From Celes to Lara Croft: The Evolution of Sexual Assault in Gaming
I recently had the chance to review the new Tomb Raider game, a title I put roughly four hours of play into before penning the article because that's what happens when you get it the day before release. The game was steeped in controversy over a brief scene where a member of the Sun Cult who has been stalking and killing people who land on the island briefly feels up Lara Croft while whispering extremely rape-y lines, and strangles her to death if you fail to input the correct action triggers. If you do succeed, you shoot your attacker in the head with his own gun.
The game is extremely brutal and intense, and I considered its execution to be more along the lines of a torture porn film than a traditional action-adventure outing. I stick by those words, but I've had a chance to play it a lot more over the course of the last week and think some more commentary needs to be made. Yes, Croft's ordeal over the course of the game is still frighteningly realistic in its portrayal of her being pursued and assaulted by an endless string of violent men, but the manner in which she overcomes it speaks loads about how the depiction of women has changed in gaming.
Let's look back to my favorite game of all time, 1994's Final Fantasy VI.
It can be argued that VI has no true main character and is instead an ensemble cast piece where everyone is equal. If that's true, then it would rob the game of its status as the first Final Fantasy title to feature a female lead. Terra Branford, the half-human, half-esper who represented the game in Dissidia, is usually considered the main character, but the problem is that she becomes completely optional in the second half of the game. Her spotlight is ceded to Celes Chere, the former imperial general, and it's Celes that we need to talk about.
The scene above is from the original SNES release, and was omitted from the Game Boy Advance rerelease in 2007. In it, Celes, who has betrayed the Gestahlian Empire, is chained up in a basement in South Figaro. There, two soldiers merciless beat her until she collapses.
Now, at no time is this treated explicitly as a rape, but type "celes rape scene" into Google image search and a screen shot of the video is the first thing to come up. That's nothing compared to some images you find of this scene done up by Internet artists indulging in Rule 34. I would argue that the idea that the two men have injured and humiliated Celes in every way possible is heavily implied from the cruel, bullying tone of the guards. The military setting certainly adds to the scene. Thirty percent of women in the American armed forces have experienced rape or sexual assault by fellow soldiers.
Celes is freed. Not by her own prowess as a rune knight, but by having her shackles picked by the thief Locke Cole. Locke had also previously rescued Terra, who had been put under the control of the empire through the use of a slave crown that robbed her of all resistance. A pattern emerges.