So recently gaming and how females are treated in the culture has become a hot topic. There are a few reasons that brought it back up to the surface, but the basic big ones are the trailer for the next Hitman and the information that has been coming out for the next Tomb Raider. Before we get into this, I do have issues with these games but they mainly came from the directions each is taking, one becoming a Splinter Cell copy and the other ripping off Uncharted quite heavily. Still, Tomb Raider does seem to be a solid game with what I’ve seen so far. Hitman…eh, not so much.
That said, people bringing up the issue have gotten me to think a bit. Gaming is not a medium very friendly to females, nor is it one that seems to know how to write female characters very well. There are exceptions, there are always exceptions, but we really should look at this because this is a pretty massive issue that shows gaming is still trying to mature, which is a shame because this hobby has been around for 30 years or more now.
First, let us look at the problem with Hitman. The trailer that has caused so much controversy…
Putting aside the rant that this is nothing like Hitman, this trailer is, to put it bluntly, stupid. This is a problem because Hitman has never been a series that you could describe in such a way, it has been a dark series that takes itself with a sense of silent intensity and edge. The games focused on silently disguising yourself and stalking out the target, accomplishing all your objectives with the least amount of attention drawn to yourself. The massive explosion and sexy nun assassins don’t exactly fit, and it’s made worse because it’s taken completely seriously. If you saw a bunch of stripper nuns walking towards you, would you be scared or be confused and oddly aroused? The intent is also obvious, using sex appeal solely to get attention for the product, which is a pretty cheap market tactic, which simply makes no sense for such a series.
Now Tomb Raider is a different case. The gameplay looks fantastic and seeing Lara get so bruised fits with the harsh area the game is set in and the villains she has to deal with. I don’t think you’d be looking so pretty while fighting for your life. What drew attention to this game was this little nugget…
“In the new Tomb Raider, Lara croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then those scavengers will try to rape her.”
…yeah. It gets dumber.
“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.”
“We’re trying to tell a great origin story.”
At was at that last quote that my mind began to fall apart as it failed to understand how a human being could possibly miss the point more.
History lesson. Lara Croft was designed to basically be a female version of Indiana Jones, an adventurer who goes around looking for ancient artifacts and occasionally ends up fighting people or monsters on rare occasions, using her fit, dual pistols and generally badassery. What made her badass? She was just a strong character and also not defined by her gender. As the series continued, she was developed further into a strong woman and honestly a character I wouldn’t feel bad in pointing out as a string female role model.
The idea of an origin story isn’t bad, but YOUR IDEA IS THAT SHE ALMOST GOT RAPED AND HAD TO GO SAVAGE TO SURVIVE. She’s a strong woman going around collecting artifacts, not a bloody ex-solder who served in the worst areas of the world. This origin story doesn’t fit her at all and plays into terribly offensive clichés, that women have to be put through incredible trauma to be effective heroes of any sort, that somehow nearly being broken is the only way to grow a backbone and overcome their “feminine nature.” The incredible amount of stupid here is so large that I can barely understand it. Who on Earth thought this was a good origin story for such a simple and entertaining character? Why did we have to get all GRIM DARK ADULT HURR DURR instead of just having a strong female character that didn’t require a fucking attempted rape to become “strong?” This little gem just made me run a wall, and the more I read on how the decision was being defended just made me angry. Do I have to say anything else about how offensive this is in so many ways than what I’ve already said?
Cheesecake and brutality aren’t instantly bad tones to go with, but there’s a time and place and neither of these picked right. Want to make a tough survival story about one woman going into hell and coming out alive? Make a new IP and don’t drag a character who has never given off the vibe of such trauma. Want to have rocket launcher carrying nun assassins? Make a tongue in cheek parody game, don’t shove it in Hitman.
So, what would be better examples of these clichés done right? Well, for cheesecake, Grasshopper Studio’s recent Lollipop Chainsaw comes to mind.
The reason this works is how stupid and over the top it is, and that the game itself is fully aware of it. It goes full exploitation mode and then goes even more insane beyond that, taking the focus away from the obvious skin and violence and focusing on making the giant mash of sleaze look as ridiculous as possible. Titillation isn’t the goal, comedy poking fun at the art of titillation and gore exploitation is.
A better example of a grim dark story following a woman in tough conditions? Easy, Silent Hill 3.
The game has you play as a vulnerable teenage girl dealing with monsters so strange and horrific that H.R. Geiger would raise an eyebrow at them. Thing is that Heather isn’t forced to become “strong” or any crap like that, she’s already a capable person, but she is dealing with things beyond her understanding and the game manages plenty of horror without having to resort to any cheap tactics. Rape has become a very terrible out for writers who have no idea how to write happy characters or build drama without it. There are exceptions (Miracleman used it in a very disturbing way that created one Hell of a villain), but the exceptions are incredibly few and far between. Silent Hill 3 simply used the freakish atmosphere and creatures without resorting to anything else than the already harsh situation they made.
Ultimately the problem when it pops up is not knowing the time and place. Relying on cheap tactics is a disservice to what could be interesting characters in their own right, instead going with flawed ideals based on far too old gender roles. You have to know when to use the guns you have and how to use them, or else you’re just being sexist, even if that isn’t the intent. The truly sad part is that I doubt any of the people working on these games were trying to do anything to make some backwards statement on the roles of women in society, they just didn’t have a clue. The industry needs to become aware of the world around them, or they’ll be left behind.