Feminism and the overall commonality of human kind have found themselves at the center of heated discussion for decades now. Countless strides have been taken toward counteracting misogyny, but has it still managed to slither it’s way into or beloved, innocent and infinitely growing medium of video gaming? Its important for us to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are allowing the subjugation of women to continue every time we pick up our controllers.
Since our favorite badass super heroine, Lara Croft, is looking to have another game added to her substantive roster this coming November 10th, delving into this question has never seemed so fitting.
What better way to uncover the truth than by picking the mind of one of the creative influences behind Lara’s character, video game writer, narrative designer and journalist, Rhianna Pratchett?
Watch the Interview Below
Seeing as Lara is one of the most iconic, household names in recent gaming history, taking on Lara’s robust character, and attempting to appease the entire massive and loyal fan base that revolves around her, must have been quite intimidating. This one would separate the women from the girls. We asked what a character like Lara meant and represented to Rhianna.
She says what gave her the perseverance and strength to set out on writing for the Tomb Raider franchise came from the fact that she has worked on several, legendary female protagonists in the past. That’s right; she’s worked on creating the beloved main characters from Heavenly Sword and Mirrors Edge too!
In this way, Lara sort of acts as a culmination of past experiences to finally get to Rhianna’s third lady. She says it was quite interesting to come in and look at her from a younger and dirtier perspective, when she didn’t have the guns or the gadgets and her struggles in having to deal with that. She’s young, she’s quite naïve, she’s a bit scared, and she has to learn how to survive very quickly.
Now, for those who have played any Tomb Raider game in the past, we have all become more than familiar with the many moans and groans that Lara screams out while she is in distress. Something that really made the first game so unique was the immense amount of realism, and humanism found in the experience. When a character died, it felt impactful, and there was an emotional element to the narrative.
So we asked Rhianna where she believed the line laid in terms of creating an effective and impactful experience without making Lara sound too sexual in nature. Rhianna set things straight in claiming that there was no intention to make Lara’s groans purposefully sound sexualized, but she does believe that they are necessary to illustrate her mental and physical exertion and strain. Fair enough, but I still think they can be toned down slightly…
We asked Rhianna to outline her personal policy, or the appropriate way in which she accurately represents the sexuality of our adventurous wonder woman. There is no arguing that she is an attractive character, but Rhianna emphasizes that the team has taken caution to make sure that doesn’t translate into people, in the game or otherwise, underestimating her abilities based on her gender:
“It wasn’t really mentioned to me in the first game, and it hasn’t in this game either. You know, she does have cartoony proportions that she has had in the past games.
She is a little more coming up, and she wears short shorts, and she is youthful. She looks like a real person and is attractive to the eye. We are careful to make sure that people do not underestimate her because of her gender; we tried not to make others in the game utter gender based slurs either.”
She acknowledges the fact that a lot of the sex appeal attached to Lara in the past, has been solely for purposes of marketing. As a young gamer herself, Pratchett was off put by that kind of marketing of a strong character like Lara. However, she stresses that it is something completely in the past:
“To be fair, a lot of the sexualization of Lara in the past has been solely for purposes of marketing, and it had a huge sway. As a young female gamer, I am willing to admit that I was off put by that kind of marketing of Lara. It was very much like, hey I’m being sexy for boys here; I think I’m going to go play another game! However, that is something that is very, very much in the past.
The way Lara is marketed now, is not sexualized. Its still beautiful, its still strong and its still, characterful, but it’s not sexualized in the way it has been done before. I was attracted to the project because she wasn’t over sexualized. She shows who she is as a person, not as an object.”
That’s something I personally was relieved to hear. Video game development shouldn’t have to appeal to a low, servile denomination of gaming and instead, all efforts should be dedicated into making characters like Lara, develop into memorable personalities. Lara is a sexy character, but it more so comes about from her character traits of strength, capability, empathy, and intelligence.
We ask Rhianna to humor us one last time with a question concerning the future of female representation in gaming. She referred to her excitement at the most recent E3 with the staggering amount of titles featuring female leads. Pratchett believes that this illustrates a realization by development companies that there is a huge market for female characters.
They are loved, and played the world over by members of both genders. One thing she hopes for is that more writers get on board with creating both excellent male and female characters as narrative sensibility increases.
The VGS team would like to extend our thanks to our honorable interviewee, Rhianna Pratchett, for being such an amazing guest. I am beyond excited to see Rhianna’s, and the rest of the development team’s, work unfold and come to fruition in Rise of the Tomb Raider! As far as Lara goes, Rhianna hopes the whole world is looking forward to seeing her inhuman badassery once again in her quest for immortality come November 10th:
“I think it will be satisfying as Lara’s second journey, and fans will be satisfied with delving back into Lara’s world again. We haven’t seen her since the last game, and I hope it amazes them just as much as the first one did. That’s all we can hope for really!”
What You Missed In the World of Gaming!
A game franchise that has redefined the genre is about to get another iteration, Rise of the Tomb Raider is nearly here and who better to talk about it than one of the minds behind the game, writer and journalist Rianna Prachett. Thank you so much for joining the program!
R: Well thank you for having me Andy.
What has been your role in the Tomb Raider franchise so far, and how have you contributed to the upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider?
R: In the Tomb Raider game that came out in 2013 I was the lead writer. In Rise, I’m not so much of a lead writer; it’s more of a team based effort. So I’m just a writer on Rise.
Tell us a little bit about the process for writing about a game like Rise, like you said it’s a little bit different; there is no lead writer. Is it a lot of iterative work, like a lot of minds working together sort of thing?
R: It’s very very iterative, and nowhere is that more the case than in a video game. Your basically having to write with how the game develops. It’s a bit like writing a screenplay, whilst the screenplay is being shot and the setting is being built, and the actions are being carved. So it’s quite an unusual way of working. Working on the first game gave me a really good perspective on Lara, I’ve also slightly worked with the comics, so I’ve been writing with Lara in some form or another for the past five years, and I am quite heavily immersed in it. I work free-lance but I work with the rest of the team to create a core Lara experience as well.
What does a character like Lara mean to you? What I guess, does she represent to you?
R: Lara really is quite the icon. Everyone pretty much knows who Lara Croft is, even my mum knows who Lara Croft is! So it is quite a great challenge to take her on. What sort of gave me the strength to do that was the fact that I have worked on other female protagonists before. I’ve worked on creating the main character from heavenly sword and the character faith from mirrors edge. So Lara sort of felt like a culmination of that to finally get to my third lady. Its been interesting to come in and look at her from a younger and more dirty perspective, when she didn’t have the guns or the gadgets and how she had to deal with that. She’s young, she’s quite naïve, she’s a bit scared, and she has to learn how to survive. That’s really what’s compelling to me as a writer.
This time around like you said, she was very young to start and it was that introduction to this new imagination of what Lara is. Now with Rise of the Tomb Raider, how has this character that’s so iconic evolved from that first stage that you guys set in the first game?
R: Well she’s a lot more confident this time around, she been through something similar to this already and she’s a lot more proactive as well. In the first game she was sort of thrashed into this terrible situation and had to deal with it. This time around she is actively pursuing adventure. She strapped herself in there and is looking to make decisions on life altering goals. She is looking for the next step up in her tomb raiding career, she is seeking out adventure and really enjoying discovery and new knowledge. She is far less vulnerable and more prepared to meet fire with fire.
As one of the architects behind this new character, what did this new challenge really give you an opportunity to explore thematically with a character like Lara? Like you said the first one is very much about survival, it’s very intense, there is a lot of vulnerability there. Now with these new challenges, what did you get to play with and what different ideas did you get to explore?
R: it’s quite a second step because no one is really seeing what we could do here before, its quite new to everyone and we have the element of surprise. We obviously can’t repeat what we did in the first one so finding new depths to explore was a challenge. Definitely looking at Lara’s internal journey and seeing how the player can be involved in what Lara is going through was our focus. In the first game, she has her eyes open to a few secrets in the world; in terms that she didn’t think they were possible. And I’d say she’s been open to a few thing that she can do that she didn’t think were possible either, both good and bad. So she is sort of trying to reconcile these feelings about whether there are secrets out there and if there are mysteries to be discovered. She is trying to find more evidence of what she was doing in the first game, and some clues that her father left. She is travelling a path he wanted to go down but never got the opportunity to. Lara is sort of picking up the sled. However it is very much her journey, she is doing it on her own terms and she is doing it in her own way. So there was a lot to explore there.
When you were dealing with this character that is so iconic, how do you create a sense of vulnerability, and a sense of humanism in a character that is for all intents and purposes, a super heroin. You know the stuff that happened to her in the first game goes beyond the realm that most people could expect to go through and still be sane. How do you create humanity in a character that sort of does these inhuman feats?
R: I think its really about going down into the emotional core of the character, the truth, the commonality of mankind. Things like familial problems, and greed and all these sorts of common things that we can all empathize with. And so we might not necessarily like a character, but we can most certainly understand the character. Paying attention to those aspects of the character and getting at the emotional core was really important to us in creating Lara. We looked at things in the first game like her friendships and what they meant to her and the particular friendship with Sam, her best friend, which was quite a female friendship. I took inspiration from some of my female friendships for that. In the second game there is a lot of delving into her psyche and her trying to kind of put together the world and put together herself because she can do things that not everyone can do. She is taking steps to embrace that and the things she has done in the past like committing mass murders. Action games tend to have a high body count. But we are trying to hold onto the emotional truth of the character and we come back to that.
How do you think the game deals with the realities of violence?
R: I don’t think we shy away from it. In a game, I always find the death scenes are the most difficult. They are quite visually impactful. I think violence highlights a fight for survival in the Tomb Raider games, and the violent consequences of things not going Lara’s way. So we try to approach it in the most realistic way as any game can. If it were wholly realistic Lara probably would have died in the first game when she landed on that spike, but that would have been a pretty short game! We try to put more humanity and vulnerability in terms of her sort of culturing wounds, or staggering, she also shows that she is in pain at certain times. Those are things that back her humanity and keep her connected to other characters in the game. In this game she’s a bit more solo as well. She spends more time by herself as opposed to the first game where she is surrounded by friends. A lot more time is spent in her head in this game. She still cares and tries to help people, and this sort of counteracts the violence that is happening around her and grounds things effectively.
For the audience, you talked a lot about the instances where you had those very intense death scenes. There was a lot of controversy on both sides and I think some of it has to do with the effect and impact your team did on creating that sense of vulnerability and humanism. So when these characters did go through those horrible deaths, you felt more. Where is that line between conveying an effective, nuanced and really deadly instance of someone dying versus the more exploitive maybe circa 1990’s version of Lara, where there are more moans and deaths are more sexualized? Where is the line and where do you think it falls in this game?
R: I don’t think anyone ever tried to make any of Lara’s groans sexual. But she is going through a lot, and she is exerting herself. But for me, and I don’t have a lot to do with the death scenes really, I can only speak from the perspective of the player, they are very impactful and allow the player to really feel for Lara, which I believe is the great bit about them. Death in these games is not as sadistic and nasty as we often see in an 18 rated film. Lets not forget that this is an 18 rated video game, it’s targeted at adults. In my opinion, and others may differ, you shouldn’t do violence for violence sake. It should be impactful and not sadistic.
When crafting this character that has, you know we talk a lot about the iconic nature of this character, and its pressuring as you mentioned. Where did you guys make the choice of, because this is something again like the death scenes that are not in your purview, sexualizing a character like this, considering the past and the history. What is your policy, or the appropriate way in which to accurately represent the sexuality of Lara Croft?
R: It wasn’t really mentioned to me in the first game, and it hasn’t in this game either. It has been talked about a lot in the public sphere. She does have cartoony proportions that she has had in the past games. She is a little more coming up, and she wears short shorts, and she is youthful. She looks like a real person and is attractive to the eye. We are careful to make sure that people do not underestimate her because of her gender; we tried not to make others in the game utter gender based slurs. To be fair, a lot of the sexualization of Lara in the past has been solely for purposes of marketing and it had a huge sway. As a young female gamer I am willing to admit that I was off put by that kind of marketing of Lara. It was very much like hey I’m being sexy for boys here, I think I’m going to play another game. That is something that is very, very much in the past, the way Lara is marketed is not sexualized. Its still beautiful, its still strong and characterful, but it is not sexualized in the way it has been done before. I was attracted to the project because she wasn’t over sexualized. She shows who she is as a person, not as an object. That’s what really played a part in depicting Lara.
It’s excellent to hear that. I think for a lot of gamers, regardless of gender, that was a big reason for why they enjoyed the first game so much. Lara was just a bad ass, great and strong character, so much so that they didn’t need to add that extra layer. So for Rise of the Tomb Raider, are you sticking with that same policy?
R: Absolutely, I mean there is no denying that she is sexy, but that is a different thing. She is strong, she is capable, she is empathetic, she is intelligent she is all kinds of things that would be deemed sexy in the real world. So its not like she isn’t a sexy character, but she is not sexualized. I think the players find that refreshing to see.
Where do you see, and again because this character is so iconic and these games just work so well. Narratively, the thing I loved about the first one was anytime you found a weapon or improved your skills and grew as a character, tied in almost seamlessly with the narrative. It never seemed unnecessary that you acquired new skills, it seemed like it was meant to survive. Now with Rise of the Tomb Raider she is coming in and has already acquired these skills. How do you keep these two lines still parallel between gameplay and narrative when you are not starting fresh?
R: I think that is something I can’t really answer because that is entirely design oriented and they haven’t done much in revealing design portions of the game. Do you mind if we skip that one?
Not a problem at all. Where do you think, having worked in the video game industry for such a long time, and having written so many games, where do you believe as a gamer, and someone who writes in it, the industry is going with regard to the depiction of women?
R: if we look at this year at E3, there a lot more games with female leads and that is great to see, and I believe that is the way we are going. Female characters are loved by everyone. Its authentic and there are female players all over the globe, and there is nothing that generates more interest than the good old dollar. So I think that really kind of shook things up a bit. These publishers are realizing that there is a market for female characters. It also shows that people are not put off by playing a female main character. I hope to see more writers get on board. If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write a good female and male character. Not only are female characters getting better, but characters as a whole are getting better, and our narrative sensibility is getting better too.
Here here. Excellent, thank you so much again for joining the program and talking about the game, I cannot wait to play it. For you looking at this project and knowing that it’s done and people will get a chance to play it very very soon, how do you hope this game and the story that you and your colleagues crafted, resonates with the millions of people that are going to get the chance to get their hands on it.
R: I think it will be satisfying as Lara’s second journey, and fans will be satisfied with delving back into Lara’s world again. We haven’t seen her since the last game, and I hope it amazes them just as much as the first one did. That’s all we can hope for really!
R: You’re very welcome.
This has been Andy Borkowski for VGS.