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Editorial   

Lara Croft: Damsel in Distress?

Lara's new look does a lot for her character, but has any progress really been made?

When asked to name female video game characters that embody some aspect of stereotypically exploitive depictions of women there are a few that almost anyone would name, but the name that almost always rolls off the tongue first is Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame.

With proportions akin to a Barbie Doll, Lara was built to take advantage of what was, at the time, the games industry’s target demographic – teenage boys.  As the industry grew and as the general demographics expanded and matured, Lara became more and more out of place; a relic of a time gone past.

Still, the Tomb Raider brand carries a level of historical recognition and as is the case with almost any majorly recognized brand, a reboot was inevitable.  Crystal Dynamics, who have been at the franchise’s reigns for a while now, have undertaken the task of making a product of '90s culture relevant over 15 years later.  It’s no easy task, but one that begins simple enough – with a character redesign.

Our new-look-Lara is much more palatable than her exaggerated original form.  While certainly still an attractive woman, the new, younger Lara looks like someone you could possibly meet in the real world.  This is a good first step – a step that had to be taken in order to make her relevant again.

It’s the second step that bothers me.

Say what you will about Lara’s looks as designed originally – she did have some good, positive features.  She was a strong, gutsy woman, who was capable of holding her own against dominating male antagonists and bizarre creatures as well.

This aspect of her character has been wiped away. 

In an interview with Kotaku, Ron Rosenberg, executive producer on the game, made some comments that made me think that while we’ve made some forward progress with Lara aesthetically, we’ve taken some steps back in terms of characterization.

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character.  They’re more like ‘I want to project her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.’”

Just like that, we’ve reverted to conservative traditional gender roles of the male figure protecting the weaker, female character.  I understand that the goal should always be to protect your avatar while playing a game, but think about this, would these comments be made if the same story was told about Nathan Drake?

Of course they wouldn’t, and they wouldn’t have said that about the old Lara either.

After stripping away the issues we had with Lara’s overt sexualized design, we’ve failed to get to the heart of the matter and deal with the core issue – that women are somehow weaker than men and require our protection. 

You may play this game and never think that you have to protect Lara, but knowing that the game was designed with this goal in mind bothers me and is indicative that the industry as a whole still doesn’t ‘get it’ when it comes to creating positive female role models in games.  We celebrate the physical redesign, but fail to see the greater issue.  The original Lara’s design may have been the result of prepubescent fantasy, but she was still a badass and wasn’t to be trifled with. 

We SHOULD identify with Lara, regardless of our equipment below the belt.  The best protagonists transcend gender.  I don’t want to feel like I’m protecting or shepherding Lara – I want to be a part of that journey and experience it with her. 

I don’t want to save her and it shouldn’t feel like she needs saving. 

I’m glad that there is interest to bring Lara into the new generation and present her as a more realized character, but this is only a single step.  We still have a long way to go.

Agree?  Disagree?  Add to the discussion by sounding off in the comments section below!


 

Comments

Our Take

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

06/13/2012 at 01:31 PM

Those comments are troubling but I hope that's only the direction of a few people. As this is an origin story, I'm hoping for more of a progression. I expect Lara to be vulnerable at first but by the end of the game be much closer to the Lara we know already. I'm not sure if it'll be touched upon but she is an archaeologist. I would like to see her intelligence showcased as well.

As much as I would like to see Lara Croft as a strong female character (I've always thought there was more to her to begin with), if she is reduced to the damsel in distress role, I would accept that with the right explanation. Some characters are in helpless roles but they are interesting if they are fleshed out from a writing standpoint. At the end of the day, whatever their role, male or female, it'll work if they are well developed.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

06/13/2012 at 01:33 PM

Nathan drake is not believable.

That's right, I said it. Gaming's every-man is just not that at all. He's athletic and nimble in ways that would make Ryu Hayabusa jealous, He's got better aim with a gun than myself or anybody else I know, and he's WAY too cool with killing people. 

I don't know what to say about the concept of the player "saving" Laura, but I found her to be a much more believable character than Nathan Drake. Hell, I was in the same situations she was in, I'd probably react the same way she does. I'm not athletic, I'm not heroic, and if the ground underneath me gave way and I ended up getting swept up in a raging river, I might in fact scream like a girl too.

I don't know if the designers had this in mind, but I think this is a situation where a character will actually start out where I'm at, and then grow with me. This never happens. Even in RPGs starring a child lead, the character you play as is typically already an accomplished sword fighter or gifted in magic, or able to talk to animals or some other such nonsense. That's not the case here. I think the game will begin with Laura being a character much like the person actually playing the game, then evolve into the Laura we remember from the classic games. As long as she eventually gets there, I'm totally cool with her starting off weak, fragile, and frail. We ALL start there, it's what she becomes in the end that matters.

Of course, we'll have to see the end result to really judge that.

Michael117

06/13/2012 at 02:32 PM

Excellent editorial J-Bone. I'm on the fence about this game and for now I'm going to sit back and see how it releases, and what people think of it. Hopefully you guys get the chance to review it and get your thoughts out.

Back when we started talking about Tomb Raider and how unsettling it was that they said they "needed" an M rating to tell a mature story, I had doubts about the game. As time goes on everytime I see something cool about the game, there's always something offputting to balance it out. Back when they showed that trailer where Croft was evading enemies and environmental dangers on that boat, I thought that was cool, that felt like some interesting survival gameplay. I'd like to see more evasion, stealth, and exploration in my adventure games.

But then it gets balanced out by the devs making statements about me needing to protect her. I don't want to take care of her and coddle her, I want to be her and embrace her character as my own avatar in this world of survival.

Other things that balanced out my excitement and made me "meh" on this game is that when I saw the E3 gameplay from last week it just looked like every game I've ever played. It looked like Uncharted with boobs, Splinter Cell, Last of Us, Assassin's Creed, everything just put together with a "different" skin. During one of the podcasts Esteban said that, "People who say that Tomb Raider is just Uncharted, need to remember that Uncharted is just Tomb Raider." I don't buy into that at all. The Tomb Raider series fell out of favor with people I would assume, otherwise why would they be rebooting it like this? The Uncharted series came out and basically became everything TR should've been in the first place, and now TR is trying to play "catch up" with the younger whipper snapper series that it influenced.

This game just looks like everything I've played before, but with tits and a pretty face. I've seen characters suffer before, I've seen blood in games, broken limbs, crying, etc. I've seen characters go through trilas of fire, I don't see why it's going to matter in TR. They have a lot to prove, and I'm on the fence about it so I'm not going to be playing. I hope they change my mind.

Our Take

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

06/13/2012 at 04:11 PM

As you may remember, I wrote a blog a while back when the reboot was first introduced.  When I heard that the developers felt like they needed to make an M rated game in order to tell a mature story, I started to get the feeling that they were being lazy in terms of story telling and characterization.  

These latest quotes, really make this aspect stand-out.  What we've seen of the game looks good from a mechanical standpoint, but we've seen very little when it comes to actual character.  I want to see a more mature Lara - a fully realized Lara.  Call me crazy, but I don't get how physical/sexual abuse and overcoming it really equates to creating character.  Sure, these can be elements, but they shouldn't be the focus.

In either event, I'll likely play this when it comes out, but I think that Crystal Dynamics should get some PR people on this that don't suffer from an acute sense of foot in mouth disease.

Michael117

06/13/2012 at 05:29 PM

Of couse I remember that blog Jesse, my brain is a steel trap, made of jelly. Mechanically I think this game looks really solid, I have no doubts it'll be fun and accessible to players. It'll be fun, but I wonder if it'll create an identity for itself or make itself stand out. I wonder the same thing about The Last of Us. Tomb Raider and Last of Us look like really fun, really solidly designed games, but we've played all these games before. Will they just become noise to us, or "routine". We already had a game come out that took influence from The Road, it was called Am I Alive, people kind of got their The-Road-fix in that game. Tomb Raider as I said is looking like any other game I could go play right now in AAA gaming, and if bleak opression, blood, and rape scenes is all I have to look forward to I could go watch The Hills Have Eyes or something.

Princess Toadstool

06/13/2012 at 06:45 PM

As a woman, I feel it's significantly more disheartening to be looked upon as helpless than attractive. So, well said, sir! Cute fanny aside, Lara was a badass and I'd rather be a badass. 

Mongoose

06/14/2012 at 01:08 AM

...Yeah, what princess toadstool said.

I always found Old Lara despite her exaggereated proportions to have a sense of cool not seen since the Fonz. Seeing her realistic look did make me do a double take; made me wonder if they ever make a realistic Mario game...

So is raiding tombs not the 'thing to do' anymore? We gotta go nitty gritty and nasty? The proof is in the gameplay , we'll find out next March.

Anonymous

06/20/2012 at 11:06 PM

I took this as Lara being "younger". Aka, this story arch seems to before she becomes a two pistol wielding bad-ass archeologist. As such it's perfectly fine if she starts out scared and vulnerable. (I wouldn't fare much better being the casulty of a shipwreck whilst washing up on a hostile island) So long as she gains courage and resourcefulness over time I'm fine with it!

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