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.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue