‘Tomb Raider’ and the scene which may define the game’s maturity

tomb raider lara croft attempted rape 300x165 Tomb Raider and the scene which may define the games maturityWhen I left the Tomb Raider preview at E3, there was something that rubbed me the wrong way, but I wasn’t sure how to articulate it. It went above and beyond my normal disinterest in the series and felt like genuine distaste. There was a scene in the preview in which Lara was thrown to the ground and her arms were tied behind her back by a group of thuggish, mercenary-type men.

Now, when a group of men is shown, and they’ve captured a female, you tend to assume the threat of sexual violence is present, but Tomb Raider decided to spell it out for us. At one point the leader shows keen interest in Lara, and later he shoves her against a post and runs his hand suggestively down her side. Lara frees herself, and the demo continues, but it is this moment that stands out. Even more so than an earlier scene in which a crazed island dweller kidnaps Sam, a fellow female survivor who appears to have been drugged, and as he escapes with her as prisoner, he mutters about how long he has waited…

I have objections to this particular theme for a couple of reasons. For one, rape, or the threat of rape, is one of the cheapest plot devices in the playbook. Do you need your female character to have a dark, tragic background? She was raped at some point. Do you need to establish your female character as vulnerable? She may get raped at some point. Do you need to establish your game/movie/book as “mature?” Throw in a rape reference or the threat of it. This works because as a society, we tend to consider this one of the worst violations possible — and for good reason. Which is why it pisses me off when it gets trotted out as a plot gimmick.

There is no subtlety about this encounter. It is right there, in the open. Equally in the open is Lara’s ease of escape because we cannot actually see such a violent act occur (why the $#@% would we want to?), but we need to see it almost occur, to push her from young girl to heroic woman. Lara and her fellow survivors are trapped on an island on which cannibalism and ritualistic murder have been shown, and the chance of a rescue is slim. That, in and of itself, is all that is needed to push Lara towards a heroic character who needs to survive. Adding the threat of rape is just gilding the lily.

Some have suggested that this gimmick will drive players to want to protect Lara. If that’s the case, why not have her father show up and slap a band-aid on her knee, or have Marcus Fenix warp in with his chain gun? What happens to Lara if, while sneaking around, you get caught, or while fighting in what looked like endless QTEs, you miss a step? Do you get dragged off to such a fate?

tomb raider original game Tomb Raider and the scene which may define the games maturity

If structurally impossible or the threat of rape are my options, bring back the DDDs!

Another reason I have a problem with this is that Lara Croft has always been the hypersexualized female character. She was a kickass, fearless female who explored tombs and was heroic. Now, suddenly, we see her as weak and vulnerable and being threatened with sex. It’s almost as if the developers turned her sexuality around as a weapon. All for the sake of touting how “dark,” “gritty” and “mature” the game is. Any time you use something purely for shock value, you diminish its shock value, and this shouldn’t be something from which we want to remove the shock and gravity.

Finally, game developers are always trying to find ways to remove morality or humanity from our need to kill bad guys. The easiest way to do this is to make your enemies Nazis or zombies — no matter how graphically you kill them, it will feel like a victimless crime because Nazis/zombies. Lately, though, we’ve had to come up with other plot devices to establish them as bad people. In this case, they’re rapists! Kill away!

That’s not to say that mature subject matter and yes, even this particular subject, has to be “off-limits” or avoided entirely. But it does mean that it needs to be treated with respect and done well. For an example, see the 1995 PC game, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Heck, I’d argue Karen Traviss’ Gears of War: Jacinto’s Remnant handles the subject more tastefully.

Lately, we seem to be in a slump of “ooooh, look how mature we are! SEX! BLOOD!” that comes off as wildly immature and tasteless. Obviously we haven’t seen Tomb Raider in its entirety, but that this scene was the one they chose to demonstrate makes me nervous for the final product.

About Jen Bosier

Jen lives with her husband, daughter and super-villain cats. If she's not reading comics or engrossed in a WH40k novel, she's probably telling you which horror games you should be playing. She's a recovering member of the PC Master Race, and a reluctant Xbox fangirl. You can also find her on the Furious Fourcast.


  1. Brooker says:

    Don’t agree.

  2. Press X to shake-off PTSD

  3. I actually can not believe this article exists, the person who wrote it does not deserve to play modern games. Stop making issues out of fekkin nothing.

  4. @Seeton: It is not nothing. It’s the opposite of nothing: it’s something.

    I asked my wife about this: she watched the same trailer I did. Did she think the trailer was torture porn?

    “Yes,” she said, “even though she fights back, she is still brought very low and endures sexualized violence… it made me profoundly uncomfortable.”

    Denying that it’s an issue is useless. Discussing why you feel it’s not an issue is. In the case of Lara Croft, her hyped sexuality (even if you feel it’s implied, and not overt… you’d still be wrong, I mean LOOK at that early game pic, but you can still feel that way) has always been an issue.

    So, Seeton, why are female gamers saying “sexualized violence against women in games is wrong” not an issue?

    • Edit: Should say “Discussing why you feel it’s not an issue is better.”

      • I can not believe I am actually going to reply to this but here goes…
        Does it surprise me that your wife agrees with you? No… in fact I have i could have guaranteed that fact before knowing, you people always seem to find each other. Why is wrong for this content to be in games when it is ok for it to be in films or even books? Do we not age restrict games accordingly to content? You people are never going to get the rest of the world to think like you so stop trying to push all your weird beliefs onto us. if you do not like what is shown do not watch, do not read, do not play. You sound like one of those crazy’s who believe that violent games/music/movies create violent people. the thing about crazy’s is that no one takes them seriously. the mental thing is, I am exposed to all these “evil” things and I did not even come close to thinking what you and your wife felt about this Tomb Raider vid. What does that say about you?

        • @Seeton: It says you have a certain viewpoint, and are not considering/accepting other viewpoints as valid, and assuming the video game industry (and reaction/debate to it) should be based off your viewpoint, the “correct” one.

          That’s ethnocentrism in a nutshell, and it’s going to hobble you in this debate.

          Here’s a way to look at this: is it just as valid to put Drake from Drake’s Fortune in this exact same situation? To have him dragged away, leered at, and the threat of rape and murder held over his head by a male antagonist?

          If we’re looking at Lara rising as a heroic figure, why does she first have to be a victim? Could she not instead have come to the rescue of the captured members of the crew, like so many other male protagonists have done before her? Why must she instead be kidnapped and threatened in a sexual matter for her rise to (bloody) heroics to be meaningful?

          The larger issue (and the point behind this and several other editorials) is that this trend is too common among female protagonists, that women heroes are too often forced to go through this scenario, while male protagonists are not. That is sexist and misogynistic, and that is the attitude that needs to change.

          Penny Arcade’s recent 4th Panel video argued that there is a spectrum: on one side you have Quantum Conundrum, on the other you have Hitman’s battle nuns. Yes, this is a medium with many different things in it, but those different things need to be called out for what they are, and analyzed if we want the spectrum to grow into something we can show people and say “we’re not just adolescent-minded boys huddled in the basement snickering at boobs.”

          • You raise an interesting point, although it is a good point I still disagree with you. But first let deal with how you dodged my earlier point. You have great argument about what makes a heroine a heroine today. BUT!. You did purposefully over dramatize it by using the phrase “RAPE PORN” to get the shock effect attention you sooo desired. I have pointed out in my previous post that this phrase for the Tomb Raider vid is horrendously exaggerated. Now as for your new argument. I could argue that the makers of the game have created a character like Lara Craft to show that she is not the run of the mill girl, with her duel wielding, acrobatic, crypt raiding ways. Even though she is a FICTIONAL character ill continue. I cant argue this way otherwise it will be leaning more to a matter of opinion and some crazy out there will label me a sexist basterd. So ill stick to the facts. Bruce Wayne aka the Batman had his parents brutally murdered in front of him. This character is a man. Peter Parker aka Spiderman lost his uncle via shooting. this character is a man. Clark Kent aka Superman lost his family because his home planet literally exploded killing all of them. He too was a man. I could go on but i think you get what i am saying. these are all fictional characters, does this mean the only way to become a male hero is to have a tragic episode happen in your life? No, its just their story. Does Lara crafts beginning suggest the only way to become a heroine is to have a close to rape episode? No, its just her story. You can delve into further and search for some deeper meaning that just isnt there or you could just let it go….. Let it go dude. Because most people can delve into any subject and find hidden stuff that just isnt there.

          • DarthDiggler says:

            It’s a story written by a writer who has artistic liberties. Stop playing thought police and just make the choices for what you think is appropriate for your household.

            That doesn’t mean you need to demonize those that may find value in this game.

          • The phrase is “torture porn”, not “rape porn”, and is used to describe a specific set of medium.

            The specific examples you mentioned, Superman/Batman/Spider-man, all had heroic actions and decisions that came out of tragedy. Not one of them came out of sexualized violence. Why does Lara’s have to? Why does any story when it’s “her” story have to come out of that source, and when it’s “his” story it almost never does?

            That’s the dichotomy, and the sexism, of this issue. It’s not just in video games, it’s in comics, and movies, and books, and music.

          • Your question about Drake’s Fortune is an interesting one, because initially my answer would be “yes that would be okay of course it would be okay,” but then I started to realize that it actually gets to the heart of one of the major rape-based issues in society.

            If you have a man who threatens to rape (or does rape) a woman, it’s a terrible thing. If you have a man who threatens to rape (or does rape) a man, it’s a terrible thing BUT IT’S ALSO HOMOSEXUAL.

            If a woman threatens to rape (or does rape) someone of either gender, for some reason this is the butt-end of a joke.

            So if you portray Lara Croft as being sexually assaulted, it’s fair play. In my opinion, which I realize is not guaranteed to be right.

            If you portray Nathan Drake as being sexually assaulted, you are either risking being laughed out of the house (which is seriously fucked up) or have unfortunate implications with regards to your portrayal of homosexual characters.

            Now if you don’t mind those risks, then of course it would be totally appropriate to show Nathan Drake being sexually assaulted in an analogous way.

            The other problem that you run into is that rape is a very real threat in the situation that Lara finds herself in, in this game. We’re dealing with raiders, from what I can see, who are of such a significant military strength compared to our heroes that there is no noteworthy risk to them. If they decide to rape young Lara, there will be quite literally no consequences. Even in the civilized world where there [may be] are consequences, according to the Colorado Coalition against Sexual Assault as many as 1 in 6 women experience attempted or completed rape, which makes rape more common than murder (by those numbers).

            Is it bullshit that rape is a female-only thing? Yes. But why is murder, abduction, theft, and even cannibalism okay, but rape is totally off-limits?

            I’ve taken the time to check the trailers (took me QUITE A WHILE, watched about 4 videos until I found the right one so I feel like I’ve got a good sense now for the tone of the game) and I do feel like it’s fair to say that Lara feels too… durable, and too much happens to her for my liking. It feels like she shouldn’t be able to survive the ordeal even under the best possible circumstances. I should note that I make the same complaint about the Uncharted series.

  5. DarthDiggler says:

    Jen while your article is well written it is not often that games use rape as a plot gimmick. Furthermore in the means which they showcase this in the game I believe it is fitting with the realistic edge they are going for.

    If rape was the latest craze in video game plot devices you may have a point here, but as it stands now you are clearly making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    • Darth, with all due respect, I really don’t think it’s a mountain out of a molehill. To amplify my point, just google “E3 2012 violence” and you’ll see a very disturbing and prolific trend in those editorials. Rape may not be “the latest craze” right now, but audiences didn’t used to cheer like wild animals when seeing people being decapitated or losing limps either.

      • DarthDiggler says:

        What I see disturbing trends of is video game journalism going after sensationalism and not writing real stories that educate and make people aware of things.

        Rape and violence are apart of our society and they have been depicted in other forms of media since mankind could scrape a picture on a cave wall. This thought process of having “clean stories” sounds very much like the witch hunt on comic books back in the 1950s.

        We should all be glad that our gaming experiences are growing up and can even approach these topics at all. IMHO story telling is no place for political correctness it only infuses censorship into a creative process and what you are left with are these bland characters that don’t resemble anything people may know from real life.

        Obviously the next Lara Croft game is not for young children.

        • Continued graphic levels of violence and threats of sexualized violence against women are inappropriate to anyone, not just children. The fact that this article has caused such an outcry that nothing’s wrong should be an indicator that it’s a discussion worth having.

          • DarthDiggler says:

            Well who are you to decide this? Who declared you Mastermind of all people’s entertainment?

            Why are movies, books and other forms of media immune from your Mastermind Agenda?

            All of a sudden women are such a protected class of people that we can’t depict them in less than a stellar light?

            Do you also support Sharia Law? Perhaps all women should wear a Burka since us sex crazed men can’t help but objectify them.

          • @Darth (really hard to tell where these are going to show up… should be after the the 2pm comment)

            The argument is it’s inequal and sexist, and an example of of inequality and sexism continuing to be prevalent in the industry. I’ve cited several examples throughout my posts supporting that argument, and haven’t seen adequate evidence from anyone to consider changing that opinion.

            I’m not saying my viewpoint is the end-all be-all, I’m arguing for it and stating points that support my argument, then following up when people reply. Which is, last I checked, how debate happens and we move forward with a better understanding of our own arguments and others.

            So, to your points:
            “Why are movies, books and other forms of media immune from your Mastermind Agenda?”
            See previous/other comments: it’s an issue elsewhere as well. We just happen to be talking about a video game.

            “All of a sudden women are such a protected class of people that we can’t depict them in less than a stellar light?”
            The argument isn’t that it shouldn’t happen at all, and Jen even says as much in the article. The argument is women are depicted in such ways far too often as compared to male counterparts, that for a woman’s heroic struggle to be heroic she has to be threatened sexually, where male counterparts are never / hardly ever treated in the same fashion.

            “Do you also support Sharia Law? Perhaps all women should wear a Burka since us sex crazed men can’t help but objectify them.”
            I don’t want to assume your broader implications from this statement, so I’ll just ignore them. But the argument isn’t for women to be treated differently, it’s that they are currently being treated differently and should instead be treated equally: the way their male counterparts are being treated.

          • DarthDiggler says:

            “The argument is it’s inequal and sexist, and an example of of inequality and sexism continuing to be prevalent in the industry. I’ve cited several examples throughout my posts supporting that argument, and haven’t seen adequate evidence from anyone to consider changing that opinion.”

            Well the main evidence I have is that Video Games, Books, Music, Movies, [Insert Form of Expression Here] are all stories by creative people and I don’t think it is a good idea that we establish a template for all female or male characters out there.

            There are inherit differences in the sexes and I think some of those differences are likely to explain why rape outside of a prison is generally about women being victims. This is not to say women are not as capable as men, but to ignore the differences is naive.

            Also you are being very hypocritical here. On one hand it’s all about Lara and her being the damsel in distress while you make no mention of the generic evil men who are hell bent on doing the two girls harm. Why were these men written to be rapist to begin with?

            “I’m not saying my viewpoint is the end-all be-all, I’m arguing for it and stating points that support my argument, then following up when people reply. Which is, last I checked, how debate happens and we move forward with a better understanding of our own arguments and others.”

            Oh but you are look at your comments, saying this form of entertainment is not appropriate for anyone. Your words have revealed how you feel and you can’t exactly put that tooth paste back in the tube.

            I will have to get to your other comments in a minute. :)

  6. This is close to rape, Modern Warfare 3 shows a child die…

  7. Gilgamesh says:

    @Jen Of course it is shocking, that’s how it should be. In fact, when you have a bunch of men abandoned in an island, and then they capture a hot female, the threat of rape is really present (as in real life, not cool but still true). You want to make those men NOT willing to rape Lara and still be believable, then make Lara Croft fat, like really obese, so it will be believable. But if she’s so hot and she finds herself captured by a bunch of lonely assholes, rape is the most plausible thing (again, as in real life, even if it is despicable).

    • An additional level is “why do we always have to be sexually shocking with women heroes, but not sexually shocking with men” when you go for the “shock”.

      • DarthDiggler says:

        @RHJones Please answer my questions so I can better understand just how it is you feel about this…

        Well who are you to decide this? Who declared you Mastermind of all people’s entertainment?

        Why are movies, books and other forms of media immune from your Mastermind Agenda?

        All of a sudden women are such a protected class of people that we can’t depict them in less than a stellar light?

        Do you also support Sharia Law? Perhaps all women should wear a Burka since us sex crazed men can’t help but objectify them.

  8. Jawsomeo says:

    RHJones could you please name other female heroes that went through “sexualized violence ” because I cant think of any right now?

  9. Also, work is calling, so I may not be around to continue discussing this. Ciao!

  10. You find rape distasteful, but somehow KILLING somebody is acceptable lol.

  11. NachoKingP says:

    @RHJones, I disagree with you because what you are suggesting isn’t realistic. You claim that female characters shouldn’t be put in rape scenarios because it’s not realistic. In general, the VAST majority of rapes occur on women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 91% of reported rape victims are female, compared to only 9% being male. That in and of itself is a valid reason why the depiction of rape in media is so skewed towards females.

    Females are also not exclusively the targets for rape in media. See Deliverance as an example of male rape in popular media.

    Rape is a tough subject no matter who the target is, but nobody said that Lara Croft could only be considered heroic by escaping a rape scenario. As was stated earlier, that is just this particular story for this particular character. This article is trying to make a story out of a non-story.

  12. Stupid, sensationalist article.

  13. This world is crazy man… the fact of the matter is even if it was not Lara even if it was a obese lady with missing teeth, put her on a island with sex crazed men and rape would probably still happen. So implying that it only happens to hot sexy woman is actually insulting to woman everywhere. I am from South Africa rape in many parts of where I live is a way of life. But also implying that all men are sex crazed is also highly insulting. The way I felt when I saw the vid was to kick that guys ass and that is exactly what the game creators wanted you to feel. They did not want you to root for the would be rapist and say “yeah, get her kit off”. They wanted you to be angry. But you are missing the point. The way you acted towards this vid was as though we actually saw rape happening… but we did not, it was certainly implied but it did not actually take place. One day when game developers cross that horrible line then I will be here with you protesting against it. You were way to quick to judge in this case.

    • Seeton, you truly don’t understand rape if you think “hey, rape ALMOST happened but didn’t; no harm done” is an okay scenario.

  14. You’re missing the entire context of the situation. They’re depicting what made Laura brutal and willing to kill. They’re not expressing rape as a method for creating heroes. They’re expressing the threat as the final straw. Threatening her life wasn’t enough, the threat of torture and being a victim pushed her over an edge. And we cheer as she kills, it’s what puts us over that edge too.

    Rape is a terrible thing. It hurts people in a way that can never be properly understood or quantified. If the concern being expressed is of the potential desensitizing towards rape, then this scene is the wrong choice. It makes you hate them, it makes you want for these rapist bastards to die. I’d call that a success to some extent. You should be more upset about the constant usage of the word ‘rape’ in reference to ‘victory’ by gamers. Fix that first, I think it’s a heck of a lot more alarming than this depiction of this character’s breaking point.

    As for women being portrayed often as sexual victims, that’s a two way street. That also means that men are often portrayed as sexual predators. It shouldn’t be news to you that this reflects reality quite accurately.

  15. I don’t get what the complaint is?
    Something about rape being implied in a game?

  16. Poobles says:


    Oh, was this article meant to actually be taken seriously? Everything should be off limits in all media mirite?! What about women who feel uplifted by the fact that Lara is hands down one of the baddest women in the history of gaming? This is dumb why am I wasting my time replying to a nominee for this most inane and unnecessary article of 2012. Congrats, you have no grasp on reality.

    • dude. just shut up. you have no grasp of what this article is about.

      virtually all men that read this article will go “pffff, crazy bitch, this is dumb.” that’s because you have absolutely zero concept of the psychological fear of rape.

      the only real danger you experience of being raped in your lifetime is if you go to prison.

      I guarantee that, should there be a prequel-style game with a male protagonist who is nearly raped by another man, all of you naysayers would be screaming BLOODY MURDER and demand that it be cut from the game overnight.

      male gamers are some of the dumbest lumps of carbon to exist on the planet. try stepping outside of your personal bubble every now and then.

  17. Youre article seems to be making a lot of claims for a game you have only seen 10 minutes of. Hardy fair and the rape scene in question is hardly rape. Why do people make a scene over nothing. Give the developers a chance to tell the origin story of the heroin of video games.

  18. qwertyuiop says:

    Haha. Lara kneed his knackers, chewed his ear off, then shot him. Hell, Kurtis from AOD felt her privates, and took all of her belongings. And he didn’t die in the end.

  19. So do you think rape should be approached with subtlety or not apporached at all? your not very clear.

    You obviously love Gear of War but how will Marcus Fenix showing up make us want to protect Lara?

    “What happens to Lara if, while sneaking around, you get caught, or while fighting in what looked like endless QTEs, you miss a step? Do you get dragged off to such a fate?”

    Wtf? Have you ever played a video game?

    Why did an article about maturity rating become about your issues with the subject of rape and the portrayal of female protagonists in video games?

  20. Losonti says:

    Games have a long and proud tradition of latent misogyny and racism, but it’s reaching new levels of disgusting when you use an attempted rape scene as part of your advertising campaign.

  21. If you check this official statement from the studio head I think this article can be rectified.


  22. I find this whole debate incredibly ridiculous.

    It reminds me of the debate on Resident Evil 5, and it’s depiction of violence towards African Americans. THe people calling that game racist, and this one sexist, obviously have a very interesting subjective view of each situation.

    The point of the scene, from what I gather, is that Lara has just killed someone for the first time. To save her life. There is nothing in that scene, other than some heavy petting, that made it seem like rape. If it were, you think it would have been a bit more graphic?

    I’m curious as to everyone’s views on Uncharted. Here, we have a male antagonist, who undergoes countless trial and tribulations, and goes out killing people willy nilly like it’s no big deal. Where the uproar over that?

    Another thing is sex in video games. It’s ok for Drake to be the stereotypical “dude”, or when Lara had enormous…sex appeal.

    I think the biggest question here, for all things regarding Tomb Raider, is would it be a problem, if you replaced Lara with Drake. I’m really interested to hear what people would think about this game then.

    I think this game is far from being what everyone is making it out to be. I think Crystal Dynamics needs to really consider, though, that perhaps showing diversity in the games moments, where Lara is shown really transforming into the heroine traits we all know and love, will show people the game I know that they are trying to make. And the sound effects of the game should be toned down, for no reason other than how stupid they sound.

    Anyway, it’s like they did with Resident Evil 5. Nobody cared. Because it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of the story. It wasn’t a game about black people. It was a game with a crappy story, (don’t get me started) that had to do with bio-terror and the characters trying to take down the bad guys.

    Move along people. There are women who work on these games and I’m sure, once the full story and game is shown, you’ll all feel like idiots for thinking that they would put the game you guys are saying it is, on the market. Do you really think the ESRB or the many executives at E3 would show the game if they had any reservations? No. Because they understand where the game is coming from, that, and they were shown the entire demo that none of you got to see. I think people need to cool it and start really thinking how ironic it is seeing how you could treat practically any video game in any light, for any reason.

    K. I’m done. I respect the article. It’s serious subject matter that people are talking about it. I just don’t really understand what it has to do with Tomb Raider, realistically.

  23. That’s “the scene [that] may define the game’s maturity.” [which] is not used as a restrictive relative pronoun. Rape scenes don’t rub me the wrong was, but bad grammar does.


  1. […] disgusted by that scene. This first came to my knowledge earlier today when I came across this article. It is well-written and the author does a good job of stating why she feels the way she does, but […]

  2. […] Raider is Not Torture Porn – Venture Beat Tomb Raider and the Scene that May Define the Game’s Maturity – Video Game Writers Rant: Crystal Dynamics Hopes Gamers Will Care About Lara Croft… […]

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