In March 2012 the now released Tomb Raider was torn apart by the media when it contributed to a heated debate within the mediated public sector over the controversial use of sexual violence as a plot shaping and character developing device within the context of a video game.
Before getting into this debate, let’s take a look at what sparked the controversy in the first place. It all started during an interview with Ron Rosenberg the games executive producer. Within the interview Ron stated “We did a lot of research into survival and people who survived extreme situations”. “One of the recurring themes was that people who survived had this mantra of just keep moving, you see that in the beginning of the game.” “Then towards the end we start to really hit her, and to break her down. Her best friend is kidnapped, she’s taken hostage, she’s almost raped, we put her in this position where we turned her into a cornered animal.” From those words debate spread veraciously.
The fury unleashed by these statements was swift and condemning, which prompted Crystal Dynamics to release a clarifying statement claiming the scene was “threatening” but “Sexual assault of any kind” was “not a theme” covered in the game. Having played the game myself I reuse to refer to it as a ‘rape’ seen as I believe that is a major misinterpretation of what the scene is about (especially due to the fact that no rape actually occurs), however I cannot deny that this scene is vividly disturbing and emotionally triggering. Take a look for yourself…
While no rape occurs there is an undeniable connotation of sexual violence and female vulnerability as well a dramatic insight into the traumatic implications of taking a life. I wonder though is this really a bad thing? I mean these issues are real and I feel help create a realistic transformation of character, as we witness Lara evolve from a vulnerable girl to the strong, brave, gun totting heroine we know today.
The debate was however that these issues shouldn’t have been touched upon and that it is unethical to use sexual assault or extreme acts of violence as a transformation device because they may trigger deeper emotions within people who have experienced real life trauma. Blogger and victim of real life violence Ashelia writes “If you don’t hit the right series of buttons, she’s choked to death in front of you” “I was so taken aback by the scene, a video game had never made me feel this way in my entire life—and I wasn’t sure what I thought about that. You see, it shocked me so much because twelve years ago, my father choked me in that manner”.
I feel that although this game uses controversial and somewhat disturbing subject matter, it uses it in a way that is not inappropriate. The issue has been blown out of proportion largely due to fact that people see Lara as a victim when instead they should see her as a survivor. Ashelia later writes “Tomb Raider triggered me and that’s ok, maybe that’s even good.” It healed me”.. “It made me realise that, much like Lara Croft, I survived as well”