Who does the Tomb Raider represent?

A ruling by the US Supreme Court has legalised marriage equality in all fifty states. Hooray for the gays! Well, hooray for the entire LGBTQI community, but that doesn’t rhyme as well. Glad to hear it. Hopefully it won’t be long before the same thing finally happens in Australia. Canada’s had marriage equality for years and they seem to be doing alright. Ireland certainly hasn’t been struck down by heavenly fire since its recent referendum, and you’ve got a pro-marriage equality PM in charge of the Conservatives in the UK. Life is getting better for non-hetero-normatives around the world. Now (as I’ve heard mentioned a few times already) begins the battle to remind people that LGBTQI discrimination and homophobia won’t just disappear because one bloke can marry another bloke, the same way that racism didn’t end in America with the end of segregation. But hey, one battle at a time and right now is a time to celebrate.

On another end of the news spectrum E3 has passed us by with much ado (depending on your perspective, quite possibly about nothing). I’m pretty stoked about Mass Effect: Andromeda, Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and X-com 2, am interested in Horizon Zero Dawn, was glad to finally see Evie Fry get her own trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and (unlike so much of the gaming population) don’t really give all that many fucks about Fallout 4, the remake of Final Fantasy VII or Shenmue III. Wish I gave more fucks about Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. Each to their own, right? One of the games on display that I’m really looking forward to is Rise of the Tomb Raider, sequel to the 2013 reboot of the franchise. I was a bit fan of the 2013 game, finding its visuals stunning, its gameplay exciting and a younger Lara Croft’s genuine character development deeply engaging. If the new game is more of the same, I’ll happily buy it.

And I really hope that Lara Croft is still gay.

Well, that likely requires a little bit of explanation. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that I hope we can continue to assume that Lara Croft is, at the very least, not a cut-and-dry heterosexual.

For me, like so many others who played and enjoyed the game, this came from what we perceived about Lara’s relationship with her friend Sam (short for Samantha), who spends most of the game as a damsel-in-distress for Lara to rescue. While Lara obviously cares about the other friends who survived the shipwreck (and her own survival and rescue are important motivating factors), it is Sam for whom she literally scales mountains, butchers her way through armies and faces down (spoiler alert) an undead weather witch to save. And while the relationship we see is never anything more than platonic, well, you get the feeling that Lara probably wished for a little more.

Lara at Bar gray edited 14:7:15
“Surprised you didn’t say ‘put me in a tomb.'” “Seriously, don’t tempt me.”

This likely shows my own pop-culture conditioning more than anything else. If nearly two and a half decades on this earth watching and absorbing fiction have taught me anything it’s that you only risk life or limb doing that kind of shit for a person if they’re a blood relative or you wanna do the horizontal polka with them (trying to be a bit more poetic today). But there are those sideways glances, the concern, the way Lara relaxes in Sam’s presence, the way you can cut the sexual tension with a knife and everyone seems to notice except Sam and goddamnit Sam can’t you see that she wasn’t interested in meeting those cute boys she was interested in being with you because she loves you and why can’t you love her back! Why Sam? Why can’t you love her?

I’m joking. Mostly.

As I said, I’ve spent a lot of years being told that romantic love or simply reckoning that s/he would be a good root (not too poetic) is the primary motivator for grand quests of courage and daring do. So when I see (or am playing as) a character going out to rescue the princess locked in the tower I tend to make assumptions about the hero’s motivations. Reckon I’m not the only one. This is shifting as those creating that which we consume experiment with broader relationships. It can also be argued that in trying to make game protagonists the kind of blank slates upon which the player can project themselves we’re also seeing a natural decline in the old trope (this is something I’d like to go into substantially more in the future and will a little more in one or two paragraphs).

Now, is Lara Croft in love with Sam? Maybe. At least want to get into her knickers? I suppose that’s possible. Just because I think I see that subtext doesn’t mean it’s there in either the writing or the animation. It would also be possible for Lara to be gay and not want to bonk Sam. Despite the juvenile stereotypes film, television, books and games have hammered home for years it is possible to be friends with unattached members of the gender you’re attracted to without wanting to fuck them. And if Lara is sexually attracted to Sam she obviously respects her friend’s sexual preferences and is happy simply being best mates (and hell, if she’s willing to murder her way up a mountain to protect this relationship, I’m sure she’d be willing to take a few cold showers as well). But all of this focuses on a big ‘if’ that is never answered one way or another.

I’d like to direct you towards this great post from the blog Pfangirl Through the Looking Glass which, despite the title, weighs up the evidence for or against Lara being romantically inclined towards Sam with a focus on comments made by Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett, rather than which team Lara bats for. The post concludes that no, they’re just very good friends and Lara has fought so hard because she is protecting her surrogate family in a way that she never could for her biological parents, while being fairly and appropriately ambivalent about what Lara’s sexual orientation is (since it doesn’t matter in the context of the relationships we see and can possibly apply to in the game). Lara’s just protecting her best mate and there doesn’t need to be any more to it.

But I still reckon she’s into girls and hope that I can continue thinking so in the next game. This is a matter of projecting my own biases onto the character, assuming that language, subtext and motivation implies certain emotions. It shows how much we care about the characters that we wish to relate to them on a deeper level, and it is a credit to the writing that we can. It allows us to take the story and characters and see a narrative that is smaller, more personal, and sometimes far grander. Allows us to apply the plot and character development to our own lives and experiences. The story of Lara Croft in the 2013 reboot is very much a coming of age story. I can’t help but imagine there must have been some out there who saw their own adolescences mirrored by Lara’s struggle and transformation from privileged (if already physically tough) academic to ruthless survivor. Perhaps saw their own fear of losing their close friends and family as they “become who we’re meant to be” in Lara’s fear of losing her friends and family as she starts her own journey to do the same. Ultimately she is able to keep many of her friends, albeit at a cost, and is stronger because of it.

Maybe I’m just pulling this all out of my arse. I have a habit of doing that. But I don’t reckon it’s too unreasonable a suspicion.

So, is the rebooted Tomb Raider gay? Maybe. I think so. Others might see her as straight, asexual, bisexual, or decide it simply doesn’t matter. And in a large way it doesn’t. It doesn’t effect the gameplay, plot or (arguably) the character herself. In another way it most certainly does. Lara Croft is the first lady of gaming. She holds a special place amongst such less inspiring characters as Ms Pacman and Princess Peach as being one of a very small handful of female game characters that has managed to earn a presence outside of video gaming community within the wider pop cultural awareness. What happens to Lara, the way she acts and who she is, is important because she represents by default so much of the past, present and future of the gaming population. There’s a reason so many people were upset at the treatment of Lara in the comments by the designers  before its release and in the gameplay itself. The graphic death scenes, the attempted rape, the remarks by a developer that they hoped players would “want to protect her” as she is continually beaten down, all seemed to be an attempt to de-power and diminish a character who for so long was one of the few female-starring power fantasies. I think she’s still a powerful character (and it is hard to argue that she wasn’t, at least by the end of the game, pretty fearless and very bloody deadly).

I’m a straight white male. I am fucking overrepresented in all aspects of western popular culture. What happens with a character like the Tomb Raider is important because awareness of who and what she is reaches beyond the video game community. They don’t have to outright call her gay, straight, bi, ace or any other colour of the rainbow. They just need to allow the room for players to apply their own emotions, assumptions and biases to the character. To see their own story reflected in hers. To represent them.

Honestly, it makes for a more interesting protagonist anyway.

The News Last Week (18/8/14)

It’s that time of the week again, when I look at the things that caught my eye in the seven days past. Where shall we begin?

Pleasantly, I think. Microsoft has sealed a deal with Square Enix in which upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider (the sequel to last years fantastic Tomb Raider reboot) will be a limited exclusive for the Xbox One (also popularly known as the Xbone). The game will eventually be released on Sony’s Playstation 4, but Microsoft is not unreasonably hoping that this will boost sales of the Xbone which have been trailing the PS4 at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1 (depending on who you listen to) since it adds another proven franchise to their stable of exclusives. As an Xbone owner and someone who loved Tomb Raider, I can’t say I mind the news.

It took two days and a public rebuke from PM Tony Abbot, but Joe Hockey finally got around to actually apologising for his ‘poor people don’t own cars’ remark. I don’t know about you, but the apology still came off as a bit of an attention-seeking woe-is-me whinge. No Joe we don’t think you’re evil or have evil intent towards disadvantaged folks, and you’re honestly just making yourself seem more out of touch with the concerns of average Australians. But I’ve already talked enough about this.

A medical clinic in West Point, Liberia, was attack yesterday by an apparent armed mob. The clinic was home to 29 people (9 of whom died some days ago), who were being given preliminary treatment for Ebola before they were due to be sent to a hospital. 17 of the patients mingled with the crowds and left while the remaining 3 were forcibly removed by relatives. There are also reports of bloody mattresses being taken- wait, seriously? I know they think their President’s full of shit and this whole ‘epidemic’ is made up but you’d think someone would go “Y’know what? Let’s not touch the things covered in body fluids that might be infected with an incurable disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Just in case…” It really shows how serious an absence of trust in your government can be in times of legitimate crisis, and this isn’t even the only case of patients being busted out by their relatives, or the only country where such distrust is posing a significant health risk.

Then there’s Ferguson, USA. What a nightmare. The shooting of an unarmed black male named Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer when he had his hands up and was surrendering, triggered protests (and riots) that were responded to by officers in armoured vehicles, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Things look like they’re getting a bit better since the Missouri state governor Jay Nixon put Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson in charge of the situation, an African American officer who marched with the protesters when he arrived in a well-meant and well-received symbolic gesture. Tensions are still high, something that all involved seem to understand, at least from the perspective of a white bloke on the other end of the world.
Edit: I’m not even gonna pretend I’ve got any perspective on this issue, just hope that it gets sorted more peacefully than it’s been so far.

ISIS (ISIL? The Islamic State?) has finally gone and convinced US President Barack Obama that they need to be broken, and American air power has begun supporting Kurdish soldiers and militia (why haven’t we given these guys a country yet? They’re tough as Israelis) as they push towards the stronghold of Mosul. In other good news (extremely relatively speaking), US personnel found fewer refugee Yazidi on Mount Sinjar, which was being besieged by Jihadist forces. While the situation is still atrocious, a great deal of aid had managed to get through and air strikes had successfully allowed many of the refugees to escape, so it wasn’t the humanitarian nightmare some were expecting.

PM Tony Abbot got in a bit of hot water over remarks about Scotland’s independence that did not go down well, saying “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” I understand why the Scots aren’t overjoyed, and it seems a lot of Australian opponents breathed a sigh of relief that he could stuff up internationally after his recent run of serious foreign policy success (*cough* MH17 *cough*). Personally, I don’t think it’s too bad. He’s not the only leader to tell Scotland to stay in the Union, he’s just the bluntest (and using language I’d normally associate with the Super Friends). And I mean, it’s Tony Abbot, a man about as subtle as a kick in the budgie smugglers. Should we have expected him to wink at Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and make a crack about not contributing to the rising divorce rate? I don’t think he should have weighed in at all, but since he’s an outspoken monarchist I’m not surprised that he did.

In an interview with SongFacts.com KISS bassist and frontman Gene Simmons told people suffering from depression “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” As you can imagine, and especially with the news soon after of Robin Williams suicide, this did not go over well. A number of people have responded with variations of the theme ‘Gene Simmons is a douchebag who needs to pull his head out his arse’ (Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx probably said it best with “I don’t like Gene’s words. There’s a 20-year-old kid out there who is a kiss fan and reads this and goes, ‘He’s right. I should just kill myself.'”) and Australian Radio station Triple M took the step of removing all KISS songs from their playlists. Simmons has since apologised on twitter for his remarks, but a lot of people are still unhappy.

And with that, let’s leave it and see what happens this week.