The Real Problem with the New Tomb Raider’s Trailer

There’s all manner of indignation ricocheting from about the internet about the new Tomb Raider reboot.

Depending on who you ask, this turns the strong and self-sufficient millionaire adventurer Lara Croft into a victimized young girl whom male gamers are supposed to feel ‘protective’ over, layered with audio and visual overtones of hypersexualized torture porn (tied up, impaled, almost raped…)

…while other folks are decrying the unoriginal trope of rape being the automatic heinous thing you do in female characters’ backstories to *ahem* ‘make them stronger’ for having survived it. (I’d have snuck in a TV Tropes link, but apparently they have collided with the rape content police recently.)

One person quotes another. A paraphrase here and there. Something else taken out of context. And lo and behold, the feminists are up in arms… again.

It’s kinda ironic considering that

a) The new Lara Croft is considerably less sexualized visually in her character design. She looks to have human proportions. For once. She’s not just “oh, boobies!”

b) The intent is to give Lara Croft an origin story. Show her progress from someone ordinary to the extraordinary larger-than-life game superhero we’re familiar with.

c) The real point of the attempted rape scene is to depict a decision point, a crisis moment in Lara’s life, where she actually takes a human being’s life for the first time.

To depict what might conceivably force an ordinary human being to kill another, while still yielding some measure of sympathy for the killer, because she’s the protagonist after all.

Considering how murder is frowned upon in general society, self-defence vs assaulting rapist seems an easily understandable way out. Admittedly, it’s a bit lazy storytelling, but could you do any better?

Give me an “original” scenario where one character is forced to take another person’s life – not in a soldier/sanctioned by war sense, thanks.

(The best one I can come up with so far is that she has to kill someone in order to protect another person. It’s not that big a crisis point considering gamers are used to being the hero and killing rampantly, ostensibly for the sake of protecting another.

David Cage managed it in Heavy Rain where Ethan Mars had to strongly consider the possibility of murder in order to get a clue to save his son (and there were self-defence and various kinds of excuses there too. I’m sure some -still- criticize it for being contrived.))

It all sort of reminds me of the time I spent on a school project ripping apart an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess for being sexist and demeaning to women in its costuming and tasteless ‘damsels-in-distress’ plotting. Our team was on a roll, showing how the camera angles always fall to the level of the female’s busts (ahem, chest) but rise to the male’s heads, making fun of Xena’s characteristic ‘ki-yi-yi-yi’ screaming, deriding the stereotypical fantasy tropes, etc. and our teacher smiled and nodded…

…Some time after which, I discovered that an entire Xena online subculture had actually appropriated the broad tropes and practically idolize the Xena and Gabrielle pair for being depicted as strong women independent of any man, analyze episodes for clever double entrendre ‘lesbian’ subtext, and create reams of the strongest not-completely-teenage-angsty-fantasy fanfiction to grace the interwebs.

Foot, meet mouth. Suddenly, my arguments seemed hopelessly childish and surface-oriented only. I couldn’t see past the bare midriffs to the strong character personalities portrayed beneath.

How can the same thing be two completely opposite things all at once?

From our frames of reference. Perspective. Good to change it now and then to see if there’s any truth to the other guy’s POV. There usually are a few grains.

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ve no doubt had a taste of my philosophy, which runs towards a sort of secular Zen/Taoist ‘balance’ spectrum of greys and I’m fond of espousing the Babylon 5 Kosh saying, “Understanding is a three-edged sword.”

There’s -always- multiple sides to every issue. And I find it fun to dig them up and lay them on the table, rather than see people go back and forth at each other hugging their precious one side to their chests and not listening to each other.

In Tomb Raider’s case, I think I’ve figured it out. The real problem, if you check the E3 gameplay trailer for yourself, is in the voice acting.

Not the plot, not the trigger word of rape, not the unoriginality (so many video games are derivative anyway, didn’t we just play fantasy Vikings with Dragons just a while ago?), not whatever horrible attack on feminism is supposed to have occurred.

If all the audio is off, the action generally looks quite good. Some of the face animation is a little stiff, but well, not everyone has mo-cap faces as a budget priority. Insert your own grunts and sound effects where appropriate according to your imagination.

Turn the audio on, and oh my god, it’s like Lord of the Rings Online female bandits all over again. You know, the ones you keep fighting in Archet and Combe while trying to keep the audio as low as possible in order to avoid awkward questions from any other person in the house about why you’re watching hardcore porn. *gasp* *heeve* *grunt* *uhhhhhh* *aaaaahhh*

Try it when your main character is also female. Oh dear. Anyone like orgies?

(I hear they’ve reworked those voices now. Phew.)

/Someone/ decided to give Lara Croft a voice that is a hair too feminine for the face and body, if you ask my opinion.

And then made it much much worse by making her act like a stereotypical girl, screaming and squealing at every turn of events. I’m not saying she has to be a stoic silent male stereotype either, but does she have to be that most annoying example of femaledom – the one that screeches at everything?

This is supposed to make me, the player, feel ‘protective’ of her?

Apparently I’m not the target audience the designer is envisioning. I’d probably just want to drown her somewhere to shut her up. (That was a figure-of-speech, please don’t kill me, any feminists in the audience!)

Do you hear Skyrim’s Lydia squealing like a girl every time some rocks fall? (Especially since she normally sets off the traps in the first place…)

Zoey is just an ordinary young woman in Left 4 Dead, and sure, she’s going to scream sometimes when confronted by zombies, but it’s not every damn time nor does it sound so… exploitative.

Clumsy characterization is the issue in the trailer. I dunno if it’ll be any better in the longer format game, but her voice is off, and doesn’t gel with the animations. If you want her screaming because she’s wounded, then her avatar has to look like she’s wounded and stagger properly, and the voice has to come with appropriate timing – not just play on as a softcore porn soundtrack with random exhalations just because.

It’s an audio uncanny valley. It doesn’t convey the intent of the storytelling and just makes it comical at best, and disrespectful to the character if you view Lara Croft as serious business.

A little bit of silence would go a long way.

RotMG: Oops #4 – And Some Days Life Just Hates You

More farming. My archer is about 5 potions away from maxing defence, I think, and speed is about 9 potions away. Getting a bit excited about the prospect of finally maxing one stat, ever.

Wizard #4 was leading a bit of a charmed life.

Last night, out of curiosity since I’ve never actually tried to actively observe the effects of mild alcohol inebriation on reaction times, I realized Realm of the Mad God is so twitch-based, it might just work.

(Obviously, if you’re hopelessly pissed beyond the ability to type coherently, the effects of being drunk while playing any game is ridiculously plain to see. But I’m talking about super-mild amounts of alcohol in the system. Scientifically, experiments have shown there still is an effect, even if the person is not aware of it and still thinks they are perfectly fine.)

Had the teeniest tiniest shot of absinthe mixed with Coca Cola (I’m weird, I know, I’ve developed a taste for absinthe cocktails since visiting this local hole in the wall). It’s a nothing kind of drink. There’s a faint low level of happy buzz and that’s about it.

Feeling perfectly okay, I proceeded to play RotMG. I know you’re expecting carnage, since this is a Yet Another Stupid Death post, but actually, no.

Being perfectly aware that my reaction times might conceivably be a bit dimmed, I played very carefully and kept reminding myself about the Nexus button. What I did notice were two things.

One, my reaction times did appear to be slightly impacted. And two, my focus got more…how to describe it… narrow visioned.

I kept walking into god bullets. At a much higher frequency than usual. Somehow, while I was perfectly aware that these bullets were coming, my focus on them was causing me to walk my character into them, rather than avoid them. Judgement of split second timings were a little off. I doubt it’ll be noticeable at all in a hotkey skill MMO, but RotMG is arcade twitchy and provides much faster frequent feedback.

And I was concentrating so hard on looking at the character and making sure he was safe, I barely looked at the radar map. Somehow my peripheral vision wasn’t functioning at the same level, situational awareness was not there, and there were quite a few scary moments of “Where did that God come from? Eep, I’m not looking at the radar map like usual!”

I’m not sure if this was a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing where my expectations were affecting my actions, or if there really is an effect. Not at all scientific, but it was kinda fun to attempt and observe. I hear platformers are another good place to do fun tests on this, since jumps require split second timing too.

After realizing I was taking more damage in the last half hour than in the rest of the character’s lifetime, I decided to stop before something permanent happened. (See, my judgement wasn’t -that- impaired!) Quit the game, surfed the ‘net, went to bed.

The next day, stone cold sober, I tried it again. Sure enough, I was dodging god bullets barely even thinking about it. Nary a single scratch. My fingers were turning the screen, dodging and shooting and correcting for overshoots completely subconsciously. Dropped into flow state without having to think very hard.

Quite convincing an experience, when all is said and done. Makes you appreciate why even a single drink and trying to drive is not ever a good idea. Doubtless I will be repeating the experiment some time in the future, for the heck of it. Not with anything valuable, though. 🙂

Continuing on while absolutely not under the effects of any alcohol whatsoever, I kept farming.

A Destruction Sphere spell ability item dropped for the lucky wizard (the irony of jumping from a starter item to Tier 4 was not lost on me). Then another, which I was going to keep for the inevitable next wizard in the vault.

And then out of absolutely nowhere, a Leviathan (that most dangerous of shotgun Gods) jumped me from behind.

Dead from the shotgun without the chance to complete the thought “What the f-”

No one ever said life was fair. This was just one of -those- deaths. Completely unavoidable.

He’d already got away from umpteen other bad situations because there was time enough to Nexus away. This one was just a surprise. Of the not-so-nice kind.

My wizards’ lifespans seem to be based on a score average (in terms of Total Fame Earned) rather than on time. Perhaps there’s just a certain number of gods I can kill in the throwaway gear and base stats I’m using before the inevitable accident kills me.

Alas, poor number #4, he only lived a day. But he lived it well.