I've been a poster at the Tomb Raider forums for a while. Recently a thread was made discussing the possibility that the next Tomb Raider game will be M rated. As you might expect, this caused quite a stir, with the big fear that Lara will be shown nude in the games, though nobody seemed to have any objections to more explicit violence. But while I was composing my post on the subject, it became more than just about Tomb raider, and as much an exploration of the handling of the M rating of games in more general concepts.
So I thought it was worth sharing here as well. Like I said, much of what I say here is directed to Lara, and the Lara fan base, but almost all of it could be applied to almost any M rated game, as well as the sexuality of female video game characters, where the principle is almost universal. And now on to the topic at hand;
The general consensus that seems to be found on these boards is a more realistic presentation of violence is favorable. And I don't think what we as gamers or fans of Tomb Raider are gearing towards is an excess of blood and gore. Certainly not to the extent of Gears of War, God of War, Saw, or a Rob Zombie movie.
What is really desired, pushing towards realism, is the sense of genuine consequence to the actions taking place in the game. We want to feel that when Lara finds herself in a firefight with mercenaries or a savage struggle with the local wildlife, that there is a palpable sense of danger. She should suffer certain injuries and likewise, her enemies must approach her with trepidation, especially when they are aware of her reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Now please note that what I said here is sexuality, not sex. This has nothing to do with turning the franchise into a blatant porn series. But like it or not (as I am aware some of you out there plainly don't like it) Lara... HAS... sex appeal. And quite frankly I can't see why this should be a problem.
The biggest issue I have with the objections to a sexual portrayal of Lara is the perpetration of downright MYTHS. Can we please please PLEASE get past the ludicrous notion that Lara being sexy somehow undermines her being a strong, confident, powerful, graceful, cIassy, cultured, and intelligent woman?
I mean who said a woman couldn't be sexy AND intelligent at the same time? Can't express naughty humor AND witty repartee at the same time? Can't show confidence in her looks AND be cultured at the same time? For all you saying "she's not a porn star, she should be portrayed in only a cIassy way", I rebuke with this; It's true that if she was shown only as a sex symbol it would be a tragic disservice to her and her fans. But I would go so far as to say that her being only a dedicated archaeologist would be just as much a disservice. I want to see a fully dimensional human being, and to me its far more interesting to see complex personality traits that show realistic behaviors than "just the action heroin", which by itself would be flat and dull. To put it simply, why limit how Lara is defined? Someone who is realistically multi faceted is far more interesting and offers much more to amire.
Now there was a note here that "Lara is sexy because she's not trying to be". And this is correct as well. Yet we see her very often in outfits that accentuate her exquisite physique. That would almost seem like she is showing off, but here's why that's not the case. Lara has that aristocratic upbringing and if I understand that culture, women are more often "prim and proper" as the expression goes. But part of Lara's psychology, is that she lives by her own rules and doesn't bend to convention. So when she's going out there looking like she's posing for a fitness babe calendar, it's not motivated by any fulfillment of ego or vanity. It's because she doesn't care to follow the "rules" of what it is to be a lady, and sure as hell doesn't give a damn what others in her society think. She's just doing what she wants to do, with no thought of seeking approval for her looks. And yes, that is sexy as hell. What is also very appealing to me is the range Lara has when it comes to sexiness. She very successfully pulls of beach beauty hotness, athletic hotness, and even elegant and refined hotness. She is diverse and how can that not be seen as enticing on so many levels?
On the related subject of nudity, I feel it IS justified where the context deems it appropriate. I know some of you will vehemently disagree with that, and that it never has a place anywhere. But those are my thoughts. To take a page from the DOA series, what I find very sexy about that is that while it does show provocative imagery, yet never makes use of full frontal nudity. Instead, they take the more creative approach, employing a combination of controlled camera angles and environmental and other props to obscure the full view of the female so you can't see it all even when she's undressed. And I do fully support that this approach has artistic merit.
Of course the question is, would any situation Lara finds herself in entail a circumstance that she'd lose her clothing? Probably not. As stated before, she shouldn't be combating tigers and mercenaries in her bikini. But I suppose you might have those down time moments after or in between an exploratiodan, when she emerges from the shower (was seen in an earlier Core game), or she could be lounging by her pool when some agent approaches her for an assignment offer. Maybe even during an exploration, she sees a lagoon with waterfall, and decides to clean up a bit and refresh herself after getting very sweaty and grimy (again employing the DOA approach to the cinematic), where it would be a reasonable action to take. I mean who honestly enjoys feeling grimy?
So to summarize the sexuality and nudity issue; if we really want it to be handled in a mature manner, gamers need to get past this erroneous notion that the female body and the sexuality aspect of psychology is a "dirty and shameful" thing. It shouldn't be seen as a crime. And remember that point I made of violence? Why do some people want that to be given a respectful treatment with authenticity, but when it comes to human behavior, sex is suddenly not part of the equation of what makes a person realistic? It seems realism is constrained by limiting mores, and it really shouldn't be.
The final aspect of mature content I wanted to tackle is, well content itself. The very substance of the story, the handling of subject matter in both a realistic and thoughtful manner, and mainly being able to explore controversial and provocative issues. And considering what Lara does for a living, the stories are rife with potential here. I mean she's gotta be pissing off a lot of locals, trespassing into territory that is a sacred part of their cultural history. Or just the heated debates she could get into, trying to expose the "truth" (taken from the story context the writers choose to create for various mythologies) that clashes with peoples deeply held beliefs to the nature of deities and relics. A conflict of knowledge vs faith could provide such rich drama. Though really, I'm just spit balling here, lol.
Then there's the use of language. There was that poll option which never made it in, Lara suddenly dropping the f-bomb left right and center. But we all know she wouldn't adopt that language usage, she far too much a lady for that. But what about the other characters she encounters? She often has to deal with all manner of unseemly people to get leads for what she's looking for. Or how about the mercs she combats in the jungles? Now we would never like to hear this about our beloved heroin - yet is it realistic to expect that they, hired guns not exactly known for refinement, to hold her in the same regard we do? Especially when she is shooting at them? Would it be unrealistic to expect that in the heat of a firefight, they would be screaming the f-bomb at her, not to mention calling her all manner of unsavory descriptions... I'm sure you can fill in the blanks there. Again, we're talking about a ruthless lot, who has no reason to be polite.