Hey, let's "evolve" Lara Croft by having people try to rape her!

"She is literally turned into a cornered animal."

How's this for timing? The day after the hoo-hah over Anita Sarkeesian's project to expose stereotyped women in computer games, and the makers of the new Lara Croft game are ready to assure you that she's not just a walking jiggle any more. Oh no, she is a sympathetic lady who will engage you emotionally.

How are they going to do this? By having her beaten and subjected to an attempted rape. 

Ron Rosenberg, executive producer, explains:

"When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character . . . When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her' . . . The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualised version of yesteryear. She literally goes from zero to hero... we're sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again. . .  She is literally turned into a cornered animal. It's a huge step in her evolution: she's forced to either fight back or die."

WHOA THERE, RON! Did you just say that "gamers" don't identify with Lara Croft? Did you just say that "gamers" only like female characters when they get to protect them? Did you just say that "gamers" would find a woman being beaten and raped "enticing"? It sounds a hell of a lot like you did.

There is so much WTF going on in that quote I can barely start to comprehend it. Even allowing for the fact that off-the-top-of-your-head remarks can give an impression a more considered response wouldn't, it is a pretty odd thing to say.

For a start, I - and, I suspect, lots of female gamers - quite liked Lara Croft when I was growing up. In ye old days (the 90s), it felt like the only girls in games were Princess (boring, didn't do anything) and Chun Li (did a bit more, but without any pants on). I loved "being" Lara Croft, running around, treasure-hunting, failing to grab that ledge over and over again. Yes, the boys liked trying to get the camera angle to see down her top, but at that stage, I'd take what I could get in terms of female characters. I'm sure plenty of other women "projected themselves" into the character, along with many men.

Now, 16 years after the original game, things are supposed to have have moved on. There are interesting women aplenty in games (Samus and FemShep spring to mind), and yet we still have developers expecting a big ole pat on the back for resisting the urge to make their character's cleavage her chief selling point. Even worse, they think that "gamers" (by which I think Ron Rosenberg means "men") can only be reconciled to a female character if they can look after her. If the makers "build her up and just when she gets confident . . . break her down again".

There's also the fact, as many writers have pointed out, that it's only women who are presumed to be made "stronger" by subjecting them to brutal beatings and rapes. Bungie didn't think that the only way players would root for Master Chief was by having him raped. He got to run around with an awesome set of weaponry, no face and barely any voice, and yet mysteriously players managed to "project" themselves into him just fine.

Anyway, I'm sure this will provoke a huge amount of debate in the industry, and perhaps even someone will take Ron Rosenberg aside and mention the fact that many women play games, and many players of both genders don't need to see a woman subjected to an attempted rape in order to be interested in her.

I'll leave you with this, the cherry on the world's creepiest cake:

She is literally turned into a cornered animal. It's a huge step in her evolution.

Yes, Ron Rosenberg, you're right. Abandoning one objectifying, male-gazed depiction of women for another, objectifying, male-gazed depiction really is progress. I salute you.

UPDATE:  A few people have questioned whether it is true that Lara Croft will be subjected to a rape attempt. The Kotaku article from which Ron Rosenberg's comments come has this to say: "And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her." Following the furore, the developers say that Rosenberg "mis-spoke", but Kotaku stand by their story

Yeah, that just about sums up the whole Lara Croft phenomenon, right there. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.