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.