The Evolution of Lara Croft: ‘Tomb Raider’ Made Me a Gamer

Rise of the Tomb Raider

When Eidos, now Square Enix, had a sale several months back, I gobbled up all the Tomb Raider games for only $15. It had been ages since I even thought about my favorite childhood game. Playing the second installment brought back so many memories (like locking the butler in the freezer—totally worth it!). It made me realize, too, how games played a big part through my childhood and beyond.

Playing video games was perfectly normal for me as a child. I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic for hours with my dad and cousin. My parents even let me play Mortal Kombat, though I never got very far. While gaming at this point didn’t dominate most of my free time, I didn’t realize how unique my situation was. I don’t remember meeting one girl that actually enjoyed playing video games. One of my close friends eventually got an N64; but the games never really appealed to me and vice versa.

It didn’t occur to me back then that there weren’t many female characters in the games I played. Indeed, it was rare to ever have a single heroine. Except Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider became a huge part of my gaming experience and shifted me to PC gaming. I wasn’t any good; I always used the cheat to get all the weapons at the beginning. Uzis at level 1? Heck yea! I just wanted to play the game; I didn’t need to prove anything.

Lara Croft was my first exposure to a heroine in games and, despite her portrayal of a tiny waste with mini shorts and a tank top, I loved her. I wanted to be her. I wanted adventure. It wasn’t Indiana Jones that inspired my interest in archaeology, it was Lara Croft.

Tomb Raider: The Last RevelationBut as I grew up and realized there was something not quite right about society’s portrayal and representation of women in the media, I began to feel disheartened by my once cherished heroine. Around the time the fourth game came out, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, I gave up. Not only was the portrayal of Lara disturbingly close to soft porn, her proportions were preposterous.

Furthermore, the more they sexualized Lara, the more they lost from the story. Lara no longer seemed real. In the picture below, you can see the evolution of Lara. I hated it. I could no longer connect to my favorite heroine. I stopped playing and moved on to other games like Thief where I wouldn’t have to confront the fact that I didn’t live up to these ridiculous machinations of game developers. What was I to take away from it when most of the female characters in games were all bosoms and no brains? I had to look for my heroes elsewhere, and I had to identify with male characters otherwise I would be further caught in this degrading self-esteem trap.

Tomb Raider

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the new installment of Tomb Raider years later in 2013. Had they truly remade her? Was she the heroine that had once inspired me? The images and gameplay I had seen gave me great hope. When I landed my hands on the game, I blew through it. Literally! I would come home from work and sit down transfixed. I was happy that Tomb Raider had taken a turn for the better. It wasn’t just the fact that she was finally wearing practical clothes, but that she wasn’t this overly sexy female James Bond that magically escaped any situation. She was a scared young woman who had to make the difficult choice of standing up to a threat or being hunted down.

With the new adaptation of Tomb Raider, I am excited to play the next installment. Lara Croft has made her way back into my heart. She has been humanized by her obvious fears and hesitations in her journeys. After all, I would cry too if I had to climb an icy ladder. Even the attempted rape scene was intended to show that when an unthinkable evil is forced upon you, it can still be harrowing to kill a human being; though, admittedly, there were probably better ways of showing this.

If I were to pinpoint one exact reason why I play games today, it was because of Lara Croft. In a land dominated by male characters and developers, she was, and once again is, a rare character of inspiration for women and men alike.

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8 Comments on “The Evolution of Lara Croft: ‘Tomb Raider’ Made Me a Gamer

  1. My favorite Tombraider game is Tombraider: Last Revelation. So many traps in that game. But I am soo looking forward to playing The Rise of the Tombraider! I don’t care how long I have to wait for it to be available on PS4.

    *insert gif of a skeleton here*

    hahaha!

    But hopefully they won’t make us PS4 folk wait too long!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just like the previous comment said, my favourite has always been Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation as well.
    It’s the longest (30+ levels) and most extensive one. Besides: Ancient Egypt. The ending left a bitter taste in my mouth, though, and continuity stopped making any sense in the other 2 releases that followed.

    I’ve heard and read people arguing a lot about this (the “old Lara” VS “new Lara”). To be honest, I see no reason in it. I remember I wrote an article about how the TR reboot is an example of a non-sexist video game, and then read some people commenting on comparisons rather than the topic itself. It’s like some fans can’t let go, but it’s not like we have a choice.

    How about we stop comparing? Different timelines, different contexts, different characters, different approaches, different technologies, different ages. Each Lara is awesome in their own way.

    I also felt a bit like the author too, back in the ’90s when playing TR. I mean, the debatable body design proportions weren’t necessary for Lara. She could stand on her own and didn’t need any kind of sexualization.

    However, that was only displayed on the promotional pictures, because the video games never focused on her sexuality in any way. Even so, the PR campaigns and presentations of characters also matter. Still, when you think of it, it was nothing compared to how most female characters were designed back then. And they were very, very few (in relative terms).

    On a personal note: The TR reboot holds a special meaning for me. It was mostly therapeutic. I was trying to get back up on my feet after a terrible (extended) time in my life, and trying to learn and leave a lot of toxic behaviours and people behind. Even the trailer holds a lot of symbolic meaning to me. In many ways, it helped me heal.
    The “new Lara” felt more like a companion during that time. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of her, and she ends up making it easier for me to let the “old Lara” go.

    Liked by 2 people

    • @Elektra Thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts! You bring up some very good points about how it’s not really necessary to argue on the past versus present. For me, it was a matter of coming to the realization that the representation of women was a huge fault in the game development world.

      It’s so neat to hear the reboot helped get you through rough times. I love how Lara has a different connection/meaning for different people. What aspects of the game made you really connect with Lara and her adventures? I would love to hear!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Lindsay!

        “What aspects of the game made you really connect with Lara and her adventures? I would love to hear!”

        Sure? I’ll try to be as brief as possible, but no promises! Let’s take the “A survivor is born” trailer as a point of reference, because the game itself is far too long to analyze in just a comment.

        Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFBrgeSjj-0

        – I had a lot of issues that I hadn’t processed for a very, very long time. When I exploded, I did it fully. It was everything, all at once, triggered. (Flooding ship reference?)

        – I was almost literally drowning when it hit me. I felt trapped, and I was close to dying as well, several times. (Screaming for help hoping someone is out there to listen?)

        – By that moment, a lot of people I thought were friends simply vanished. Few stayed, most precisely, only 2 of them. (Someone’s hand helps you out, but the running and the big jump are on you!)

        – Sometimes, you try, you really, really try, you scratch the surface, and you don’t get there. It’s not enough. You slip, you hit bottom, you fall hard, and it’s just you, alone, again.

        – And from the very bottom of the downward spiral, it’s still up to you. The ruins of your mind are all around, but it’s your progressive growth and development of your own inner strength that will make you survive.

        The trailer for “Rise of the Tomb Raider” also hits me hard, mostly these lines:

        “For many people, these traumas become a mental trap. They get stuck, like a ship frozen in ice. There’s another type of person. Do you know what happens to them? Miss Croft?”

        “We become who we’re meant to be.”

        Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWO3KL9uybg

        So, yes, the TR reboot holds a very special meaning to me. It happened right on time in my life. It feels like Lara has always been a nice company by my side. Weird, isn’t it? Some video games can have the most unexpected healing effects.

        A survivor was born.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a beautiful story, Elektra! I’m glad you shared it.

        I don’t think it’s strange at all to have a video game character so close. When I was in junior high/high school, I played a lot of Thief. Garrett was very much for me what Lara was for you. I think it’s a wonderful thing that video games can have this healing/helping affect, it makes me excited for what the future holds. Cheers!

        Like

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  4. @cynthialanel Thanks for sharing your favorite game in the series! I can’t wait to get to that one again. I’m almost through the second game and moving on to the third.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: My Video Game Evolution

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