Today, we have a Guest Editorial from writer Franki Webb, who gives us her take on the somewhat-controversial new Tomb Raider game, and the reactions to it that have been seen. Over to you, Franki!

I know the title of this article might strike you as common sense, but it surprises me how many people truly believe that discrimination can be easily justified especially within the gaming community. I was once someone who would never call someone out for saying an off-the-cuff racist comment or something that could be considered sexist. As I grew older I knew that my stance had to eventually change, because if people continued to say such demeaning words and if no one stood up against them the offenders would never realise how damaging their words were. I know some would say that they were just off-handed comments, but does that really make it okay? If we start using the excuse that offensive statements are “only words,” then doesn’t everything we say become meaningless?

I bring the subject up because of a recent development in the gaming industry; Lara Croft’s new back-story in the upcoming instalment. It’s not so much the changes to her character which have got me riled up, but the reaction certain male players have been having against female gamers, female gamers who feel uncomfortable with these alterations. Now, I’ll be the first one to defend the creator’s choice to make her character come across as a real human being capable of mistakes and fear. However, I do take issue with the developers’ choice to make her a victim of sexual harassment. The aggravated responses by men to these arguments when they are brought up just serves to remind how far behind the gaming community still is. I just find it difficult to stomach that Ron Rosenberg (executive producer) believes that to make Lara seem like a concrete person; an implied “rape scene” has to be included. Surely there are other ways to make her character’s past much more absorbing? I don’t even have a problem with the character’s said physical weakness in the beginning of the game – not even Batman started as crime-fighter, and I liked the inclusion of his training in the movie Batman Begins. It just seems like as time goes by and the media is becoming a little more open to female protagonists, they must find a way of reminding us that we are “only” women incapable of defending ourselves against the “power” of men.

The male gamers I’ve seen that have issues with women taking offense have only fueled my argument that this added element to the game is sexist. Take for example this comment I found on a recent news site:

“Like all feminazi she no doubt complained bitterly about the original version because of the objectification of a woman now complains because she appears to be the opposite. I would imagine her household is one hell of a place for a bloke unless he is the kind who likes being pussy whipped.”

Not only has he used the word, “feminazi” to get his misogynistic view across, but he also implies a sexist sentiment that the (female) writer’s household is somehow insufferable for men, because she dares to speak out against what she sees as insulting.

Give me Super Mario over Womb Raider any day!

Here’s another prime example of how men become defensive and use female attributes to criticize something that they don’t like about a certain character. I shouldn’t be implying that this attitude comes from only from a male’s perspective, truth be told I’ve seen equally sexist comments from female gamers too. This coincides with my own personal experiences. I was constantly told by my female friends that they had no or few female friends. As a gamer with a large group of female friends myself, I find this argument has absolutely no basis and it says something about you as person. When I invite friends over who happen to be female to play a few rounds of Halo, some start to become uncomfortable with the idea of females playing games. They have an insecurity, they feel like they’ve lost something which makes them unique within the gaming community. Time and time again I’ve heard the excuse that other women don’t “get” them, because they have more boyish interests. I’m not trying to dismiss their experiences, but as soon as you paint everyone with the same brush, you become just as bad as them. Even when you try to argue the fact that as women they should be offended by some of these overly sexualized designs, which are included in games, they become just as dismissive as male gamers.

Ron Rosenberg was noted to have said:

“[the players would say] ‘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 implication that Lara has to be protected from the men in the game, only perpetuates her feminine weakness to a crowd of mostly male gamers. Is this what young boys are brought up with? We don’t want our sons to think that they are somehow stronger than women and they’ve got to protect them from the evilness of other men. Joss Whedon, who is not only one of my writing heroes but also my favorite feminist, said it best:

“When I created Buffy, I wanted to create a female icon, but I also wanted to be very careful to surround her with men that not only have no problem with the idea of a female leader, but were in fact engaged and even attracted to the idea.”

And that is ultimately the problem, some game developers have a problem with creating a strong female character who is charge of not only themselves, but also the male characters of the game.

Franki Webb