So, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Stella and I live in upstate New York, about 100 miles north of New York City. I’m in my 40’s and married, with a soon-to-be 21-year-old son. I run several walkthrough sites. You may be familiar with Stella’s Tomb Raider Site, though I also have guides for LEGO Indiana Jones and Space Colony. I’m addicted to social media in its myriad forms, and I struggle against my couch-potato nature every blessed day.
When and how did you learn about the Tomb Raider series?
If you follow my site, you’ve probably heard this story before. Shortly after the original game was released, a friend of my husband’s gave him a copy. Back then, I didn’t watch much TV or read video-game magazines, so I hadn’t seen any of the ads for Tomb Raider. I thought it looked cool, with its ancient ruins and bad-ass heroine, but I hadn’t played any 3D games before. I was more into Dungeons & Dragons-type games and The Sims. My husband started playing but got stuck at that tricky fire-pillar run in the Palace Midas. He must have tried 100 times before he finally rage-quit and threw the game away. I literally plucked the game out of the garbage and fired it up.
I started writing walkthroughs with TR2. Since then, I’ve played and written about every Tomb Raider game I could get my hands on.
Do you run a Tomb Raider site or blog? If so, what would you say was your biggest achievement to date?
I guess my biggest achievement is longevity. My site has been online for more than 16 years. I’ve taken a few breaks from it over the years, but Tomb Raider is my passion. So I’ve always come back to it. I can’t imagine ever quitting.
Other notable accomplishments include having my site mentioned in both the Anniversary and Tomb Raider 2013 game credits, being the first site inducted into the official Tomb Raider fan site program, and getting a shout-out from Meagan Marie on the Square Enix livestream from New York Comic Con. Epic ego boost!
How has Tomb Raider changed your life?
TR has changed my life in many ways. First, there’s the fact that I’ve been able to turn my walkthrough sites into a second job. I have degrees in English and journalism, but my primary job as an artist’s assistant is mostly hands-on. Being a webmaster gives me a chance to do more writing and focus on my own creative work instead of someone else’s. And who wouldn’t want to get paid for playing videogames?
Even more important are the many friendships I’ve forged with other raiders over the years. I’ve known a few of you from the beginning, like Katie Fleming, who shares tombraiders.net with me, and Tom from Laracroftonline.com, who’s always been there when I needed a hand. Some of you I’ve met in real life; most I haven’t, but I treasure all my Tomb Raider friends. Being a part of this wonderful community is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
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’m not a huge archaeology buff, but I grew up with a history teacher father and an artist mother, so we always had lots of interesting reading material around the house — art books, atlases, National Geographic, and so on. We lived in Asia for several years when I was young, and my parents always encouraged me and my sister to respect other cultures and to be curious and creative. In those days, you could toss kids out the door and let them play outside unsupervised. So we had our share of wilderness adventures as well. 😉
I have always been fascinated by ancient artefacts, especially the “shiny stuff,” like the treasures of the Egyptian pharaohs and the intricate carvings and mosaics from Pre-Columbian America. But even the most unassuming artefacts can hold special power. I saw the Venus of Willendorf when she visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Many people don’t realise she’s only about 4 ½ inches tall, but just being in the presence of something made by human hands more than 25,000 years ago was absolutely transcendent!
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’d have to say both. I cringe when I see some of the early marketing efforts, but it’s important to distinguish between the advertising and the games themselves. The in-game Lara is quite different from the pin-up. It seems like the “sex sells” angle must have backfired in two ways: Gamers who thought they were getting a sex kitten would have been disappointed by the sarcastic, take-no-prisoners character in the game; and the boob-a-licious marketing probably turned off a lot of players who actually might have enjoyed the games.
I also think it’s important to distinguish between sexuality and sexism. Lara’s sexuality is not necessarily a negative. She’s attractive, sexy, even flirty at times, but she’s not a coquette. She owns her sexuality. It’s part of who she is, but it doesn’t define her, and it’s not the biggest weapon in her arsenal. It makes her character more complicated rather than less. It also sends the message that if you happen to have breasts, it doesn’t mean you’re a bimbo. Smart and sexy are not mutually exclusive.
I also want to touch on the notion that, as female protagonist, Lara is someone players want to protect. I believe this idea was first introduced by Mark Cohen in Lara Croft: The Art of Virtual Seduction, but it came up again recently amid the controversy surrounding the “first kill” scene in Tomb Raider 2013.
When the online community erupted over Lara’s being assaulted by a creepy islander in the “Crossroads” trailer, the game’s Executive Producer, Ron Rosenberg suggested that, “When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They… want to protect her.” This is complete bullshit. Players don’t want to protect Lara; they want to be Lara. This is just a stupid way of saying that male players can’t identify with a female character. If female players can identify with Nathan Drake, Gordon Freeman, or whomever, then male players can certainly identify with Lara.
What’s your favourite Tomb Raider game?
The original. Hands down.
And your least favourite game?
Tomb Raider 2013. There are certain aspects that I absolutely loved, but for me it doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider game. I hope the sequel will involve more elaborate puzzles and less tedious combat and gore. If I wanted to play a shooter, I’d play a shooter. I want to raid tombs!
Classic, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld or Reboot Lara?
Classic. Maybe it’s just imprinting, since I played the games in order, but Classic Lara made the strongest, most lasting impression on me.
Do you have any favourite Tomb Raider moments or quotes?
So many! But just off the top of my head, my two favourite moments would be the scene in TR2 where Lara steals the bomber jacket from the pilot and the brief moment in the second level of Unfinished Business, when Lara climbs up the side of the pyramid and the camera pulls back to show the ruins spread out beneath the night sky. The classic games did such a great job capturing the feeling of solitary exploration, and this is a prime example.
My favourite quote is from The Last Revelation, when Jean-Yves wishes Lara good luck beating Von Croy to the Armor of Horus, and Lara replies, “I make my own luck.” I think we can all use a little of that attitude.
What about least favourite moments? Is there anything you dislike about the games/films/comics?
It’s not a “moment,” per se, but I rue the day they changed from unlimited saves to checkpoints. I despise checkpoints. That’s right. I’m talking to you, Tomb Raider: Legend!
If you could change one thing about the Tomb Raider franchise, what would you change?
Other than smashing the whole concept of checkpoints under a huge boulder, it would have to be reversing the shift toward gory, QTE-laden, third-person shooter. There are already dozens of games out there to fill that niche. Tomb Raider was unique. It was one of the few Teen-rated action-adventure games that was simultaneously challenging, immersive, and marketable. It was magical. That’s why we all played it. There’s nothing wrong with updating the graphics and gameplay for modern systems, but it’s important not to kill the magic in the process.
Which places would you like to see Lara explore in future games?
I don’t have any particular wish list. I enjoyed the island setting in the last game, since it was well-designed and incorporated a lot of variety within a smallish world, but I do miss the globe-hopping of past games. I just hope we’ll see a variety of different locations next time.
Finally, if you could join Lara on one of her adventures, where would you go?
I’m more of an armchair archaeologist, so I’ll pass on the epic adventure. But it would be an honour to be invited to Croft Manor to peruse Lara’s library and artefact collection.
A huge thanks to Stella for taking the time to answer our questions. If you aren’t already familiar with her immensely popular walkthrough site and Tomb Raider blog, well, where have you been hiding? You can also find her over on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Steam, and Tumblr.