The Writing

18 July, 2012

crushing creativity

I am a little tired...nay, a lot tired...of the manufactured angst over the whole Tomb Raider reboot. In a nutshell: an interview at Kotaku revealed how the audience would "want to protect" the new Lara, because men the players cannot possibly want to BE a woman action hero, and! as a bonus! the game was throwing in an attempted gang rape as backstory to humanize young Lara.

Chuck Wendig does a very nice take-and-breakdown of the whole business so I don't have to. Let me only say that if you require a gang rape and trauma to make your characters seem human to you, I think you should seek therapy.

I got involved in a protracted angst-fest on Facebook with a young man who insisted that nothing should ever be off limits to artists, nothing, not even RAPE as a backstory! Sob! And while I agree, in principle, with that idea--I do think that a male-written game exploiting rape as backstory for a female hero, when we never ever ever have male heroes raped as part of their backstory, suggests that rape's awesomeness as a storyline is limited to women. There's an appalling prevalence of rape in games (both video and tabletop) and geekdom already.  An examination of why that is might possibly reveal some attitudes that should be changed if we really want women to play--

But it's all about the aaaaaaart, said the Voice of Male Privilege. We should not censor artists by making topics taboo. It's not that there's sexism, it's just that no one ever writes rape scenarios for men.

But why might that be---? Oh, never mind. I am infinitely patient with students. I am not at all patient with idiots. I live with one deaf cat, so I know the futility of shouting at those who will not hear.

But here's the thing: no one said anything about censorship. No one said "you cannot write this thing, not ever!" It's not censorship if part of your target audience objects to what you're doing and throws a fit or writes mean blog posts or whatever. Offending people in the name of "Art" seems to be the new aesthetic, but the artists are not allowed to be offended in return. Art does not exempt you from criticism. Criticism is not censorship. But it is also not  political correctness if, because of protests or public opinion or audience outrage, a storyline or topic is declared off limits. That is the market at work, mes amis. If the audience does not want it, the producers will not produce it. Sometimes bad press is just bad.

But let's come back to Tomb Raider

Lemme quote from this article:

Why don't people project themselves onto Lara? Because "people" means males. Nobody (well, almost nobody) wants to be Lara Croft, not even women, because Lara is very much the subject of Male Gaze in her games, and who wants to open themselves up to that sort of scrutiny? Getting a bit deeper, while many women do want to be attractive to males, which is part of why women's magazines often take a Male Gaze perspective as well, they don't want to be only that. They don't want to be stared at all the time, by everyone. Lara is at no point "just a person."
Yep. And that's part of the problem. Which is why it's okay to subject her to sexual violence as part of an emotional hook for the (male) audience, and why no male heroes get the same treatment.

Look. Being asked to listen and consider the privilege underlying your artistic choices is not censorship. And it's not PC. It's a check on privilege, yes, and it might make things more difficult, since you might have to think about a) what you are doing and b) how it might affect an audience. But that's rhetoric. That's marketing. That's making a product for consumption. If you don't care how women feel, carry on! But if you do, then shut the fuck up and listen. Because what we're hearing right now, from you, is "why won't the bitches play the games we make for them?"