This guest blog is the first in our Tomb Raider Inspirations blog series, in which fans of the Tomb Raider series are invited to share their thoughts on the franchise and its leading lady and explain how their personal and/or professional lives have been influenced by one of the most successful video game series to date.
Today’s guest blog is from Chloë, who explains why she is a die-hard fan of Lara Croft and how this famous fictional “archaeologist” inspired her to study archaeology at university.
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 Effing Amusement Arcade (article no longer available) 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 sé. Give a woman a good bra and she 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 (see below). 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 this cutscene at the beginning of the first Tomb Raider. She has just seen off 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 off her sunglasses and raises a wry 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 because 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 and 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 times, 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 , when talking about the mythical ancient queen of the island, where she states ‘That much power in a woman and they assume it must be witchcraft”. A line which could be turned around 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 because 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 having 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 their looks and not enough for their 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 one day get to university to study 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.
Source: The original blog post can be found here.