either.  I'd be more offended if a man saw scenes of a woman being impaled through the throat with a spike, or being attacked and be subjected to an attempted rape, and wasn't disturbed.

When you play Uncharted 2, there's a constant sense that Nathan Drake is in danger, often fighting various foes, each more difficult than the next it seems at times, and yet, as a guy, I don't think the reaction is the same as it was with Lara.   That's not to say that Lara somehow is better than Uncharted 2, but just the way the genders approach these situations are different.


I posted my early thoughts on the game (including parts of this longer piece) on a few forums, and I had some female gamers respond and one woman, Heather, wrote the following:

I kinda disagree with the idea that Lara’s 18-year-old woman status is what directly creates the emotional pull compared to Nathan Drake. We don’t really feel for Nathan because he doesn’t seem fazed by much, whereas if he’d been written with the same sensitivity as Lara was (a 32-year-old man would feel the same pain/fear/cold as a woman of any age), I would think/hope we’d feel similarly emotionally connected with him/worried for him.

But they’re two different games–Uncharted is more swashbuckling fun times whereas Lara is just trying to survive and didn’t want any of this. Completely different both completely valid atmospheres. So you can’t really pin the emotional effect on identity factors alone.  Similarly you can say that you personally felt protective of Lara, and no one could  gainsay that for whatever it’s worth, but you can’t extrapolate that out to anyone else. Video game protagonists are designed to put you in their shoes. That’s what I felt playing, and I know a lot of dudes who felt/played the same way.
 And I think that's essentially the thing, though.  She played the game and didn't feel "protective" of her, as I think a lot of men would.  I didn't necessarily feel "protective" of her, but more I think subconsciously, the danger she was in, some of it very brutal, triggers something inside a lot of men that they wouldn't necessarily feel playing as a male character, aside from perhaps a sexual assault.  And although Far Cry 3 had a scene that implied the rape of a male friend of your character, it was pretty lamely presented, and never mentioned again.  So no real impact there.

Likewise, I think women playing as Lara would have a different emotional response than men would, just by the fact that they are females.  They can relate to a female character in a more personal matter, and using their own experiences.  In the unfortunate occasions where some of these women playing are the victims of violence, then that also can add an extra layer of emotional impact, that a man wouldn't necessarily feel.

Not that men can't relate or enjoy playing as a female character, just it's not the same.  Just like a guy playing as Nathan Drake, is having a different emotional and visceral reaction than a woman playing him, I would wager.  Again, I can't speak of women gamers and won't.  Just my thoughts on that matter.

When the game was announced, Tomb Raider Exec. Producer, Ron Rosenberg, made some comments about how male gamers would feel protective over Lara (which set off many feminists who were not pleased about that) and implied that Lara would be a victim of sexual assault (Which set off even more). There was lots written about that topic, and I wasn't sure what the reasoning behind that choice was, other than a tried and true trope that is always used to heighten tension or something.

However, whether it was changed due to the backlash, or if Rosenberg simply overstated the situation, there is no rape in this game.  There's a scene where she is manhandled, and it looks like that might be the direction things are going, but it doesn't.   Some of the articles about this last year were a bit upset at this idea, but it turned out to be all for naught.

One article I saw seemed to state that the game would have the rape be a sort of fork in the road moment, where if you fight back hard enough you won't be raped, but if you don't fight hard enough you will.  Not sure where they got that idea, because the implication in that statement is that the rape is an interactive moment that either will or won't happen.

Lara Croft will be punished with rape for failing to complete the game objective of not getting raped. The responsibility is wholly upon her to protect herself, it is not upon the scumbag rapists who are trying to hurt her.

Almost like the game inFAMOUS where several points in the game are "Karma" points where you make a good or bad choice, and that impacts how things turn out.  The idea of a game doing that with rape is ridiculous, but that seemed to be the insinuation of that article.  Perhaps the person didn't mean to infer that, but it's how it came across to me anyway.

For the record the scene in question in the game, has Lara's hands bounded and this big guy has her against a wall and is moving his hands up her body towards her throat to choke her.  You can fight him off by reacting to the QTE prompts, but if you fail, he simply breaks your neck.  Horrifying, yes, but not a "let's see how bad the young lady doesn't wanna be raped" moment.

While I think Tomb Raider, is really good in many ways, I still don't put it above Uncharted 2: Among Thieves as far as all around packaging goes. The emotional pull of Uncharted 2, the storyline, the supporting cast, the graphics, the voice acting, the writing, EVERYTHING was pitch perfect all around. There was NO WEAK MOMENTS of Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception was a disappointment to me in a few ways, but "Among Thieves", is the single greatest video game experience of my life, no matter what console.

Tomb Raider, for all it's pluses, the supporting cast is virtually non-existent. 99.9% of the stuff Lara is doing is on her own, which lends to the ridiculousness of this. If Drake is "Impossible White Man" game *more on that later*, then this is "Impossible White Woman" game. This 18 year old scrub who has never killed anything in her life, is suddenly turning into the perfect shot, hitting people in the face with arrows from hundreds of yards away, and is doing it with virtually no help, aside from one moment in the game on a bridge.

Uncharted 2 had a solid supporting cast, including two strong female roles, and the best friend/mentor character of Sully. There were moments where you think a supporting person might die and it's heartbreaking because, you've come to know the characters and you don't want any to die. There was a moment in Uncharted 3 where it kind of hints at one of the supporting cast dying (and it was teased prior to the game's release), and as it's barreling towards it's finish, you just don't know which one might go, and it's sucked you in.

With Tomb Raider, does anyone really care about the supporting cast? They're barely there, and only for brief amounts of time. Meanwhile this 18 year old girl who's turned into Rambina is mowing down hardened killers who don't hesitate to try to flat out destroy you at first sight.


The graphics are awesome, and what little storyline there is has a much darker tone to it than Uncharted 2. I was listening to a podcast called "This Week in Blackness" with comedian Elon James White, and his producer Aaron Rand Freeman, and Tatiana King and they were talking about this game on their #WeNerdHard show. Aaron and Elon were just going crazy over the game and Aaron was talking about how in Uncharted 2 you never think Drake's going to die, because he is, as they affectionately refer to games and movies like Uncharted, and Die Hard as "Impossible White Man" games/movies. And they said that you never really felt that way with Lara, as she was constantly threatened.

However, they're both impossible white people games, perhaps Lara even MORE so, because at least with Drake we know he's done this kind of thing before. It's not like this is his first dance with vicious enemies. With Lara she's supposed to be some innocent Brit, and suddenly after a kill or two, she finds out that killing is kinda her thing.

Graphically, I'd give Tomb Raider an edge over Uncharted 2, although coming out four or five years later, I'd expect it to look better.  Pretty much every other category I'd give the edge to Uncharted 2 either by a little or a whole damn lot.

Uncharted 2 won awards in damn near every aspect of the game that can win an award.  As I said, the game is perfection personified, and really it was only logical that Uncharted 3 would feel disappointing coming after something like that.  Uncharted 2 is one of those games you can pick up again and play it as soon as you finish, and it doesn't really get old.  The storyline, the music, the voice acting, etc is just top notch and enough can't be said to illustrate that point.  The writing in that is just out of this world, and I think is better than many actual blockbuster movies.

Also Uncharted 2 had the single greatest video game trailer, featuring a fantastic score piece. Incidentally this trailer won an award for best video game trailer, and the song won an award for best video game song.


So while Tomb Raider is very good, and at this point a "Game of the Year" candidate, and the obvious comparisons will be made between this and the Uncharted Franchise (notice they always say "The Uncharted Games" rather than calling out Uncharted 2 in particular) due to the similar game play style, I can't fathom anyone rating this over Uncharted 2 based solely it seems on the incredible graphics and the darker tone.  Because I can't figure out any other way in which Tomb Raider is better than Uncharted 2.

Especially with the storyline and the ending.  When Tomb Raider ended, I was just thinking "oh okay, it's over now".  With Uncharted 2 there's this exhilarating moment when you finally defeat the last boss, and then there's still more to go to escape from the area you were in.

Great game, Tomb Raider.  Not the best though.  That title still belongs to Uncharted 2.

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