Achievement Unlocked: Video Games
Kick-Ass Women in Video Games: Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft
In this series, I’ll take an in-depth look at some notable female characters in video games. The only rules are that they must kick-ass, and they must be playable. Femme fatales these ladies are not, so strap on your armor and grab your long sword and get ready for battle!
Probably one of the most iconic female characters in video games, Lara Croft is mostly known for her physique than her personality. The original Lara had enormous breasts, it’s true, but as a young girl playing video games, I never saw her that way. She looked the way she looked, and that was it. The Tomb Raider series holds a special place in my heart, as I owned the Tomb Raider II demo for PC and played it over and over until I received the original game for Christmas. I loved playing a game that had a woman as the main character, and as a young girl, I thought it was amazing that Lara was just as cool as Indiana Jones. The story was never what hooked me. I still remember replaying the demo for Tomb Raider II over and over again, even after I finished the playable levels. I was enthralled instead by the fact that I had never seen a woman adventurer before, much less played a game where the only main character was a woman.
Obviously the biggest controversy surrounding the original Lara Croft is that her breasts were large. Her breasts are so infamous, in fact, that people who have never played the game know of them. In today’s world of MMO’s, where female armour is often skimpy and hardly there, it is easy to see why women were upset that the character’s model was so largely endowed, especially since it never played a part in the story: you never saw Lara having to take a day off due to back pain, or mumbling about how hard it was to grip ledges in front of her with her chest in the way. Perhaps a better storyline would have the player see Lara discussing a breast reduction surgery with her doctor?
The first game in the Tomb Raider series was released in 1996, and the story mainly focused on Lara as an adventurer and artifact retriever. The story line reads much like an Indiana Jones film, with Lara being approached by someone who wants her to retrieve an artifact called the Scion. The story takes her all over the world to retrieve different pieces of the artifact, and it’s interesting to note that it is not dependent on her gender: there’s no scene that puts Lara in a situation that a male character would not be in. The main character of the first Tomb Raider game could have just as easily been a male, which makes Lara Croft a strong female lead in my opinion.
The number one thing I love about the original Tomb Raider games is that there’s no vulnerability. Lara wasn’t about to make her gender into something that meant she needed to be taken care of, or that she was different. She didn’t need protection at all. The demo I played of Tomb Raider II had Lara performing backflips while dual-wielding pistols fighting a tiger. The original Lara was a certified Grade-A badass who didn’t take any crap. She could take a bullet and keep climbing up the side of a building like it was nothing. She had thick skin, and that’s what made her a role model for me when I was young.
The game and character were rebooted twice: once in 2006, and again in 2013, the latter of which saw a complete overhaul of the character. The newer game focuses on Lara as a young explorer, and presents her in a more human way: the game characterizes her in a way that the older games did not, giving players the opportunity to connect with her on a more emotional level. Gone was the Lara who was focused on herself and the adventure, replaced with a Lara who killed to survive and showed a little more vulnerability. This isn’t to say that she is no longer a strong female character; instead, it makes her stronger in a way because we can finally see why she developed the harder exterior.
The most drastic change to the character in the 2013 reboot is that her infamous breasts are gone: she has a smaller, more proportional figure in the newer game. Also gone are her short-shorts, replaced with a more suitable-for-adventuring pair of cargo pants. Her appearance is also grittier, reflecting the new Lara’s imperfections and vulnerabilities. While the redesign wasn’t necessary in my opinion, it is nice to see a proportionate and appropriately dressed Lara for once.
The reboot didn’t come without controversy of its own, of course. Players were distressed when the announcement was made that Lara would be made more vulnerable in the reboot, especially since executive producer Ron Rosenburg revealed in an interview with Kotaku that Lara Croft would be put in a situation where men would try to rape her. “She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” he was quoted as saying, leaving fans to wonder why the hero would suddenly be made into a victim. As if anything else in Lara’s backstory would cause her to become the Lara we all know and love, her turning point, according to Rosenburg, was the attempted sexual assault. The creative team behind the reboot backpedaled, later noting that “sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.”
In the same interview, Rosenburg was also quoted as saying that Lara Croft would still be the hero, but you’ll be her “helper…when you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character,” adding fuel to the vulnerable and angsty pile of ashes that was once a badass character. For me, that Rosenburg had to distinguish Lara from a male character in such a way made me feel like an outcast. Why couldn’t players see her in the same light as a male character, and what does that say about male players? Rosenburg hints that, while Lara is a woman, she’ll still appeal to the “male playerbase,” because they cannot connect with a female character in the same way they connect with a male character. Instead of playing the game as Lara, they’ll help her get through these tough challenges, because we all know women just can’t make it on their own, they need to be protected and helped. Ridiculous, right?
In the end, the story has a happy ending, as the general reception of the new Lara is good, with both women and men enjoying seeing her again. Lara Croft is one of those characters that sort of defined a generation of female gamers: while she was over sexualized, she also proved she could be one of the boys by adventuring and being the type of person to not take crap from anybody else. The only way to see how the new Lara fares is to see what the future brings for her, and with another Tomb Raid er title on the horizon, we’ll be waiting with bated breath to see the direction she’s taken.