Writing about the opposite sex in video games; a Nathan Drake and Lara Croft comparison

Video games have changed, dramatically and at a very fast pace. Only a few years ago were we playing a pixelated character you didn’t really care about but now we have well developed characters with incredible stories. Unfortunately, this creates a few problems too. The industry has huge pressure on them to do something new, realistic and fan pleasing. Standards have gone up tenfold which means the players aren’t always happy.

The latest uproar comes from the Tumblr community. It’s about how Tomb Raider apparently promotes “rape culture”, you can see the post (and my rant at the end: here). They largely argue that male developers should not write a female character, ever. A statement which I find hugely offensive. It says that men don’t know women at all. A fair statement but what women knows what all women are like? She only knows her own personality inside-out but she couldn’t understand her polar opposite point of view. Every human being, whether the opposite sex or not, is complicated. Hell I think most people don’t even know themselves very well. My point is that if you say men can never write a female character, you’re also saying a woman can never write a male character.

So in that case, what about Amy Hennig? She is one of the most influential women in the gaming industry and is known for her writing of the Uncharted series. She created Nathan Drake, one of the most likeable video games characters in the world. So, if men can’t write Lara Croft then who the hell is this woman to write a male character!? Oh no, we’ve all been mistaken she’s done such a poor job because she wrote about the opposite sex. Furthermore, we should also slander all the books that have ever been written by a man about women and vice versa, I mean, they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about right?

I would be down-right offended if I was a male writer/developer and someone told me I couldn’t write about a woman. It’s sexist. End of. Women are not “better writers”, you get bad and good writers of every gender, race and background.

Now the issue of rape in video games. As far as I know, it’s an issue that has never really been tackled and from what I can gauge from the TR trailer, it doesn’t really look like it’s tackled here much either. Although, it’s only a clip, I could be wrong. However, we all know rape is horrible and it can be a very difficult issue to tackle. Many films and TV shows have tried and succeeded at tackling rape, you only need to watch any soap on British TV to see this. Some have failed too, naturally, but if TV shows can tackle such sensitive issues, games should be able to too. We want more adult games because video games are made by adults mostly for adults, we don’t want to be treated like children when it comes to playing a good, in depth story. For me, there’s no reason why rape shouldn’t be addressed as almost every other serious issue has been in games.

Some argue that the “rape” scene in TR is used to strengthen Lara and that in itself is wrong. Again, I don’t expect that particular scene to hold any significance over everything else that happens to Lara. She’s thrown about, captured, tied up, shot at, threatened…a lot of horrid things happen to the poor woman. That’s what makes her stronger. It’s perhaps a bit cliché but how do you make a character go from never firing a gun to becoming a bad ass? It would be unrealistic to say Lara was born a bad ass, this is an origins story after all. Let’s look at Nathan Drake again, the last game only just touches on his past and how he became the man he is today but it’s easy to tell he’s gone through some rough times. He’s very young, he’s by himself and almost gets killed when Sully finds him. He’s gone through trauma, it’s changed him, we’ve seen dark sides of Drake before and they are yet to be explained. Drake goes through shit too, he’s also threatened, thrown around, shot at, drugged, etc. He hasn’t had it easy. Characters need that emotional background to give them depth, we need to know how they got there, how they became the person they are.

Amy Hennig, creator of Uncharted

It’s insulting to say a female character can’t be put through trauma because it’s cruel if you’re then happy to say it’s okay for men to be put through that same trauma. When the Hitman controversy came out, many newspapers picked up on how horrible it was to see women get killed and taken out in such a violent way by Agent 47. That’s sexist because if those nuns were say, monks instead (i.e. male), they wouldn’t have a problem with it. We can’t cotton ball female characters in such a way if we also want them to be treated the same way as the male ones.

Oh and all the complaining about Lara’s “moaning” and heavy breathing? She’s exhausted, she’s hurt, I’m pretty sure I’d make similar noises given the situation, it’s an attempt to make it realistic, not sexualising it. Drake heavily breathes too and talks to himself, it’s not there for women to touch themselves over it.

The TR origin story may not be perfect. I don’t know, it’s not out yet, I’ll have to wait until next year to see. Maybe I will eat my words but for now we need to direct our anger at the real issues in video games, and to stop being so sexist ourselves.

Journalism standards in decline – the fault of journalists or the audience?

The Sunday Sport ‘journalism’ at its best…

Today, CVG has caused a hell of a hullabaloo with their article about the E3 booth babes of 2012 just after a week ago, Sarah Ditum wrote an article about how sexist the new Hitman trailer was (which I wrote about here). What adds insult to injury is the words that accompanied the booth babe pictures: “We here on CVG like to use a 10-point review system, but if you’re more simple-minded you could just settle with ‘would’ or ‘not with yours, mate'” The staff at CVG are starting to sound less like journalists and more like sexist pigs.

But whose fault is it? Just a quick scan of the comments will tell you most CVG readers seem to like these sorts of ‘articles’, so is the audience to blame? Perhaps the average teenage boy, young man, old geezer on the street wants to look at sexy ladies, giving the site hits and adding sales figures to the delightful Sunday Sport. However, lads mags are meant to be in decline so is this really want readers want? After all, CVG is a video games website, surely readers go there to read about video games, not the women who dress up to endorse them. If they want to look at sexy ladies, that’s what the copious amount of porn sites are for.

Why do they still have booth babes at these events anyway? It could be argued that most journalists are male, as are most video games developers so someone, somewhere in the PR department thought they could persuade journalists to talk positively about their game by pushing a cheerleader with a push-up bra in front of them. “Sex sells” people say but does it? It’s an old fashion view, that tactic might have worked in the past but now more and more men are thinking, hang on, this is getting a bit ridiculous.

You could say the same about all the celebrity news and nonsense that is constantly written about in cheap magazines – many complain about this type of journalism but these magazines sell, a reflection of the kind of society we’re currently living in. Perhaps we’re no longer bothered about ‘hard news’, we’re more interested in who Katie Price is now sleeping with…

I hope to be a games journalist someday and I would love to go to events like E3 but I would hope the booth babes saga was starting to fade out by then. This video by the BBC showed how uncomfortable women in technology felt at the CES convention because of all the booth babes. I would feel the same. It was bad enough during Eurogamer last year, some stalls did indeed have booth babes and as I was out with a group of mostly male friends, I felt uncomfortable. Some made jokes, some stared and I just wanted to play video games. It’s actually rather upsetting to be a woman and to be put in that situation. You might laugh at me and tell me I’m stupid but that is how some women feel and if you want more women in our industry like so many articles are going on about at the moment, companies and journalists need to change their attitudes.