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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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA