Sexually assaulting Lara Croft

Gaming icon Lara Croft.

Gaming icon Lara Croft.

Until very recently, I played World Of Warcraft on a regular basis. WoW is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game - an MMORPG - set in the fantasy world of Azeroth, where the nominally "good" Alliance battle the nominally "bad" Horde; you pick your side and then go for gold, battling monsters and other players as you climb the ladder to the storied Level 85.

 

For those of you who’ve not tiptoed through the peaceblooms in Azeroth, the text-based chat channel is your direct line of communication to your fellow gamers, and theirs to you. It’s where you find fellow party members, ask if anyone has a stack of frostweave to sell, or flog your skills in order to level your professions. It is also where the scum of the earth rises to the top of its pool of vomit to share their witty thoughts about gender and sexuality.

 

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Here’s a fairly representative example (with names changed to protect the “innocent”, except for me, Eowynne, feel free to laugh) of what used to go down on the General and Trade channels pretty much constantly:

 

[2. Trade] [LeeroyJenkins69]: Alterac Valley is full of twink fags today

[2. Trade] [PwnWizard]: gay

[2. Trade] [Eowynne]: hey guys how about quitting the hate speech?

[2. Trade] [LeeroyJenkins69]: whats your problem bitch

[2. Trade] [PwnWizard]: someone needs a good raping

 

 

...And so on. I’d talk to fellow players who’d moved servers, convinced that Thaurissan (an Oceanic server, with a high volume of Australian players) was suffering from the same rot as Australian society in general. Alas, as it turned out, there was sexism in pretty much every server and realm, enough to drive some of my friends from the game.

 

 

(Not to mention within the game itself; “Why is it that developers are fine providing women with an unequal and often worse game experience?” Josh Myers asked on WoW Insider earlier this year. “Why are developers OK with allowing female PCs [people actually playing the game] to be harassed by male NPCs [the non-player characters generated by the game itself] or requiring them to wear totally impractical armor pieces?”)

 

I tell you this because it seems there is still a considerable slice of society that either believes that women don’t play video games, or that they do, but sexism in gaming isn’t that bad a problem.

 

To which I can only really say: O RLY?

 

A few weeks ago, cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian set up a Kickstarter campaign, seeking crowdfunding to produce her series about gender roles and sexism in gaming, Tropes vs. Women In Video Games.

 

Sarkeesian’s campaign began to receive donation pledges, but then all hell broke loose: the bro dudes got wind of her campaign and set about doing all they could to burn it to the ground. In this New Statesman piece on the whole sorry affair, she recalls the explosion of blood-curdling misogyny:

 

“The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as ‘terrorism’, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen ‘jokes’ to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.  All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.”

 

(There was also a howlingly hilarious IndieGogo campaign launched to fund a series that plans to explore misandry in videogames. I say “explore” because I can only imagine they will have to search long and hard to find any trace of actual misandry in the depiction of male characters in videogames.)

 

Elsewhere, there has been wide discussion about the fact that the latest iteration of the Tomb Raider game will feature a sequence in which you can “rescue” Lara Croft from almost certain rape. Once again, the ugly underbelly of gaming reared its head, as men peppered the comments on the stories with comments so hideous that Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an open letter to them:

 

“It’d be one thing if you wanted to see the character have fairly explicit consensual sex—Lara Croft has been marketed to us as a hot, adventurous woman for years, and all manner of non-exploitative fantasies can come out of the way she’s been sold in-game and on-screen. But no, what Jordan wants is to see her get “raped uncensored,” and Eric wants the chance to do it himself. So, in all seriousness, why do you want to see Lara Croft get raped?”

 

As the Louvin Brothers so sagely noted back in the 1959, Satan is real.

 

My experience as a “girl gamer” is limited solely to WoW, but it’s not a stretch to take my Trade Channel experiences and apply them to any other popular MMORPG or game. If sexism doesn’t infect the gaming experience by way of other players, then it’s female characters being designed as outrageously sexualised, or through horrendously sexist rhetoric on gaming forums and blogs. It’s hard to get away from.

 

I’m inclined to think that gaming, like its broader relative, “geekdom”, is one of those areas where the less reconstructed men of the world feel they still have a grip on the “old fashioned” way of doing things (i.e. objectifying women and slinging hate-speech around like confetti), and they’re not about to give it up without a fight. They still feel like they have a say when it comes to who gets to play in the treehouse. 

 

In many ways, it often feels as though women can’t win when it comes to fighting sexism within gaming (both itself and the community surrounding it): you’re either derided as a “girl gamer” who is only posing with a PS3 to be popular, or decried as a feminist bore because you dare to suggest that having a major female character suffer sexual assault is lazy character development.

 

All of this despite the fact that the number of female gamers is steadily increasing. A 2011 report by America’s Entertainment Software Association indicated that 42 per cent of the gaming audience was female, an increase on previous years, and that women 18 years and older had a greater audience share (37%) than boys aged 17 or younger (13%).

 

Many of my friends are dedicated gamers, and their blogs refer to sexism in the industry and its fans on a daily basis. It’s grim reading, though I applaud their dedication to the cause. After all, sexist nitwits in raiding dungeons was enough to drive me to the absolute outer reaches of Azeroth to pick flowers in zones that had become completely underpopulated. I miss my second home, but I don’t miss the rampant sexism.

 

As my wise friend Albert put it recently, “Every few posts I come across a ‘f-ck girls who call themselves girl gamers’ post and I think to myself, ‘why do guys keep willingly pushing girls away from gaming?’”

59 comments

  • How many female characters actually DO suffer sexual assault in games? I mean, in the games themselves, not in the attitudes of the players. I can't really think of any examples at all apart from Lara Croft.

    From what I know of the story, it's supposed to be a grim, gritty story about the character's origins, the trials she went through to become the hard-ass character from the games later in the series' chronology.

    Should the game try and pretend she isn't female, and ignore her gender when she's being assaulted by a bunch of scumbags? Or should it attempt to be realistic, and portray what is actually likely to happen in such a situation?

    Is it better to portray the unsettling incident of a sexual assault and it's aftermath, thereby humanising the character and perhaps shaking some of those sexist fans out of their complacency, or make her a sexualised, consequence-free ass-kicker, thereby perpetrating the stereotypes you're decrying?

    Seems like the game makers can't win either way, either.

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 8:54AM
    • Yes, and more often than not "she survives a brutal rape" is the go-to character motivation when writers are trying to "humanise" a character or explain why she ended up, as you put it, a "hard ass". It's lazy and it's disturbing. There are plenty of "grim and gritty" origin story possibilities that don't include rape.

      Commenter
      Clem Bastow
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 9:14AM
    • @DM, I don't think that the objection is to the storyline itself (although I often wonder why there's some obsession with the idea that tough women characters must be forged in the crucible of sexual assault - hello, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!), but rather it's the response to it in the gamer community that is so troubling. Some gamers felt no shame in stating publically that they didn't want to rescue Lara from her 'grim', 'gritty' fate, but rather wanted to watch the whole rape scene play itself out while they sat there panting in their enjoyment of the scene. Unless these people would be prepared to walk up to their mum and proudly say, 'hey mum, I fetishize rape!', then they shouldn't be making these comments in any environment - the fact that they're made anonymously, online is no excuse.

      Commenter
      GWCH
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 9:40AM
    • Well regarding this article, it's not so much the gamemakers - the Lara sexual assault thing is a separate issue - as much as the subset of gamers who decide it's fine to say they want to see Lara get raped on their 360 in glorious HD, on a public forum, some using their own name at that. Some even saying they want to do it themselves.

      Commenter
      Kal
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:06AM
    • "Or should it attempt to be realistic, and portray what is actually likely to happen in such a situation?"

      'Realism' is a lousy excuse. Video games are not realistic; players don't want them to be. Video game characters perform athletic feats no RL human can match, they get shot and get up again, when they die they come back to life or restore from save. Game designers purposely AVOID realism where it gets in the way of fun, and players rarely complain.

      A couple of months back I bought a phone app port of "Majesty", originally a light-hearted PC game that I'd played and enjoyed years earlier. "Highlights" of the phone game included one episode where female paladins rebel; the end-mission text explains in a light-hearted way that once they're subdued, they're punished by having male warriors rape them. Ha-ha! It also had a couple of other, equally misogynistic storylines (something about hunting down the king's fleeing spouse and burning her to death, and I think there was a "capture a bride" bit in there).

      Nothing depicted explicitly on-screen (unlike Custer's Revenge or Rapelay, to name two rape-focussed games). But plenty of moral support for the lads who think rape is hilarious - and this is a mainstream game. Bleah.

      I played WoW for a couple of years, and I assure you Clem is not exaggerating in the slightest.

      (One time, my wife saw a male character wearing a suit of armour that looked really nice. She looked up what it was and how to get it, made a set for her own character... and when she put it on, it turned into a tiny pair of metal bike shorts.)

      Commenter
      cephalopod
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:44AM
    • You've not played Duke Nukem Forever then have you? Or Saints Row.

      Admittedly it doesn't always happen in the game explicitly but it's usually implied. Right before you shoot dem hoes

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:55AM
    • Kal: that's a legitimate point. That's part of my issue with this article - it's conflating two linked but different topics: The attitude of gamers, and the nature of the games.

      cephalopod: Have you never played LA Noire? Or Hard Rain? Heck, even Mass Effect makes an attempt to behave in a realistic way within it's unrealistic settings. Games are like any other media. Some are meant to be taken seriously, some are meant to be silly. Some are good, some are bad. Trying to shoehorn a billion-dollar industry under one type of behaviour just doesn't work.

      Also, I can't believe you actually used Rapelay as an example of video games. That's like claiming something written by the Marquis De Sade can be used as an equivalent example to judge The Bhagavad Gita or The Communist Manifesto.

      Allie: The reason the new Duke Nukem flopped (apart from the fact that it just wasn't very good) was because society has changed - Duke's humour was no longer funny, and it wasn't ironic - it was just bad and creepily sexist.

      And if you take a game like Saint's Row seriously, you've kind of missed the point of the game. Anyone who takes life lessons from a game where you can beat people to death with a 4-foot-long purple sex toy has bigger problems.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 11:58AM
    • DM your question was "How many female characters actually DO suffer sexual assault in games? I mean, in the games themselves, not in the attitudes of the players. I can't really think of any examples at all apart from Lara Croft."

      I gave you examples of when this happens. Duke Nukem being a flop is irrelevant, it blatantly sexually harrassed women, and it certainly wasn't this fact that made it unpopular, for many it was a selling point.

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 2:45PM
    • One would hope there haven't been any gaming characters suffering sexual assault! People can undergo challenges in their lvies that aren't sexual in nature - let alone violent sexual acts.

      I suppose we should thank you for clearly providing us with an example of what Clem is referring to in her article. Bravo, I hope it feels nice swimming atop that pool of vomit.

      Commenter
      GamingGirls
      Location
      Australia
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 3:21PM
  • Geekdom in gaming has never changed since the start - preteen boys to socially inept men who really cannot connect in real life. They hide behind their freedom of speech and technology and think it is their right to abuse anyone they disagree with. This behavior is not limited to women alone - these rejects of society vilify anyone and anything that does not fit into their norm.

    Commenter
    Joe The Plumber
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 8:55AM

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