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What did they do to you?: Our women heroes problem
What did they  do  to you?: Our women heroes problem
June 11, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander

June 11, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander
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Lara Croft is a strange icon, and her recent arc in games is even stranger: We're going to legitimize this fetish object from the 1990s by battering her, and then taking her to therapy. I winced when I saw the 2012 trailer, the grunts of a woman being tenderized like a nice steak.

Yesterday at E3 it was announced that the "story" of Lara Croft is continuing, through Rise of the Tomb Raider -- we see the action heroine talking with her therapist about post-traumatic stress. And I winced again.

This, we are made to understand, is how you become a heroine, a tomb raider. Our lead characters have to be hard, and while we accept a male hero with a five o'clock shadow and a bad attitude generally unquestioned, a woman seems to need a reason to be hard. Something had to have been done to her.

"I know it's upsetting, what you've been through," whispers another treatment figure to the heroine of Infamous: First Light, another game with a ponytailed heroine shown at E3 2014 last night. Like Lara, she wears a cozy hoodie, curls in on herself. We like to peek through the windows and behind the shower curtains and into the doctor's appointments of our fragile heroines and voyeuristically thrill at their damage, looking forward to their moments of revelation and revenge.

It seems that when you want to make a woman into a hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt... also a woman first.

Men in video games are frequently defined by their fridge maidens. A man's wife dies. Or his girlfriend, or his daughter or mother, and he is shattered, out for retribution.

I asked Twitter to help name video games where this happens, and my replies feed has been updating almost constantly since, across numerous conversation threads: Max Payne, God of War, Gears of War, The Darkness, Shadows of the Damned, Dante's Inferno, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Space, Watch Dogs, and on and on.

A common reply: "all of them." It's very nearly true, even for games lauded for storytelling: Braid, Shadow of the Colossus and ICO feature characters whose purpose is a lost woman; The Last of Us, a game I love, opens by introducing us to Joel's stunningly-believable daughter, a drowsy kid with glow-stars on her ceiling, before taking her away. The intro is gut-punching. People keep doing it because it works.

Infamous

One can't abolish classic structural tropes. Each instance taken separately isn't inherently wrong, and nobody is trying to erase it. But the picture of how we understand heroism in games is bizarrely unbalanced at a distance -- to some extent the games industry can clearly tell its audience is exhausted of the grizzled warrior staring sadly down at the torn photo of a dead girl and that it's beyond time to change things up, to offer something new. Now, they're giving us women who stare sadly down at their own trembling hands.

Tell me what they did to you, we croon, pupils dilating. We need, for some reason, to see that she can be vulnerable. We need to know how she can still be a bad-ass while she still looks so approachable, so hot, so much like we can have her.

I'm far from the first person to criticize the focus on "strong" when it comes to female protagonists. As Sophia McDougall puts it in this New Statesman piece, "Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong." Further, we seem to have problematic ideas of how women become Strong -- men break them, we assume.

Abstracted ideas about post-traumatic stress disorder or the catch-all "mental health issues" are common in games -- apparently the logic is if we're trying to advance narratives in action games, we need to find nuanced rationales for why we're killing so many people with aplomb. "Mental health issues" are always why people shoot other people, if you believe the news lately (despite the fact that sufferers of mental illness are more likely to be at risk of violent harm than to perpetrate it).

And every time we have conversations about the traumatized protagonist, there's an understandable retort: "why can't games deal with trauma and disorder?" Of course they can. Arguably they should, as video games are nothing if not an elaborate way for us to self-manage, self-soothe. In this personal essay, Rhea Monique shares why it's important to her to see women who don't have to apologize for showing their wounds, and that perspective matters: No one is wrong for what they relate to.

But here's the unfortunate thing: We've really only got this one mode of approach. I don't think it's farfetched to theorize that video games are still largely populated by men who feel unsure about how to write and build nuanced women. These days we often discuss our recent year or so of dads in games, as, we assume, the majority-male game developers mature from young men who'd like to attain and impress a woman to older adults with kids of their own, and a vulnerable girl shifts from object of desire into something to protect.

That's an understandable reflection of the experience of those creators. But in all these Dad Games, where are their mothers? In The Last of Us, Joel's daughter Sarah's mother is absent; she just left, somehow. Clementine's mother in The Walking Dead is a distant figure, later revealed to've gone undead. Ni No Kuni and Brothers are both recent games about children whose mothers have recently died. The mother of BioShock Infinite's Elizabeth is shown at one point to be an actual evil ghost. Mothers are rarely heroic in games, but are literally peripheral spectres, distant and often frightening.

Well-intentioned men sometimes chastise one another about sexism: "She could be your wife. She could be your daughter. Think about if someone did this to your girlfriend or your mom." How about just "she's a human being"? It's all part of a bigger problem, in that media, especially geek media, still too often only understands women in terms of their relationship to men. The question is never who is she, but what did they do to her.

There is still little exploration of how heroic qualities -- not necessarily "strength", but relatability, motivation, complexity -- in women can exist independently. There are still few roles for them other than catalyst for male revelation or victim defined by male abuse.

All people exist in an ecosystem and are defined by their experiences and affected by the people in their lives. But when we want to know why our favorite male leads are the way they are, we don't just think about the women who happened to them or the trauma they endured: We think about their beliefs, their thoughts and feelings, their goals and desires. Their personalities, their habits, their quirks, their flaws.

This isn't to say that videogames' square-jawed, square-shouldered guy heroes always have a good infrastructure to answer those questions (nor always need one). Perhaps if we uncoupled the weird cause-and-effect relationship games seem to have between suffering women and men, we'd have more nuanced male characters, too. Why don't we see more men who get to be broken, for example? Many studies say men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues than women -- why reinforce that as correct?

And most of all, I'd like to see more games that see women as people, not the passive sum of what they endure until they're "done", ready to come out of the oven and fight.

Until then, the well-intentioned therapy sessions in games will keep making my skin crawl. "I can't help you unless you open up," someone croons to Infamous: First Light's squirming Fetch Walker. "A girl your age should be exploring new horizons," Lara's doctor tells her as she taps her foot anxiously. "I'd like to know you're taking care of yourself."

Right. I'm sure.


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Comments


Boyer Geoffrey
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I'm not sure I'm getting the point of your introduction. Is the new Lara Croft bad somehow because all the action and killing she was plunged through affected her with PTSD? All while, in the same sentence, deriding the original Lara Croft, that was shown to have no problems with action and killing?

Tommy Hanusa
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I think its more about how Laura Croft sort of represents the norm of female characters in games and how that norm has changed.

Boyer Geoffrey
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I get that and I also agree that all characters should have more character and emotional development.

What baffles is the implication that a traumatized Lara is wince-worthy when people constantly point fingers at the old Lara, the one that was a confident ass-kicker. So how is she supposed to feel?

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I think what Tommy and Leigh are saying isn't so much that showing a character has PTSD is a bad thing.... but that when showing a women has PTSD is the one and ONLY reason used for her to become "strong", is.

Male protagonists are nearly universally created strong and then given an excuse to use that strength (and that excuse is usually a fridge maiden). Female protagonists are created weak, then given an *excuse* to be strong. Their trauma is a rationalization for why a "nice girl" can also be a badass.

Where are the girls who are a badass just because they want to be? or because they have something/one to protect? I want to see a game version of Ripley.

Showing PTSD is not a bad thing... but when every, single, female protagonist has it, that's when it starts to become cringe-worth.

Boyer Geoffrey
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What? The new Lara was created strong. Half an hour after the boat crash, she's already killing dudes left and right with a bow and then a pistol. After that, she's killing dudes by the truckload, jumping into empty pits with only a climbing axe, fighting undead samurais, etc. etc.

She didn't became strong because of the PTSD. She gained PTSD because she survived horrific events and she survived those events only because she was strong.

Also, the old Lara Craft was a badass because she wanted to be, and I rarely see that point brought up. Tomb Raider 2013 was lauded because it showed a more realistic and grounded character, only to be shot down now because she's realistically suffering from the aftermath...

Matt Ponton
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Agreed with Boyer. She went through her transformation in the first game, but proved how strong she 'already was' and 'could become'. In the start of Tomb Raider she was lost, looking for help on this unknown island with no support from anyone and no idea who she just escaped from. She finds a bow and is able to kill animals and men (not once does she kill a female in the game, barring the supernatural) within one day. At first showing some fear and remorse to seeing the dead body in the tree, to being able to take on a 300 person mercenary camp in waves, alone.

So then, the story continues after being the sole savior of her crew with her suffering PTSD from all of the men, animals, and demons she had to maim, all of the blood she literally had to walk/swim through, and the loss of some of her family and friends. But it's wrong that she show any kind of weakness, after affects, or even remorse for her actions? You can't take the start of the second story without looking back at the first.

I remember playing Mega Man X as a kid. Yes, there were no female characters, but that's not my point here. MMX was a great game for me. Here you have this 'robot but lets call him male since he is advertised as male' who's sole job is to protect humanity and his fellow kind. After a terrorist explosion, he has to fight a war machine named Vile in what amounts to a tank. He loses, bad, and has to have his butt saved by a better Hunter (Who, at the time, my friends and I were wondering if it was a girl or not due to long blonde hair haha). X is weak, he's told this, he's not strong enough to fight. So you go through the eight other hunters to 'level up' and make him stronger. He picks up new experiences from his battles against other terrorists, all while still questioning who he is and why he was created. As he grows, he becomes stronger, and eventually is able to defeat the man who he was totally unable to even scratch at the start of his journey. He didn't defeat Vile or Sigma because 'his wife, daughter, girlfriend were captured, killed, or beatup'. He did it because he wanted to protect humanity, all while going from weak to strong, and still questioning his place in the world.

Dane MacMahon
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I don't think the therapy angle is a problem. Therapy is a good thing, and we shouldn't see it as a weakness or anything of the sort.

However it's obviously telling in a social context that most developers wouldn't show a male character in therapy, only a female one. Though it should be noted GTA5 had its main character in therapy.

Arman Matevosyan
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How about MGS4? Snake's PTSD is literally part of the gameplay.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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@Arman But are his therapy sessions? Was it shown as an "obstacle to overcome" or to make him appear vulnerable, more human, and affected by the horrors he had seen?

@Boyer and Matt: sorry, I think I wasn't as clear as I had wanted to be (blame the lack of coffee). Yes, Lara became a strong character as a result of her experiences in the first game, but it was that or die... not exactly a fair choice. We frequently see male protagonists charge off into battle, choosing freely to do so right from the initial installment, but female protagonists need to have battle forced on them, with no choice but "fight or die".

Regarding Megaman, his weakness is only shown compared to Vile and Hunter, even in the first stage you are killing things left and right (it also only mentions his physical strength, not his emotional state). The player is also told, very clearly, that Megaman has the *potential* to become far stronger (and all but flat out saying "and if you keep playing you will be no matter what). The story pretty much explains away his weakness by telling the player that they need not worry, they WILL be the badass by the end. It's neither weakness nor vulnerability, it's "dude, you're level 1, go do the newbee zone before you try the raid boss".


Actually, I'm changing my Ripley above to Vasquez. She WANTED to be there, to shoot nasties in the face because she likes shooting nasties. I would love to see just one female protagonist with that kind of power.

Arman Matevosyan
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@Kaitlyn Not everybody wants or needs professional therapy to overcome problems.

Did you actually play MGS4? Yes, Snake often speaks to Otacon and Raiden about his psychological issues. Do they need to be licensed professionals for him to be like Lara? Snake has done and seen things that scarred him, and his PTSD is an obstacle. He even throws up in the middle of battle if it's not dealt with properly!

AND he's one of the toughest, most storied and masculine video game characters ever. So I'm not really sure what the author is talking about.

Justin Crane
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And more recently even the original bad ass B.J. Blaskowicz was shown to only regain the will to fight after finding something to protect.

I would hope the author is not trying to say that this style of character development is a poor choice because Laura is female. I think a better angle would have been to contrast, as he did, to the fridge maiden standard and used the new Laura to show how it's possible to create a Baddass who also has a human side. It's about needing proper character development across the board.

Eryc Duhart
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"One can't abolish classic structural tropes. Each instance taken separately isn't inherently wrong, and nobody is trying to erase it. But the picture of how we understand heroism in games is bizarrely unbalanced at a distance"

Lara isn't the problem, it's bigger than her. It's the fact that heroines tend to get a certain type of treatment characterization-wise. Lara just so happens to be the latest one joining the ranks so her arrival is used to launch a discussion of a larger context.

It becomes hard, though, to separate a critique of a trope from a critique of an instance when you use every instance to springboard a discussion on the woes of the trope. That's why always encourage people to start and maintain the discussion at many different times and not just when the FLOTM example happens.

Benjamin McCallister
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No one wants to see John McClane work through his personal shit after he jumps off the edge of the Nakatomi plaza.

Inherent in the dangers of a mortal super-hero are the inevitably cartoon like lengths you'll end up going to, to keep viewers/players engaged.

She may be on a therapists couch now, but give it five years and she'll be a female version of the lead from Shoot-em-up.

Kyle Redd
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So, that's one male video game character depicted in therapy, and two female characters. Is that really so telling? Unless someone has a list of other female characters that have been in therapy, I completely disagree with the conclusion that is being drawn.

On the other hand, I can think of an abundance of female characters throughout the history of gaming that did not go through any sort of trauma in their development:

Recettear, Chantelise, Urban Chaos, Heavy Metal FAKK 2, Ys Origin, Mirror's Edge, Gray Matter, Broken Sword, The Longest Journey series, Syberia series, Still Life series (in fact virtually every single modern point-and-click adventure I have ever played with a female lead, of any sort, did not involve trauma).

Mario Kummer
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@Kaitlyn Kaid I hope you played the Mass Effect games. Commander Shepard was one of the best female character I ever played, loved all 3 games and she was "Ripley" like.

Hasan Almaci
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Way to miss the point.

Daniel Boy
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As a side note on heroes. Alec Meer wrote this about “B.J.” Blazkowicz in the new Wolfenstein:
"Haunted, sad, soulful, sometimes tender – they reveal that this mass of muscle is also a walking wound, and in that they represent the anachronism at the heart of this latest, surprisingly excellent Wolfenstein game."

James Coote
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If we're defined by our relationships with others, then surely the solution lies in having more female secondary characters for the heroine to bounce off. Where are their (female) friends, colleagues, sisters, aunts etc? You can't pass the Bechdel test without them.

Johnathon Tieman
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Do you know what game passes the Bechdel test with flying colors? The latest Tomb Raider, which has two other female characters, neither of which discuss a relationship to a man with Lara, or between each other.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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Good... you do realize that the test was made to be such a laughably low bar to pass specifically to point out how few movies/games actually do? Passing it doesn't make something good at female representation, it just makes it not as horrible as most.

Johnathon Tieman
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I am well aware of it. I'm just pointing out that James' comments are misplaced in an article about the recent Tomb Raider game and its sequel. He asked where the good secondary characters were, and I told him exactly where they are. Whether or not Tomb Raider is "good at female representation" is an entirely different point than the one made by James and I rebutted.

Theresa Catalano
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Technically, a lot of the Tomb Raider games pass the Bechdel test. The very first Tomb Raider passes it easily, just by virtue of having a female antagonist: Lara and Natla don't talk about men. Not sure about the second one, but the third one passes for much the same reason, there is a female antagonist.

Tomb Raider has been passing the Bechdel test since 1996. Just saying.

There's actually a lot of video games that pass this test, if you look past the typical modern AAA crap. For example, a truly wonderful game on the PS1 called Um Jammer Lammy has probably the best representation of a female character I've ever seen in a video game.

Arman Matevosyan
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@Theresa I agree with you.

A lot of Bechdel proponents say the original Tomb Raider doesn't pass the test. They say things like "oh well that shouldn't count, they didn't talk long enough." But they can't eat their cake and have it to. If it is such a law bar, as they proclaim, then ANY amount of conversation should pass muster.

James Coote
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I think you're all missing the point, which is that most male heroes are ordinary men put in extraordinary situations. Even Indiana Jones had a day job lecturing at a university.

Whereas women are varyingly put on a pedestal or isolated from their peers

Arman Matevosyan
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@James Are you paying any attention to people's comments? We just provided examples of Tomb Raider titles that pass the Bechdel test. How about you respond instead of just ignoring it and ramming your point across?

Theresa Catalano
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@James you're overly generalizing. I don't know if "most" male heroes are ordinary men put in extraordinary situations. Some are ordinary, some have training, some have trauma or mental problems (for example, Ryan Gosling's character in Drive.) Some are put on a pedastal and isolated from their peers.

The same is also true for female characters. There's a broad spectrum of characters of all types. I don't think you're giving writers enough credit.

James Coote
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Let me put it another way.

The article points out the context in which the heroine is often portrayed. I'm saying that if you zoom out a bit to look at the wider context and cast of characters, you can equally pick holes in the writing there as well.

The issue goes beyond that focused on here (the heroine), since to fix those issues, you need to look at a slightly bigger picture.

For both male and female protagonists, generally they tend to be slotted into a box marked "hero", but even the counter examples (which I'm sure you're already lining up) that have a more nuanced take on that central character aren't enough. You can have an anti-hero, but they're all the more better for having a morally-ambiguous supporting cast / band of merry troublemakers following behind in their wake.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Question to the mod that just removed one of my comments: Was it because it contained spoilers?

If yes, how we are supposed to talk about content that contains "sensitive" information about a game, movie, when it is needed to provide as an argument? Are their speical spoiler tags, we are obliged to use?

Not mad or anything, just asking.

If there are such regulations you should at least advise your authors (like in this case) to set a good example, because Leigh`s Blog contains massive spoilers for

The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, The Walking dead

Jan-Willem van den Broek
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As someone currently going through The Walking Dead and yet to play Bioshock Infinite, I would certainly have appreciated such a warning in the article. :-/

Rikard Peterson
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I too have been slow with playing The Walking Dead, and would have appreciated a spoiler warning. I did not wish to know that information.

Jennis Kartens
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While certainly truthful, it is not that the male characters are drawn and written in any way better or more appealing, meaning that they too suffer under the very same problem of low-level entertainment that is based upon stereotypes etc. to appeal to the masses (according to marketing, based upon myths).

There is much room for improvement and so far almost no one dares to touch it in the AAA market segment, which is odd to say at least, given how especially the US tv show market has a bit evolved in the past 10 years and certainly proving that quality under the perspective of more complex problems can be a commercial success as well.

Dave Hoskins
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I'm amazed how games get away with corny B-Movie scripts and SyFy Channel quality staging, especially when a game's budget often so much higher. Am I being unfair? Probably.

Matt Matthews
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The original Lara, by my recollection, was simply an accomplished adventurer. There was no backstory -- she simply existed, was powerful, and no reasons needed to be given.

Moreover, the first scene in which she appears has three characters: Lara, Jacqueline Natla, and Larson Conway. The man introduced Lara to Natla, and Natla then tells him to shut up so the women can talk business. In spite of all the retrograde imagery of Lara in Tomb Raider, she was strong and independent, competing with another equally independent and powerful woman.

Crystal Dynamics rebooted Tomb Raider with their Legend-Anniversary-Underworld trilogy and much of Lara's motivation, if my memory serves correctly, has to do with losing her mother. Yes, her father figures into it, but it is the mother figure which drives her.

Theresa Catalano
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Yep, great points. The original Lara passes this test with flying colors, she didn't need a reason to be badass and competent, she was basically a female James Bond. Of course, she was also very sexualized, so in terms of looks she was still very much a character for men. But in terms of personality, she was a great character for women, IMO.

I agree with this article in so much as I think they really went the wrong direction with her character. She didn't need an "origin story" and all this maudlin "character development." All she really needed was realistic proportions and a pair of pants.

Benjy Davo
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I honestly think this is just a storytelling trend more than anything. Lets not forget that the main GTA V protagonist was seeing a shrink also in a blatant homage to Sopranos.

The primary writer of the new Tomb Raider series Rihanna Pratchett is a woman, not sure why she would be trying to show women in a weakened light. Additionally Rihanna has tweeted her distress at this article and tried to address some of the assumptions.

I am sort of getting bored of all these reactionary pieces. I don't mind people giving their opinions but when you make such wild assumptions about the intent of the creator it goes beyond opinion and borders into slander.

Jennis Kartens
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Quite honestly, I don't think Rihanna Pratchett stands out among the game writers. I found the last TR as irrelevant and infantile as most AAA games. Ridiculous scenes, dialogues and character "development" set once again in a world that goes anti-story.

Andreas Ahlborn
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To be fair, she more or less distanced herself from TR in the aftermatch.

She basically constructed her "Lara" around the fact taht she was gay.

http://killscreendaily.com/articles/interviews/tomb-raider-writer
-rhianna-pratchett-why-every-kill-cant-be-first-and-why-she-wante
d-make-lara-croft-gay/

When this was cut from the game, because of target demographic, I got the feeling a lot of the Rebootyness of the franchise went over board.

Lets not forget that major decisions in a game are made as a team, and most writers don`t have the Ken-Levine-Bonus of getting away with everything.

Look at Naughty Dogs "Left Behind", I adore Druckmanns writing in this game, but it could only succeed with the voice actors he had and the team that backed up some "bold" twists in the script.

Jennis Kartens
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Thanks for the link. The last statement I read from her was very pro Tomb Raider but I don't remember the time frame.

Benjy Davo
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How can she distance herself from a game she is writing? she has confirmed on Twitter she is writing the next Tomb Raider.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Because of Bills?

Johnathon Tieman
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@Andreas:

'She basically constructed her "Lara" around the fact taht she was gay.'

I don't know where you read that, but it certainly wasn't in the article you linked to. Here's the full statement:

"There’s part of me that would’ve loved to make Lara gay. I’m not sure Crystal would be ready for it! But we've not spoken about it directly, either. Who knows what the future might hold? It is a bit of a minefield."

Nothing in the article indicates she has distanced herself from the franchise either. As Benjy pointed out, she is writing the sequel:

http://gamingeverything.com/rise-of-the-tomb-raider-official-anno
uncement/

The article is very good, however, and something Leigh should have read before writing this. In fact, if you read Rhianna's Twitter feed, you can see she doesn't agree with Leigh's statements here:

https://twitter.com/rhipratchett

Andreas Ahlborn
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Mabe I´m reading something into it, but the passage where she says:
"It is a bit of a minefield.*"
With the disclaimer at the end that Author and Studio never openly discussed Laras sexual orientation, makes it at least plausible that she intended to build up to this.

Also in the game there are clear hints that the sympathy between Lara and Sam (the girl she tries to rescue the whole game) is nothing like the dudebro friendship say between marcus & dom in the gears franchise.

In fact there is even an official "definition" for the phenomenon:
"http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/salara"

Imo making Lara openly gay would make for a much better motivational thread and interesting conversations with other female characters.

Theresa Catalano
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Well, it's hard to say for sure. But from playing the game, it certainly FEELS like the writer was hamstringed in some way, because the story feels like it's been steamrolled to death in order to be palatable for mass consumption. Or maybe the writer just isn't very good, who knows.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Andreas:

Given how open she is about her process into writing for that game, you are in fact reading into it. If you read further into that same article:

'You know, we didn’t actually touch on Lara’s sexuality in the game. She kisses Alex on the cheek. He has a crush on Lara, but it’s actually a sort of respect crush as much as anything else! It’s a sweet crush, which makes that moment more poignant. But people have talked about Lara’s boyfriends and stuff like that, and I’m like, “No, no, I don’t want that to be part of it!” This is about her. I didn’t feel like a boyfriend or that side of things fit into it. But I do like the fact that people speculate about what Lara’s relationship to Sam might have been, or that people speculate about Faith and Celeste. It’s good that people care enough about those characters to think about those sorts of things.'

She explicitly states that her sexuality has nothing to do with her character in game. She also states further on:

'The straight boy-girl thing has been typified by the damsel in distress. It’s always the male character rescuing the female character. It was interesting that with a female [protagonist] like Lara rescuing a female, people sort of projected that there was more going on to that relationship because of that.'

There she clearly states that any relationship between Lara and Sam was projected. She even posits a plausible reason - that we are so used to the story trope of lover rescues lover that people have problems accepting a story where it is merely friend rescues friend.

As far as the "official" definition, since when did Tumblr become the official source for anything other than Tumblr? The official source for the story of Tomb Raider is Rhianna Pratchett, because, you know, she's officially the writer.

Would making Lara gay be better? Given that "better" is subjective, I'm not going to say. Is Lara a good representation of women? For a certain definition of woman, certainly. Sam is a good representation of a different type of woman, and Joslyn (the female mechanic in the game) is at least a third type of woman (given she's a tertiary character, it is hard to to fully quantify that character). To me, the backlash appears like Lara isn't the representation that certain people wanted portrayed, rather than any true flaw in the way Lara is represented.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Andreas

"Because of bills."

I dislike this idea that a man disagrees with a woman's writing of a female character and then assumes she "sold out." Maybe she simply has different ideas than you about what a good female character is? Or how important avoiding a trauma story is?

Honestly my wife would disagree with over half the "sexism?" articles on Gamasutra, and most of the ones on Polygon. That's obviously a subjective viewpoint but that's the point... not all women have a singular concept that matches yours about what a good female character is.

Jonnathan Hilliard
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The writer of the original Tomb Raider was also female. Vicky Arnold.

Jonathan Grier
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To be fair there's also a LOT of male characters who suffer some form of psychological scarring. It's part of the hero's call or whatever that trope's called. The adversity.

But Tomb Raider's treatment of Lara did grate on me. Completely mistaking 9 hours of savage protag-beating for a viable character arc. And unfortunately people apparently took it as being such.

Contrary to the game's deeply aggressive attitude towards its main character is its mad desire to paint her as some kind paragon of virtue. In some cutscenes it even seems to paint a heavenly glow around her with the backdrop of the sun. Maybe if they'd gone straight for the psychologically traumatic Spec Ops: The Line route it wouldn't come off as quite so disingenuous.

Mathias Belger
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Why is the therapy questions juxtaposition not just a story telling device? Does it not belong to the classic methods like flashbacks & reverent dialogue right before a confrontation?

Like Sam's appeals to Frodo; like the mentor's disembodied voice for the protagonist to trust his feeling; like getting the close up of a soldier seeing them swallow fear and desparation before running out of cover?

Only in a trailer you do not need to worry about continuity so you can heighten the contrast even further by offsetting the action with images from the mundane world.
Is the contemporary nature of using a clichéed therapy session cheesy? Maybe, but one can feel the same with those other examples, too.

I find a real issue are those fridge maidens in other games. But I fail to see the connection to having to cringe at the lack of sophistication in this device for heightening the emotional resonance.

Michael Brown
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I only read the introduction so far, and I don't like where this is going. Every character's behavior needs to be legitimized; you're essentially asking for bad character development by saying otherwise. So why should she not have to go to therapy? Despite her past versions, they aren't treating her as a hard-ass character now. You can look to Bayonetta for that. Sometimes you just gotta let the characters be themselves instead of bringing up the question "Is this a good female character?" At some point, (but not always) that question becomes a part of the problem.

Amber Viescas
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I suggest you read more then. Some excerpts:

"And every time we have conversations about the traumatized protagonist, there's an understandable retort: "why can't games deal with trauma and disorder?" Of course they can... but here's the unfortunate thing: We've really only got this one mode of approach. I don't think it's farfetched to theorize that video games are still largely populated by men who feel unsure about how to write and build nuanced women."

PPS: the problem with Bayonetta is not that she's a "hard-ass." Try harder.

Michael Brown
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For one, try not to take offense to anything I'm saying. Telling me to "Try Harder" is no way to carry on a professional conversation. Also, I never insinuated that Bayonetta had a problem to begin with. I love the character.

I think this article is unfair because it's a critique of ONE character as a proper representative of how women are portrayed in games. While her points certainly ring bells in terms of culture and do deserve attention (like "she's someone's daughter"), I can think of plenty games where a female lead has more in her backstory than what men have done to them. Kat from Gravity Rush has no idea who she is. Bayonetta learned that her birth essentially started a war. Samus (acccording to a wiki; I don't know her backstory like that) had her family killed and her life torn apart by her arch-nemesis, Ridley. That's about as close as it gets from my experience, and Samus doesn't go to space therapy.

Hasan Almaci
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Right and who is the ultimate evil Bayonetta has to fight?

You too like most people here are missing the point.

It is not a critique of ONE character.

Michael Brown
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Well, If I'm missing the point, you're gonna have to point it out to me. Just because the final boss in Bayonetta was male really doesn't say anything. It could've just as well been a man in Bayonetta's role. And if her life is defined by what happened to her, that's fine, but she's still not going to therapy over it. Nor does she add enough of a sample set to say that women don't currently have character development of them failing their protective role.

You really haven't even said much. I don't see anything to support what you're telling me.

Vasily Yourchenko
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I agree in principle, but I am just unable to write heroes - male or female - that are not fundamentally broken. In my view it takes desperation, zeal, or mental sickness to decide to go and face near-certain death. Even if you go into battle sound of mind it is rare that you leave it in such a state. Veterans often find themselves unable to readjust to civilian life and almost none of them faced the kind of horrors your typical action game protagonist has.

Amber Viescas
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That's fine: there's definitely a space for these heroes too.

But it's a certainty that many games writers can write non-broken male characters, just not female characters.

So why not flip the script and write broken male characters, and let someone else handle the female characters? That way you can tell the stories you want to tell AND not contribute to the patterns afflicting games.

Theresa Catalano
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Contributing to patterns afflcting games is not a bad thing in itself, if that's what you want to do. You just need to be able to put your own spin on it. It's always great to go outside the norm though, whenever you can.

Daniel Borgmann
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Maybe the writers who ambitiously tackle interesting female characters are simply a bit more advanced, or not interested in creating yet another cliche video game badass? How is that a bad thing now?

I expect that we will also start seeing more realistically portrayed male characters, and that the occasional OTT action hero who doesn't give a damn (male or female) will eventually become a rare exception.

Of course not every character needs to be broken to be realistic, but as long as we send our heroes to single-handedly commit genocide, that's pretty much the case. If we find ways to evolve the gameplay beyond mass killings, we'll also have more options for sensible character development.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Daniel:

Interesting you mention that. Rhianna Pratchett, the main writer for Tomb Raider, posted these relevant comments on Twitter:

'Feeling déjà vu about comments on the #RiseOfTheTombRaider trailer that Lara shouldn't have therapy because male characters haven't.'

'Does a male character have to do it first before it's okay? Before it's sanctioned? Must we follow and not lead? Not on my watch!'

Source: https://twitter.com/rhipratchett

Bob Johnson
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Luckily I fall asleep when confronted with the back stories of characters in videogames.

I just rolled my eyes when the TR demo started excitedly talking about the other characters you can play in the new TR because all I saw was a green, yellow, red and blue circles shooting tiny lasers at monsters. Or at least that's what I thought I saw.

Dane MacMahon
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Men and women's typical social roles are different, for better or worse. Writers like to explain character motivations and causes for outlier behavior, so when you have an "action woman" it's an easy (and lazy) thing to do to define her as being different due to trauma, because "most women" aren't physically aggressive.

You can certainly make the argument that women tending to be less physically aggressive is a social construction, but you could also argue physical differences are the root cause. I've heard both sides of that argued extremely passionately in colleges for years. Either way, writers try to explain outlier behavior and trauma survivor is a lazy way to do that.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I don't think anyone would say that trauma is a "bad" reason... just that it seems to be the ONLY reason ever used.

Theresa Catalano
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That's not really true, though. There are definitely tough female characters that don't need trauma to explain them. Samus (if you ignore other M, as you should) is a great example. Bayonetta. The old Lara Croft, who simply raids tombs because she's an antisocial badass.

And then, look at all the strong female characters in Persona games... the only reason Chie is a badass in Persona 4 is apparently because she likes to watch and mimick Bruce Lee movies! Or what about Lightning from Final Fantasy 13, she's tough simply in order to protect her sister. There's a lot of tough female characters in Final Fantasy, like Terra/Celes in FF6.

Dane MacMahon
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Not sure what either of you are replying to honestly. I said it was a lazy explanation. I'm just saying people tend to want to explain it, because socially it's still considered outlier behavior. They should attempt to do it better, like Theresa's examples.

Theresa Catalano
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I mean, I basically agree with you that it's lazy to just go along with typical societal norms. I tend to appreciate stories that deliberately go against them, like some of the examples I mentioned. It doesn't really "make sense" that Chie could be a great martial artist with her small frame, but in the world of Persona it does, and I appreciate that.

Jonathan Lin
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Being a great martial artist and being small isn't exclusive in the real world either. Bruce Lee was a rather small guy - maybe that's why Chie's such a big fan. On that note Persona 4's a good game for examining the nuances of expected norms and how people respond to them, it's a shame more don't take that route.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Theresa

Makes sense.

Arthur Tam
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Terra's kind of a bad example though because the introduction to the game shows her enduring massive trauma after being captured.

Trinh Elise
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While it was quite an interesting article, I think many things have been mixed up here. As some have said before, it's hard to judge the entire game on its short trailer. The therapy setting can be about many things - a starting point, just a narrative trick like in Dragon Age 2, or even not something really relevant for the whole game - and we don't even know why she is exactly seeing a shrink, why she has PTSD - is it really related to the last game or what will happen in the next one? Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're not sure of anything at this point and it is quite... unfair to judge the entire game based on a trailer - especially when you know that writers do not write the trailers, and these are usually unfaithful regarding the actual game.

All the thoughts about the common trope about "female characters need to be traumatized to be badass", yes, I do agree: it's used almost everywhere, from video games to movies, also in some TV shows and comic books. Yes, male heroes are often saviors, while female heroes tend to be survivors; there're many cultural influences here, men are proactive, while women are reactive because initiatives come from men etc. Still, the trauma trope is not a bad thing per se; it's just that it's often "lazy writing", either for male or female characters. Usually it's because when you think of "deep characters", the first thing that comes to mind is to "create a deep backstory" and a common trope today is to mistake "dark stories and traumas" for depth - "Oh my god you're so deep because you're depressed and traumatized", "oh my god this is not simple killing, this is more than that because she/he got raped/traumatized by a banana when she/he was a kid". The same way goes for kids and puppies - the easiest way to create empathy is to put some cute things in your story to protect, because "obviously you will care for cute things" and they don't need to be profound in their way. I am exaggerating, here, but you'll get my point - I hope.

Anyway, I don't think there is a "women heroes problem", it's "heroes with depth", no matter what gender they are, that we need.
I'll go even further: no matter what tropes we are using, we just need better writing and people taking more risks with the characters they want to create. Tropes are not bad, writing makes them bad sometimes/too often, that's all.

Amber Viescas
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"it's hard to judge the entire game on its short trailer."

Flipside: what have game writers done to deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Amber Viescas
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"it's hard to judge the entire game on its short trailer."

Flipside: what have game writers done to deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Dane MacMahon
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"Existed as humans with good intentions," one might say.

I get the concerns with the original game's story, but for the most part I think they set out to make a strong, female character. That's a good goal. Judging their refinement of that on this trailer is a little suspect.

Paul Marzagalli
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"Flipside: what have game writers done to deserve the benefit of the doubt?"

Well, thinking of the ridiculous hue and cry over the last Tomb Raider's initial trailer, I would say "quite a bit." Perception does not equal reality.

Trinh Elise
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I am just a Doubting Thomas here. I can only believe in what I see, and I haven't seen enough to say anything relevant on it.

If we want to think about these things thoroughly, and carefully, prejudices as arguments are not helping.

Sean Francis-Lyon
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"what have game writers done to deserve the benefit of the doubt?"
This is not an acceptable point of view. You cannot declare someone guilty just because you can't be sure they are innocent.

david canela
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I think making sure you have a well-sized sample of information before passing judgment is always a sensible approach and not something that somehow needs to be "deserved" by the judged.

I fully agree with Trinh Elise's great post and a holistic perspective on the (mostly sad) level of game writing, fridge maidens and all. It reminds me of a something the late R. Ebert allegedly said:"with great stories it's not about what they're about, it's about how they're about the things they're about."

That said, the way I read Leigh's article the focus was on getting more diverse, deep female characters and less a criticism of the new TR.

Troy Bond
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Totally agree here; to me this highlights just how badly written so many male protagonists are in games. To me, "Person A is this way just because they are" is boring. Fiction and the characterization that goes with it, be it interactive or otherwise, is all about the how's and why's. And if the video game world hopes to gain any more ground in respectability, we need better character writing, whatever the gender.

nicolas mercier
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I am glad somebody wrote it like that, I considered commenting yesterday but refrained from it, and it was worth the wait :) You said it much better than me.
Nearly all characters of AAA video games have this issue; male or female; and it becomes increasingly hard to have empathy there. Last games I played were slightly better (I think Borderlands has great characters for instance; greedy, violent, annoying yet lovable somehow.)
That's the exception in a world full of men that act like Bruce Willis and women that act like Ripley. It became a bit the "amnesia" scenario trick of a soap opera.

Emeka Enubuzor
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I think we see that trope for women rather than men because we expect women to be more nuanced than men (Guys go to Jupiter...). In games, men are usually regulated to the brute role. They're the bruiser with no brains and is only driven by primal instinct or an order from some disembodied voice. They're typically extremely simple characters. Using one of your examples, with the Last of Us, Joel is only compelled forward by a single thing, while his companion, Ellie, was a much more deep and layered character - a character that grows over the course of the game.

Maybe we should be asking for more types of ways of creating nuanced characters (not just female characters), but asking for devs to create more uninteresting, simple minded, brute characters seems like a long step backwards in the storytelling department.

Amber Viescas
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"In games, men are usually regulated to the brute role."

Counterexample: every RPG ever.

Emeka Enubuzor
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RPGs are the counterexample for this entire discussion.

Jarod Smiley
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to be honest, this blog seems more click bait than legitimate. I don't care how men's strength is defined, half of them are bad stories. So who cares what the norm is if video game storytelling still has a long way to go? And it does IMO. Laura's trip into a strong woman is believable, as is Joel, as is Ellie's etc..Isn't that what's most important? A believably strong character?

And what women do you know who's just an in-born superhero prone to take a bullet for a her family or friends moreso than a male friend or husband would? This equality stuff is just getting blown out of logical reasoning. Men do some things more naturally than women, and vice versa, why the hell would we want a female story of EVERYTHING usually associated with men? Some of these blogs I think don't even realize what they are asking for.

I'll take a non-sexualized female protagonist that's super brave and strong for no apparent reason just innate ability and will power thank you. Yup, everyone can relate to that.

Amber Viescas
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"And what women do you know who's just an in-born superhero"

END SUPERMAN

Kaitlyn Kaid
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as others have said... it's not that trauma is a BAD reason for a female protagonist to be strong, it's that it is so very often the ONLY reason.

Alissa King
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You should try finding out about real life heroic women. The vast majority of them do what they do "just because" - aka they have the right sort of personality, drive, and guts, not because there's some contrived traumatic reason for their behaviour. Exactly like the men. For example, the female soldier who pulled an unconscious infantry soldier to safety while providing her own covering fire, despite the fact that he was twice her size, and she was a military lab technician and not trained for active combat. No "traumatic backstory" for her. Explosions started going off and she sprung into action.

The thing that people get most confused about is that character development is not about how well you can keep track of all of the eyelashes that fell out of your character's eyelid since they were five. It's about a believeable personality, a fully-recreated fictional psychology... Which DICTATES how a character deals with a situation rather than being created BY the situations. Which the main problem being discussed here. Dudes are endowed with a personality that makes them heroic; women characters more often than not need to have things happen to them to shape a personality that is heroic, which inherently makes them a lot more passive as a character.

The reality is, there is a helluvalot more psychological variation within one gender than there are differenced between the genders, and people seem to conveniently ignore that and go on some spiel about "differences between men and women". How about we hammer out the differences between individual women and individual men? That seems like a much more reasonable task.

Daniel Gutierrez
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I don't understand why thorough (I'll leave good/bad up in the air to personal preference) character development is being talked down here with regard to TR.

Should we see the machismo men in other games in therapy because that's a very much real thing? I think this generation's increase of vet suicides screams yes, we should be showing that everyone is vulnerable, not just women.

But I don't understand what point you're trying to make that this is bad... we have shows like the Sopranos where Tony's therapy is a major aspect of the show. Showing her with PTSD is a very human thing, especially if you've played the first one with scenes like her waking up in literal piles of human blood, guts, and bones.

Cori Myers
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I have to agree with Jarod, this article is fluff. To shed a little more light on this subject, EVERY game Hero/Heroine has to have a back story. It's pretty boring if we say..Lara is just a bad ass. Everyone who is truly a bad ass, whether they be real or virtual has had something happen to them to turn them into a badass. Sorry but adversity is the fuel that creates a badass.
Otherwise there is no point to that character/person. Who wants to hear Lara Croft grew up baking cookies with her grams and suddenly decided to raid tombs. Oh and she magically knows how to fight and how to shoot a bow and arrow. It HAS to be explained and the more extraordinary the story the more wonderful it is to see. It's called an origin story for a reason. Would Batman be nearly as interesting if he was just a kid who grew up to take on bad guys..just cause he was bored. Or do the fact that he lost his parents and that inspired him to make sure no one else's parents or children suffered his same fate.
I do love the new Lara and I was rather upset last time when the controversy was about the implied attempted rape in the game and it was one of the things I actually liked. The lesson that it taught then was..it's ok girls to fight back and you should. Stop assuming someone is coming to save you, you have to. And to show Lara with PTSD in fact makes her more human to me. I can tell you I never wanted to play a Tomb Raider before the last one and this one certainly has me interested. And we're mad because something happened to her? What should have happened then? She picked mountain side flowers? No one ever attacked her? Come on people.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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People volunteer for military service all the time, and I don't know about you but I consider anyone willing to get shot at for a living so I don't have to to be EXTREMELY badass.

And you're right, her knowledge of tombs and weapons needs a backstory, but why does it have to include the horrific events of the first game and not a passion for archaeology and firearms? There are lots of games with male protagonists who go out looking for adventure for adventure's sake, but females always have adventure FORCED on them, whether they want it or not.

Michael Rooney
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"why does it have to include the horrific events of the first game and not a passion for archaeology and firearms?"

Did you play the game? The whole reason they are on the Island is because of her passion for archeology that led the whole team there.

Heng Yoeung
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Most are badasses after thorough propaganda and boot camp. Humans are not born badasses. No one.

Amber Viescas
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Great article: This is also what bothered me about Other M.

Imaginations are so stunted that people cannot imagine nuanced female characters who aren't dealing with major trauma, but then when we come to male characters suddenly we can!

Gern Blanston
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Great article, I really appreciate your thoughts! :)

Ian Richard
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This was an interesting read. I wouldn't have thought about it but you've made some excellent points. I'll have to keep this in mind in the future.

Joshua Darlington
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Proportionality is important in heroic violence. Killing 1000 people looking for a pet cat is not a heroic story. So revenge or battling a massive existential threat are common themes.

Using gender to organize information will get you one result. Using other criteria to organize the same information might offer alternate insight. If the specific writers of the new Tomb Raider episodes want to explore PTSD, good for them. It's an important topic. Fiction that explores important topics leaves the user with a sense of time well spent - esp compared to fiction that does not.

sean lindskog
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Interesting article.

It's tricky. I applaud a game which chooses a female protagonist. I applaud a game which chooses to address PTSD of a violent protagonist. Yet the combination of the two seems problematic here. I'm not sure I agree (having not seen/played the recent Tomb Raiders), but I understand.

Fundamentally, I just don't think games are that good at creating deep characters yet, whether female or male. If you look to other media (like movies or books), it has been accomplished there much more successfully. Take Game of Thrones - Daenerys, Brienne, or Arya are all great examples of complex heroic female characters. It would be great to have more female characters like those portrayed in video games.

But we're not there yet. I think this is a problem as much to do with our crappy attempt to make action games more movie-like as it is a problem with poorly written female characters.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Exactly my thoughts. Game of Thrones is a good example that the sheer bending or mirroring a trope suddenly makes it fresh. Which proves the point Leigh was trying to make.
Also:Kill Bill.

I don`t agree that we have no complex female charcters in video games.

Ellie from Last of Us comes to mind, in fact if naughty dog comes up with a sequel, my guess is it will completely be centered around Ellie as female Lead, and we will look back at the Winter Episode as one of the best origin storys of a Heroine in any medium.

Julien Dassa-Terrier
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It is hard to talk about well written, complex characters without bringing in the Telltales Walking Dead. It is a good example of game featuring men, women and children with interesting personalities. All of them are flawed, some of them are strong, and they certainly could star in a good TV show or movie. In fact, to me they are much better than the characters from the TV version of the Walking Dead.

Of course, I have to agree on Ellie and most of the cast of The Last of Us. Tess and Marlene are amazing female characters. And Joel is a very interesting male character.

I would agree that this is still rare in video games. But aren't we there yet ? Maybe not, but we're getting close.

Iain Howe
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Read through the article. Twice.

I'm still not sure what you're asking for - as Game Writing gets more nuanced you find its characters get correspondingly more nuanced. What's the flip side of strength? Weakness.

Lara Croft has been through precisely this arc, starting off by offering an unkind death to any man, woman or dinosaur that crosses her path in the early years. So now she is broken by what SHE has done to herself. The experiences that were a result of her own choices. How is this something that a man has done to her? Why is making a female protagonist accessible to a male consumer a bad thing? Some of you act like you want media consumption to become an act of penance for guys!

Cordero W
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AAARRRGGGHHHH!

Sorry, stepped on an acorn.

Alexander Jhin
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This is a societal problem: Why do news agencies say, "They went into the village and killed residents, INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN." What, are women and children not residents? Is it somehow worse to murder women than it is to murder men? Isn't murder bad, full stop? Does it really need to be qualified?

But what this qualification implies is that the men in the village may have been combatants and killing them at home prevents having to face them on the battlefield. But women aren't combatants, so killing them is less justified.

Then we come full circle: once women become combatants as commonly as men, they are no longer victims or "innocents." Once this happens, women can merrily kill and be killed without qualification, just like the men. But somehow this doesn't seem better... would it not be better to encourage men to be innocent, non-killers than to encourage women to be killers and non-innocent victims?

Dave Hoskins
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LOL.
Why do we have to be force fed these back stories anyway? Because they can? Pleeease, they are not professional movie writers please stop pretending to be one.
Why can't we just learn the characters slowly through playing the game, and leave enough mystery for the players to imagine.
The original Croft was a rich artefact collector, why would we want to know any more? Let's go caving - NOW!

Cordero W
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This right here. More gaming and less movie storytelling techniques.

Theresa Catalano
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Well, this is kind of why the original Lara Croft worked pretty well as a character. She was a cypher. She didn't need a long tortured backstory, or "emotional growth." She needed to simply be a vehicle for the player as they explored worlds, and for that a simplistic, strong, James Bond archetype is perfect.

That's why I think the Lara Croft games have been on the wrong track ever since Crystal Dynamics took over, and have been getting progressively worse. Tomb Raider was best when the real star of the game were the tombs.

Dane MacMahon
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Yes yes yes yes.

So tired of wannabe movie directors in gaming.

Jiri Petruzelka
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An advantage of games is that they have extremely broad spectrum of where they want to stand on the scales from mechanics-only to narration-only. And then it can alternate between positions on the scale with a certain pacing (like RPGs alternating between combat and dialogues). I'm really glad there's such freedom.

It's up to authors and the audience they want to address. Some people dislike trying to add more story into game, some dislike games being shallow and simplistic in terms of the narration and want to know more WHY the character is there and why is (s)he doing what (s)he's doing. I wasn't surprised in the slightest the reboot took this direction and considering how successful it's turned out to be there are many people that feel this way.

Dave Hoskins
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We'll never know what made people buy it though. I could be many things, other than sitting through cut-scenes and back story fillers.

Jarod Smiley
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Well Nintendo still does it with Mario/Link/Metroid. But yeah, not a lot of games have protagonist that are just tools for gameplay expression anymore.

Hopefully that comes back this gen.

Alex Van de Weyer
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I disagree. I don't think we can pretend the market is the same as it was 20 years ago - to charge the prices they do blockbuster games have to offer more than just exploration/traversal gameplay. If you want a polished Tomb Raiding experience there are hundreds of indie games that do as good a job of it as the original Tomb Raider. You can play a different tomb every few minutes in Spelunky.

If what you're saying is that these glossy movie-tinged spectaculars are not that entertaining as games, then I agree.

Shaun Friend
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"If you want a polished Tomb Raiding experience there are hundreds of indie games that do as good a job of it as the original Tomb Raider. You can play a different tomb every few minutes in Spelunky."

Spelunky has nothing to do with Tomb Raider beyond the Indiana Jones Pulp theme, and I haven't found a single Indie game that's captured the slower-paced 3D exploration, platforming, puzzle solving and complex unravelling level design of what TR originally was. Since AAA has shown to have stopped trying it's basically the holy grail of Indie games for me right now.

Edit: And there's nothing inherently better about combat than exploration and traversal. I've played plenty of games where I found those aspects far more invigorating than the combat parts (Tomb Raider included). Combat might be proven to make more money but that doesn't make it better; there's nothing worse about being "just" exploration and traversal, than there is with being "just" combat (which is most blockbuster games).

Edit2: Ugh Rock Paper Shotgun link made me miss how old this article is. Oh well.

Theresa Catalano
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I think one of the very best female characters in any game has to be The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3. What made her so special was that she was portrayed as the ultimate soldier in a universe filled with Snake Pliskin badasses and people with ridiculous superpowers. Yet everyone was afraid of her, despite the fact that she merely used hand to hand combat. Not only was she tough, but she has her own agenda and the story basically revolves around her, even moreso than the protagonist. She was also an older, fully clothed woman who was not sexualized at all.

The Boss didn't need "trauma" as an excuse to be the ultimate badass. No, it's just that the ultimate soldier in the Metal Gear universe just happens to be a woman, no other reason needed. And she's not an anamoly... there's lots of characters like her in the video game world, you just have to look a little farther than the typical modern hollywood crap. Just want to point that out.

Jarod Smiley
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One of the best games ever to boot...Kojima will likely have more controversial stuff in MGS5. Already tackling rape issues in the demo.

Jonathan Adams
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This is the second time they've started off with "Here's Lara Croft, crying!" as the way to introduce the series. It's an uncomfortable pattern to have for one of the few female badass protagonists. It's not a bad treatment of the struggles of a hero in general, but because she's one of the two main women in games (the other being Samus... Other M, 'nuff said), her situation is like Wonder Woman tearing up about how scary it was to fight the evil monkey men from mars.

When there are few examples, those examples mean a LOT more, and their being reduced in stature produces a lot of problems.

Michael Joseph
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In patriarchal systems, including patriarchal economic systems that value wealth accumulation, power, dominance and war making over peace making (including economic warfare), a woman who wants to become a leader in that system MUST act like a man. In fact, if women held every political office but still acted this way, you'd still effectively have a patriarchal system. Patriarchal systems view what are regarded as feminine postures/views as weak. A woman who is a lawyer, a business woman, a cop, a politician, an athlete, a soldier, is judged by how well she fits in with the boys (and the boys way of doing things).

So unfortunately, to have a female character act like a man within a patriarchal culture, writers have few options:
1) she's been hurt and she's become tough (started acting like a man) as a matter of necessity (La Femme Nikita is a good example of a damaged woman's toughness being recognized and then exploited by others)
2) she's a tomboy or "butch" and is perhaps damaged genetically. (she's not of course, I'm saying this is what mainstream members of the patriarchal society will think and this is what writers have to contend with)
3) she comes from some other society

Writers will chose option one 95 times out 100.

Now a character like Wonder Woman who comes from a matriarchal society is completely different. She doesn't have to be broken because she never has to try and become a proxy for a male. Her people worship a goddess. Her people's society is more cooperative, nurturing, forgiving, peaceful, doesn't torture, etc (someone will find MANY examples where this is just not true... but I'm going for a collage of the best of... but if you prefer, let's pretend I'm inventing a new character). Such women can be warriors, can be peace officers, can be truth & justice seekers, and do so in a way that that does not require them to act the way we expect men to perform those duties.

In that society/reality, male traits are the source of negative stereotypes.

Some regard Christianity as an effeminate religion... and that's why patriarchally indoctrinated westerners who claim they are Christians seek personal salvation rather than try to live a life that exemplifies the life of Jesus... their effeminate, hippie, savior.

Wylie Garvin
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Characters should change and evolve during the story. Trauma is not the only way to change them.

I want to see more interesting characters in video games, both male and female. But the portrayal of female characters is often still really weak in games, and we should be trying to improve at that. It reminds me of TV shows from the 60's and 70's, compared to now: women only appeared as nurses and housewives, never as leaders. Uhura on the enterprise bridge--both a woman and non-white--was shocking because it was so rare. And yeah, the miniskirts... Star Trek has always dressed up the ladies as eye-candy for male viewers. But from TNG on, they stuck the male characters in spandex too.

So television shows have made progress in this area over the last few decades. You now see strong female characters in all sorts of roles that 60's shows would not have cast them: politicians, police officers, community leaders, whatever. But it seems like game-writing hasn't reached that equilibrium yet.

I applaud games like Skyrim that cast both men and women in all of the possible roles in the game (shopkeepers, town guards, leaders, thieves, questgivers, bandits, random-NPC-in-distress that you run into on the road somewhere, etc.) Bioware also does this really well. I can't think of too many other mainstream examples.

Michael Joseph
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With Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek gave us our first woman starship captain. Janeway was not a broken character. She struggled somewhat with being the lonely captain who refused to have a relationship with a subordinate, but otherwise she was a whole person who didn't have to suppress a part of herself in order to fit an image of 'captain' that was the product of a male psychology dominated socioeconomic system.

The writers of the Janeway character had the advantage of working with a character that came from "someplace else" - a place where the patriarchal system had long been abolished.

Sadly, the Star Trek reboot seems to want to undo a lot of that.

EDIT: it's been mentioned before just how philosophically conservative games are and this subject is just another example. And unfortunately, you can see this conservatism in many of the comments here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_hippie_movement#Legac
y

david canela
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On a slightly diverging subject: in the sexism in games debate I often find that several things get mixed up: good nuanced female characters vs. "strong" female characters. The former is about general quality of writing, the latter is more about offering a role model that is considered to be rare in games. They are certainly not exclusive, but they are not the same, either.

Sergio Juarez
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I think that any story showing its main character (regardless of whether its male or female) confronting the psychological outcome of previous traumatic events is very interesting cause it makes the spectators more aware of the action instead of becoming numb to it. A great previous example of this is the ending of Far Cry 3 (SPOILERS!) when the main character goes back to California but questions how he can go back to his previous life after killing countless of people on the island.

On the other hand, I agree that its regrettable how female and male main characters get a completely different treatment on most mainstream video games, but I think this is a problem with storytelling in general regardless of the format (books, movies, etc…). Seems like a lot of writers follow the Ripley or Sarah Connor formula. There has been some progress (Black Widow in Avengers, Bayonetta, Portal, etc…), but there are so few female characters in comparison with male characters in action/adventure stories that it seems like things haven’t improved at all. Hopefully this will change soon.

Matthew Cleere
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I sometimes think to myself, "You know, I think one of the reasons I have trouble writing dialogue is because I just don't like to think with the mind of a person who is a jerk or an idiot or in some extreme way nothing like me at all. Especially if I personally would perceive them as bad or evil or annoying."

The FACT is that good writers can do just that and they MUST do just that. People calling things sexist and racist and xenophobic, etc ad nauseum these days everywhere I look has seriously become some kind of warped phenomenon or something. Yes, such things exist, but stop shoving them into everything. The truth is that we are less of all the above then at any time in history. At some point this ceases to be carrying the torch and becomes an obsessive compulsion. I get it, you want the world to be a fair place. Guess what? It isn't. And do you know how I like my stories and video game stories? With a great big dollop or real. If you are creating a character who is about to run around a huge map killing literally hundreds of people, I don't think complaining about them getting beat up or asked awkward questions by a therapist is hardly an issue. In other words, do yourself a favor and check the political correctness and all of it's brothers and sisters and cousins at the door when it comes to art. Video games are art. Movies are art. Books are art. Characters and their lives are art. Sexism in Lara Croft? Yikes. Has this been taught recently in college or something? One of the least sexist female characters in YEARS. Here is a take on why women heroines get the s#!+ kicked out of them sometimes in origin stories in video games... how about because they are being treated exactly the same as a man would be. An attempt at equality on the part of the writer. Perhaps it is the equality they take "too far" and not at all some kind of misogyny as you say. Hey, I don't like watching slashers where they slash up women AT ALL, even though it seems 2/3's of the guys out there think they are wonderful, but the situation we are talking about here is in no way gratuitous, and accusing it of being so is just some kind of over-sensitivity.

I LOVED Tomb Raider and my perception of Lara Croft is a 110 percent incredibly strong woman. Stronger than my lazy ass, both mentally and physically. How you got anything else out of that I have no idea, but I'm guessing its because of a predisposition on your part, author.

Andreas Gschwari
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"This, we are made to understand, is how you become a heroine, a tomb raider. Our lead characters have to be hard, and while we accept a male hero with a five o'clock shadow and a bad attitude generally unquestioned, a woman seems to need a reason to be hard. Something had to have been done to her."


No, this is not how you become a heroine. This is how Crystal Dynamics, the makers of the game, the writers of this particular story, crafted THEIR heroine. It is not a template for every heroine in every game. It is not different because she is a woman. It simply is. Why is it necessary to question the motives behind this story, this character.

Is no female character going to be allowed to go through therapy ever because it might make her seem weaker than men?

Should all male characters now go through therapy to even the playing field?

Or can creative people, story tellers, tell a human story of a character without fear of being slammed for it?

Do people do the same for characters of books?

Luis Guimaraes
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Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.

Kenneth Blaney
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I'm torn on this. On the one hand if you are planning to frame your narrative as a story being told to a therapist, it makes sense that you use a female protagonist because women go to therapy more than men (partially due to double standard on emotions: men don't have them, women are owned by them). However, this is a problem because it is likely that they said, "What is someone Croft would do because she's a woman?" Additionally, this seems to further the idea that men aren't supposed to go to therapy.

So, serious question here, noting that men of color tend to suffer from as bad or worse PTSD as Caucasian men (and men more so than women) when returning from war, if one were to make a game about PTSD would it be better to use a man of color to draw attention to that difference? Alternatively, would using a man of color as the main character be playing into a stereotype about men of color?

Paula Wright
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Oh please!

In real life she'd have gotten PTSD from sexist men people being mean to her on Twitter.

Paula Wright
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These are not stereotypes, they are archetypes.

Paula Wright
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Men suffer more PTSD than women because they serve in the front line more than women. It's not because men are somehow more vulnerable than women.

All humans are vulnerable, and men and women are vulnerable in different ways. This is why there was a threat of rape in the last Lara game. Sex and gender roles are not all socialised. A lot of them are based in biology. The developers are merely playing to these archetypes. That's what makes these games so popular. They tap into human nature on a grand scale. They are not fringe franchises. They want to appeal to as many people as possible - the male and female heterosexual demographic.

Christina Gonzalez
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It is women that suffer PTSD at higher percentages than men. In fact, women are *twice as likely* to report PTSD in their lives.

"The National Comorbidity Survey, a major epidemiological study conducted between 1990 and 1992, estimates that the lifetime prevalence among adult Americans is 7.8%, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lives."
(http://www.minddisorders.com/Ob-Ps/Post-traumatic-stress-disorder
.html)

Paula Wright
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Men are less likely to be diagnosed with anything than women as they don't go to the doctor as much as them - hence have shorter life spans (for many reasons, but this is one of them).

I get so bored of feminist critiques of games. Gaming is a fantasy, and escape where people indulge themselves in vicarious experience. Most of all it's meant to be fun. getting bogged down in arguments with feminists isn't fun. It's the antithesis of gaming.

Timmy GILBERT
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It doesn't help that killing the maiden don't allow me to escape, that's just gross and disturbing.

Matthew Doyle
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Caution - long rant. Read at your own peril. And please understand that I am generalizing here, as there are ALWAYS exceptions to be found.

First, let me say the article is well written and I thank the writer for their time and thoughts. However...

I couldn't have said it better Paula. I play games to have fun and enjoy a good story sometimes, and have been since the C64 days. I believe in equal rights and equal pay for everyone - regardless of gender, age, race, religious belief etc. But when I hear people complaining about discrimination in video games, I have to shake my head a little, and think to myself - it's just a game.

This article in my mind goes along with the basic premise that the games industry is somehow discriminatory against women. When IGDA comes out with a study that shows only ~22% of game developers are women (up considerably since their last survey by the way), and the indication is that the game industry discriminates, I see things a little differently. I worked in games for 8 years, and saw plenty of women working as artists, designers, and even engineers, producers, department heads, etc. Could it just maybe be that fewer women want to make games than men? Just Possibly? Sure, there is always some discrimination, but the real trend is more about demographic than discrimination in my mind.

Is it possible that the reason most games are so male centric is because:

1. Most game devs are males.
2. Most game players are males?

Just Possibly?

Though this trend is slowly changing a little (and I welcome that trend), I don't think we will see a day when more women are into games than men any time soon. It might come, but not for quite some time in my mind. And it isn't because there is some conspiracy to keep women out, nor is it due to some discriminatory social, patriarchal thing. It's pure demographics. Most game developers are the most socially liberal people I know, as if being conservative has anything to do with being discriminatory. But does everything in life always have to be 50/50? Can't there be some things where women do it more or men do it more? What's so wrong with that? Why do we feel the need to have even numbers in every single thing in life? As if otherwise we'd be racist, sexist, bigots?

It's the same thing to me as the gay discrimination argument. Why aren't there more games with gay characters? I don't discriminate against anyone in the LGBT community, but according to most stats, usually less than 5% of the population consider themselves homosexual or otherwise not heterosexual around the world. To me, that's the real answer.

But to target video games and say they are discriminatory towards women just because of how someone writes a female character or gays because there aren't enough of them being represented in a fictional story which is often shallow anyway is just taking things a bit too seriously.

Bring on the damaged goods female lead. If it makes the story work, then so be it. Personally I find it more compelling than the "hey I'm ok you're ok, let's just be bad asses" persona. And why shouldn't most gamers feel this way? I'm willing to bet that most people (male or female alike) have experienced personal trauma in their lives that made them stronger. And I've played plenty of games with male leads who were also damaged goods in some way. Male leads are almost always spurred on by some kind of tragedy to become stronger. A personal tragedy hits home more closely, but even an alien invasion of earth or a zombie apocalypse can be a tragedy that leads a man to become stronger. And females too! "Heroes aren't born. They're made." - a quote I've often heard.

Andy Thomas
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It really sad how after the first 5 games on the not only have the Tomb Raider franchise have been bastardized, but also Lara Croft. If anything I would like to see a day come when the franchise get back to its old school roots.

Heng Yoeung
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I vote Leigh write the next Woman Hero game. Oh, excuse me, Nuanced, Woman Hero Game. Because men writing Woman Heros are infantile. Obviously, the writer for Tomb Raider is a man.

I'm kidding Leigh. You write beautifully. See what I did there, guys?

Jacque Choi
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Damaged and disturbed is INTERESTING.

Batman is INTERESTING. Super man is BORING.


The fact Lara Croft is a woman has absolutely no bearing on the fact, that making her psychologically damaged makes her much more interesting.

Heng Yoeung
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Superman boring? Not. He lost his home and family and everything he knew or would have known for God sakes. He's got nothing left in life to life for, except his humanity. He's only dull because nobody knows how to make him interesting. I heard Stan Lee talk about some of his superheroes, and they all gone through some kind of crisis. Mostly DNA damage from gamma rays or whatever, and Stan has no idea what gamma rays are.

Heng Yoeung
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Or how about this? How come we don't see any Asian or black or Hispanic Female superhero? WTF. This country is racist.

Andy Thomas
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there are female superheros of the said ethnicity.

Paula Wright
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Here we go! A race to the bottom!

No feminist critique of Tomb Raider has ever convinced me the writer has ever been a fan of the franchise and so, it's a no-brainer, they don't get it. That is not a feminist issue.


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