Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Could Lara Croft be Gay? And Other Issues of LGTB Representation

Much as right-wing conservative jerks continue to try to suppress gay rights, the fact remains that LGTB characters are slowly making their way into mainstream media. Already we've seen this appearing within the fandom of recent incarnations of Star Wars with J.J. Abrams' statements that he hopes to introduce gay characters in future movies (some fans speculating that it has already happened). Now Wonder Woman, one of the biggest superheros of DC Comics (not to mention one of the most iconic super heroines of all time) is officially bisexual, although we still have yet to see if this aspect of her character will carry over into the upcoming movie or remain confined to the comics.

In both cases, this makes sense. The reveal of Wonder Woman's bisexuality may have been a surprise to the casual reader, but for many comic book enthusiasts it only confirmed what they already knew. The idea that Diana had engaged in same-sex relationships would seem logical when one considers she was born on an island that for a thousand years was populated entirely by Amazonian women (long story). Given the large number of women on the island (not to mention the fact that it was only one generation that never aged for such a long time) it would be hard to imagine they never felt any sexual urges. That, and they avoided contact with any rivals who would have tried to impose their values on them, so with men in short supply sex could only happen between women.

Star Wars has started to gain some interest from the LGTB community as well. J.J. Abrams has openly stated that he wants to include openly gay characters in future installments (although whether Disney will allow it is another story). There are already a variety of fan theories on the matter, one of the most popular being Finn and Poe Dameron as a romantic couple. There are also fan theories that have retroactively gone back over the original Star Wars films which suggest Luke could be gay or bisexual.

It is also worth noting that Rey never shows sexual interest in anyone over the course of The Force Awakens. Finn ends up being nothing more than a good friend, and there is the odd detail that when he asks her if she has a boyfriend, Rey's response is "none of your business." True, it could just be that Rey is a reclusive person and did not want to disclose her personal life to a man she barely knew, but there is another possible interpretation of the remark. After all, we only get a brief glimpse into her life on Jakku, and it is probably fair to assume she knows other people besides the local salvage dealer and the mean scavenger across the street. She also got hostile when Finn asked about a "cute boyfriend;" perhaps because she has a girlfriend somewhere on Jakku.

While movies are still struggling, same-sex relationships are showing up a lot more often in television. The Walking Dead has already introduced at least two openly gay characters (Aaron and Tara) to the regular cast, and both have had on-screen relationships. Game of Thrones has also followed this example, first with the recurring character of Renly Baratheon. There were also some early episodes that suggested a homoerotic dynamic between Danearys Targaryen and her advisor Missandei. Finally, it has been confirmed that Yara Greyjoy is either lesbian or bisexual (in any case, she clearly doesn't mind having sex with other women). Jessica Jones also included Carrie Ann-Moss as the openly lesbian Kate Hogarth, and while she was hardly the most likeable character on the show (an anti-hero at best), it is worth noting that little focus is placed on her homosexuality, and the character arc is one that could just as easily happen to a straight person.

But there may in fact be another iconic character who could work as homosexual or bisexual. Lara Croft remains one of the most iconic characters in gaming, and has branched out into several other mediums. Lara's role is generally that of an action hero, and her sexuality is not usually given any significant focus. In fact, it's practically unstated at all. There is very little information on Lara's sexual habits.

The official Tomb Raider franchise presently consists of 17 video games, four novels, two comic book series, two movies, and an animated web show (though not all set in the same timeline). Lara herself has been played and voiced by too many actresses to count. She has been on adventures all over the world, dealt with all kinds of artifacts, and encountered a variety of different characters and situations. In fact, Lara herself is often the only thing that really remains consistent between different incarnations, which often introduce new friends and enemies for her to deal with (though some occasionally see revivals now and then).

What becomes very interesting is if, even disregarding the multiple continuities, across the entire franchise, Lara has encountered a variety of men, but only one has ever become any kind of love interest. Lara has shown zero sexual interest in any of the other men she has encountered. Most of them have been nothing more than good friends or assistants to Lara. The closest person to a love interest has been Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler) in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Even then, the romance is not exactly all that strong.

First off, he is established to be a dangerous criminal from the start who ended up in a Russian prison. It is mentioned that they did at one point have a relationship, but Lara seemed totally okay with letting him stay in prison for years. The only reason she even lets him out is because she needs him to accomplish her immediate goal. Even after they become partners, the relationship between them is tense at best. Lara spends the whole film distrusting him and even goes as far as to handcuff him to a bedpost to ensure he can't follow her. When Terry still pursues Lara anyway, he ends up double-crossing her and finally being killed.

Lara does show guilt after killing Terry, but the fact that she was willing to do so proves her feelings weren't getting in the way. The idea of Lara being psychologically affected after killing a man is also not that unusual, and does not immediately prove she loved him. Near the end of Tomb Raider Anniversary, Lara finds herself forced to kill a human for what is implied to be the first time. Said character, Larson, was an annoying misogynistic pervert who had repeatedly gotten in the way. That did not stop Lara from trying to talk him down and feeling guilty when she is finally forced to kill him. The 2013 Tomb Raider also presents a different account of Lara's first time killing someone; early in the game she is captured and nearly murdered by a would-be rapist, and still has a total nervous breakdown after shooting him.

So in the entire franchise, Lara's only romantic partner was a selfish mercenary who had sex with her a couple times only to get himself killed (by his alleged girlfriend) as soon as he started acting stupid and almost destroyed the world. While Lara has interacted with a number of men, she never showed sexual interest in any of them. This includes a variety of men with whom Lara displayed a totally platonic friendship. Even her relationships with the ones who have lived in her mansion are generally treated as being between co-workers, with no indication of sexual intent.

By contrast, a lot of Lara's more meaningful interactions (at least in the games) have often been with other women. Legend, Anniversary, Underworld, and the 2013 reboot all have men in supporting roles but place a heavy emphasis on Lara's relationships with other women. In Anniversary, there are a few men who serve as minor antagonists, but the main conflict is between Lara and the Atlantean Queen Natla. Underworld revolves largely around Lara going up against three female antagonists (one of whom is an old friend seeking vengeance after she was presumed dead).

Throughout the reboot, Lara interacts with a variety of other survivors both male and female. However, the strongest relationship she displays with any male character is that with Roth (who is much older and serves as a mentor/father figure to Lara). The relationship that drives much of the story is that with Lara's own friend Sam Nishimura, who is early on established to be an old friend and one of the people who knows her best. In fact, a lot of Lara's emotional development revolves on her relationship with Sam moreso than any other character in the game.

While Lara clearly shows that she wants to get everyone off the island, it is Sam that she shows the most concern for. The two are quickly established to be longtime friends and very close, apparently having been to college together. Early on, Lara expresses concern for Sam and finds relief when they are briefly reunited. Later on, Lara becomes especially determined to rescue Sam after she has been kidnapped by the Solarii Brotherhood, literally risking life and limb to save her on what could easily be a suicide mission. Later on, when Roth is killed protecting Lara, it is Sam who takes the time to comfort her. Finally, Lara ends up going to great extremes to rescue Sam once again at the game's climax, before finally getting her off the island.

The close relationship between them is arguably a stronger bond than perhaps anyone Lara has ever come into contact with over the entire franchise. None of the male survivors treat Lara as anything more than a friend (if anything, there's no obvious indication that her sex has any bearing on how she interacts with others), and she never shows a particular interest in boyfriends.  This is a trait that carries over from previous incarnations of the character as well. In the first Tomb Raider film, the men who appear are either partners (Bryce, Hillari), enemies (Manfred Powell), or somewhere in the middle (Alex). Even the one boyfriend she had in The Cradle of Life didn't have a particularly strong connection.

The fact that Lara's most meaningful relationships have been with other women provides some interesting material. Given that she ended up killing Terry, one could make the argument that Sam is the closest thing Lara has had to a love interest. This has already sparked a lot of interest among fans of the game. One doesn't need to look much further than a google search to uncover fanart that shows the two women in intimate positions. They are obviously very close, but the evidence makes it entirely possible that the character of Lara Croft herself is lesbian when one looks at all the facts, even if the idea is one that is only now being recognized and embraced.

Video games in general seem to be among the more progressive in terms of representing homosexuality, with some companies that have done a very good job at handling this. Bioware has on multiple occasions allowed the player to choose their character's sexual orientation. Knights of the Old Republic introduced the first (and for a long time, only) lesbian character into Star Wars canon, and made her a romantic option for a female player character. Mass Effect 2 opted to have several characters with romantic options regardless of the player's sex. Mass Effect 3 takes it a step further by not only including bisexual options, but also having two characters who Shepard can only romance if they are the same gender: Traynor and Cortez. Both openly admit to being gay, and not one character bats an eye.

Assassin's Creed may also have made a few steps in the right direction. Most of the games have not felt the need to go into detail about the protagonists' sex lives, and a lot of them take place in eras that weren't exactly great times to be openly gay, but that doesn't mean there has never been subtext. Plus, the assassins (and to a lesser extent the templars) have never been totally bound by the social norms of the eras they lived in. The Templars do appear to be slightly more patriarchal (though that hasn't stopped them from having strong women, if not as often) but the assassins were recruiting women long before the suffrage movement began, and they don't seem to discriminate by race. If they're not going to let dominant prejudices get in the way, than who's to say they don't accept homosexuality?

Liberation in particular appears to go this route, although only a few have actually noticed this. The game introduces the series' first female protagonist, Aveline De Grandpre, who proves to be a very strong character. What seemed really weird is that fans seem to feel the best romantic option for her is Connor, the half-Native American protagonist of Assassin's Creed III who took part in the American Revolution. Seriously? Connor appears in only one level of Liberation, where he assists Aveline on a mission and no romantic tension is present. In fact, most of Connor's attitude is at best that of a co-worker. Aveline does have a much closer relationship to her friend Gérald, but she sees him more as a brother than anything else (the game does tease the viewer with one moment where it looks like Gérald is going to propose, but it turns out he just wants to return some equipment).

The character who arguably makes the most sense as a romantic partner would be Élise Lafleur, a smuggler on the bayou who becomes a close friend of Aveline. They do become particularly intimate with one another, and Élise seems to regard Rousillion as nothing more than a partner-in-crime. The two are good friends, but show no obvious attraction beyond that. Aveline on the other hand becomes especially close to Élise, with the two becoming loyal companions and working together several times throughout the game. They also spend a lot more time alone together compared to Avaline's interactions with other characters. It could be interpreted that there is something deeper going on...

Still, explicitly gay protagonists remain elusive. Though Mass Effect and Skyrim both allow the player to choose their character's sexual orientation (the latter even allowing for same-sex marriage) these are dependent heavily on the choices made by the player. If a canon is established, they are not always accepted as the "official" version of events (as in Knights of the Old Republic, where the so-called "canonical" version of the story rejects the fact that the game allows a lesbian romance in favor of a male Revan in a heterosexual relationship).

Most of the time, if the issue does come up, it is only in the form of subtext (as in Tomb Raider and Liberation) or being able to choose from multiple romantic options (as in Mass Effect and Skyrim). There are exceptions to the rule. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel introduced the character of Janey Springs, who is explicitly lesbian. Mad Moxxi has also been established to be bisexual, having had a variety of both male and female lovers (though she has only been married to men). Interestingly Athena, a playable character in the Pre-Sequel who also made several other appearances across the series, was later confirmed to be in a relationship with Springs.

One franchise that could easily lend itself to a greater array of homoerotic readings and representations of homosexuals is Call of Duty, especially now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been abolished. This may in fact be easily possible, given the structure of the games. The majority of the games in the series are narrative structured around male bonding and camaraderie, with the player getting most invested in their teammates (one of the main narrative problems with Black Ops II was that it tried to be about the main antagonist, leaving little room for investment in the player characters).

Relationships do become a major part of the games, and this is very useful from a narrative perspective. Over the course of Modern Warfare, the player gets to know several characters, and the camaraderie that is established with Gaz and Price becomes important because knowing who you are fighting with makes the campaign more meaningful. It also makes it all the more emotional when the player is forced to watch friends die in action. Ghosts focuses heavily on family relationships, with much of the story revolving around two brothers and their father.

But while there may be a strong effort to produce characters the player can get invested in, that does not mean there are no limits to how far the writers will go. Ordinarily, there are only one or two other soldiers the player needs to keep track of, and often there is no huge effort to get to know them beyond their military careers. This includes the fact that very little (if anything) is stated about their personal life, which includes potential relationships. Given the general lack of romance in Call of Duty, this would make it theoretically possible that basically anyone in the games could be homosexual.

In fact, there may be one character who could be read as displaying elements of homoerotic subtext: Viktor Reznov in World at War and Black Ops. In both games, he is depicted as a very aggressive and psychotic individual with an obsession for killing the enemy and fulfilling a seemingly insatiable desire for "vengeance." That is, except for one small detail: he shows a remarkable amount of affection towards Dmitri Petrenko, one of the main playable characters in World at War who also appears in a flashback during Black Ops

Reznov shows a lot of affection towards Dmitri, often complimenting him even while scolding his other troops and bragging about how much he wants to kill Germans. Reznov goes on to allow Dmitri to place a Russian flag on top of the Reichstag Building and shows genuine concern when the latter is injured. The flashback in Black Ops also reveals a post-war mission in which Reznov lost a lot of his soldiers, but he is shown to be particularly hurt when he is forced to watch Dmitri killed by a chemical weapon. Seeing as the games in which he appears are set during World War II and the Cold War, respectively, it is not surprising that Reznov would want to avoid admitting to it, but it could mean that he is a lot more complex than he initially seems.

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