I love “Tomb Raider” and always have. With the release of the recent “Definitive Edition” I wanted to go back and talk about one of my favorite video game characters, Lara Croft. I fell in love with the series back when “Tomb Raider II” was released. I grew up with the series and I own all of the games across multiple platforms. It is one of the few games that has stuck with me over the years and always leaves me eagerly anticipating its next release. If you have read my previous posts, you will likely point out that I have written a lot about gender issues in games. It is an area of interest of mine and one I feel very passionate about. Where does this leave us with Ms. Croft? Lara Croft is the original sex symbol of video games. She has not always embodied a positive example of body image and portrayal of women in games. This is why I wanted to write a longer feature about this. You can enjoy video games and the characters in the and at the same time point out their flaws. This is something the game community is not great at doing and something I would like to see more of.
My History with Lara
Growing up I seldom had new consoles. The last console my family bought was the SNES. I still loved games, but it meant I was left out of the newer and exciting titles on the N64 and PSone.
Then it finally happened. My family got a computer, for the time a pretty high end one, that I quickly realized I could use as a gaming machine. Fast forward to Christmas that year, my parents bought me my first full title I could play on our computer. That game was “Tomb Raider II”.
I had played them before, but never very long so I was eager to jump in. Immediately my 12-year-old brain was hooked. I also loved “Indiana Jones” when I was a kid, and still do, and this felt reminiscent of that. I was exploring the ancient ruins of the Great Wall of China and dodging the traps and environmental hazards I encountered along the way. It was also the first game I played to feature a women as a protagonist. It never decreased my enjoyment for the series and in some ways enhanced it.
Up to that point, I had never seen a women fulfill that action role that has been traditionally male dominated. From that moment on, I was an avid player of the TR series spending many hours of my teen and adult years exploring tombs with Lara.
Lara Croft the Sex Symbol
For a long time, the only exposure I had to Lara was in game. In game, Lara is a great character. She is strong, capable, and can deal with any situation better than her male counterparts.
Outside the game however is a very different story. It did not take long for images of Lara to hit the internet in various states of undress. Some in the community started editing the promo shots of her to be mostly or completely nude. This was, I am sure not the intention that Eidos or Core Design had in mind for their iconic character. This is what I would call an unofficial image, but this is the one that stuck. As can be evidenced here, Lara’s character model got more voluptuous around 1999 and stayed that way for a while.
There were also many game mods dubbed “Nude Raider” that added nude, or mostly nude character models in game. Again, not what the developers had in mind. There was a lot of publicity around it so, to its detriment, that was the image that would be most associated with Lara.
The Elephant in the Room
You cannot talk about Lara Croft or the “Tomb Raider” series without discussing body image. From the beginning, her character model was never proportionate, and as stated before, when she became that unofficial sex symbol, her player model changed to cater more to that image.
In game, Lara was a female Indiana Jones. Outside the game though, she was eye candy. It was the first one that made me fall in love with the series. I like the setting and the character enough where I overlook the extraneous stuff out there surrounding the character.
Originally, this conversation would not have been much different than that surrounding Barbie dolls. But, due mostly in part to the internet, that conversation has to go deeper. It is not just about her character model anymore. Her objectification outside the game has in many ways overshadowed the character inside the game.
2013 Lara Remodeled
In the 2013 release of “Tomb Raider” the new character mode looks the most realistic and proportional. She also is wearing the most clothing in this game than she is in previous installments. I wrote about what I thought about that aspect on a different blog just before the game was released.
The new model and the new Lara is great, but her character still had a lot of flaws. Those flaws however, are more due to the narrative than the Lara’s appearance which is a completely separate issue. It is good that she has improved from an appearance standpoint, making her a more realistic and less cartoony character is definitely appreciated, but they forgot to write story for a good character. Like previous games, I still enjoyed it, but I feel we have not yet seen the best Tomb Raider game.
The internet, or specifically the gaming community, seems to be transfixed on the notion that if you point out flaws in games that must mean you hate games.
This could not be further from the truth. We want good characters in our games. When characters are well written it is more immersive of an experience.
If Lara had breast physics like the “Dead or Alive” series that would be immersion breaking. Her character model, as I got older and became more aware of these things, was an issue because her proportions look very cartoony.
This is of course a catch-22. Did the game developers intend for her looks to change or were they simply delivering what they felt their audience wanted? With all of the attention paid to her nude images online and the game mods it would seem to make sense the community played some role in her redesign between TRI and TRII.
Would fans have been just as accepting over a more realistic model? Was it just the character model that made her appealing to so many gamers? Those are harder to answer.
When a new “Tomb Raider” game comes out, I want it to be the best possible game it can be. It is reasonable that when it is not the best game it can be, regardless of the reason, then those flaws should be pointed out.
There are many things about her character that are blatantly sexist. That does not mean we should censor or ban the games, it is just something you should be aware of and not in denial about. With all of her flaws and weaknesses, I love “Tomb Raider” and I like Lara Croft as a character overall.