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Wound Raider: Authorizing Trauma in Lara Croft's Origin Story

by Ethan Tussey

by Matthew Thomas Payne and Derek Frank for IN MEDIA RES

In the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is an adventuresome 20-something shipwrecked on an island populated with murderous cultists. No longer the confident, Teflon-coated adventurer of old, she is re-imagined here as a vulnerable young woman who, over the course of the game, discovers the fortitude that defines this iconic hero. Notably absent, however, are Lara’s absurdly skimpy clothes and hyper-sexualized body; she is now rendered with more natural proportions and shows less skin. Lara also now endures an unrelenting amount of physical abuse, far exceeding the punishment doled out to previous versions of the tomb raider. Indeed, this punishment and the game's grim, survivalist tone are central to the reboot’s marketing.   

This focus was accentuated by the game’s early trailers which featured the attempted rape of Lara. Trying to explain these trailers, and the new feel of the franchise, executive producer Ron Rosenberg gave an interview where he suggested that, “players would feel like they wanted to protect her.” This sparked a backlash from fans who felt that this betrayed what they loved about the character; that their heroine had been replaced by a damsel-in-distress. A month after this interview, Rhianna Prachett (daughter of sci-fi writer Terry Prachett) was introduced as the game’s lead writer. Prachett argued that the offending scene was not about rape, but was instead about Lara being forced to defend herself and kill for the first time. According to Prachett, the scene is part of the crucible in which Lara transforms from a would-be victim into an action hero. Pratchett remarks of Lara, "She's not thinking, 'Oh my God, I was almost raped.' She's thinking, 'Oh my God, I've just taken a human life.'"

We find the firestorm over the new origin story fascinating, in part, because of the questions it raises about how authorial intent may be deployed to assuage concerns that might negatively impact sales. While Pratchett has never taken full responsibility for creating the rape scene (nor is it clear what hand she had in developing it), she has been one of its chief defenders. Moreover, given the dearth of strong female avatars on screen and the underrepresentation of women in the games industry generally, we wonder if Crystal Dynamics leveraged Pratchett’s gender to diffuse criticisms of Lara’s assault? Additionally, how might the writer’s gender affect interpretations of “the scene,” Lara’s journey, and the player’s role in "protecting" her?

Young Lara Croft on her first adventure - Tomb Raider Crossroads E3 2012 trailer

Young Lara Croft on her first adventure - Tomb Raider Crossroads E3 2012 trailer

from Tomb Raider (2006)
Creator: Crystal Dynamics
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey