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.
But 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.
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.