Companies using female creators as shields for poor female character treatment

I don’t do a lot of ranting about this on Tumblr, but I’ve done it on Twitter. There are a LOT of situations where a female character is treated poorly or radically changed that annoy me lately, but and I notice a trend: it’s treated as suddenly acceptable the instant a woman is made into one of the most prominent creators involved in the project.

For the supposed Tomb Raider “reboot,” its version of “Lara Croft” was rightfully panned as inappropriate to who Lara Croft is as a character… until Crystal Dynamics revealed and emphasized the fact they had Rhianna Pratchett writing the script. And as soon as Rhianna Pratchett started really pushing that treatment of her as somehow good and a step above. Special note: Rhianna Pratchett being the script writer was announced and turned into a big news story immediately after sites jumped on a producer’s remarks about “Lara” getting nearly raped and how it makes the player supposedly want to protect her.

Likewise, with Harley Quinn, throwing away her entire harlequin theme as a character and turning her into a female Joker knockoff was rightfully panned when it was Adam Glass. Then, as soon as Amanda Conner got involved, everyone started building it up and promoting what DC was doing to Harley Quinn as The Best Thing Ever.

In neither case was the intent and plan actually something spearheaded by the prominent women attached to them. The “Tomb Raider” “reboot” was done, with its plan for a beaten down and traumatized Lara Croft as a way to throw away the heroic badass Lara Croft, entirely because a male exec at Crystal Dynamics saw the popularity of Nolan’s Batman films and wanted to force that concept on Lara Croft. Throwing away Harley Quinn’s entire theme as a character, what is to her what bats are to Batman, came because a male exec at DC Comics saw the popularity of Arkham Asylum’s costume change for Harley and thought that meant Harley needed to have her costume changed everywhere.

It is in much the same way as what happened to Barbara Gordon. A male editor decided Batgirl needed to be tossed aside and her crippling via Killing Joke was a way to do it while promoting the men. Everything that happened with Oracle wasn’t planned, it was women salvaging a character that a man had no respect for.

In essence, what we have is female creators used as a smoke screen for poor decisions made by men. Ideas that would garner massive criticism and complaints with a man at the helm suddenly get praise and accolades with a woman placed front and center. The success or failure of an idea forced on a character by a man also becomes the duty of a woman; if it fails, the blame can be pinned on her instead of the real problem that was forced on her.

This situation forces female creators to have to do things that are good for their careers at the expense of the female characters they’re working on. It forces them to convince people, including themselves, that what they’re doing is a good thing. It seems like a “when you have lemons, make lemonade” scenario, but it’s really not.

The great work done with Oracle as a result of Barbara Gordon’s poor treatment via Killing Joke is constantly used as a reason for why Barbara Gordon shouldn’t be Batgirl again. There were objectively a lot of great things that happened with Barbara’s development and character as Oracle, and she added meaningful disabled diversity… but it comes at the cost of trying to deny Barbara the chance to be Batgirl.

Great work done by women making good things out of a bad situation is weaponized as an excuse to continue reinforcing the original bad idea, and deny any and every possibility of setting things right.

“Barbara Gordon can’t be Batgirl again, you’re robbing the world of an important disabled character if you do that!”

“Lara Croft can’t be a badass heroic icon again, you’re undoing progress toward video games in general having more realistic female characters!”

“Harley Quinn can’t have her harlequin theme back, you’re taking away her whole troupe and team-up storylines with other characters!”

And so on, and so forth, as if a team of builders doing the best they can with a horrendous foundation somehow makes the foundation good.

What Crystal Dynamics is calling “Lara Croft” right now could have been an entirely brand new character for a new IP. She could’ve had a long line of successes in her own right, and eventually had a crossover game with the actual Lara Croft.

Harley Quinn could’ve had a troupe and team-up storylines that kept her harlequin theme intact, and even built upon them more. Instead of looking like a female Joker knockoff, there could’ve been a variation on the jester concept.

None of this is in a vacuum. Without putting any thought into it, the Tomb Raider “reboot” might look like the best thing to ever happen to Lara Croft, and Harley Quinn losing her jester theme may appear like the start of her breakthrough. It only looks that way because these companies are pulling out all the stops into making people accept a terrible direction, heavily promoting it while making women responsible for its success or failure.

But the truth is, what we see is much less than what could have been, and it comes at the cost of lost opportunities elsewhere.

When it comes to Tomb Raider, one of my favorite examples of just how wrong the “reboot” is comes from Resident Evil 4. The director, Shinji Mikami, had all these ideas ranging from psychological horror to supernatural horror. He eventually realized those ideas had absolutely no bearing on Resident Evil and turned it into an entirely new franchise: Devil May Cry. Devil May Cry became a huge success, resulted in the creation of brand new character Dante as a major respected gaming protagonist, and Resident Evil 4 still became a huge breakout game that revived the franchise. Crystal Dynamics celebrated the “Tomb Raider” “reboot” reaching 3 million sales worldwide in a month, yet Resident Evil became so successful that Capcom considered 5 million sales for Resident Evil 6 in the same time span to be bad sales.

Just because something looks better than it was doesn’t mean it’s better than what it could have been. Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug, and it narrows the mind to potential alternatives.

Lastly, notice that the exact same things rightfully continue to be criticized when it’s a male character. Snyder’s idea of Superman in Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice has been constantly torn to shreds. “Dante” from DmC also kept getting complaints for radically changing his entire nature and theme as a character. People have no problem spotting what’s wrong and calling it out when it’s a male character. They have a problem doing it when it’s a female character with a prominent female creator involved.

I really hope that some day, we’ll see Lara Croft and Harley Quinn again. I hope people start to see through this form of corporate trickery toward making people accept bad ideas. I hope corporate stops using women as shields against having their bad ideas taken to task and undone.

“True Fans,” Fandom, and Gatekeeping

If you’ve been active on social media at all, or even taken part in something that would get a lot of spread on social media, you know how volatile people have become.

A lot of people are getting their names and reputations dragged through the mud, receiving harassment and death threats online, and some have even been SWATted (where a fake threat is called to police to get a SWAT team to raid someone’s house – which can result in actual physical harm and threats) and essentially chased out of their homes.

All of this activity can ultimately be traced back to one thing: the concept of a “true fan”, and attempts to dominate fandom and control who is or isn’t considered a fan.

As much as I’ve been active on Twitter, I haven’t been nearly active enough about this on Tumblr, and it’s time for me to say something here.

There is a lot of loaded language wrapped up in this concept, so there’s no perfect place to begin. We have to just jump right in and elaborate from there.

We’ve seen a lot of volatility as of late in fandom everywhere. There’s GamerGate, full of people who insist they’re fighting for ethics in games journalism – when really, the language of most GGers is stilted in things like “fighting the SJW menace” and “exposing <insert female critic, developer, research, etc>’s lies.” Many GGers insist the people they target are “not real gamers.”

When the Batgirl cover referencing the Killing Joke came out, and many people complained and criticized it (I believe rightfully so), many people insisted demands to pull the cover amounted to censorship… and some of the people who demanded the cover be pulled received harassment and death threats, and calls that they weren’t “true comic book fans” or “true Batman fans.”

I’ve experienced this first-hand, of course. Nowhere near to the same degree as so many others have received it. But practically any time where I’ve criticized a company or product or shown concern that something bad might happen to something I love, there will be someone who comes along with this insistence they’re a “true fan,” and that I’m not because I said something they didn’t like.

So here’s the critical question in all of this: what makes someone a “true fan”?

If I buy absolutely anything and everything a company makes, even if they openly insult me as a consumer and all the things I care about – am I a true fan?

If I buy absolutely nothing, never have and never will, and say something needs to radically change into something else before I’ll buy it – am I a true fan?

We know the dictionary definition of a fan, but there are so many individual, personal semantic definitions. One person thinks you’re not a fan unless you defend a company and what it does to the death, no matter how bad it is. Another person thinks you’re not a fan unless you mercilessly criticize everything and show no appreciation. Still another person thinks neither route is correct, that you need a mix.

Or is it something else? Are you a true fan if you play X number of games or read X number of comics featuring something? Are you a true fan if you paid to commission fanart, or write fanfiction?

Depending on your definition, who counts as a “true fan” changes.

Suddenly, a person who’s read comic books about their favorite character for years and bought countless comics and art commissions isn’t a “true fan” because they’re willing to complain about the company that owns that character’s rights.

Suddenly, a woman who makes experimental video games or cares about better representation for women in video games isn’t a “true gamer”, while a man who’s never played a game before and has regularly insulted gaming as a whole is an “honorary gamer” for supporting certain people and playing a little bit of one video game.

Suddenly, people who deeply love and respect something “don’t count” as “true fans.” And here’s the reason: power.

Fiction has cultural power, and whoever has the loudest voice gets the most say in its shape. Whether explicitly or implicitly, most people are starting to realize this.

Want a character to get raped? Silence all dissenting voices, and it might happen.

Want a certain person to quit the video game industry? Send him or her enough death threats, make up things like “she has sex with dogs” or “she’s a rapist”, hack his or her bank account, all sorts of nastiness, and it might happen.

That is the shape “fandom” is increasingly taking right now: smear jobs, character assassination, real life harassment even to friends and family just for being associated with the intended target.

It’s all gatekeeping. It’s all an attempt to take possession of the keys, and then dictate who’s allowed to have them. “You’re not a true gamer unless you accept games as they are.” “You’re not a true Batgirl fan unless you accept her being presented first and foremost as Joker’s victim.” “You’re not a true Polaris fan unless you never complain about Marvel and never worry they might do something bad to her.”

And while it looks recent, this has actually been going on for years. Probably far longer than I’m even consciously aware.

When Anita Sarkeesian launched her Tropes vs Video Games Kickstarter in 2012, she received a wave of harassment and threats simply for the IDEA of criticizing video games through a feminist perspective, suggesting that as great as they are, they can be better.

When a woman working for Bioware said video games should permit a “skip gameplay” option to be able to enjoy only the story, also back in 2012, she received a swarm of harassment for daring to suggest games don’t need gameplay.

This behavior looks new, but it’s not. It’s been a very gradual escalation across several years. It only looks new because most people weren’t watching the horizon and what was slowly spilling over it.

The more people who think this is the right approach to fandom, the more extreme people will become when they get desperate. Right now, GamerGate laughs off the idea that any of the people they target will ever get killed. But is it really so laughable? In the span of 3 years, we’ve gone from internet harassment and some online death threats to women like Anita Sarkeesian, to people getting SWATted, and smeared as supposedly being rapists or fucking dogs or selling their kids for drug money.

All in an attempt to become the gatekeepers of fandom, and terrorize and chase out anyone who disagrees with them. If 3 years is enough for people to turn out like that and think it’s perfectly acceptable, what will 3 more years bring us?

Any time you see the words “true fan”, always, ALWAYS ask: who’s using them, how, and why. We can’t afford to not ask those questions when lives are on the line – right now, professional lives, the ability to actually get a job. But perhaps some day, the ability to continue living at all.


The newer Lara isn’t all that mopey but I’d have loved fewer “I’m so scared” monologues vs. Lara just constantly wrecking shit over there on Evil Man Island. Really fun game!

Bonus doodle: re-draw of the cover from Tomb Raider II, where I’ve whacked out her proportions more than the original.