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Could Rebooted Lara Croft Be a New Feminist Icon?

Could Rebooted Lara Croft Be a New Feminist Icon?

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Tomb Raider (2013) (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Crystal Dynamics
Square Enix

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider.

Before you read this article, forget everything you think you know about Lara Croft. Take all of your memories of her from previous games and throw them out the metaphorical window. Lara is a new woman now and she could very well be the breath of fresh air that the video game industry so desperately needs.

Leading up to the release of the newest Tomb Raider, there was a lot of controversy over Lara’s redesign. Everything from her physical appearance to her backstory and personality was getting revamped. While she now sported a more realistic body and practical clothing, the infamous ‘Crossroads’ trailer focused on Lara’s suffering and even pitted her against attempted sexual assault. Adding to this fire, Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg claimed that players would want to “protect” Lara and that they wouldn’t “really project themselves into [her] character”. The situation was looking grim for poor Lara.

Thankfully, Rosenberg could not have been further from the truth. Not only did I project myself into Lara but I felt absolutely no need to protect her. Throughout Tomb Raider, she proved time and time again that she is more than capable of protecting herself and in fact, she lends a hand in helping to protect others. Simply put, this Lara Croft is not the big-busted figure she once was; this is Lara written by a woman and, in my opinion, for women.

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Let’s take a look at another famous female action hero: Mass Effect‘s Commander Shepard. In reality, she is a secondary creation, a mere variation on the male version of her character. This is prevalent in everything from the marketing for the game to the motion capture. While there are those who prefer this version of Shepard, myself included, the fact remains that Mass Effect was created by men and, essentially, for men. This is true for many video games today, despite women making up 45% of gamers. Tomb Raider, however, while still obviously a game for those who love guns and explosions, introduced a main character that is decidedly female. With the reboot, finally this label means that she is an empathetic hero as opposed to a Teflon-coated action star whose most prominent features are her breasts and not her heart.

Finally, this is a Lara that I can relate to. In fact, this is a Lara that we can all relate to. As scriptwriter Rhianna Pratchett said, “Male characters are often undercooked. We probably suffer from the fact we don’t think about them as being human – they’re heroic and there’s not much else to them. That is a problem.” In another interview, she stated, “Certainly with Lara, I wanted to make a human story. But I never wanted to forget that she was female either. And, I mean, certainly the way she reacts to things could be said to be more female as a reaction. I’m not talking about being scared, or being vulnerable. But the way she interacts with other characters, her friendship with Sam in particular…you wouldn’t see a male character holding the hands of an in-pain male character or hugging a dying male character.”

This is what I mean when I say that Lara is “decidedly female”. She is not female because she is weak; in fact, she is not weak at all. She is female in the way that she expresses herself; she shows emotions that we, as a society, only encourage in women. Pratchett stated that she “didn’t want to just make Lara a male character with boobs” and it definitely shows. She feels far more human than her predecessor and it’s likely that Pratchett hopes male heroes will follow in her footsteps.

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“It’s always kind of a…it is a human story at heart. But there things—the language she uses, or the way that she interacts—that could be said to be more feminine. I’m very much not talking about her sense of vulnerability or being scared. That again has been rolled out as: male characters aren’t shown as being scared or vulnerable, why should female characters? Well, just because it hasn’t been done with male characters doesn’t make it wrong! It’s probably more of a problem of the way we depict male characters.”

With a greater focus on character development and, particularly, Lara’s relationships, the topic of her sexuality inevitably comes up. While there are a few in-game hints and much speculation, no definitive answer exists. One of the most popular theories is that Lara might be queer. There is a lot of playfulness between Lara and her best friend, Sam Nishimura. Sam affectionately calls Lara “sweetie” and they can be seen holding hands and hugging throughout memorable scenes in the game. Pratchett gives fans some hope but she maintains that no matter what, romantic love will not be a huge part of Lara’s life.

“There’s part of me that would’ve loved to make Lara gay. I’m not sure Crystal would be ready for it! But we’ve not spoken about it directly, either. Who knows what the future might hold? … You know, we didn’t actually touch on Lara’s sexuality in the game. … But people have talked about Lara’s boyfriends and stuff like that, and I’m like, “No, no, I don’t want that to be part of it!” This is about her. I didn’t feel like a boyfriend or that side of things fit into it.”

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It would be huge for a big name hero like Lara Croft to identify as queer and while I still maintain hope that this possibility might be explored in the future, I am not at all disappointed by Lara and Sam’s friendship as it stands. They are two women who share a immensely strong bond and it’s uncommon to see this kind of sisterhood in video games. Rarely do we ever see women even forming friendships, let alone doing so on their own accord regardless of male influence. Their friendship sees none of usual catty competitiveness we see in games where woman is pitted against woman to win the heart of the male hero.

Lara is literally willing to risk life and limb to save her friend Sam from the clutches of evil cultists. It can be said that this relationship mirrors the typical “damsel in distress” trope but I don’t believe that this necessarily makes it a bad representation. We know much more about our “princess” than we usually do and so she becomes less of “prize” and more of a friend in need. It’s also important to note that out of a long line of damsels, Sam is one of the few women of color who is deemed worthy of saving. Finally, Tomb Raider doesn’t force women into that sole role of damsel; it shows us that we can be heroes like Lara or in the case of Joslin Reyes, we can even be straight talking mechanics.

Tomb Raider made me feel like I was actually welcome. As much as I loved exploring space with Commander Shepard, it has always been clear to me that I am not the original target audience. I have fun imagining myself in the shoes of men the likes of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake but I’ve always wondered what it would be like if my hero were female, instead. We’ve seen Lara Croft before but it wasn’t until this game that I truly began to idolize her not only as a hero but as a well-represented woman. A survivor is born and so is my love for the new, improved, and feminist Lara Croft.

[wpchatai]