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Lara Croft, You Still Have The Right To Be Sexy

Does the name “Lara Croft” ring any bell to you? Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the last 20 years, you obviously know who Lara Croft is, whether you’ve played Tomb Raider or not. Now, what is the first word that comes to your mind when you read “Lara Croft”? As a Tomb Raider fan, I would probably say “adventurous”, “fearless”, “brave”, “smart”, “badass”, “agile”… And what about “sexy”? Don’t be ashamed, I know that’s the adjective you had in mind. Actually, I bet that “sexy” is the word most people would associate with the character of Lara Croft. Especially people who do not know the Tomb Raider games. For a lot of people, Lara Croft is “the sexy chick in shorts”. Of course, she’s more than that (if you’re not aware of that, simply read my list of adjectives above). Then why do we always remember only the sexual aspect of the character? Why is Lara Croft “sexy”, above all?

Ever since the creation of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft, developers and publishers of the franchise have always played with Lara’s ambivalent aspect: since she’s a strong, combative woman, she’s a feminist icon women can relate to; since she’s sexy and hot, she’s also a sex-symbol men can fantasize about. It may seem like a caricatural vision of the character, but that’s pretty much how the publishers of the franchise have sold and promoted Lara Croft throughout the years. At least that’s what they’ve done until Crystal Dynamics (current developer of the franchise) decided to reboot the series (as well as the Lara Croft character). A whole new story, a whole new Lara. While Lara Croft used to be the sexy chick with her emblematic shorts and dual pistols, the 2013 reboot featured a brand new Lara, who was meant to be more human and more realistic. The new Lara Croft is shorter, her breasts have been significantly reduced, she wears long pants instead of shorts, and she is no longer an invincible woman. She’s pretty – and she’s still sexy in a way – but she’s not the overly-sexualized figure that people used to know. To get rid of the “sexy babe” stereotype, Crystal Dynamics didn’t have any other choice than reinventing the character. Or did they?

As I said before: I’m a Tomb Raider fan, and Lara Croft probably is my favourite game character of all times. Yeah, my favourite character is a woman who wears shorts even when it’s cold, who’s got enormous breasts, and who was deemed a sexist figure ever since her inception in the 1990s. Does that mean I’m sexist, too? Nope. Sorry. Because what I love about Lara Croft is her charisma, her cynical and strong personality, her intelligence. The way she looks matters, of course, but to what extent? Why should we reduce Lara Croft to her body? Only because she’s got amazing measurements? In this article, I wanted to come back to the roots of Lara Croft’s creation, to try and discover how she became the sex-symbol that we all know. How is it that “sexy” is the word that first comes to mind when thinking about Lara Croft? Why “sexy” and not “adventurous”, “brave” or “bold”? How did Lara Croft, who was only a female archaeologist at first, become a sex-symbol? Is she a feminist icon or a sexist caricature? How did the owners of the Tomb Raider franchise deal with Lara’s sex-appeal throughout the years? What’s the situation now? Let’s try and figure it all out.

The Bomba Latina becomes Wonder Woman

The first Tomb Raider game, developed by British studio Core Design, came out in 1996 – but Lara Croft was actually created a few years before that. In the early stages of development, Core Design had an idea that already was kind of revolutionary. While adventure games at the time did not feature any character on-screen (Doom was in first-person view), Tomb Raider was going to be one of the first adventure games to feature a real-3D, animated and realistic character as a protagonist. At first, the character was supposed to be a man – until game designer Toby Gard came up with the idea of a female protagonist. What a revolution! Not only would Tomb Raider have a protagonist on-screen, but it would also be a woman! There already were some female characters in videogames, of course, but it was a risky bet nonetheless. Gamers were mostly male at the time (or at least that’s what people thought), and producers feared that a female character just wouldn’t work, as people wouldn’t be able to identify with her. But Core Design did it anyway.

Some people actually wondered whether there would be an audience for an action game with a woman as the protagonist. (Patrick Melchior, CEO of Eidos France in “Lara Croft, Rich, Star, Virtual”, La Tribune, December 24th, 1997)

When Toby Gard first pitched the character, he imagined her as a Latin-American woman named Laura (then Lara) Cruz. Below is one of the first concept-arts he drew of this Laura Cruz character.

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Based on her looks and name, it is quite obvious that Laura Cruz was meant to be the perfect stereotype of what we call a bomba latina. A gorgeous, hot, sexy woman from Latin America. But then the idea was scrapped. Producers of the game wanted to please a North American audience, and thought an English-speaking character would be more appropriate for that. Plus, they had to explain how she was able to afford such expensive expeditions, and the idea of Laura being a British aristocrat soon became evident. And above all, they wanted the character to be recognizable for more than just her looks. Laura Cruz became Lara Croft.

It’s generally held that unless you have an American hero you won’t be able to sell the game at all in America. I thought that by deliberately reversing as many rules as possible, ie female (but strong, not tarty), a British not American lead character, and American not British villains, we’d make something that was unusual and fresh. (Toby Gard in “The Bit Girl”, The Face, June 1997)

Early concept-arts of the now called Lara Croft actually portray her as a sort of psychopath. Yes, she does have nice breasts, and yes she is wearing shorts that are too – well, short – but still, she’s got this almost masculine stature, as though she were an elite soldier. As opposed to Laura Cruz, Lara Croft looked less like a supermodel, and more like a crazy murderer. Toby Gard’s initial intention was not to make Lara sexy. He wanted her to be this mentally ill, psychopath and fearless woman, ready to shoot anyone who would dare crossing her path. The shift from Laura Cruz to Lara Croft makes it quite obvious that even though Lara Croft was designed as sexy, she was still supposed to be less sexy than Laura Cruz. Above all, what mattered in the eyes of the development team was not that she was sexy, but that she was a strong, independent woman.

Lara was designed to be a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman. She confounds all the sexist clichés apart from the fact she’s got an unbelievable figure. Strong independent women are the perfect fantasy girls – the untouchable is always the most desirable. (Toby Gard in “The Bit Girl”, The Face, June 1997)

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And it’s true indeed that in Tomb Raider, Lara Croft was a strong feminine figure. In-game, she’s seen kicking men’s asses, she’s wearing guns and she’s got a very classy, very British sense of humour. Vicky Arnold, the writer of the game (also a woman), gave Lara the biography of a survivor. Lara’s plane crashed in the Himalayas when she was only 21 years old. She had to survive in the frost for days before making her way to a village, where she was able to find civilization again. Lara’s father was originally supposed to be a former member of the air force, and to have taught everything to Lara. In Lara’s final biography, however, Lara’s parents are aristocrats who cannot recognize their daughter anymore, and who decide to cut her off. Lara still lives in a precious manor in England, but cannot enjoy her parents’ fortune. Then she has to write books about her adventures in order to fund her next expeditions. With this independent character, the least we can say is that we’re pretty far from the damsel-in-distress stereotype (high five, Princess Peach!).

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“Thank you, Mario, but our princess is in another castle!”

Besides, the game’s antagonist, who was supposed to be male at first (a man named Hamilton Graves), is also a woman. Jacqueline Natla (that’s her name) is the powerful CEO of Natla Technologies. She was once one of the three rulers of Atlantis, until she betrayed the two other kings, Tihocan and Qualopec, thus breaking their Triumvirate and precipitating the continent’s fall. She was then frozen in ice by Tihocan and Qualopec, until her icy prison was destroyed by the Trinity nuclear test that occured in New Mexico in 1945. Thus in the game, men are relegated to a position of secondary importance – out of six men, four are Natla’s employees, two are not even named, and two have been betrayed by a woman. Two women as leads, and six men who are no more than brainless minions or oblivious kings. Way to go, girls! What can be considered sexist, however, is the fact that Lara was designed as sexy. Even though I don’t feel like it’s a huge problem (and I will explain why later), Lara’s sexy appearance was perhaps unnecessary. Below are some of the explanations given by Lara’s creators regarding her sexy looks – and they’re not really convincing.

Well, I guess the explanation we like to give is that if you have to stare at someone’s bum, it’s far better to look at a nice female bum than a bloke’s bum! […] Everything we kept coming up with just lent itself to a female character, and personally, as a bloke, I find it really cool to play as a woman. Plus, they’re just a lot more attractive to look at than a bloke. (Adrian Smith, director at Core Design in “Who’s that girl?”, Next Generation, October 1996)

Slip of the mouse. I wanted to expand [Lara’s breasts] by 50 per cent and then – whoops, 150 per cent. Darn. (Toby Gard in “The Bit Girl”, The Face, June 1997)

Yeah, well, Lara was created by a team almost fully composed of men. You know how men can be. Seriously, though, I don’t think Lara was meant to be a sex-symbol when she was created. I think this thought didn’t even occur to Core Design – after all, how could a lady in pixels become a sexual figure? When he gave Lara a really sexy body, Toby Gard wasn’t thinking about sex per se. Of course, she was gorgeous and sexy, but that was just part of the whole “perfect heroine” extravaganza. Lara Croft was not intended to be a realistic woman. Her body measurements were not the only thing to be out of proportions: her guns had unlimited ammo, she could breathe underwater for more than a minute… Everything in Tomb Raider was caricatural, and Lara was not supposed to embody the real, contemporary woman. Had Lara Croft been Larry Croft, he probably would have had huge muscles and an amazing butt. Not for sexual, erotic reasons, but as a consequence of the desire to create a flawless, exceptional superhero, a cartoonesque character with an amazing body and personality.

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Clearly, Superman and real-life men (especially me) have nothing in common. I wouldn’t blame you if you told me he’s got amazing muscles and an impressive bulge. Yet, Superman’s not an erotic character, because as a superhero, being caricatural and unrealistic is part of his identity.

Lara Croft being a woman was not something Core Design had wondered about for years. There is no way they could have realized how iconic the character would become for women. It just felt right to them to portray a woman, because all the ideas they had had seemed more appropriate for a feminine character. There was actually something really feminist – not sexist – in the fact that they gave Lara Croft a chance, even though producers of the game were reluctant about featuring a female protagonist. When giving birth to the character, I think Gard and the Core Design team wanted her to be a sort of “wonder-woman” – hence her sexy looks – but they never wanted to objectify her. They never claimed that Lara’s body was perfect, nor that Lara’s measurements were a norm to be followed by women all over the globe. The marketing team did. The press did. The developers didn’t.

I’m sexy and they know it

What transformed Lara Croft, the sexy and intelligent archaeologist, into a brainless sex-symbol was the discrepancy between Core Design’s vision of the character, and the production/marketing team’s vision. Even though they did not believe in the potential of a female protagonist at first, the publishers of the game soon realized how promising (and lucrative) the character actually was. While Tomb Raider was originally supposed to be a one-shot game, its astonishing commercial success soon convinced publisher Eidos Interactive to order a second episode. Toby Gard, Lara’s original creator, did not feel okay about this. He thought Tomb Raider was as good as could be, and he didn’t want to be involved in a commercial sequel. Besides, Tomb Raider had been quite an exhausting experience (developing the game took at least 3 years), and everyone at Core Design felt like moving on. Toby Gard and some other Core Design members left the team, sensing they would not be as free as they used to be now that marketing had a say in the creation of Tomb Raider. Other members stayed, such as game designer Heather Gibson – who left just after completing Tomb Raider 2. Then other members of Core Design stepped up, creating Tomb Raider 3 in 1998, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation in 1999 and Tomb Raider: Chronicles in 2000. As good as the Tomb Raider games were, there’s no doubt that the passion that led to the first game just wasn’t here anymore. Year after year, sequel after sequel, Core Design became kind of sick of the Tomb Raider series, as they had to produce one episode a year to fit Eidos Interactive’s schedule. Core even thought about killing Lara Croft at the end of The Last Revelation – but Eidos Interactive insisted that they revive her in Chronicles.

With so little time to produce new games, there was no way Tomb Raider could evolve (the games were criticized for their lack of innovation), nor was there time to try and develop Lara Croft’s character. As she lacked a proper backstory and personality, Lara became her own cliché – just a sexy adventurer in shorts – simply because the developers didn’t have the time and opportunity to explore the character further. While the developers were losing control over their baby, Lara Croft’s backstory and image was all in Eidos Interactive’s hands. And in order to increase the sales of the series, the marketing team reinforced the cliché of Lara as a sexy figure, by promoting her as a sex-symbol. It’s actually quite obvious when you compare the promotion images for the first Tomb Raider game with the ones for the games that followed. As time went on, Lara began posing in more suggestive, if not lascivious postures.

In addition to that, Eidos Interactive hired several women (supermodels, mainly) to dress up as Lara and promote each Tomb Raider game, up until the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld in 2008. Marketing-wise, it certainly was a great idea, but it just contributed to make Lara, as well as those supermodels, look even more like sexual objects. First, because they hired a brand new woman for each game – as if women were some sorts of objects that you could get rid of once their goal fulfilled. Then, because these supermodels were sometimes featured – dressed in Lara’s costume – in commercials for other products (such as Lucozade for instance), thus transforming Lara Croft into some brand that can be used to sell all kinds of products. Finally, what made Lara Croft the charismatic character that she was, was precisely the fact that she wasn’t real. As I said before, Lara’s oversexualized body didn’t feel inappropriate, as long as it remained part of the also unrealistic and cartoon environment of the game. But having a real woman wear Lara’s costume suddenly made Lara real, and made you realize how absurd and sexist the character actually was – when taken out of its caricatural context. It was as though, all of a sudden, the caricature and the fantasy became real. There actually were real women who were asked to look like Lara Croft.

Which explains the “real” Lara. There’ve been two so far: one from Berkshire called Natalie Cook – “The Croft Original”, bibbled The Mirror, having swallowed Eidos’ blether that Lara was modelled on Natalie, rather than the other way around. Poor Natalie was unceremoniously dumped for Lara Number Two when it was decided that Lara should make the inevitable pop single – and that she, Natalie, couldn’t sing; now Eidos have found Rhona Mitra, who will “work” with Dave Stewart to make Lara’s pop star debut.

It’s when you see a human Lara that you realise: if Lara was real, she’d be crap. A real woman dressed in combat shorts and Timberlands, brandishing pistols and bristols as she opens a superstore… real Lara just doesn’t seem as cool as her virtual sister. A real woman would fall over if she was Lara-shaped.

Making Lara real misses the point; in fact, it makes things uncomfortable. When Lara’s off raiding tombs, a cartoon va-va-voomer in a cartoon world, she’s far from just a pretty face. Her heroic gymnastics, her SAS shooting and her marathon stamina make her more than a mere model: she’s undeniably brilliant, one of the best game-characters ever invented. But Human Lara is just another pretty bird who’s outgrown her wardrobe. She can’t turn somersaults at the press of a button; she can’t dispose of dinosaurs while swallow-diving. Human Lara can, of course, talk, but her employers will only let her chat in Lara-speak, and who looks to a game character for wit? Computer Lara is a woman of few words. Just a little orgasmic “uh”, when she’s working really hard. (Miranda Sawyer, “The Bit Girl”, The Face, June 1997)

Ads for the Tomb Raider games go further into objectifying Lara. Lara’s birthday date is said to be February the 14th (Valentine’s Day, in case you’d forgotten). Little by little, Lara becomes a marketing icon. She is featured in TV commercials for all kinds of products. She is the mascot of a U2 tour. She has her own comicbook series, and she makes her Hollywood debut in two movie adaptations of the games starring Angelina Jolie. But neither the books nor the movies are doing justice to her character: the comicbooks delibaretely emphasize her sexy appearance, while producers of the movie make up all sorts of excuses to film Angelina Jolie with a minimum amount of clothes on. Eidos sells tee-shirts, mugs, game-pads with Lara’s face on it. More and more, Lara becomes like a muse de luxe whose image is used to sell goods. An objectified woman.

We got contacted not so long ago from someone looking to renew a contract for a strange water park ride in south Italy, where they have a girl dressed up as Lara Croft who comes out every single day and starts the ride. (Karl Stewart, game director for the Tomb Raider reboot in “Rebranding An Icon: Tomb Raider”, Game Informer, December 2010)

Of course, Eidos Interactive is not the only one to blame for transforming Lara into a sexual object. Core Design’s original decision to give big breasts and an insanely sexy body to their character was also sexist in a way – was that really necessary? But once again, I tend to believe that the developers of the game just did not realize what they were doing – they just wanted to create a memorable videogame avatar. On the other hand, producers of the game knew absolutely what they were doing when they highlighted (and made profit out of) Lara’s sex appeal. For instance, the Tomb Raider games never pictured Lara having sex.

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Sorry to disappoint your twisted little minds, but this isn’t Tomb Raider porn. This is just an optical illusion.

The games did tease the player once in a while, such as in this cutscene from Tomb Raider 2.

But the games never did more than suggesting Lara’s sexiness. In-game, Lara was graceful, more than sexy (her famous swan dive is a good example for that). On the other hand, all media related to Lara Croft did a little more than suggesting. I mean, of course, there never was official Tomb Raider porn (though there is an unofficial erotic movie called Womb Raider, with treasure hunter Cara Loft as the protagonist…). But still, the examples shown below, extracted from official Tomb Raider material, are far more suggestive than everything Lara’s ever done in Tomb Raider games. Angelina Jolie’s shower in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie was much more explicitly sexual than the shower scene from the game mentioned above.

In her essay called “Take that, bitches! Refiguring Lara Croft in Feminist Game Narratives”, Esther MacCallum-Stewart further comments on Lara’s hypersexualization by Eidos Interactive, but also by the media. By focusing only on Lara’s body instead of commenting upon the game’s mechanics or Lara’s personality, game journalists have also contributed to sexualizing Lara Croft.

Rather like Lara, Jolie’s breasts and body were artificially altered for the audience; and it is obvious in some scenes that her tattoos have been airbrushed away. Her body in the film becomes as pixelated as that in the games, encouraging the idea that Lara is a false [sic] icon of male desire. Similarly, the appearance of Lara in booth babe form at many Eidos gatherings, often played by models […] as well as Lara’s front cover appearance in Men’s Magazine GQ in 1997, encouraged the idea that Lara should be seen as an object of desire, rather than a pioneering avatar of games culture. Finally, gaming journalism has also contributed to this portrayal of Lara — Bernstein’s article “Two Decades of Breathtakingly Sexist Writing About Tomb Raider” recaps some of the mysognyist writing about her which includes describing her as “Indiana Jones with breasts” (Zydrko, 1999), and again, stressing her oppositional position “Tomb Raider is bound to stir up lots of trouble with the feminists” (IGN, 1996).

Paradoxically enough, what made Lara Croft a sexist character was precisely all the writing that accused her of being sexist. By always discussing Lara’s body, everyone ended up accepting the idea that her body was a problem, and that all Tomb Raider players were terribly sexist.

Whilst the critical and feminist readings of Lara are undeniable, they have always disturbed me. As a long term scholar and player of games, I have seen many discussions of Lara Croft. She is a common example in the “gender and games” section of any undergraduate course, and yet these classes lack nuanced debate. […] Does playing Lara make you a bad feminist for liking her, and are all male players raping her by assuming her identity? It is not only not cool to like Lara, it is politically offensive to do so. […] Surely players have more intelligence and confidence in their sexuality, and an ability to see Lara as simply a ludic avatar […]? Are there some pleasures to playing with Lara that are not transgressive, or which allow players to appropriate gendered play for their own ends? How do LGBTQ players respond to her, if at all?

There might be some players who see Lara as a sexual object and/or who are turned on by the fact of playing a sexy woman. This resulted in the birth of the Nude Raider phenomenon, which consisted in fan-made artworks of Lara naked and patches for the Tomb Raider games – the aim of which was, of course, to remove Lara’s clothes. Both Core Design and Eidos have clearly denounced this phenomenon… While at the same time, Eidos deliberately aimed at the masculine, heterosexual audience when promoting the game, by implying Lara was a sort of virtual puppet that could satisfy every guy’s fantasy.

But as Esther MacCallum-Stewart says: what about female players? Or gay players? Many of the Tomb Raider fans I know are women. And by the way, many of the male Tomb Raider fans I know are not sexists, nor do they fantasize about Lara Croft. (In fact, many of them are gay. If Lara’s a Wonder Woman, maybe her secret power is the Rainbow Beam of Homosexuality, that turns players into gay men. That’s something to think about. Note to myself: write an article about Lara’s influence on the player’s sexuality).

A woman’s soul trapped in a sexy body

Why is Lara so appealing to female players, even though she is also representative of women’s objectification and over-sexualization by men? First, and quite obviously: because she is a female videogame protagonist, which was something kind of new (though not unprecedented) at the time of her creation.

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Apart from this blog, I’m also contributing to Captain Alban’s website, a fansite devoted to Tomb Raider and Lara Croft. Below is how Clara, the administrator of the website, describes her “relationship” with Lara Croft:

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been fond of mythology and ancient history, and I’ve always loved strong heroines. When I discovered Tomb Raider in 1997, it was a revelation: finally there was a smart, fearless and determined girl!

For many female gamers, Lara became a model, some sort of feminist icon embodying the independent, free woman. I mean, what about all the Lara Croft cosplayers? It makes even more sense to read Lara as a feminist icon as she is British. Great Britain definitely is one of the cradles of feminism – that’s where the suffragettes claimed their right to vote, that’s also the country of Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher. In a way, Lara Croft was the last feminist figure of the British 20th century.

Even though Core Design didn’t have much opportunities to develop Lara’s character, they still managed to give her a charismatic, cynical, sometimes castrating personality. While marketing only retained Lara’s appearance as a selling argument, the games did try to portray a more ambiguous character – which is probably what was so appealing to female gamers: finally a woman with a true personality! The first three games didn’t go really far into giving Lara a real soul, but they’re still remembered for a few iconic cutscenes, with amazing and memorable punchlines alla Croft. “Happy retirement” remains my all-time favorite. 🙂

At first, Lara’s biography was only restrained to the few lines written by Vicky Arnold at the time of the creation of Tomb Raider 1. The games did not try and go further in exploring Lara’s backstory, probably due to a lack of time to do so. Yet, the first real intent to give Lara a humanity was in the fourth episode, The Last Revelation. The game begins with a flashback introducing Lara as an teenager, while on her first expedition in Cambodia, in 1984 – Lara is escorting archaeoligst Werner Von Croy on one of his trips. But the flashback ends pretty badly, as Von Croy is left for dead in one of Angkor Vat’s traps. Then the game goes back to present time, with Lara seeking the Amulet of Set in Egypt. Throughout the course of the game, Werner Von Croy reappears, and Lara engages herself in an exhausting run throughout Egypt against her former mentor. I’ll pass on the details – but I’ll let you watch the final scene of the game. Spoilers ahead, of course.

I’ve already said that Core Design wanted to kill off Lara in this game – this scene was actually supposed to be the moment of her death, until it was revealed in Chronicles that she had managed to survive somehow. But what I think is really interesting in this scene is the fact that Lara actually seems pretty exhausted. For the first time in the Tomb Raider series, Lara shows signs of weakness. That, along with her rivalty with Werner Von Croy, seems to be a first attempt to make Lara a more humane, less caricatural character. She has feelings and flaws. Tomb Raider: Chronicles then revealed a little more about Lara’s past – though much of the flashbacks only served as an excuse to make one last game on the PlayStation 1.

But The Last Revelation and Chronicles were only the first steps towards The Angel of Darkness. After five games that were criticized for their repetitivity and lack of innovation, Core Design saw with the release of the PlayStation 2 an opportunity to make the franchise evolve. While Chronicles had left fans in the dark regarding what exactly had happened to Lara after her presupposed death in the Temple of Horus, and how she had managed to survive, The Angel of Darkness was supposed to be the first episode of a ‘next-generation’ trilogy, whose goal was to push the series towards a new direction, especially in terms of narration. Core Design’s ambitions were really big. Too big, actually. Development of the game took too much time, as Core Design was having trouble mastering their new game engine. In 2003, Eidos Interactive had to put some pressure on the developers. The last Tomb Raider game had been released 3 years before, and Angel of Darkness had to come out now, after having been pushed back several times. Unfortunately, Core had to rush the game to be able to release it in time, and the game that came out clearly was unfinished. Glitches, missing textures, deleted levels… Angel of Darkness felt like an unfinished version of the game – certainly not like the definitive one. As a consequence, both fans and critics received the game negatively. In order to clear themselves and to save the series’ image, Eidos took the decision to evict Core Design. The Tomb Raider franchise was taken away from its cradle, and moved on to Crystal Dynamics, a Californian, Eidos-owned studio. Crystal Dynamics decided not to give a sequel to Angel of Darkness, and to start a brand new trilogy instead. Core Design’s ‘next-generation’ trilogy was never completed.

Yet, let’s focus a moment on Angel of Darkness, on what could have been this trilogy – and towards what direction Core Design actually wanted to take Lara.

The story in The Angel of Darkness has been really important for us, it’s been argued that there’s maybe too much story in this game. The reason is that we decided we’d do more than one game from the get go, rather then one new game and then go ‘guess what guys, you’ve got to do another one’. (Adrian Smith, head of Core Design, June 2003)

After years of producing sequel after sequel, the Core Design team wanted to finally take time to try and give Lara a soul, a real personality, and to tell a detailed, complex story. For once, Core Design wanted to really explore Lara’s character, by portraying her as a much more human and fragile character.

There’s a whole time period between the temple collapsing and the beginning of this game that isn’t covered in The Angel of Darkness but may be in the second. We call the period internally ‘Lara of Arabia.’ We have the whole time period mapped out, what actually happened to her, where she’s been. There’s also another time period of when she came back to London. She had a near death experience when she survived the temple. Causing her to hang up her guns. We seriously looked at making her an alcoholic, having Croft Manor burnt down. We wanted her life in a mess and she returns facing one catastrophe after another, she comes back and Croft Manor is burning to the floor. Then she hits the bottle, of course. Lots of things to change the situation, to really get her down. But we thought that was a little bit extreme. We also had reservations about what the movie people were doing, in so far as we burn Croft Manor down it would stick out a bit and make it difficult for them. That’s as much as we’ve ever tied-in to the movies.

So the idea we came up with was let’s get her accused of murder in Paris. Everything that has worked for her in the past because she’s famous and well known, all these doors have been open for her. Suddenly they’re all shut, because everybody does know her and everyone is trying to catch her. Lara comes in and has this argument with Von Croy, at the end of the day she’s got blood on her hands, she jumps out of the window and the game starts. (Adrian Smith, head of Core Design, June 2003)

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Lara literally has blood on her hands at the beginning of Angel of Darkness.

As opposed to previous games of the franchise, Angel of Darkness has way more cutscenes, with a greater sense of detail and better stage direction. Some of these cutscenes almost feel like a movie. One of my favourite Tomb Raider sequences ever actually is the scene in which Lara meets the mysterious Kurtis Trent, before fleeing the Louvre museum which is under attack by an also mysterious enemy.

Tomb Raider comicbooks and movies had already featured love stories in the past – but in sexual ways, mainly. Let’s compare the scene mentioned above with this scene from Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, in which Lara and Gerard Butler’s character get to know each other.

Once again, the movie emphasizes the sexual dimension of Lara’s character, while the game tries to portray a more sensual Lara, and even shows a perplexed Lara, whose expression when she sees Kurtis’ face reveals complex feelings. A little bit more like a human being.

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Personally, I absolutely adore Angel of Darkness Lara. In my opinion, it is Lara’s most charismatic and complex incarnation. She remains sexy and cynical (even more than before, actually!), but she’s also more fragile and human. It was a great attempt by Core Design to give Lara a real soul, and to make her a much more developed character than she ever was. Unfortunately, Core Design’s new vision of the character was nipped in the bud.

Enter Crystal Dynamics, the studio that brought the Legacy of Kain series into the gaming world. A series that had always been known for its complex narratives, developed characters and detailed plots. Due to Angel of Darkness being a commercial failure, Crystal Dynamics decided to take a step back and to go back to Lara’s less dark, less serious incarnation. But even though they decided not to pursue Core Design’s trilogy, they did keep Core’s intention to give more humanity to Lara Croft.

What Crystal first did was to give Lara Croft a new official biography. The only official biography for Lara used to be Vicky Arnold’s original one, to which Eidos Interactive had simply added elements based on the Tomb Raider expanded universe. Problem is that most of this expanded universe material was contradictory: Lara’s butler was named Winston in the games, Compton in the comicbooks and Hillary in the movies. Lara’s father was Henshingly Croft in the games, Richard Croft in the movies. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive retconned some of the statements of Lara’s former biography, to give more consistency to the character. For instance, Lara’s planecrash in the Himalayas now took place while she was aged 9. In addition to this new biography, Crystal Dynamics brought back an emblematic figure who had been involved in Lara’s creation: Toby Gard, Lara’s true ‘father’, who became a consultant for the new Crystal Dynamics trilogy.

I think the [Lara Croft] character is really interesting – as long as she’s put into the right context. Lara running around the Paris city streets [in Angel of Darkness] was interesting, but also kind of troubling. It’s sort of like putting Batman in California or something. In essence, other people never really got a proper handle of the character. (Toby Gard in “New team! New Lara! A fresh new start!”, PSM, May 2005)

Even though Gard was added to the development team quite late, he did participate in creating a new design for Lara. Legend Lara Croft was designed to be less caricatural, more realistic, while still remaining an attractive woman. At the same time, she was given brand new, more fluid animations, meant to make her more realistic on the one hand, and more sensual on the other hand.

I didn’t want to make her too realistic, because then she would lose some of the iconic nature of the character. It seemed to me that it would be good to find a balance between the caricature that Lara was and the need to be more realistic, more human. That was the goal. More detail in the anatomy, more detail in the facial features, but keeping the proportions, etc. (Toby Gard in “New team! New Lara! A fresh new start!”, PSM, May 2005)

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Less caricatural, still sexy.

In terms of story and of Lara’s personality, Legend, Anniversary and Underworld explored Lara’s past and flaws once again. While Angel of Darkness introduced love elements for the first time, Crystal Dynamics’ trilogy introduced Lara’s parents in the storyline of the games – they had never been mentioned in-game before. Lara’s quest in Legend and Underworld dealt with Lara’s mother’s mysterious disappearance in the Himalayas, while Anniversary, a remake of the first, original game, introduced a new subplot involving Lara’s father. The same game also showed Lara less like a psychopath and more like a human being, by making Lara’s first murder ever a really emotional scene: Lara is seen feeling remorse at the thought of becoming a murderer.

But in spite of this will to make Lara a much more human and believable character, she remained the victim of her own stereotyped and prejudiced image. Crystal Dynamics was trapped between contradictory ambitions: a desire to make the character evolve, and the will to stay true to Lara’s original self – who was tainted by her past of objectified icon. No matter how hard Core Design and then Crystal Dynamics tried to give Lara a soul, she remained nothing more than a body in many people’s eyes. Something had to be done to reinvent the series and the protagonist. A deeper, much drastical change was about to come.

Less sexy = more human?

The last episode of the Crystal Dynamics trilogy was far from being a commercial success. The poor sales of Tomb Raider: Underworld were interpretated as such by the producers: Lara Croft was not appealing anymore. Much like the artefacts she was chasing all over the world, Lara Croft had become a relic of the past. At the same time, Eidos Interactive was facing financial troubles, and had to be bought by Japanese publisher Square Enix, who wanted to expand its activities to the West. With their trilogy concluded and this new publisher, Crystal Dynamics saw an opportunity to do what they had wanted to do for a long time: to entirely reboot the series, starting a whole new story from scratch.

This wasn’t something to be taken lightly. Crystal Dynamics has considered a lot of options to reinvent the main character. They thought about making Tomb Raider a survival-horror game. They thought about giving Lara a horse to ride, in a similar fashion to the protagonist of Shadow of the Colossus. They thought about giving Lara a child to take care of and to protect. All of these ideas were scrapped, but what remained was the will to finally make Lara Croft a believable human being. Crystal Dynamics’ motto throughout the development of the reboot was to get rid of what they called the Teflon Lara. Meaning the unstoppable, superheroic Lara Croft, who could face all kinds of dangers and still survive without a scratch. Crystal’s final idea was to have a 21-year-old, unexperienced Lara shipwrecked on an island, left alone to survive. Through this initiatory experience, they wanted to show how Lara, an ordinary human being, transformed herself into a fearless survivor – hence the game’s subtitle, A survivor is born. Enough with the invincible Wonder Woman, enter a new, realistic Lara, who suffers and has to fight for survival. In order to bring to life and flesh out this new Lara, Crystal Dynamics has asked writer Rhianna Pratchett to write the game’s scenario. Her mission was to humanize Lara Croft, and to make her a lifelike, believable woman, with qualities and flaws.

I think she became a bit colder in the movies, a little bit untouchable in some ways. We wanted to bring Lara back to a place where she was a bit more relatable, a bit more human. She didn’t have the guns, the gadgets, the answers and the money to get herself out of various situations. She’s not the Teflon Lara of old where nothing would stick to her and she could get herself out of any situation. It’s really toe to toe here, she’s fighting for survival. (Rhianna Pratchett, March 2013)

Just like in the first Tomb Raider game, it was also a woman who wrote the scenario and Lara’s biography – Rhianna Pratchett, who was known in the past for her writing about strong female characters, such as Nariko in Heavenly Sword and Faith in Mirror’s Edge. Though Lara’s biography was totally rebooted, it retained and adapted some of the most memorable elements of all her former biographies. Just like the original Lara Croft, Reboot Lara doesn’t have access to her parents’ fortune – she even has to work in a pub to earn some money. Just like the original Lara, she’s the victim of a traumatic experience at the age of 21 – Lara’s crash in the Himalayas becomes a shipwreck on a doomed island. Just like in Tomb Raider 4, Lara has a mentor who taught her many things about survival and archaeology: The Last Revelation‘s Werner Von Croy becomes Conrad Roth in the reboot. Just like in the Legend trilogy, Lara’s parents are dead, and just like in the trilogy and the movies, Lara’s father was an archaeologist. In substance, Lara remains the same.

But on the other hand, some of Lara’s most iconic traits are changed in order to make her less cold, and more human. For example, she’s no more a solitary woman. She has friends, including a really annoying girl named Sam, who should be awarded Best Damsel in Distress in the History of Gaming, as all of Sam’s appearances in the game and its associated media (ie comicbooks and novel) include her disappearance and Lara’s quest of freeing/saving her. (Yeah, well, I hate Sam. But whatever. The main thing is: Lara’s got friends.) Another thing that changes: Lara has lost her cynism and British humour. She’s now an innocent young woman, somehow naive, who is eager to find adventure but also lacks self-confidence. Throughout the course of the game, Lara reveals her flaws. She’s not invincible. She feels pain, anger, sadness, fear – something that the “Classic” Lara almost never experienced, except in the latter entries of the series.

But the most obvious, drastical change is the fact that Lara has been completely desexualisedLegend Lara had more realistic proportions, but she was still wearing sexy clothes and still had quite impressive measurements. In the reboot, Crystal Dynamics wanted to totally get rid of Lara’s sexualized image. “Classic” Lara wore shorts, dual pistols and a plunging neckline top. Reboot Lara wears long pants, a single gun and a handmade bow, and the size of her breasts has been reduced to a “normal” size (but, hey, what’s a “normal” breast size anyway?). In addition to that, and as opposed to former entries in the series, promotion for the reboot never aimed at emphasizing Lara’s sexiness. For the first time, no supermodel is hired to wear Lara’s costume. Similarly, the comicbooks and movies are rebooted too, so that Crystal Dynamics can keep an eye on every Tomb Raider media, and make sure there are no misuses of Lara’s image.

In this trailer, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics redefine what it means to be Lara Croft. “Fast”, “bold”, “brutal”, “agile”: the word “sexy” is never featured in that trailer. Being Lara Croft means being a hero, not being sexy. Lara isn’t the sexy chick in shorts anymore.

“You can’t blame me for knowing how to accesorize

After years and years of sexual objectification of Lara Croft’s character, I must admit it was good to finally see Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix defend the fact that she is far more than a sexy character.  But was it necessary to completely eradicate Lara’s sexiness?

I do believe that a reboot was necessary, and that changing the core of the gameplay was more than welcome to make Tomb Raider a franchise that still was relevant according to today’s standards. And it was necessary indeed, as the sales proved it: the reboot became the best-selling entry in the Tomb Raider series. Lara Croft finally came back in the spotlight, after a quite difficult era that had started with the critical failure of Angel of Darkness in 2003. But even though I praise Crystal for having given Lara a second birth, there are still some things that bother me in the way they treat the series, and Lara’s character.

First of all, the problem of the reboot is that Crystal Dynamics somehow got lost between contrary and incompatible ambitions. As they wanted to modernize both the gameplay and the protagonist, their goal was to create an Uncharted-like adventure game on the one hand, but also to portray a realistic protagonist on the other hand. Uncharted‘s success did make Tomb Raider look like an old franchise trapped in old standards. Tomb Raider was about digging up tombs and artefacts, solving puzzles and killing a few enemies once in a while. Uncharted is a series filled with Hollywood-like explosions and gunfights. It is evident that Crystal Dynamics wanted to outdo Uncharted with their Tomb Raider reboot, as their game is frought with gunfights and extreme situations of all kinds. Buildings in fire, plane crashes, unavoidable gunfights – Lara faces so many extreme situations that she becomes, somehow, unbelievable. And that’s the real issue with the reboot. Uncharted is not a realistic game. It takes its inspiration from adventure movies and novels – Indiana Jones-like stories, caricatural stories – the same ones that had inspired Tomb Raider in the first place. In my opinion, the new Lara Croft is even less believable than the previous one, because of an enormous discrepancy between the way Lara is treated in the game’s story, and the situations she endures in gameplay sequences. While the scenario wants you to believe Lara is a likeflike human being, the gameplay makes her survive so many catastrophes that she can’t be considered human anymore, no matter if she’s seen crying or suffering. No one is able to endure that much pain and still survive in the end. Not even Lara Croft’s previous self. It also creates inconsitencies in Lara’s psychological evolution. Lara’s first murder is something really shocking: Lara ends up crying, all covered in her victim’s blood. But only minutes after, she kills a whole bunch of men without any form of guilt or remorse (and once again, gunfights are unavoidable in the game) – she actually kills every man she meets, in the most violent and disgusting ways (she becomes even more violent that Classic “dual pistols” Lara). Wow, Lara, you did recover pretty fast from your first murder, huh?

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In a trailer for the sequel to the reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider, rocks are falling upon Lara’s head. And she’s still okay. If that isn’t “Teflon Lara”, then what is?

In addition to this discrepancy between story and gameplay, I believe Lara’s humanization in the reboot was perhaps pushed too far, to the extent that Lara Croft has lost everything that made her who she was as an iconic character. The game really wanted you to see Lara as an ordinary woman. Okay, but what’s an ordinary woman? Well, strangely enough, according to Crystal Dynamics, an ordinary woman is weak, stupid and dull. Because that’s what Lara is at the beginning of the game.  She has lost the cynism and sense of humour of her former self. Instead, she has the most cliché dialogues with her non-less-cliché friends, and she goes as far as saying “I hate tombs” at one point in the game. She doesn’t even seem to be smart: it takes her years to figure out plot elements that the player realizes quite early in the game. And she’s lost everything that made her sexy. So, of course, at the end of the game, Lara becomes brave, heroic, etc. – but that’s still kind of surprising, when you think about it, that Lara Croft in her “ordinary woman” state is a dull, non-sexy, slow on the uptake, weak woman. What’s the message here? That women are naturally weak, and that only a shipwreck on a desert island can turn them into heroines? I’m sure that wasn’t Rhianna Pratchett’s or Crystal’s intention – but still, it bothers me. Which is why I think Lara Croft shouldn’t be such an ordinary woman.

Ever since the beginning of this article, I’ve constantly compared Lara with Wonder Woman. That’s because I’ve always seen Lara as a superheroine – not as a human being, not as an ordinary woman. In the reboot, Lara is an ordinary woman who becomes a heroine, instead of a superheroine. Which means that she’s an ordinary human doing extraordinary things (a heroine), instead of an extraordinary human per se (superheroine). The first lines that Lara pronounces in the reboot actually are: “The extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. That’s an interesting choice to make Lara Croft an ordinary woman, but that wouldn’t have been mine. I believe her unrealistic, flawless, caricatural aspect made her an even more iconic character. And I’m not sure that Reboot heroic Lara will be as powerful a character as Classic superheroic Lara used to be.

Crystal Dynamics probably thinks so too, actually as Classic Lara still exists, through a spin-off of the Tomb Raider series which is called Lara Croft. In this spin-off, Lara’s former self is featured, in games that deviate from the reboot’s canon, both in terms of storyline and gameplay. The Lara Croft games are a way to extend Classic Lara’s story. Most probably because this sexy, shorts-and-dual-pistols incarnation of Lara remains a pop-culture icon, and that there’s no way Reboot Lara will totally erase the memory of this Classic Lara incarnation. She’s still heavily printed in everyone’s minds, and that particular incarnation of Lara has to perdure, somehow. Once again, though, this conveys quite a disturbing message to women in general. Reboot Lara is a woman who is supposed to have a strong, complex personality, but very little sex-appeal. Classic Lara, on the other hand, still doesn’t have any personality (the story of the Lara Croft games is just about Lara finding lost artefacts, and nothing else), but remains sexy. What does that mean? That a woman has to choose? Be sexy and shut up, or express yourself but don’t be too pretty? Definitely, that shouldn’t be the message that a famous icon such as Lara should convey. Which is why I believe that Classic Lara should have the right to have a personality, and that Reboot Lara should have the right to remain sexy. All incarnations of Lara Croft should be both human and sexy, with the appropriate balance between both aspects (and I believe Legend Lara did a pretty good job on this matter).

Yes, it does bother me a that Crystal Dynamics has decided to totally negate Lara’s sex-appeal in the 2013 reboot. It was more than neccessary to stop promoting Lara like a sex-symbol, or like a beauty queen that all women shold have to look like. But to totally remove her sexiness? That’s removing an emblematic element from the character. Imagine Superman without his muscles (and don’t make me show you the Superman vs. me comparison again). By totally desexualizing Lara, it’s as though Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics had admitted they were a bit ashamed of Lara’s sexiness. They somehow gave credit to all the critics who saw Lara’s body as a problem.

Tomb Raider is an adventure game. Just like Uncharted today, for instance. In Uncharted, the main character is this handsome, athletic guy named Nathan Drake. He’s got a gorgeous body and a hot piece of ass. Yet, did you see a lot of people calling Uncharted a sexist game? Did you even see critics mentioning Drake’s sexy appearance? I didn’t. When writing about Uncharted, critics focus on what really matters: the game itself. Drake’s body has unrealistic measurements, but no one even bothers mentioning it. Why? Because Drake is a man.

A friend of mine shared a post on Facebook a couple days ago. The author of the page on which this message was posted said that one of her photographs had been reported as containing sexual content. Why? Because it featured two women showing their nipples. The author of this post complained about how it is totally absurd and hypocrite to consider a woman’s nipples as a sexual body part – while it’s absolutely okay for men to show their nipples on the beach or even in the street. A woman’s breasts are originally meant to do one thing: feeding babies. They’re not sexual organs per se. Then why? Why does it bother people to see a woman’s breasts, if seeing a man’s nipples is perfectly fine? Why should Lara Croft be ashamed of her big breasts? Why should she be ashamed of wearing shorts? Maybe because Lara’s just like every woman, she shouldn’t have the right to complain of getting raped or molested because, after all, “she deserves it, since she dresses like a slut”, right? And why does no one call Nathan Drake a sexist character, while Lara Croft’s body has been considered as a problem ever since the character was created?

And it’s not as if Lara’s body had been such an important matter in the first place! Remember how Toby Gard joked about the fact that he had accidentally augmented Lara’s breast size? Truth is Lara’s sexy body was just a very small detail in the creation of  Tomb Raider. For years, people have talked and talked about Lara’s body, how it was too appealing, too sexy, – and I’m still doing it now, with this article – while actually, her body didn’t even matter that much in the creators’ minds. By focusing our attention on the wrong matter throughout the years – Lara’s body instead of the game itself – we have started seeing her as nothing more than a body. And a problematic body, actually.

By demonising Lara we have, I believe, pushed ourselves into a corner that only allows us to apply binary sexual readings to her, as well as refusing to acknowledge Lara as a peer amongst other gaming avatars. Continually regarding Lara’s sexualisation as a negative quality will forever keep her apart, and will by default, other players who never even considered her a problem. Lara is rather like the debates that surround the authenticity of the gaming woman: like the “fake gamer girl”, she is decried for her looks, and yet they are a fundamental part of who she is and are unrelated to her central identity as a gaming woman. (Esther MacCallum-Stewart)

Yes, Lara is sexy. Should that detail really bother us all that much? It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t as long as Lara’s sexiness doesn’t become a sexual objectification. The appropriate word shouldn’t even be “sexy”, because it has nothing to do with sex, really. What I mean by “Lara is sexy” is that she’s charismatic, charming, funny, that she’s got repartee, and that she’s beautiful – not because of the size of her breasts, but because she knows she is beautiful. And that’s what sexy means for me. It’s not a fact, but a way of life. No matter what people can think of you, if you think you’re sexy, then you are. That’s exactly what Lara Croft has always embodied. She doesn’t care if is ridiculous to wear shorts in the jungle. As long as she’s comfortable, then who cares what people think?

What really has to change isn’t Lara’s body – it is the way we look at Lara’s body. Really, it makes no sense to give Lara pants instead of shorts because she’s too sexy on the one hand, and to feature such a scene in the game on the other hand:

Right. So, Lara doesn’t have the right to be sexy. But her being sexually assaulted is okay. This is typically the kind of scene we do not need in a Tomb Raider game. This has to go. Lara’s body is her own. A woman has the right to be sexy. But no man has the right to touch a woman’s body without her consent. What’s even funnier than this scene is this guy from Crystal Dynamics trying to justify the scene (I’m pretty sure this guy isn’t allowed to speak on behalf of Crystal anymore):

When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ (Ron Rosenberg, executive producer at Crystal Dynamics, 2012)

“Wtf” seems like an appropriate answer here. No, women don’t need protection – and that’s exactly what Lara has been trying to prove ever since her inception.

Conclusion: “We are the Heroes of our time”*

*(Yes, I do enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest)

I think we always want to see Lara as a woman first, and then as a videogame character. By laying too big of an emphasis on Lara’s body, on Lara’s gender, on Lara’s sexiness, we have forgotten that she was above all a videogame icon. Not a woman. More generally, there’s this tendency to read all female characters (and not just in videogames) as representative of all women.

But also you’ve got a situation where female characters do get scrutinized more than male characters do, and in some ways can be seen as holding a banner up for female characters. A lot gets heaped on their shoulders. Lara Croft gets a lot more scrutiny than Nathan Drake does, as a female. Nobody talks about how well Nathan Drake is representing men, or male characters in games. (Rhianna Pratchett)

But what matters most about Lara is that she’s a heroine, regardless of her sex and gender. With the reboot, Crystal Dynamics has decided to make her a realistic woman. But why should a videogame character even have to be realistic? Once again, no one blames Nathan Drake for being too unrealistic. Then why should Lara have to change? Why should Lara stop being sexy?

What I think emerges from this analysis is that when a character becomes iconic, it starts to carry symbols that the creators of the character had no idea it would. Toby Gard and other Core Design members had no idea Lara would become a feminist icon – yet she did. They didn’t know she would be a sex-symbol – yet she was. Lara Croft, being an iconic character, is the reflection of her time. That is all heroes and icons are about. People can identify to heroes, and they want them to embody values such as courage, strength or – in Lara’s case – feminism. And once a character has turned into a hero, it is necessary for him to adapt to the evolutions of society.

Saying Lara Croft has evolved ever since her creation in the 90s is quite an understatement. The sexy icon with big boobies (c’mon, I’ve been trying to avoid the word “boobs” ever since the beginning of the article – but I couldn’t help it, the temptation was just too big… as big as Lara’s boobs) became a lifelike, human figure, with more realistic measurements and personality.

I’m not blaming anyone for having overly sexualized Lara Croft in the past. Judging Lara’s sexual objectification with a modern point of view would be a pure anachronism. Because what seems sexist now perhaps did not appear so shocking back in the 90s. First, videogames were still in an embryonic state in the late 90s. Potentials of narration were not as evolved in the videogame industry as they are now. Game mechanics were often really similar from one game to another. Then the only way you could distinguish your game from every other game was to feature an iconic protagonist. And that’s what Lara Croft was. Besides, the reason Lara Croft actually became an icon back then was that being overly sexy was actually a form of recognition for women at the time. It was just a way of promoting women’s right to use their body the way they wanted. Something like “I’m sexy, but you can’t touch me unless I want to”. After all, the second half of the 20th century is the era of sex-symbols – Madonna sung Material Girl in 1984. Lara Croft was just another example of this particular way of being an independent woman, something that was incarnated in the “Girl Power” movement.

Now, times have changed. We are now aware about the dangers of the obsession with thinness and beauty in our society. Sex-symbols are no more perceived as representatives of women’s independence, but as defendors of consumer society and of the sexist cliché that all women should be thin. Women claim their right not to use beauty products or plastic surgery, their right to be who they want to be, no matter if they’re thin, overweight, blonde, brunette, bald, young, old, etc. And with this new vision of feminism and gender equality, I can understand why Classic Lara Croft feels out of context. Her insane and caricatured measurements worked in the 90s – they feel inappropriate now. Reboot Lara is a woman of the 2010s. She’s sexy in her own way – not because she’s got insanely big breasts or because she carries a pair of guns. She’s determined, she’s a fighter, and that’s what makes her loveable, that’s what make her someone you can relate to. She’s got flaws, but she manages to be a heroine no matter what. Or at least that’s what Crystal Dynamics wanted Reboot Lara to be – whether they managed to do it, that’s your call. Once again, we will have to see how Rise of the Tomb Raider manages to fix the reboot’s imperfections and inconsistencies of Lara’s character treatment.

All in all, it is quite clear that, regardless of how her creators had imagined her, Lara Croft has always been both an incarnation of feminism and sexism, not because that’s the way her creators have imagined her, but because that’s the way she’s been interpretated. For a lot of fans, Lara has always embodied the independent, free, strong woman – but for people who were not familiar with the Tomb Raider games, or for people who wanted to criticize videogames, or simply people who knew only the objectified facet of the character, Lara was only a sexist figure. With the reboot, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have found a way to get rid of all the sexist clichés regarding Lara Croft. While still imperfect in my opinion, their new vision of Lara Croft is a great improvement, as people are finally recognizing Lara for more than just her looks.

But while I praise Crystal Dynamics for their efforts to reinvent Lara Croft’s image, I still think it’s kind of a shame that they had to remove Lara’s boobs (yeah, I said boobs again) in order for people to finally see the soul that was hidden behind them. It reveals that women are still looked at first, and then listened to. 

Superman’s body isn’t a problem. Nathan Drake’s body isn’t a problem. Why should Lara’s body be a problem? Only because she’s a woman, and because women should have regular-sized boobies to be acceptable? Definitely not a good argument. Women – all humans – have the right to wear shorts or skirts – that doesn’t mean they’re craving for sex. So if “being sexy” means “wearing the clothes I want, being the woman I want, regardless of people’s opinion”, then no, Lara, don’t be ashamed of wearing your iconic top and shorts. Yes, Lara, you should have the right to be sexy. 

Read more
About the creation and evolution of Lara Croft’s character:
About feminism, sexism and women’s representation in videogames:

5 thoughts on “Lara Croft, You Still Have The Right To Be Sexy

  1. I’m an 18 y/o female who has grown up with Tomb Raider games and I can agree with literally EVERYTHING you’ve written in this post.
    Lara is not the real Lara anymore.They changed everything about her! I certainly agree it isn’t right to dress her in really short shorts/reveal lots of cleavage, but it bothers me how much they’ve changed her. She was confident, classy, witty, badass & NEVER actually acted “sexy”. Why can’t they just make a TR that has a great story + shows Lara is a human being that’s capable of feelings and attractive but also very likeable and powerful character that women would look up to (perfect example are AOD & Anniversary). Thank you for the excellent post

    1. I agree that Angel of Darkness Lara and Anniversary Lara (I would also add Legend Lara) are the perfect combination of badass/human. However, have you played Rise of the Tomb Raider? I thought Rise Lara was way better than Reboot Lara – and she had some moments of actual “badassness” that made her a much more loveable character than her TR 2013 incarnation, in my opinion.

      1. I haven’t played it yet, but I have seen gameplay of it. It’s gameplay is too much like Uncharted (and to be honest, I would rather buy Uncharted 4 than ROTTR).

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