We speak to Tomb Raider lead writer Rhianna Pratchett about redefining one of gaming's most popular heroines.
As a gamer, Rhianna Pratchett lost interest in Lara Croft a long time ago. As a writer, she's determined to bring Lara back into her life.
Pratchett has spent the last two years reworking Lara into something that she can respect, both as an artist and a gamer. In her role as lead writer for Crystal Dynamic's upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, Pratchett has the task of finding a side to Lara's personality that has been lost over the years in favour of an increasingly clichéd male sexual fantasy.
"[The way Lara was portrayed] shifted the focus away from what was particularly cool about her: the tough, action heroine and archaeology lover," Pratchett says. "It made me feel that these were games aimed squarely at guys, and therefore weren't necessarily for me."
In reimagining of Lara Croft, Pratchett wanted to give her the kind of traits one might rely on when lacking the skills and knowledge to deal with a situation (things like empathy, compassion, and introspection), qualities that were largely foreign to previous incarnations of Lara.
"In the past developers have definitely forgotten about the brains bit [when dealing with female game characters], mainly because that’s an aspect of a character that can’t be depicted visually, it has to be done through smart dialogue and appropriate action. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a female character being attractive, even sexy, it’s just when it’s done in a purely 'tits out for the lads' way that it becomes rather embarrassing."
At first, Pratchett was afraid her aversion to Lara Croft would pose a problem for Crystal Dynamics, despite the nearly 15-years industry experience she was bringing with her (Pratchett has served as a writer on titles including Mirror's Edge, Heavenly Sword, Viking: Battle for Asgard and the entire Overlord franchise). Instead, Crystal Dynamics saw her stance as an advantage: it meant she could come to the project with a fresh perspective, and not necessarily feel beholden to everything that had come before.
It was her chance to reinvent Lara as a human being. As it turns out, that comes with problems of its own.
To date, this much-touted human side of Lara's character has been discussed using terms like "vulnerability", "honesty", and "doubt". But the things which make us human aren't always the most exciting. A cornerstone in the action adventure genre, the Lara Croft games have always been fast-paced and full of bravado, something that undoubtedly has contributed to their popularity.
The first few public gameplay demos released by Crystal Dynamics show a very different Lara Croft, a frightened creature who's not really sure what to do or how to do it. (It's worth noting however that these demos depict very early scenes in the game and, as we all know, the reboot is an origin story, meaning Lara is much younger than in past games.)
Pratchett says it was important for the team to show that Lara's future bravery and strength didn't come without fear and doubt. Like all of us, Lara questions herself, gets over-excited, and doesn't always make the best choices. Less fun perhaps than the feisty heroine the world is already acquainted with, but arguably more important.
"There can be no bravery without fear. Sometimes you don't know what the hell you’re doing, but you just know you have to do it anyway, even if it scares the shit out of you. Showing a character, male or female, who is known for being brave and confident at a time when they weren't is risky. But we feel the way we're trying to bring out Lara's character during the course of the game and show her on that journey to Tomb Raider-hood is pretty powerful stuff for players to experience. We're playing the long game with Lara."
Part of playing the long game also means delving deeper into aspects of Lara's past that define her early character, particularly her relationship with her own family's wealth and her determination to be independent. Pratchett was adamant that players had a little more to latch on to this time, highlighting Lara's warmth and compassion and her relationship with other characters in the game. Of course, Pratchett injected a little of her own personality into Lara where she felt it was appropriate to do so. (As a result, Lara now likes Jaffa Cakes, "one of the things that truly put the 'great' in Great Britain".)
But more than anything, Pratchett wanted to show the truth about Lara, a truth that isn't necessarily pretty or comfortable.
It was this idea that drew Crystal Dynamics into controversy earlier this year over a scene that was initially believed to depict Lara in the midst of an attempted rape. Though this was eventually rectified, the public backlash was swift: many condemned what they perceived to be a serious error in judgement on behalf of those tasked with re-writing Lara's character (at the time, it was unknown that Pratchett was among them), questioning the motives of any developer who would use sexual assault as an attempt to define a character's personality.
The question is why were people so offended? Where does it say that a video game can't explore a topic like rape? How can we defend video games as a storytelling medium with the power to change the way people view the world if we refuse to give developers the power to make a difference?
"Although we weren't doing so in Tomb Raider, I see no reason why games can’t touch upon these themes, or even explore them," Pratchett says. "That is as long as it’s not done for titillation, but in a thoughtful way, with integrity and context. The world doesn't need any more Japanese rape-simulators. But we simply can’t call ourselves a serious storytelling medium if we exclude topics which are routinely covered in weeknight soap operas."
Pratchett points to films like The Accused and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as instances in which sexual assault is explored in an uncomfortable but ultimately powerful way. She says the reaction to the Tomb Raider controversy was as much about people's perceived notions about why such a scene had been put in the game in the first place, namely as a cynical attempt to get players to feel sorry for Lara and want to protect her, as it was about the inclusion of the scene itself.
For her part, Pratchett doesn't want to tell people how they should feel about the new Lara, particularly in the scenes where Lara is a victim to the power of others. While these scenes are intended to be uncomfortable to watch, they have been constructed with the purpose of drawing out players' desire for self-preservation.
"The link between player and player character is a uniquely personal one," Pratchett says. "Personally, whether I’m a hulking Tauren druid, a boy with psychic powers, or Lara Croft, I inhabit that character. I am them and they are me. That’s largely the approach I tried to bring to my work."
For the other, more complex conversation surrounding the representation of female characters in video games, Pratchett doesn't have a simple solution. For her, it's not so much a case of fixing how females are represented in games as it is about fixing how everyone is represented. She says developers need to put more thought into creating diverse, nuanced characters that accurately reflect the wide spectrum of demographics found in the real world. And they can start by paying more attention to game writers and encouraging more women to work in game development.
"Easier said than done, I know, but I don’t think enough effort is put into making young women aware of what opportunities there are in games," Pratchett says.
"The audience for games tends to be much more diverse than the industry producing those games. If we grew, matured and diversified with our audience, then we’d probably be a much more creatively rich and welcoming industry."
Wait... Sex & The City (women's thoughts) + Tomb Raider?? WTF!?
I think she's looking more hysterical this time.-
I hope the game is good also the story better be great because I don't care how good the gameplay is if you don't have kick azz story then you don't have an game sorry!
@jay_rock_ yes, because books come with controllers...
Every type of media has it's purpose and I really think games main focus should be interaction and freedom, letting the player have many things to do and many ways to do it.
For water cooler moments I'll watch some Stallone action flicks, and to feel pity and sentimental I'll read some novels. If the gameplay is poor in interaction and freedom then a game sucks.
I like the idea of this game being almost entirely story driven, as a lot of the best games are. The Quick Time Events are the only thing making me not want to get Tomb Raider, but I might let it slide, hmm...
Provided it's handled properly, there?s nothing wrong with making the player feel protective of Lara. I'd think that like me a lot of the guys that play Tomb Raider think of them selves as being there with Lara, not as Lara, so feeling like you are there to make sure she gets through in one piece is part of the experience and part of what makes Tomb Raider a different experience than playing a game were you feel like you are playing as the hero. I get that girl "gamers" may feel like they embody Lara when they play though.
implyed rape? there is no "implyed rape" in this game. oh you mean the part where she gets accosted by that guy . I guess you could assume thats what he was intending but it didnt happen. its no different then the classic woman getting "attacked" you would see in every action film or even on tv and in comedys. it even has the cliche kick to the groin.
"we have a message for you miss oniel...(smack) shut it"
points if you remember what film that was from
@jagcivtec the two have zero connection whatsoever.
@leviathanwing You didn't really analyze the meaning of my comment. Although true they're not related in aspects like Genre, Scope, Subject, Developer, etc. they share a very important aspect. A huge gameplay transformation that will leave the series unrecognizable. From there my association.
From what I've seen so far TR is heading down the same path that RE took, by practically transforming the game into another timed event, cinematic mess, when that is not what made the series or built its fan base, but the original gameplay mechanics. It's practically a slap to the face of the fans.
It appears there is an every growing desire from developers to make characters which are more human and less super. I find this tedious and to miss the point of gaming. Instead of games being a chance to take a break from the day to day grind they have become objects of expression. A way for developers to be artists intead of game designers. I'm just not interested in this. The same thing is happening with Halo 4. I just don't want to play through a game listening to the "hero" have breakdowns and inner dialogues about how unfair life is.
@Wango_Tango TR1-Chronicles are still among my all-time favorites. If anything it was Crystal Dynamics who turned Lara into a superhero complete with unappealing level design and uneven gameplay. Not that I ever really cared about Lara either - it was the exploration and awesome locations combined with addictive gameplay that made the games brilliant.
Anyway I can't be excited when the writer says the old games weren't made for her. It just screams that this game won't be like the classic ones, which is obvious from looking at the vids.Not that I've cared much since AOD so doesn't really matter what this new TR will be. But even if I try to judge this game without the context of series, I still see a Unchartedish game that has lots of set pieces and gunfights against humans. Not innovative at all. Pratchett's track record doesn't impress me either, especially Overlord was something I really want to forget.
@POP-3D @Wango_Tango Agreed, as a spinoff or brand new series this would have been fine. It's weak they tell us to forget everything while they are not willing to even change the title. Contradictive much?
But there's a chance this game will fail, or atleast not live up to expectations. Anything can happen after that.
I my self wouldn't have minded the whatever this game would be like if the chose to go with a separate title from the Tomb Raider franchise, like naming it "Lara Croft - Origins" or something, then at least i will be fine with the fact that my favorite Tomb Raider series is still intact.
But they are too eager to shove this new game they are making under the TR name to suck upon the series fame. Because they need a big title to shove this experiment under instead of giving it its own title.
@Wango_Tango I personally like the more introspective character development of late. It provides a great narrative that is gripping and emotionally connective. I can see how someone would not want to be downtrodden by negative emotions or negative situations in a video game, but personally I think this route for Tomb Raider is spot on.
I totally agree with her and I would love to play a game which include more realistic approach mentally too. Thumbs Up for her effort. Hope the best!
RP's a decent writer, so the story should be well thought out and not a trown together mess of decent ideas that don't fit together. But can we get some gameplay info?
Notice how the devs NEVER talk about the gameplay. That's not a good sign. They're focusing so much on Lara's character and the "cinematic" experience that they're forgetting to make a good game while they're at it. Such a shame, Tomb Raider is a fantastic series. I hate to see the gameplay dumbed down like this.
@burgeg You realize it says "We speak with LEAD WRITER Rihanna Pratchett". She doesn't design video games.
I like what I've heard about the game so far but I really hope they don't completely uproot the original mechanics of the game and change everything. All I ask for is a good story and some challenging, regular puzzles.
I' m looking forward to this game because at last I will witness what turned Lara into the "action heroine" we' ve all come to know. A game aiming at exploring areas not yet covered in previous games of the series. That' s why I think it will be a great success and people will love it.
AT the same time, I've got to say, BLEEP the story, I want to know about the game play. The last thing I want is it to be so focused on the story that the gameplay suffers and it becomes a QTE/ cutscene fest.
Hmm, well, I've got to say, from the art, Lara actually looks more like a woman who would be running around and exploring tombs. It's also nice they're trying to put a brain in her head.
I love the Tomb Raider series and this looks soo amazing. I´m pretty sure it will be one of the best game of the next year.
She looks more like a real person now, probably just due to better visuals. Might actually be an interesting game unlike the ones before it.
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this was a good read and what little I've seen of this game has definitely grabbed my interest i may be picking this one up I'm just not sure yet
I would also have to state that i fond the controversy over this game a little overblown it honestly reminded me of the RE5 fiasco In all honesty I don't think any true conclusions over Lara's portrayal or the meaning of any experiences she goes through can be drawn until the full game is available
@puppet12ca The RE5 fiasco was pure nonsense. The setting was Africa, therefore the zombies were African. Chris didn't travel to Africa to shoot black people.
As for the TR controversy, the implied "rape scene" is absolutely what would have happened if that situation were real so it wouldn't have bothered me to explore it, to see the real impact on someone struggling to survive. All the previews have implied that Lara will be given no quarter in this environment, yet she's apparently in no danger of being sexually assaulted despite her beautiful appearance and the fact that these men in the jungle have no problem smacking her around and trying to kill her. Video games shy away from things like that as if they are taboo, but novels (and films to a lesser extent) like 50 Shades of Grey can freely explore and even romanticize an abusive relationship in extreme detail and be loved by readers for their explicit approach. Why can't games explore the dark side of human nature as well?
Turn on the TV and you can hear on news about countless rape victims, war torn countries with child soldiers, children being used as shield against soldiers,... and s*** like that.
When I read a book, watch a movie and PLAY a game I do it to 'disconnect' / evade from the tough reality that surround us every day.
Read about Long John Silver in the Treasure Island, watch Bond shooting bad guys and playing an adventure for the good action and compelling story. I don't want to watch or hear a rape scene while I play an adventure/action game or hearing moaning and groaning the main character as she crawls out of a cave.
They insist that they want to change a sexually objectified character into a stronger independent role model, lol, but they're doing it again with the sound and the rape s***.
Quote: "Pratchett doesn't want to tell people how they should feel about the new Lara, particularly in the scenes where Lara is a victim to the power of others. While these scenes are intended to be uncomfortable to watch, they have been constructed with the purpose of drawing out players' desire for self-preservation."
Selfpreservation my ass. It's a cheap trick to pull some awkward feelings from players.
Sure, concentrate on developing a character, but don't forget the story part.
Some topics should remain out of the gaming business. I'm not a purist of some kind, but games should remain entertainment and not a media that leaves you freaked.
@POP-3D It could be, or it could also be the thing that destroys their will to live, their ability to love/trust.. Thats the interest. I understand what you're saying though.
@OHGFawx And i have absolutely no problem with what you have just said, at all. i agree with you 100%.
My point is, there is a difference between having this 'realistic' moment within the game that you experience like every thing else, and having this as 'the key moment' that start the transformation in the character's personality.
In Mafia 2 you do not transform from being a nice guy who would not harm a butterfly into becoming a murderer because you were about to get raped in the prison's bathroom, it was just another moment that represents a threat in your life that you had to deal with.
But in our case they chose to make this moment the key point that starts the transformation from being a harmless young girl gradually into becoming the bad ass Lara Croft that would shoot you in point blank without hesitation!.
And yes, i understand that you said many times that there is a full experience, lost, hungry, wounded, etc... and this could be part of the experience just like the rest, there even could have been no key points and that each of these things add to each other to build the full experience, but instead, and out of the entire experience they chose to have a key moment that starts the character's personality transformation and chose for this moment to be the attempted rape moment when she is forced to make her first kill (again their words, not mine) and that is what i have a problem with.
What message are you trying to deliver out here? that being in an attempted rape is a key moment for females to build a strong personality?!.
@POP-3D What's the difference between "kill or be killed" and "kill or be raped, then killed"? The first omits a key detail to keep people from feeling uncomfortable, the second tells it like is. As far as being a woman, I think there is more than enough evidence in the world to suggest the same outcome could happen to a man as well. There's even a mission in Mafia 2 where you have to fight off guys in the prison bathroom to keep yourself from getting raped. I'm not gonna lie, I felt real tension and a sense of foreboding during that fight like "man, this is crazy but this kind of thing really does happen and the good guy usually doesn't win". In order to create a real sense of dread in me, they took me out of my comfort zone, and it worked.
My problem with TR is that the scene existed as they intended for it to (with IMPLIED sexual assault), but then they backtracked and said "oh no no that wasn't going to happen." (even though it would have),
@OHGFawx Good, then why make it the "key moment" (their words), the "defining moment" (their words) "the moment when Lara is forced to make her first kill" (their words!"
They made a big deal out of this moment specifically out of the entire experience, and of all the reasons to make a 'first kill', when you are 'forced to kill a person' for the first time in your entire life, they choose that it would be because she was about to get raped! of course because she is a female character. Cliche at its best.
After 16 years of playing Tomb Raider games, and even for a person like me who cared only for the game play and never cared about Lara Croft i felt intellectually offended by the idea that the heroine character i have been playing with started this bad ass characteristic by killing some one in an attempted rape!.
@POP-3D What's cheap about showing what would realistically happen? Whether she prevents it or not, its a viable threat to her is it not? They caved under pressure, and changed their original vision for the story. I said in an earlier post that I didnt want the story to just be a woman overcoming an attempted sexual assault. Its the whole situation that she overcomes. She's lost, hungry, wounded, and alone fighting against people in the jungle who want her dead for some reason. The potential for sexual assault is not being shoehorned into the story, nor should it be the main focal point. Its merely among the realistic dangers (one of many) that she would be facing.
I hope i will not disappoint you saying this, but, i think you misunderstood my point, i was being sarcastic, i my self like most of TR fans is not happy with the way they choose to go with this key moment.
What i meant to say is that if i want to build a key moment in some character's life that defines her personality and then leave all the possibilities that i have at hand and jump all the way to 'rape'! as if rape is the only thing that can define a strong female personality!.
And as if now i am supposed to believe that this heroine Lara Croft that i have been seeing along the entire Tomb Raider series was actually that heroine and that bad ass because she was about to get raped when she was young and had to kill the guy!, and as if the only way to feel emotionally attached to female character and sympathize with her is to see her in an attempted rape!.
This is a poor, and cheap and completely silly attempt from the devs to attache the players emotionally to the character.
@POP-3D Exactly, they were fine with the scene when they first showed it. Then all of a sudden there was backlash over implied rape (a very realistic situation under the circumstances) so they decide to alter it. Apparently Lara is in danger of starving, succumbing to injuries, being beaten or shot to death, but not raped for some reason. Guess these jungle guys are gentlemen at heart. I'm really getting tired of people bitching at devs to change things to what they want, or what they think is appropriate.
@danteswart @OHGFawx Well, i do understand that some people just don't want to see or hear about rape in video games while others just don't find a problem in having the topic being discussed in video games like it does in any other medium. I am fine with both.
But that absolutely has nothing to do with why there is a big deal around the rape scene in this latest Tomb Raider...
They said (Crystal Dynamics) that this is a 'defining moment' for Lara Croft and a key moment in building her strong characteristic as she is forced to make her "First Kill Ever", and of course what is the moment that defines the characteristic of every strong female out there around the world? it is the moment when she is about to get raped!
Because of all the ways that this could have been handled through, from having to make the kill to protect some one to even just make the kill to survive there was only 'rape' that they could have think of as a reason for Lara Croft to make her first kill!, and as a reason to build her strong characteristic!.
And that is where every one called 'foul'.
@OHGFawx Yeah I heard , I watched the first episode and then mm no longer, went to see whether it was the TV producers that made it so bad, and behold, no it was actually worse in the books. Not really my style, read the newspaper here enough times to get my fill of all these nasty happenings. Anyways I am still glad they are reinventing the whole Lara thing, since she did tend to get boring. I liked the first trailer a lot. So hopefully it will be mature but still respectable. Would love it to be like the first almost where you never had enough ammo to just go bonkers and shoot everything, sometimes you had to run or hide etc. But we will see.
@danteswart You should probably avoid George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" (HBO's Game of Thrones). Every conceivable act of depravity is touched on in that series of books. Stick to the show, its far more tame by comparison lol.
@OHGFawx I agree with this, and like you said as long as the physical act is not shown I will be fine, hell a lot of stories etc imply stuff like rapes, assaults etc.
@erMonezza NOTE: I had to Google Jaffa Cakes to understand your reference, lol.
@erMonezza @puppet12ca They're altering the scene which i think is a total cop-out. That's my whole issue, not that it has to happen, but that they are removing it as a realistic possibility. As I said to danteswart, making people uncomfortable creates tension, and a sense of dread. That can lead to some truly captivating moments story-wise.
I don't think they would be allowed to actually show the physical act without jumping to an AO rating from the ESRB, but i understand what you're saying. I don't want the game to be focused on one aspect, like sexual assault, but rather have the very realistic possibility of it happening exist on top of everything else. She crash lands in the jungle, is lost, hungry, injured, and there are hostile men trying to kill her (why we don't know yet).
That feeling of discomfort you mentioned is paramount to a truly moving story in my opinion. If you want to really captivate people, step one is to take them out of their comfort zone.
I'm only against the 'rape'-like scenarios inside games. That is complete bulls*** in my opinion and lazy-writing from the writers part.
A scene that hints on rape it's a big turning on event, and like stated from R. Prattchet herself she want's to make the gamers feel like to protect Lara. Protect her with what? She is the main heroine of the game and all the events.
There are different ways to make her appear more human, show her emotions, strong will... more subtle ways that make you really feel you're playing a mature game, feel bad for the situation she is thrown in.
Crystal Dynamic: "Hey, we want a more mature game for Lara. No more cartoony Lara. Do something about it!"
Pratchett: "I'll make her eat Jaffa Cakes and... a hint on a rape scene."
C.D: "Awesome!" *THUMBS UP* "I love ra... er... Jaffa Cakes."
I know. They've put the scene out after the uproar of the gamers, or did they? This all smells like bad marketing from Crystal's part.
NOTE: Just wanted to point out that I have nothing against consensual sex scenes in games, if done tastefully. :)
@OHGFawx @erMonezza @puppet12ca I agree people wants to put way too much sexual themes in games these days for some reason. And using the girl with a dragon tattoo as an example was bad taste in my opinion. I definitely could have done without that rape scene, definitely unnecessary. Luckily I wathced on blueray so I could skip that shit. I live in the Rape capital of the world (South Africa always ranks from 1st to 5th on highest rapes per person) so yeah I for one do not want to SEE the rape scene. To hear about it, for instance to imply lara was raped or which ever other character in whatever other game, that I can still go with but to actually show it? No, that is stupid and so is 50 shades of grey that actually makes it almost ok to be in such a relationship.
@erMonezza @puppet12ca But what i suggest wouldn't apply to all games because we need variety so you would still have the choice of playing only games you wish to play in order to "disconnect" as you say. But consider this. Assume Lara is sexually assaulted in that scene but the game overs no cutscenes to dictate how you should feel about her in the aftermath. Instead, the game allows your style of gameplay to dictate the path she takes, would that not perfectly accomplish the goal that the writer has? She's not telling you how to feel, she's letting you decide how Lara should respond. You can be aggressive to indicate a strong will and her refusal to be a victim. You can be more cautious and stealthy to indicate her fear and apprehension to press onward. The game could even tailor the cutscenes it does show around how you've chosen to play to make it more authentic, showing a more resolved Lara for action players, and a more reserved Lara for stealthy players. Just an idea, but i think letting me dictate the story to a degree would increase my immersion factor.