by Vanessa Tottle
When I was growing up, I had a lot of games. I think my parents gave me them because it kept me distracted and away from them for long periods of time. I loved the ones where I could play as women. Instead of watching someone else with perfect hair on a California sound stage kick the shit out of supernatural creatures, I could do it myself.
In Lara Croft, I found a woman who did everything the men did in action movies, but I got to shoot the guns, climb the ancient ruins, and drive the motorcycles myself. I do what I do now (paleontology) in part because I got to be a woman in short shorts and climbing shoes when I was just a kid who thought the world ended at the edges of my hazy town and couldn’t always be sure it would start again the next morning. Yes, Core Design expanded her tits in every sequel until Crystal Dynamics took over the series, but games were the one experience I had in having agency over anything, and Tomb Raider gave me the best games in which I had that agency as a woman. That opened up what I thought I could do in the world.
I have only been watching E3 for a few years, but Ubisoft blew the doors off this one like no other company before: their lineup included Assassin’s Creed Unity (AssU for short), Far Cry 4, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege, The Crew, and Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Then they were asked why AssU and Far Cry 4 lacked playable women in the multiplayer. An innocent enough question. Ubisoft could have said female playables didn’t fit their vision or that they wanted to focus on some male-driven theme. Not perfect answers, but at least it would mean they had considered the possibility. Instead, they insisted animating female characters would have doubled their development time. Which is bullshit. Which their former animation lead came out and said was bullshit. Which, for a game being developed by nine studios, like AssU is, is especially bullshit.
So forget them. Why?
I’ve got an H.R. Giger Alien to face off against using only a motion sensor and a crème brulee torch. Alien: Isolation looks like everything I want in a horror game: dark and moody, a focus on sneaking around an overpowered opponent, survival against a constant threat instead of victory-by-shooting gallery. All set against a late 70s vision of our technological future and the vast emptiness of space. Its protagonist? Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen. Good thing, too. Like in Aliens, I don’t know that your average man with 20 guns could hack it. A woman with a blowtorch and a schematic? The Alien doesn’t stand a chance.
Why else? Because Faith is my Batman. The heroine of the first Mirror’s Edge returns in the second, which for a very long time looked like it wouldn’t get made. Faith slows down when she picks up a gun. It’s extra weight, and she has to use her hands to aim. In a first-person parkour game, that means death. She’s much better at navigating the architecture of a level to beat someone up, avoid combat altogether, or bypass conflict. Imagine playing a game that lets you be Jackie Chan. This is it.
And finally, Rise of the Tomb Raider. When Crystal Dynamics rebooted the franchise in 2013 with Tomb Raider, it kept the supernatural elements of the series and grounded everything else. When you fire a gun, it feels powerful. When you jam a pick into someone’s skull, it takes effort and feels revolting. It was more survival game than shooter or platformer. Lara’s world was no longer glamour and ritz, it was dirt and grime. She’s a woman who gets beat up by her opponents and her environment, but who gets back up again and again, always in the service of helping someone, discovering something new, or solving a mystery. If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know why that speaks to me.
So go back to the 18th century, Ubisoft. The rest of us have fucking games to play.
Vanessa is getting her PhD in vertebrate paleontology, with a special focus in geochemistry. She has participated in digs on four different continents. Eat your heart our, Lara Croft. You can read more of her work here.