(I’ve been asked to make my answer rebloggable. Hopefully this will do that.)
I’ve been holding off on answering this for a number of reasons. The first was I wanted to give it due thought. The second was that I’m pretty sure I’ll end up offending someone, somewhere, and despite what may be perceived as a reputation for not caring about that kind of thing, I actually do, quite a bit.
And third, it was a busy, busy week.
I’m not entirely up-to-speed on all the current video game releases and news, but I’m assuming you’re referring to the new Tomb Raider game that Square Enix is releasing, made by Crystal Dynamics. I’m also not up-to-speed on everything that’s been said about it, so my information is based more on heresay than anything else, but my understanding is that there’s certainly an active threat of sexual assault against Lara in the new game, though whether or not she is raped, I don’t know.
In the interests of full disclosure, I played almost all the Eidos Tomb Raider games, and I played and liked the first of the Crystal Dynamics ones. I haven’t played the second.
So, with all this in mind…
Fiction - regardless of its form, and video game narrative, I think we all agree, is fiction - at its best, reflects truths about reality. Fiction educates, even if it does so obliquely, or behind the cover of story. Fiction, ideally, asks questions that provoke thought and attempts to answer those questions posed.
Rape is a reality. Ignoring it empowers it. Diminishing it empowers it. Fetishizing it empowers it. Ignorance of it empowers it, and we just finished an election season here in the U.S. where that ignorance was on spectacular, non-ironic, display.
So, as if all the above wasn’t clear, I am very much speaking from my own opinion. Do I think rape has a “place” in fiction? Absolutely, yes. It’s a very specific place, I feel. It’s a place that must illuminate it as the crime against body and soul that it is. It’s a place where its weight and horror must be acknowledged, never diminished. It’s a place where it must be recognized as the evil it is.
Yes, certainly, there are characters where being a rape survivor is a crucial element of who they are. For some, it is even their core motivation. In the right hands, written with the proper thought and care and - in my opinion, and most crucially - honesty, yes, there is a place.
But as a short-hand for “justifying” why a character - specifically a female character - is who she is, or does what she does? I hate it. I’m inherently very suspicious of it, to the point of active hostility. I am leery of the prurient interest, and in the case of Lara specifically, I cannot escape feeling that is hard at work here. I read a quote where one of the developers, I believe, claimed that putting Lara in this position, under this threat, would make the player “want to protect her.” I found that both condescending and remarkably ignorant. Having not played the game, I can’t speak with any authority on it, but I find it hard to believe that was their motive to begin with.
I am very, very tired of rape being used as an explanation for why a woman is “strong.” As if an explanation is required. I find that insulting as hell, frankly. And I’m a guy.
Long answer is long. Getting longer.
Characters - good characters - are never any one thing. A rape survivor should never be defined by the crime committed against him or her. But the nature of the crime is so vile, in my opinion, that incorporating it into any character demands it be given the full weight and consideration it deserves. Anything less, as I said at the start, diminishes the crime. That’s irresponsible writing, at the very least, and irresponsible writing is, to me, bad writing.
There’s more to say, but I’ve said enough for now, I think.
Hope this answers the question.