Wednesday, March 10

Concerning "Tomb Raider"

Ever since the first game that came out in 1996, the computer game series “Tomb Raider” has been discussed by feminists. Lara Croft has been both hate figure and icon – and quite often at the same time. But what is really behind it?

At first, I’d like to tell you something about my own history with Ms. Croft and the games she’s featured in. I’ve played all games so far (even the abysmal “Angel of Darkness”) and I liked them very much (all except “Angel of Darkness”).

The first and foremost argument against Lara Croft is her looks. Yes, she is build a little too good. (Even though in the last three games – “Legend”, “Anniversary” and “Underworld” – she has been recreated slightly more realistic.) And nobody would go exploring the jungle in her clothes. But supermodels aren’t any more realistic in looks, especially if their picture has been through Photoshop.

She also quite often is accused of acting ‘too male’ – which has made some people describe her as a “sergeant major with balloons stuffed up his shirt”. What exactly, though, is acting ‘too male’? Is every woman using a gun (or two at the same time) acting ‘too male’, meaning women can’t fight? Is living the kind of life she wants to live ‘too male’? She’s a rich heiress and member of British nobility, if she can’t live the live she wants to, who can?

The same arguments, though, can also be used to turn Ms. Croft into a feminist icon. She looks good, but she doesn’t give the impression of doing it ‘for the boys’. (I know there’s been a time when you couldn’t wear make-up and call yourself a feminist. But, really, we should be over that by now.) She can fight and is not afraid of going up against men (or monsters … or demons … or gods). She lives her life the way she wants to.

Now I’d like to tell you something about Ms. Croft which not everyone knows. First of all, Ms. Croft was supposed to be a man when the creation of the game was started. But a male archaeologist in an action-packed and mythical adventure? Everyone would have screamed “Indiana Jones lookalike” at the top of their voices. So the developers redesigned the main character and turned him into a woman the called Lara Cruz for a start. Ms. Cruz already displayed most physical traits still associated with Ms. Croft today: the well-shaped figure, the long braid, the basic outfit. But the developers were British and they wanted their main character to be more British, too. So they sat down with a phone book and ran through a list of real names. Lara Croft made it. Ms. Cruz turned into Ms. Croft, but the looks stayed.

I won’t say Lara’s gender and looks did not influence the success of the games. She’s been through 9 adventures so far and the series has run for over 13 years. She has, as one of only a few games heroes, made it successfully from game to movie screen. (Most movies based on video games aren’t very successful.) She has had a long-running comic series. Some of the success may come from the fact that she’s a good-looking woman. But even more of it comes from the great design of the games with their breath-taking and difficult levels. (I’ve replayed the first level of “Underworld” yesterday and gazed once more at the enormous hall with the octopus in the middle of it.) Because those huge levels have been the trademark of the series from the very first part, setting the game apart from other action games of this time.

So, what is Ms. Croft? A plaything for male gamers? A feminist icon? She can hardly be both, can she?

Well, in a way she can. Every main character of a computer game is a plaything for the gamers. After all, it’s the main character you control while playing the game. So, not only Lara is a plaything, so are all the characters of “Street Fighter”, “Mass Effect” and many other games. Lara might be more attractive than some, but that’s not really the point. And only very few game characters have survived in the industry for over ten years. There is Super Mario and there is Sonic – both of which have become icons of the companies developing them. An Italian plumber and a blue hedgehog…

Is she a feminist icon, then? She is a self-assured, attractive and very dangerous person. Fifty or so years ago, nobody would ever have dreamt of such a character. Not a female one, that is. The fact alone that feminists are arguing over her says something: she’s not an ‘average’ being.

When you really get down to it, Ms. Croft is a game character, not a real person. She is a product of feminism and might also be a feminist icon. Apart from that: She’s not real!

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