‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’: What is right for Lara Croft?

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With Girl Power in Gaming, we’re exploring the role of females in our favorite hobby for the month of September. The series will attempt to explore gender dynamics, pre-assigned roles and both positive and negative examples of female characterization in the digital world. 

The history of Lara Croft as a character is something that has been hashed upon time and time again. Whether from her movie incarnation played by Angelina Jolie or her Playstation One days as a female Indiana Jones-type. She is famous for her strength, excellent gameplay, and really highlights the feeling and adventure of uncovering lost artifacts. Over the years, her character has seen many changes from her appearance, to her world view, to just how violent she can be. In fact, her most recent incarnation has been under scrutiny as of late because of how quickly she has changed her tune.

In 2013, Square-Enix released the newest reboot of Tomb Raider. Players controlled a much younger Lara Croft, who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island. In a vast contrast to other Tomb Raider titles, this Lara is vulnerable, acting on survival instead of hunting down some new artifact. When she first has to murder an enemy it isn’t because she’s a killing machine, but rather it is a life or death situation. For the most part, this new imagining of Lara Croft was all for the better. Not only was she given plenty of character development, but her attire and figure make a lot more sense these days as opposed to her extreme hourglass shape of the Playstation One days.

If the new Tomb Raider did so much to rehabilitate the series and the character of Lara Croft, then why has her character seemingly become a killing machine. In a discussion with Gamesrant, head writer Rhianna Pratchett details how difficult it was for Lara to be without a gun for very long.

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“It’s about balancing the needs of gameplay with the needs of narrative. The needs of narrative don’t always trump the needs of gameplay. In fact, it’s usually the other way around. And so I’d say from a narrative perspective, we would have liked the ramp-up to be a bit slower. But, you know, there are other factors to be considered! When players get a gun, they generally want to use the gun. We were brave in going such a long time without giving players a gun in a game where you end up doing a lot of shooting. We tried to innovate a little bit, but narrative can’t always win. Ideally if you can find a sweet spot, that’s great. But sometimes combat, or gameplay or whatever, has to win out.”

Lara Croft has found her violent streak to be sure. At Gamescom 2015, a new trailer was released for Rise of the Tomb Raider that showed just how senselessly violent Lara has become since her last outing. She has gone from frightened survival mode, to a one-woman army hellbent on finding the most unique ways to murder. Since the release of the gameplay footage Square-Enix has been the subject of some scrutiny. Where exactly is this tomb raiding we were promised in this new iteration of Lara Croft? Since then they have been on damage control it would seem. A recent piece at International Business Times, showcases a new video trailer that shows off her non-lethal skill set. The video does goes as far as not showing one gameplay death, proving that perhaps Lara can survive without killing hundreds.

In a world where few female lead characters get the spotlight, it is perhaps more important than any other franchise, that Lara Croft is a fair depiction of a strong female lead. Instead of getting a complex character, fans are having to settle for a male action hero with a female body. It is promising to see alternate ways to play through the latest Lara Croft adventure Rise of the Tomb Raider, but when violence has to be highlighted over exploration, has Tomb Raider already lost the battle?

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