In the Spotlight: Helen J

I hope you’re all enjoying my series of fan interviews so far! In the spotlight today is Helen J, a researcher, cosplayer and full-time Tomb Raider fangirl from England. Here’s what she has to say about archaeology, Lara Croft, and costume making.

Helen J as Reboot Lara

So, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Helen and I am a graduate from the longest degree name in history, MA Geographies of Globalisation and Development (Research Methodologies), an aspiring researcher, part-time costume maker and full-time fangirl!

When and how did you learn about the Tomb Raider series?

It was 1997. My next door neighbour had a Sega Saturn that I used to play on and when I had broke my leg, he gave it to me and showed me a box of games that I could choose from. I hadn’t played TR before that but I loved the picture on the cover, probably because it had a woman with brown hair on it! Although I was only 7/8, I kind of related to this image. I was surprised, and thankful that my mum never looked at the age rating!

Do you run a Tomb Raider fansite or blog? If so, what would you say was your biggest achievement to date?

I have my own Tomb Raider cosplay Etsy store, Little Shop of Yamatai, that I primarily set up for UK audiences as I found that there wasn’t much for fans this side of the pond…but I’ve ended up sending more overseas! I’m just setting up my cosplay page, Lady Scion, which will feature a lot more Tomb Raider costumes in the future.

My biggest achievement so far would be winning the Play Expo cosplay competition with my Reborn Lara costume and then being praised by one of the current UK World Cosplay Summit contestants. Just the fact the she thought I would be good enough to enter such a huge, worldwide competition really humbled me. This month (February) I was emailed to say that I would be on the front cover of the Play Expo exhibitor packs for 2014. It was such a lovely surprise and really makes 2013 special.

How has Tomb Raider changed your life?

For the past two to two and a half years it has been my escape, whether that be through cosplay, writing, forums or playing the games. It was my Masters year in university and my mum was spending months at a time in hospital or at home with me as her carer. I had something else to focus on and look forward to. I have also had great trouble trying to find a job and the money from the Etsy store really keeps me going. I have made so many new friends through the online community, and without TR, all this wouldn’t be possible.

Before that, TR definitely made me love gaming and inspired me to build a collection that heavily features female protagonists.

Were you interested in archaeology before discovering Tomb Raider? Have the Tomb Raider games and films inspired you to learn more about ancient history?

I would say TR definitely made me interested in the world around me and in archaeology/ancient history in a hobby sense. I studied geography because I love finding out about different cultures and environments. I think maybe playing TR when I was little added to that interest!

What are your thoughts on Lara’s image? Is she simply the product of a sexist gaming industry or can she be seen as a positive role model?

I never thought about it until I was older, as it never occurred to me when I was seven, eight, nine, that Lara was anything other than a woman who loved going on adventures. To me, she was strong, independent and valued knowledge. When I see some critiques of classic Lara, I think to myself ‘that isn’t the Lara I grew up with’. I find Legend more degrading than any other game as her vast knowledge didn’t shine through.

I still believe however that if we didn’t have Lara, other female protagonists may have had a worse treatment. Just looking at Jade from Beyond Good and Evil or D’Arcy from Urban Chaos. You can see how TR has helped the validity of the female protagonist. What we have to consider is that a game does not live in a vacuum and therefore we must accept that there are multiple ways of reading the context, because of individual or group ideologies. All characters I have mentioned are filed in the ‘Sexy Heros’ chapter in the book ‘1000 Game Heros’. Not female, not action, but sexy with an opening paragraph that states that “these heroines [look] like sex-objects created for the benefit of men…with Lara Croft just Indiana Jones in drag”. The book chose to focus on the attire rather than the overarching narrative, with a rather negative viewpoint on the female protagonist. The gaming industry isn’t the sole factor to ‘sexist gaming’ or Lara’s sexist label. The wider media, cultural notions and individual traits bond together to create something that very often goes beyond the original creations’ intention.

What’s your favourite Tomb Raider game?

I’d say despite all its flaws, Angel of Darkness is my favourite as I love the story behind it and the whole gritty feeling. It’s not just the game, but what I can imagine beyond the game too (i.e. I can get too involved with it! :p ). I would have to say TR1 too because that was my first TR game and I’ll never forget the pure fear I felt when I saw the T-Rex for the first time! I made my Dad sit in my room with me while I failed countless times!

And your least favourite game?

I’d say Legend. I loved the Tokyo and Nepal levels, but overall it just felt a bit off to me and I can’t put my finger on why!

Classic, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld or Reboot Lara?

Classic and Reboot :). In my probably unpopular opinion, I can fully imagine these two being the same person just with years between them. In my writing I have merged the bios and it fits quite well! It wouldn’t surprise me however if Reboot Lara takes the top spot in a few years time as I have really grown to like the character. Maybe it is because she is of similar age and a recent graduate like I am, or that through creating a costume and performance I just connect with her. I will say, however, Anniversary Lara is one of my favourite renders. She is just beautiful in that game :).

Do you have any favourite Tomb Raider moments or quotes?

I got such a guilty pleasure out of the first “Go to hell” Lara mutters in the Reboot. So much so I reloaded to hear it again!

Another would be Winston in the freezer in TR2. At the time, none of my friends played TR and the internet was limited. So I knew nothing about this trick. It just kind of happened one day! I felt so smart afterwards!

As for in-game moment, that would have to be the mini temple in Vilcabamba after the wolves, when you walk in and the music starts. It really is magical.

What about least favourite moments? Is there anything you dislike about the games/films/comics?

I don’t like Sam in the reboot and I don’t think the meaning of sacrifice really came through. I also wish that they didn’t get as ‘fluffy’ during LAU. The doppelganger idea was excellent, but I felt the potential was never fully realised.

If you could change one thing about the Tomb Raider franchise, what would you change?

The Angel of Darkness. I would have give the game more time and then hopefully carried on with the planned trilogy rather than LAU. I would have also changed the yearly releases. We may not have as many games as we do now, but I think it could have helped the series when it began to drop out of public favour.

Which places would you like to see Lara explore in future games?

Definitely Singapore! Start off exploring a city with some tombs hidden beneath the city-state (Singapore used to be a kingdom of Malay) and then move on to Malaysia or maybe Borneo (actually, Borneo does have a problem with real-life tomb raiders). I have such a fascination with South-East Asia and to revisit places in a game world would be amazing. As long as there is an element of isolation, I’d be happy!

Finally, if you could join Lara on one of her adventures, where would you go?

I would say to Vilcabamba, then Egypt, then a nice long stint in Croft Manor! I might actually start to exercise properly then! Plus who doesn’t want a mooch around that gorgeous building and see what’s outside the gates? I would spend a good week in the library alone!

A huge thanks to Helen J for taking part in our series of fan interviews. You can follow Helen on Twitter under the username @Lady_Scion. And do check out her Facebook page or Etsy store, Little Shop of Yamatai, if you want to learn more about her Reboot Lara cosplay and costumes.

An archive of our fan interviews can be found here.

About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a translator, editor, writer, and gamer with a passion for archaeology, foreign languages, cultural heritage, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

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