Beyond the brutal act, simply the word itself is expressive and emotion invoking; though it has multiple connotations in today’s world. It can describe a horrific sexual assault, or even that someone has logged into a Facebook account and made the user seem to say something foolish. It can also be used to describe the utter devastation of a player at the hands of a more skilled opponent.
Despite this abstract description though, it’s still a very controversial topic, especially within the confines of gaming. This is why the recent Tomb Raider attempted rape story has drawn so much attention. Should rape be represented in video games at all? When a medium is mostly seen as something to pass the time, to have fun, can rape be justified as a thought provoking subject?
Well it already has in some games. Take a look at the much decried RapeLay, which saw gamers fondle, molest and ultimately rape three female members of the same family, mostly in public settings. While it might be difficult to argue that the game’s motivation is anything but deplorable, the subject matter is debatable.
Some have pointed out that murder is treated as a more serious crime by courts and yet thousands of games exist where killing a person is just one more point on a player’s tally.
Most of the time however, these games are given a reason. We aren’t just walking into a room and gunning down civilians – unless you’re playing a controversial level of Call of Duty – but we’re fighting a war, or killing terrorists, perhaps mind controlled soldiers or zombies even.
Most of the time, we’re allowed to feel like it’s fine to kill and often times, we’re preventing ourselves from being killed in the process.
It isn’t always self defense, but as part of the meta reason for gunning down that hundredth “bad guy,” we’re protecting something. Whether it’s a way of life, our own lives or something else entirely. We are the protectors. The front line of defense.
It seems like it would be nigh on impossible for gamers to feel empowered like this if they were the rapist, but in the victimised position, things are entirely different. This is the argument being made by Crystal Dynamics, the makers of the Tomb Raider prequel: putting Lara in a situation where she has to fend off a rape, makes gamers want to protect her.
At least in theory and perhaps internal play-testing.
Gaming isn’t the only medium that has attempted to use rape as something to draw empathy from the consumer though.
Look at Stieg Larsson’s massively popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. One character in that is subjected to horrific, sustained rape. While it was chilling to read and watch, it only made it more satisfying for the reader and viewer when she exacts her revenge. Rape, with all its revolting motivations and results, could provide a catalyst for an impressively deep and humane character in Lara as well.
That said, if Crystal Dynamics wants to really nail home the effects of rape and make a somewhat realistic aftermath, it’ll have to go far and beyond making the gamer want to protect her. But how to do it? It’s not like the developer can have Lara readjust her own feelings of sexuality, or pour out her emotions to a counselor – she is on an island after all, and this is a game; it’s supposed to a fun, or at the very least an engaging experience.
Perhaps one of the simplest ways would be to make the cut scene, or in-game sequence of the attempted rape unskippable in any fashion. By bowing to popular demand and making the airport massacre scene in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 skippable, developers removed most of the emotion from it – since it wasn’t something that was required of the player.
It’s hard to define something more forced than rape, so forcing players to experience the sequence whether they like it or not could be one way to interpret those feelings into a game.
Clearly from the “attempted” wording that Crystal Dynamics has used, we would expect Lara to fight back during the assault and get one over on her attacker. But where does that leave her? Tough a nut as we know Miss Croft to be, she won’t escape something like that unscathed, physically or mentally. It might be easy to have her limp around for a while, but psychological effects are notoriously difficult to convey in a game.
They aren’t unheard of though, and there-in lies the opportunity for the next Tomb Raider to do something quite special. Depending on the nature of dialogue in the game, perhaps after the horrific event Lara could experience reduced conversational options with characters. Maybe she could be timid or excessively aggressive around men in particular.
How about freezing? Take a leaf out of Monster Hunter’s book where the cartoony characters become completely unresponsive for a few seconds upon encountering one of the game’s larger monsters.
Do that, make it a legitimate concern for players that the next time they get into a gun fight, their bow toting heroine won’t dive into cover as soon as the bullets start flying. Maybe she’ll curl up into a ball and it could take frantic clicking and WASD pressing to get her to move again.
In this way the developers could make Lara far more evocative as a character and make it easier for the player to feel something real when horrific events like this occur. Rape is but a part of the landscape of awful events that are used in video games as motivation for player action, but it could be a very effective one.
In the same way that in 1996, Lara Croft reminded us that a protagonist doesn’t need to be a muscle bound, grizzly space marine with huge biceps, if Crystal Dynamics do a great job with this they might just be able to remind gamers that our protagonists are fallible. Rape is a very graphic and controversial method of hammering that point home, with the after effects potentially opening up a new avenue of gameplay beyond losing that super special attack power or a few health points.
Kitguru says: Character driven story is certainly on the rise in the video game world and there’s a real opportunity with a shocking scene like this, to take that next step in believable, relatable protagonists. It just needs to be handled with care and smarts.