Whatever happened to Lara Croft?


So here are a few images of Lara Croft from games, film, and (at the bottom) the trailer for the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot game. I’m not sure why she switched from dual pistols to a bow either, must be the Katniss effect. And actually, in discussing the reboot, I keep feeling The Hunger Games as an influence. I’ll come back to this later.

However, the elephant in the room with Tomb Raider has now become comments made by the executive producer, Ron Rosenberg, with respect to Lara’s new backstory involving being kidnapped by island pirates and an attempted rape (she beats the guy up, kills him and escapes, incidentally).

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'”

So is she still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Lara a little bit differently than we have in the past.

“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.

Who is this /you/ he is addressing? It looks as though it should be anyone who might play the game, except there’s some assumptions there about how people identify with main characters which look as though he’s assuming the player is male. That’s one of the reasons he got people’s backs up. Lake Desire has a nicely nuanced writeup on the Borderhouse explaining why she appreciates what the devs are trying to do and feels that the trailer does make her want to play the game, while acknowledging that there are some issues around assuming that female characters need to be seen as vulnerable so that players will think they are ‘feminine’ enough.

I am torn, because while I agree it’s problematic if every strong female character has to have a traumatised background and the male characters don’t, I’ve also enjoyed stories like Kill Bill and the city elf backstory from DAO which do feature badass protagonists who are rape survivors. There’s a place for that kind of story and if it’s done well it can be empowering for players. I’ve liked Blaxploitation films too, and I loved Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (maybe I’m just a Tarantino fan).

It is, however, something of a genre in itself and usually features strong revenge plotlines which aren’t really the pulp adventure of which Lara Croft stories are made.

The other blogger I was reading on this subject wrote about Lara Croft 3 years ago. Ms Pixel decided back in 2009 that Lara needed a reboot and discusses what SHE thinks needs to happen.

Lara was born during a time when sex in games and digital nudity were avant garde. Now it’s common place. Shed more light on Lara’s personality traits. She needs to become a full blown character that makes me laugh, cry, cringe, marvel and scream at the same time.  Full and impossibly flawed characters like Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake have intense fan followings. Men don’t want to admit it but they’ve got a Bromance with Nathan and Snake that rivals the love affair they have with Lara. Women also love yearn for lovable characters. Gender doesn’t play that big of a role.

Get that, devs? Women also want /loveable/ female characters (or at least one woman does, and I don’t think it’s a half bad idea either.) Having said that, I think the devs here were gunning to highlight Lara’s personality traits. I just don’t know from that trailer whether loveable is really the personality trait that will shine here.

And aside from that, do we really want to see our characters beaten up, sobbing, and bleeding  (yeah scratch the bleeding, everyone does that)? Would it be possible to present the same story without making the vulnerability quite so front and centre, and focussing more on the aftermath and recovery?

Katniss is not Indiana Jones

My issue with the reboot is that I think the devs are mixing genres, perhaps unwisely. It isn’t impossible for a pulp action hero to get the grimdark makeover, it happened very successfully with Batman in the 1980s when The Dark Knight Returns was published. But some heroes, some stories, work better when they are left to their own strengths.

Lara was originally presented as a sexy female Indiana Jones, hence the tomb raiding. Along with that character type come the wisecracks, the keeping a cool head in a crisis, exotic locations,  falling into and escaping death traps, massive charisma, risk taking, and generally trying to be Harrison Ford. Katniss Everdeen (that’s Hunger Games if anyone hasn’t seen it yet) is more about survival and trying to be true to yourself and your friends in a world that is against you. It’s not quite the same. Katniss will never be a pulp action heroine (in fact, I’m still not recovered from having read book 3 in the series which is ultra grim).

However, much like Lake, I’m now quite curious to hear more about this game. Maybe I’ll pick it up cheap in a Steam sale in a few months time, if only to see how well they managed the storytelling. Shall we call that a win for the PR team?

8 thoughts on “Whatever happened to Lara Croft?

  1. As a male gamer, I am kindda offended that the games producer doesn’t think I can relate or “project myself into” a female protagonist. Fuck everything about that. I mean, what made the first games sell?
    And there are way more female gamers these days than there where around the time of the first games (unless I’ve read all the wrong studies).

    What it sounds like to me, is a producer who got his hands on a known I.P. that he does not believe in. “sure you are Lara Croft, but not really, don’t worry i wont be bad”. Ugh, and where I was looking forward to this game.

    I love playing as Lara Croft, well I used to anyway.

    • I find that assumption a bit odd too, given that people have managed to play platformers as sonic the hedgehog, and sympathised just fine with ratchett and clank. (Also, where are the swathe of developers trying to make male heroes easier for me to identify with?? 🙂 )

      But as I said here, I ended up concluding that I’d be interested to see where they go with the game anyway.

    • I’m right there with you, Dwism. I really have grown to despise devs make about me as a male and what they think appeals. I’d rather they just stick to making a good game with an interesting story than assume I will want to be Lara’s white knight.

  2. I have no problem with darker themes in games. What I have a problem with is that the way the producers are presenting the game evokes a cave man mentality that I would rather not see in 2012. Or ever.

    Besides, it’s a computer game, and I think gamers as a subculture are not ready for subjects like this. Witness the truly horrifying responses where disgusting creatures want to pre-order if it means they get to see the rape actually happening: http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/06/18/500936/an-open-letter-to-the-guys-who-told-me-they-want-to-see-lara-croft-get-raped/

    I am really losing faith in people.

  3. My problem with the darkening of Lara Croft is Uncharted. There is a great big template there for actiony adventure games with over the top adventury cheese which Lara would sit quite happily in and this is what they decided to go with. Which strikes me as a bit…stupid.

    On the other hand, I am quite happy to see horrible death happening to Lara over and over again since her games resulted in about 5 years where it was decided what your third person action game absolutely had to have was a awkward, irritating sliding block puzzle.

  4. I have certainly heard about this game now thanks to the controversy, whereas it probably would have passed me by before. It has also enabled me to identify the developers Crystal Dynamics as being a huge bunch of oblivious asshats. This company apparently believes that women are more likeable as victims of severe violence, and I will never knowingly give them even a penny of my money and I plan to look pretty sternly at friends who do decide to buy the game.

    I’m thinking in my case, anyway, this is definitely NOT a win for the PR team.

  5. I think why they have such a hard time with writing about female protagonists is that they focus on the gender and not the story.  I suggest writing the story first about a male.  Then rewriting the story with a female name and gender specific grammer of course.  What if Solid Snake was a woman?  How cool would the story be?  I think people fall in love with character, not gender…

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