Lara's Damsel in Distress

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Lara's Damsel in Distress

Sometimes, it's not about sexism, it's about bad writing.

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It almost sounds to me like Sam represents us more than Lara, like this is how most people would 'realisticly' end up behaving in similar situations, instead of like Kratos the Archaeologist?

But, I haven't played the game, so I can't pretend to see the full picture on this.

Why is it that when one damsel/sexist/feminist thread gets locked another one pops up almost instantly? I'm smelling conspiracy here.

I am in almost 100% agreement with Shamus here. Those 'characters' have got to go! Or at least give the player the choice to let them die in exchange for helping a better character.

Nope just don't write them in the first place. Lazy writing hurts everyone.

Sartan0:
I am in almost 100% agreement with Shamus here. Those 'characters' have got to go! Or at least give the player the choice to let them die in exchange for helping a better character.

Nope just don't write them in the first place. Lazy writing hurts everyone.

To be fair Tomb Raider games have never been a bastion of epic story telling. I've played every single one of them and I can only give you a general outline of what was going on in some of the games. The others I can't even remember.

"Damsel in distress" is one relic that Lara should have left buried :P

Yeah, she really was a pointless character. Then again, I really didn't much care for any of the characters beyond Lara. Sure the beefy guy and her mentor were cool, but they didn't have any depth to them like Lara did.

There is an incredibly low bar for writing in video games. Perhaps the only reason this stands out here is because it is terrible writing within a fairly good game. Really though, have you closely examined the things in gaming that gets listed as "good" writing? There's a large group of people that would place MGS IV in that category whereas if that game were stripped of it's ten minutes of gameplay and released as a movie (basically all it is anyways), it would have a terrible reception. It's too long, over-dramatized with a plot so complex the majority of the game is spent explaining the plot to the audience. Assassin's Creed also seems to get a lot of attention for the story and those games are filled with entirely bland characters in the very essence of a trope conflict (ooh, secret societies vying for influence in the future of humankind).

I don't mind the idea of playing games for fun and ignoring the story. It's just that in those cases, the gameplay has to be able to entirely stand on it's own. Otherwise, I think we need to raise our standards on these things. This damsel in distress trope is egregious but it just underlines how bad game writing in general truly is.

Being reduced to a useless blubbering waste of space is a certain death sentence for a male fictional character, I don't see why a female character should be spared the same fate.

Would making Samantha a child have made her a better character? Praising Lara because she wants to grow up to be her, helpless because she hasn't learned any life skills, etc etc. I haven't actually played the game, I'm just asking.

Not to dismiss your point, as I often find myself yelling at characters who seem to be doing absolutely nothing to help themselves, but being paralysed by fear is a real and potent thing. I've seen people in much more minor crises be rendered completely helpless before - I remember one time when I split my head open, my (fellow adult) friend with me at the time freaked out and was utterly useless in the situation, apart from yellin for help. It happens more easily than we might think.

Hey look, yet another thing about this game that Uncharted did better. I don't like picking on this game, but when another series does the action platformer better than you, you should be trying to one-up them. Elena and Chloe in the Uncharted games are not damsels in distress, even in the beginning, and actually do a great job covering you when they're around. The only trope that is kinda annoying about them is they both naturally fall for Drake, though they both want to stay close to him for different reasons.

Hell in the third game, the big bad that's out to get Drake and cuts him short at every turn is an incredibly resourceful woman. Considering the whole thing is a modern take of a pulp adventure Indiana Jones story, they did a marvelous job keeping the story balanced and interesting. Only the big bads in the first two games really felt like cardboard cutout characters, and they were mostly used just to push Drake along... the story wasn't about them.

Quijiboh:
Not to dismiss your point, as I often find myself yelling at characters who seem to be doing absolutely nothing to help themselves, but being paralysed by fear is a real and potent thing. I've seen people in much more minor crises be rendered completely helpless before - I remember one time when I split my head open, my (fellow adult) friend with me at the time freaked out and was utterly useless in the situation, apart from yellin for help. It happens more easily than we might think.

I could forgive some of her behavior as the paralyzed by fear/culture shock reaction but this game takes place over a couple of days and most people who have reactions lasting that long would be catatonic. The other problem is that Sam appears to be absolutely coherent otherwise. The first mistake of following a stranger off into the night while leaving a sleeping friend alone in unknown territory may be forgiven, but the subsequent mistakes and lack self-motivation just makes you want to scream. Making the character a child might have helped or implying that she had been drugged, but none of that was done.

Back to the original point, over a shorter timespan her apparent apathy/complacency could have held up. But given the time covered in game she should have been working more actively to help herself by the last few sections of the story.

Man, the last time I saw a Tomb Raider game it was about using glowing green alien Excalibur to fight an angry goth chick and her smoke monsters while a large supporting cast of people Lara knows and the player doesn't appear and disappear seemingly at random. What happened? I mean, at least that ended up being funny.

[I'm not counting 'Guardian of Light' because its plot was 'Hey remember that Tezcatlipoca story line from Spriggan? This is that'.]

The "Kraken of gender politics" should have been the final boss in that game.

EDIT: I feel I should contribute something more to this discussion but... I just didn't like the new Tomb Raider. I didn't think it was a good story nor a particularly outstanding game. The franchise as a whole has slipped into the "meh" zone for me. Such a shame.

Samsonite or whatsherface reminds me a lot of Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse 5. Except I felt sorry for Billy Pilgrim for being so pathetic and miserable and weak, and I hate Samwhines just from her description.
But I can't exactly say I'm surprised at the idea that characters in videogames are just very badly written sometimes.
It's sort of common.

captcha: drag race
Captcha, you magnificent bastard, you're tracking me, ain't you.

Quiotu:
Hey look, yet another thing about this game that Uncharted did better. I don't like picking on this game, but when another series does the action platformer better than you, you should be trying to one-up them. Elena and Chloe in the Uncharted games are not damsels in distress, even in the beginning, and actually do a great job covering you when they're around. The only trope that is kinda annoying about them is they both naturally fall for Drake, though they both want to stay close to him for different reasons.

Hell in the third game, the big bad that's out to get Drake and cuts him short at every turn is an incredibly resourceful woman. Considering the whole thing is a modern take of a pulp adventure Indiana Jones story, they did a marvelous job keeping the story balanced and interesting. Only the big bads in the first two games really felt like cardboard cutout characters, and they were mostly used just to push Drake along... the story wasn't about them.

Did you... actually PLAY the game?

Tomb Raider does platforming as well as Uncharted (from my experience, it's actually even better).

Also, unlike Elena and Chloe, LARA CROFT is the lead of the game, is not a damsel in distress, and saves the day despite lacking the Y-chromosome Drake has. Also, you didn't mention Reyes, the tough mom of the group who just as easily guns down masses of zombie samurai and raving islanders as Lara does, without a hint of hesitation, fear, or remorse. That's already two women that are more active and helpful than Elena and Chloe were.

Also, SURPRISE, the true main antagonist of Tomb Raider, the big bad, is Himiko, a WOMAN, and the one causing everyone, islanders and survivors alike, to suffer and get stuck there. The whole lore of the game, the history, the threat, is because of one insane, powerful woman.

Also, on topic and to counter Shamus, I'll admit I wasn't a big fan of Sam in the game... but I didn't dislike her either. The article cherry picks the worst moments with Sam while entirely ignoring the GOOD moments.

I'd say that, for starters, both times Sam is kidnapped it's by people she trusts (she hadn't yet realized the island had cultists when she meets Matthias, and nobody thought Whitman was THAT crazy that he'd kidnap her later on), and she likely was muzzled or knocked out when it happened.

Secondly, Sam WAS shown to be resourceful. She states outright she stole a radio off the guard, attempted to contact someone, anyone, with it to let them know what was going on and how to find her, and then, when Lara saves her for the first time, she has a gun and USES it, killing several armed islanders herself and FIGHTING her way to freedom with the rest of her crew.

Also, she, herself, while being Lara's close friend, has MANY journals and narrations talking about her love for history, film, and her connection to Himiko. She DOES have a life outside of Lara, but Lara's the one with the instinct, talent, and drive to get stuff done, and it's unfair to ignore the many thing she doesn't say about Lara while ignoring the many things the OTHERS say about her, because they all DO have an opinion of Lara, some of them quite negative.

And the finale, of "battered" Lara carrying "fit" Sam back down... Sam just had her very SOUL sucked out of her body, her very life and being nearly destroyed, her body consumed whole and everything that makes her a living person stamped out. I don't think it's that unreasonable to assume she's more half-dead after that than Lara was.

I don't think Sam is the best character in the game, by any means, but she's FAR from as useless and docile as the article makes her sound. In two playthroughs, I very clearly see her struggling, I see her fighting, I see her killing, I see her being resourceful, I see her grabbing guns, acting at times reckless, defiantly standing up to the villains, and fleeing for her life. I also see her being petrified with fear, I see her being freaked out and confused, I see her being weak and human... and, ultimately, she is NOT as capable, or brave, or strong, or smart, or resourceful as Lara is.

Even then, if Sam, who isn't THAT bad of a character (even if she serves as the plot mcguffin), is the worst element of Tomb Raider, I think the game did very well, all things considered. It's simply that characters like Lara, Jonah, Roth, and the others were just more interesting, active, and charismatic.

kailus13:
Would making Samantha a child have made her a better character? Praising Lara because she wants to grow up to be her, helpless because she hasn't learned any life skills, etc etc. I haven't actually played the game, I'm just asking.

I thought about the same... some time on the ship could have been used to build up a connection to her. That way, players would probably see more reasons to actually look for her and protect her. With her being smaller than an adult, there could have also been a scene where she just gets pulled along after her kidnappers or she might hide between some mangrove roots or something...
mind, I haven't played the game yet (will be up after I'll have powered through Bioshock after my last exam...), so I don't know much about the game other than from reviews etc. so I don't know if there is actually any time on the ship, who comes along and why etc...
call it a bit cliché but little Sam could then be the child of one of Lara's friends (who died) so Lara/the player feels an obligation to protect her.

Overall, it would also explain why, as Shamus put it, she gets rescued and 30 seconds later gets cut off by fire from you again... children sometimes are very fickle in their attention span and their decisions don't always necessarily make sense.

OtherSideofSky:
Man, the last time I saw a Tomb Raider game it was about using glowing green alien Excalibur to fight an angry goth chick and her smoke monsters while a large supporting cast of people Lara knows and the player doesn't appear and disappear seemingly at random. What happened? I mean, at least that ended up being funny.

[I'm not counting 'Guardian of Light' because its plot was 'Hey remember that Tezcatlipoca story line from Spriggan? This is that'.]

In this game, it was about using flaming napalm arrows to fight an angry undead Japanese Empress and her zombie samurais while a large supporting cast of people Lara knows and the player just met appear and disappear at random.

I still don't know why some people feel that "out there" element of Tomb Raider is missing. Right around the time the vortex of souls was destroying the mountain while a 20 foot tall Oni is swinging a 500 lbs mace at my face while a zombie queen is merging her soul into the body of my best friend I thought "yeah, this is definitely Tomb Raider-levels of crazy. Awesome."

To fix Samantha, just give her some strength, skill, and determination.

So it's now a requirement for every female character to be strong, skilled, and determined?

Because god forbid there is ever a woman completely unfit for roughness who would curl into a ball crying and then walk obediently to her own execution. Like that is not known to happen to people, man or woman. Don't forget she stole that radio though.

To fix her just make her more interesting in general. Not everyone has to be useful in a fight to be worth something.

m19:

To fix Samantha, just give her some strength, skill, and determination.

So it's now a requirement for every female character to be strong, skilled, and determined?

Because god forbid there is ever a woman completely unfit for roughness who would curl into a ball crying and then walk obediently to her own execution. Like that is not known to happen to people, man or woman. Don't forget she stole that radio though.

To fix her just make her more interesting in general. Not everyone has to be useful in a fight to be worth something.

I agree. You don't need everyone to turn into a superhero in your game. Tomb Raider was already filled with nearly EVERYONE doing this, and even Sam herself had moments of killing others and fighting back.

The problem happens when a character that is MEANT to be strong, skilled, determined, brave, rough and tough winds up curling into a ball crying for stupid reasons (I'll never forgive Metroid: Other M for what it did to Samus as a character).

Trishbot:

I agree. You don't need everyone to turn into a superhero in your game. Tomb Raider was already filled with nearly EVERYONE doing this, and even Sam herself had moments of killing others and fighting back.

The problem happens when a character that is MEANT to be strong, skilled, determined, brave, rough and tough winds up curling into a ball crying for stupid reasons (I'll never forgive Metroid: Other M for what it did to Samus as a character).

There is also the problem that she seems to be the only weak character. I haven't played the game but in the article she is described as the only one being completely useless. She should at least be carving arrows, carry water, help the medic character or something...

kailus13:
Would making Samantha a child have made her a better character? Praising Lara because she wants to grow up to be her, helpless because she hasn't learned any life skills, etc etc. I haven't actually played the game, I'm just asking.

Hmm...now that's an interesting idea. It would remove any expectation that she could save herself, and also serve to reemphasize that part of Lara's journey is one of adulthood - she starts off a child herself, but ends up an adult by the end of her adventure.

Yes, I think that would actually work - you just need a good reason for a child to be on the expedition in the first place. The obvious answer is that her parent is on board, but then it would be the parent's role to rescue her, not Lara's. So then by necessity you have to kill or otherwise incapacitate the parent - but even then, the focus is still going to be on that parent/child relationship. (But that affords some potential parallels with Lara's own broken relationship with her father.)

Interesting narrative idea!

the December King:
It almost sounds to me like Sam represents us more than Lara, like this is how most people would 'realisticly' end up behaving in similar situations, instead of like Kratos the Archaeologist?

But, I haven't played the game, so I can't pretend to see the full picture on this.

Realistically, someone might act like that at first, but we tend to adapt rather quickly when our lives are on the line. Look at any extreme real life survival story and you'll see plenty of people do things they'd never think they'd do just to make it back home again. The reason why this character is annoying is that she doesn't seem to have any kind of natural survival inclination at all. She is like an object. :(

m19:

So it's now a requirement for every female character to be strong, skilled, and determined?

Nope.

Sam is expected to act like a real person would act.

in order to meet such demands, she needs to either be more strong, skilled or determined in some form, or she needs to change in age or maturity to match her current actions in game. This is only in Sam's case. I can think of several cases where characters need less strength, determination or skill - Eragon comes to mind as the most immediate example, where he is too speshul to act like a real person, picking up skills on everything he does almost immediately after he encounters them to the point it breaks suspension of disbelief. A female example would be Molly Moon who went from just getting the power to hypnotize people to getting the power to stop time to getting the power to travel through time to getting the power to shape shift. It eventually stops being believable.

If they are going to make Sam weak and useless, I expect them to do it consciously, and use it to examine why it is done in the first place.

If the plot doesn't matter, then it doesn't matter if it changes such that Sam is not incompetent, and if a character must be depicted as weak and useless for the plot to function at all, then pick a different end goal in your supposedly irrelevant plot.

This isn't exactly a high bar.

I absolutely hate that sort of character, but... I've known people that stupid. Walking down the street and some freak comes out of an alley with a sick grin and his erect penis out, and her first reaction was to run TOWARDS the probable rapist. She just ran towards threats, unarmed and whimpering, whenever they appeared. More than once she was saved from a potentially dangerous situation by a friend who grabbed her and pulled her back.

m19:

To fix Samantha, just give her some strength, skill, and determination.

So it's now a requirement for every female character to be strong, skilled, and determined?

Because god forbid there is ever a woman completely unfit for roughness who would curl into a ball crying and then walk obediently to her own execution. Like that is not known to happen to people, man or woman. Don't forget she stole that radio though.

To fix her just make her more interesting in general. Not everyone has to be useful in a fight to be worth something.

If anything it's more realistic. People love to think they'll be the hero or the survivor in a hard situation based on the harshest thing they've been through is an insect sting or sports injury. In reality, look at Sam's situation: alone, tied up, surrounded by guys she doesn't know need her alive for a while and look more likely to kill her if she does anything funny and really no where to run to if she did get away. All that's enough to put most people out. Add in she's not a survivalist, but someone barely in their 20s filming what is essentially reality television and it suddenly sounds unreasonable to expect she'd craft a makeshift weapon and try to hack her own way away from her kidnappers. I think we sometimes forget how much plot armor main characters get and transpose similar expectations on the supporting cast. If Lara can hack through hundreds of cultists with a makeshift ax, bow, and stolen guns Sam should be able to do the same. But Lara gets away with it first as the main character and second as a video game character provided with ample tools, solutions, and enemies dumber than soup.

Not to say I didn't make most of the final run riffing about a lack of personal motivation to rescue this girl. She wasn't much more of flat lump of a character than the rest of the cast, but as awesome as the scenes were, I really didn't care if I saved Sam or not.

I think the plot could have been improved greatly if they'd just folded Sam together with a "funny-guy" role and only have her get captured once, towards the tail-end of the game. We have few enough funny female characters in games already.

Is there actually a section in the game (tutorial area?) where you get to know her a bit better and maybe get to actually like her?

From the game's premise the ship sounds like a perfect place for that with it being a confined space with not that much to do.

Trishbot:
~snip~

I don't think Sam is the best character in the game, by any means, but she's FAR from as useless and docile as the article makes her sound. In two playthroughs, I very clearly see her struggling, I see her fighting, I see her killing, I see her being resourceful, I see her grabbing guns, acting at times reckless, defiantly standing up to the villains, and fleeing for her life. I also see her being petrified with fear, I see her being freaked out and confused, I see her being weak and human... and, ultimately, she is NOT as capable, or brave, or strong, or smart, or resourceful as Lara is.

*claps*

Thank you for filling in the blanks Shamus so conveniently left in his retelling of the story. My personal strongest memory of Sam was when she was running from the cultists during the escape from the castle, as she did her best to hold them off with her gun. Her actions weren't any less impressive than those of Jonah, Alex or Reyes, who at least had each other to rely on for backup. Not everyone can be Roth, Angus or Lara.

rofltehcat:
Is there actually a section in the game (tutorial area?) where you get to know her a bit better and maybe get to actually like her?

From the game's premise the ship sounds like a perfect place for that with it being a confined space with not that much to do.

You basically get to know her through a couple of video clips and diary entries. I think that was sufficient, although I certainly wouldn't say no to more dialogue-oriented gameplay.

I'm glad to see someone gets the real problem. This trope is just lazy writing, as it is in just about every story where it is used. You need some reason for your main character to be doing whatever it is they are doing, so invent a reason for them to go to X. Of course giving more development to the damsel character would require more work and who wants to do that.

I also like how you pointed out that the role is typically given to women, but it's the lazy plot device that is the problem in the story. The fact that women usually occupy this role is a reflection of society, not something that contributes to gender equality.

Thanks for the great article Shamus.

When Sam is being led to the soul-sucky area, Matthias has more than his pokey spear. He has a pistol too. Lara even steals said pistol from him in their final confrontation. So even though he wasn't leading her up the mountain at gun point, he possibly made it clear to her that he had a gun and would shoot her in the knees and drag her painfully up the mountain if need be.

I didn't find Sam all that annoying to be honest. She could have been better written though.

Some characters are just plot devices. It's that simple. Not everyone is capable of defending themselves, not everyone has any chance of escape, not everyone keeps their integrity under stress, etc. but none of this even matters when you're dealing with a character whose sole purpose is designating a destination for the player. I honestly don't even know why we examine these characters as if they were meant to have integrity themselves. Although, while functionally she does just get dragged around, there are times when she IS reckless and fights to escape. She's not quite as hopeless as the article says. In the end...yes, it's lazy to just say "this is a character you care for, and you can't leave without them", but how many other good reasons are there when the protagonist is clearly putting themselves at unnecessary risk, repeatedly?

m19:

To fix Samantha, just give her some strength, skill, and determination.

So it's now a requirement for every female character to be strong, skilled, and determined?

No, that's how they could fix Samantha to bring her in line with the other NPC's without making a whole new game.

m19:
To fix her just make her more interesting in general. Not everyone has to be useful in a fight to be worth something.

I said exactly this in the article.

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