Lara Croft: Her Journey and Mine
By: Terra Clarke Olsen
My affinity for Tomb Raider goes all the way back to 1996, when the first game was released. I was eleven.
My dad bought Tomb Raider for our Playstation, and I was immediately hooked. Mind you, I wasn’t very good. I spent more days battling wolves than I would like to admit, but the game spoke to me nevertheless.
I had an amazing childhood. The forest was my backyard. I spent countless hours going on adventures, making forts (while simultaneously destroying my mom’s tools by leaving them in the forest to rust), discovering artifacts (e.g. animal bones), and exploring unchartered territory (e.g. walking along old logging roads). I always wore boots. Always. I loved dresses, but I needed to wear cowboy boots, because you never knew when you were going to be in a messy situation. So if you can picture this adventure-loving eleven-year-old girl playing Tomb Raider for the first time, you can see how there was an instant connection.
Lara Croft was a kickass adventurer…who was also a woman. I found my female equivalent to Indiana Jones. She bravely explored exotic and ancient worlds, while also kicking major butt. Wanting to be like Lara, I tried to channel her fearlessness while exploring a little deeper into the forest, where I was more likely to come across wild animals like coyotes (even a small chance for a cougar that lived around us). It wasn’t the smartest attitude, and I was often scolded for it, but I didn’t care. I was an adventurer, like Lara.
As I aged, I continued to love the Tomb Raider games, but then something unexpected happened. My hero became ‘sexy.’ Obviously the first Tomb Raider game depicted Lara Croft in a sexual manner, with ridiculously large breasts and skimpy clothes-but I didn’t really think about it. (Barbie had large breasts too, right?) Ultimately, what shattered my image of Lara was other people’s perception of her.
I heard two boys at school talking about Tomb Raider, and my ears perked up. I liked that game too! So I walked over to talk, hoping to bond over the game. But then I realized what they were talking about. They were talking about her body. I was stunned. Then they started to talk about the different images they had of her naked. Naked! I was outraged. Lara Croft was too good for that! Yes, I realize that this is a fake character, and a videogame at that. But what other female adventurers were there for a young girl to look up to? I created this idea of who and what Lara Croft was, and these boys singlehandedly destroyed it. They laughed at my frustration.
From that moment on, I became aware of sexual elements in the things deemed ‘geeky.’ And it was then that I felt that these things were not made for me; they were made for boys. I felt disconnected from a world I loved. I stopped playing Tomb Raider. Instead I played games that were more gender neutral (or as neutral as you could get in those days), like Twisted Metal.
As I have aged, this has been my trend with gaming. When I do play video or computer games, I usually pick games that don’t have blatant sexism and disregard for female players. (This is one of the reasons I have always liked civilization building games…in addition to the historical element that is.) Most often, I play board games.
I’ve missed playing Tomb Raider because I really enjoyed the game. But the simple truth is that I couldn’t get past what she had become: a sex symbol for video gamers. I just couldn’t look at Lara Croft the same way I did when I first met her. She’d changed.
Fast forward many years, and something happened that gave me hope. At PAX 2012, they unveiled the demo for Tomb Raider 2013. This Lara Croft looked different. For starters she had pants! And her breasts were smaller. Still large, but her body looked more realistic than in past years. This alone made me intrigued enough to watch the demo play. It played beautifully. (I didn’t try the demo because I didn’t want to wait in line/was too nervous to play in front of a huge crowd.) I instantly decided that I needed to play this game, and put the release date in my calendar.
After PAX, I watched more trailers and followed any news about Tomb Raider 2013. Simply put, I was excited for this game. I even dressed as Lara Croft for Halloween.
I thought that maybe larger game companies were finally realizing that women play games too! And that we don’t want to play things with blatant sexism. I should have known it was too good to be true.
Unfortunately, a scandal arose last year stemming from comments made by the game’s producer, Ron Rosenberg. In an interview he referred to a rape scene, which he cites as the trigger that makes Lara Croft fight back. I’m not going to dive into this subject, but you can read more here. All I have to say is that the scene was unneeded and insulting. If someone is trying to kill you, I am pretty sure you will try and kill him/her back. As Captain Reynolds so eloquently put it, “Someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill ’em right back.” With this being said, I am still enthusiastic for the game’s release today.
The new design of Lara Croft and the overall story is wonderful and exciting. It may be a sign that perhaps the gaming industry is listening to what male and female fans want. (Maybe.) When looking at all the past designs of Lara, it is incredible that they finally dropped the implants and unrealistic clothes. I honestly didn’t think this revamp would happen. I would like to look at this as a step in the right direction, and one that I would like to be a part of. For me, the game wakes up the eleven-year-old adventurer inside me who still thinks Lara Croft is a badass woman who should not be messed with by beast or man.
What about you, will you be buying/playing this game? How do you feel about the depiction of Lara Croft? Put your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org