I have always loved Lara Croft. Ever since I saw Indiana Jones I wished there was a character like him, but a woman. I have always wanted to be an archaeologist and now I sort of am, Lara helped inspire me.
Yes she is just a video game character, yes the marketing has so often been dubiously pervy and sexist, even for this new re vamped game.
This Fucking Amusement Arcade has an excellent post about the new Tomb Raider Game. Here I shall add my opinion, as a pretty much life long Lara fan.
Lara is amazing. I am going to ignore the marketing, I have to, it seems as if the marketing departments of the world are still at a loss on how to market a female lead character in a video game, they have to make her sexy, tits and ass or a damsel in distress. Lara has always been sexy, but part of that sexiness is she doesn’t actually seem to care about appearing sexy. She just gets on with it. That doesn’t seem to sell as well so we get images of her in a bikini in the hope it’ll make someone (who by default is male and heterosexual) buy a video game about running around ruins and shooting stuff. Go marketing genius!
I love Lara. Despite her enormous breasts (as a busty woman myself I refuse to see this as a bad thing per se, give a woman a good bra and we can do anything!) and sex symbol status, in the macho world of video games here was a lead female character who kicked ass; not just a lead character but the sole character of a franchise, not one playable option out of four, the ONLY playable option. Something that is still as rare today as it was back in 1996. The games were, and still are, excellent. Challenging, engrossing, addictive. One of the biggest games franchises ever, headed by a lead female character. Not only was there Lara herself but she often faced formidable female foes as evil and disturbed as any male megalomaniac villain, from Natla and Sophia in the ‘old skool’ classics to Amanda in Legend and Underworld. Lara is strong, for every silly sexy pose she is in there are ten where she is shown in traditionally ‘masculine’ powerful ways, gun toting, climbing, performing crazy gymnastic feats, running away from a T rex, riding a motorbike and leaping off waterfalls. She is shown as dedicated to this, the woman has an assault course built in her garden as well as a house stuffed full of books and the latest gadgetry, not to mention weaponry. Look at the original box art for the game (left) there’s Lara, alone, striding confidently as you would armed with two pistols. Her clothes, whilst tight, are practical for the job. She isn’t wearing a battle thong or thigh high stiletto boots. One of my favourite images of Lara comes from the beginning of the first Tomb Raider, in this cutscene. She has just seen of a pack of wolves who appear to have eaten her unfortunate guide and the heavy stone doors of the lost City of Vilcabamba close behind her. She takes of her sunglasses and emits a wry raised eyebrow. The adventure is just about to begin and she loves it. After all she ‘only plays for sport’.
But Lara is not just a gun toting, back flipping fighting machine. She is intelligent, knowledgeable about the ancient civilisations she plunders for a living (try as I might, as much as I love the woman she’s a terrible archaeologist! But hours of endlessly brushing a different coloured bit of soil would not make the best video game). She is brawn and brains. I feel this gets overlooked by her detractors, who often use the façade of opposing sexism to spout off sexist nonsense such as the only reason the games sell so well is because teenage boys pay to look at her pixelated arse. Perhaps some do but I know millions of us out there, all ages, all genders love these games because they are excellent games. They are adventurous, action packed and Lara, she’s a good character. I don’t see anyone claiming Indiana Jones only ever got anywhere because Harrison Ford is handsome or that Assassin’s Creed is just porn for fangirls cos Ezio takes a bath and we see him topless.
The new Tomb Raider is amazing. Lara is young, just out of university off on her first field trip as a proper archaeologist not just a student wheelbarrow bunny, she is shown as an intelligent young woman with a deep expertise and passion for her subject, archaeology.Despite appearing quite shy at time she dares to challenge the rather seedy and mansplainy professor, she knows her stuff, she really cares about it, she does it for the love of it, not for her name on an academic paper and the kudos. There is an excellent line where she states, talking about the mythical ancient Queen of the island ‘That much power in a woman and they assume it must be witchcraft”. A line which could be turned round to answer those who assume Tomb Raider was only ever a success because of Lara’s breasts and behind, society still assumes that if a woman is successful and good looking it must be cos all the guys fancy her and not because of her own merits. Yes she is only a fictional character, but the way we treat our cultural icons is a part of our society and in this patriarchal society Lara Croft has got a raw deal, decried for being ‘sexy’, her success put down to her appearance and sex appeal only whilst all her other qualities get ignored behind the shadow of her breasts.
Then she is thrust into this horrid situation, shipwrecked and has to survive some ferociously nasty island inhabitants, many explosions and dramatic falling buildings etc. She is terrified. She is not quite confident she can do it, but she does. She starts to believe in herself. She believes she can be a capable, strong woman. In a world where women are still valued too much for our looks and not enough for our brains, strength and personality this is an excellent lesson. It still speaks to me as an archaeology graduate as it did when I was a teenager hoping I’d get to uni to study one day despite missing a lot of education due to illness. I had to find strength to keep going when I thought it was pointless, and I still do. Getting to feel a tiny bit like Lara is amazing.
I will always be a Lara Croft fangirl and I’m not ashamed to admit it.