The new Tomb Raider
has stirred up some interesting discussions about male gaze
in video games, as the new Lara Croft is manhandled by natives, and grunts and moans her way through sequences that at times can be painful to watch. For those unfamiliar with the subject, the idea of "male gaze" in cinema and other media is that women are inherently objectified when the camera is controlled by a heterosexual male. That is to say, when the camera emphasizes the sexuality of the female form, or places women in compromising positions. In the case of Tomb Raider
that is done partly through sound design, and through her many male pursuers (see this video
The question few have asked is whether this is being done to a specific end. Is Crystal Dynamics trying to do something specific with this that has a net positive, or is a net positive even possible? The full answer won't come until the game's final reveal, but Brian Horton, senior art director at Crystal Dynamics, says the uncomfortable feeling is largely intentional. "We knew we wanted to be a mature game, and that opened up some themes that were maybe not present in past Tomb Raider
titles," he said. "We knew it'd be controversial in some way, but we felt it was motivated by the story we were trying to tell."
"So the idea of people feeling uncomfortable with some of the footage, or feeling like there's a concern, we feel like a lot of that comes out of not seeing the content in context," he added. "When you see it in context I think it feels a little more appropriate."
For better or for worse, Tomb Raider
is getting pushed to the forefront of the discussion of depiction of women in games, and the game will have to answer for that one way or another.
"I think the discussion is something we should have in general about male vs female protagonists, and I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that she is female," says Horton. "But I think it's something we're totally willing to embrace, because we've gone down a direction and we're committed to it. All I ask is that for those who are doubting, look at things in context as we deliver more content."
Horton welcomes the discussion, though, and isn't shying away from engaging with those who are concerned about the game. "I think we want people to feel something, that's what's so great about this," he said. "I'd rather have them express emotion, and talk about it. It's inspiring a debate. We want people to be emotionally invested in this game, and it's nothing if not a great opportunity for gamers to have conversations about very mature themes, and that's how we look at a mature game. It's not all about blood and gore, it's about a situation that might traditionally be taboo in a video game."