There is something about the way women are stereotypically socialised — to be meek, to be reserved, to be safe — that can feel limiting, sometimes frustrating. Don't go out at night. Don't wear something that is too revealing. Don't go alone. And if you defy these edicts, if something happens to you — then it's your fault. You asked for it.
A lot of that fades away when you play a game and are free to make your own choices, free to be as bold as you'd like without having it be thrown back in your face because of your gender.
Game journalist Cara Ellison recently penned a moving retrospective on Tomb Raider about this. She explores how playing through the Tomb Raider franchise helped her gain the confidence necessary to become the type of woman that could go on adventures like Lara Croft does. Her write up explores how she came to feel more independent, how to be her own person.
When you consider that Ellison suffered from monophobia, that's a particularly big deal — it's the fear of being alone.
At seventeen, standing in that grass alone in the jungle, I wonder if I am doing Lara Croft a disservice. I imagine that some small girl is watching me through the lens of a computer screen and I see everything map out before me. I think, if I don't get over myself, that small girl watching will never do anything impressive like go exploring in a Tanzanian jungle; she will never block blows in a budoukan in Okinawa or climb temples and tree roots at Ta Prohm Kapok. She will never have the guts to do anything by herself.
Ellison goes on to describe what it is she saw in Lara that made her so compelling as a role model, particularly when it came to understanding Ellison's own discomfort with how women are treated in our society.
Is wanting to do things alone dangerous for women? Much of the ‘danger' surrounding women and girls who dare to do things alone is framed as the threat of sexual assault. It is kind of terrifying that women are warned that men will be looking at us in a sexual manner in every situation — and horrifying that all responsibility for men controlling their sexual or violent urges is absolved by an emphasis on keeping women in a safe space.
The piece is fantastic, and very evocative in what it asks us to consider about gender. Highly recommended reading, as the Gaming Made Me series on Rock, Paper, Shotgun tend to be.
Gaming Made Me: Tomb Raider [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]