In his article “Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl,” Kurt Lancaster details the sexualization of the famous Tomb Raider protagonist Lara Croft. An interesting aspect of this article is the shift in focus Lancaster takes with regards to the … Continue reading →
In his article “Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl,” Kurt Lancaster details the sexualization of the famous Tomb Raider protagonist Lara Croft. An interesting aspect of this article is the shift in focus Lancaster takes with regards to the way Croft is sexualized. While most people discuss Croft’s sexualization from a design standpoint—her bust line, her wardrobe choices, etc.—Lancaster focuses on the strategies employed by Tomb Raider’s developers to sexualize Croft for profit.
Though now Tome Raider is developed by Crystal Dynamics, at the time of the article’s publication, the Tomb Raider franchise was developed by Core Design Ltd. Core Design was not afraid to show off Croft’s body. A prominent image on the official Tomb Raider website was that of Croft lying seductively on a canopied bed in a provocative black evening gown.1 The image was used to entice the (assumed) male player to come and “play” with Croft by focusing entirely on her sexualized body rather than the adventure or action she undertakes.
This image was used to entice players to join Lara Croft on her adventures through the sexualization of Croft’s body
This image is not the only way in which Core Design sexualized Croft to sell the Tomb Raider games. At major gaming expos, such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Core Design would hire models to become a physical embodiment of Lara Croft, thus affording characters a physical embodiment of their sexy dream girl.1
Rhona Mitra was one of the first Lara Croft models: models hired to be photographed as Croft for the excitement of the game’s players
In my opinion, Lancaster’s 2004 article shows how far the Tomb Raider franchise has grown. As mentioned in my previous posts about Tomb Raider, Croft’s sexualization is already downplayed in the reboot, with more realistic body proportions and clothing choices. Crystal Dynamics promotional work for the game, such as the game’s 2 E3 trailers below, also focus less on Croft’s sexualized body and more on her status as a survivor.
In this way, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have taken a great leap forward by focusing promotion of the Tomb Raider franchise on Lara Croft’s status as a female action hero, rather than as a sexy adventurer. Though the Tomb Raider franchise was built on Lara’s status as a sex symbol, it appears that developers are slowly moving away from this stigma to create a more fully developed and feminist approved female videogame character. If this would have been possible without the franchise’s pre-existing success through the sexualization of their character, however, remains to be seen.
Lancaster, Kurt. “Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl. Or the Unending Media Desire for Models, Sex, and Fantasy.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, vol. 26, no. 3, 2004, pp. 87–97. www.jstor.org/stable/3246480.
Coinciding with the relaunch of the massively popular Tomb Raider franchise in 2013, the protagonist of the series, Lara Croft, was redesigned as well. Lara is one of the most famous women in videogame history, notable for her infamous bust … Continue reading →
Coinciding with the relaunch of the massively popular Tomb Raider franchise in 2013, the protagonist of the series, Lara Croft, was redesigned as well. Lara is one of the most famous women in videogame history, notable for her infamous bust line and barely-there outfits. Even though Lara is one of the first female action heroes, her choice of “lingerie as armor,” as Anita Sarkeesian refers to Lara’s wardrobe choices, is impractical and makes no sense for a woman rushing into battle.1
In her first appearances, Lara Croft showed quite a bit of skin and had extremely large breasts
It seems that Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix sought to create a more realistic and feminist Lara Croft in the relaunch of the series. In the game, the protagonist is in much more appropriate outfits. In Tomb Raider (2013), Lara is dressed in long cargo pants and a tank top, with a greatly augmented bust. Lara is also less sexualized by being covered in dirt. This decision makes sense in the narrative of the game as Lara encounters a shipwreck that lands her on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean.
For the 2013 relaunch of the series, Lara Croft was redesigned as a gritty, dirty, and clothed action heroine
While Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix would likely get commendation for their choice of Lara’s wardrobe in the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, I doubt Sarkeesian would be fully accepting of the game. In one of the earliest cutscenes in the game, Lara is immediately characterized by her sexuality, reminding the player of her desirability and attractiveness. Before the player gains the ability to have Lara shoot a handgun, a cutscene is presented that shows one of the island’s inhabitants finding a hidden Lara. Before Lara wrestles the gun out of the man’s hand, he strokes her side and then sniffs her hair in a distinctly sexual way.
Yes, in this scene Lara proves her ability by fighting off her would-be attacker, but that simple caress immediately clues the player in to Lara’s sexuality. While there is no violence in the scene, the implications of the caress are immediately understood. From the inclusion of this touch, Lara must be thought of by the player as a sexual object. An action hero, but still a sexual object. In this sense, the developers have taken a page from the book of the non-player sex object trope coined by Sarkeesian.2 Even though Lara is an action hero, dressed in a more appropriate garb in Tomb Raider, she is still sexualized by non-player characters. This in turn sexualizes Lara to the player in a distinctly anti-feminist way—through the threat of violence.
Lingerie Is Not Armor – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. By Anita Sarkeesian. Perf. Anita Sarkeesian. YouTube. Feminist Frequency, 6 June 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Women as Background Decoration (Part 1). By Anita Sarkeesian. Perf. Anita Sarkeesian. YouTube. Feminist Frequency, 16 June 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Lara Croft, the titular tomb raider in the infamous Tomb Raider series, is perhaps one of the most famous women in video game history. However, in the 2013 revamp of the series, Lara is not the gritty action hero that … Continue reading →
Lara Croft, the titular tomb raider in the infamous Tomb Raider series, is perhaps one of the most famous women in video game history. However, in the 2013 revamp of the series, Lara is not the gritty action hero that fans know and love. Tomb Raider focuses on Lara’s origins, namely Lara’s first expedition as an archaeologist, when she searches for the lost island of Yamatai. In her search for the island, Lara and her crew encounter a storm that shipwrecks them on a mysterious island. This shipwreck is what truly sets the game in motion. Stranded on an island inhabited by dangerous men, Lara has to develop the skills to survive.
The character quickly switches from a brainy archaeology student planning an expedition to a survivor. This desire for survival coincides with Lara developing skills and abilities to help her survive on the island, including combat skills to battle the dangerous locals. At this point in the game, Tomb Raider relies on a common trope used in action video games from The Legend of Zelda to Kingdom Hearts: as the protagonist advances through the story, they gain more experience which unlocks more skills and abilities that help them battle their way through the game.
Throughout Tomb Raider, Lara gains abilities, such as shooting a bow-and arrow, that advance her story.
Typically, this narrative decision increases the immersive nature of the game in which it is used. The protagonist gains more abilities as the player becomes more familiar with the game mechanics. New skills are acquired in a way that makes sense within the game world. This could be done by having the protagonist go through a tutorial where a character teaches the protagonist the skill, or could rely on pre-existing facts learned about the character. For example, in The Legend of Zelda series, it makes sense the Link gains more combat abilities as he advances through his quest—he’s the heroic knight of the tale.
In Tomb Raider, however, this decision really made me question the game’s logic, and actually pulled me out of my immersive playing experience. Lara is introduced as an archaeology student, yet in one of the game’s first missions, Lara salvages a bow-and-arrow from a corpse and uses it with ease. Lara also picks up a gun and is able to take out the island’s threatening inhabitants with the ease of an expert marksman. In reality, I have my doubts that an archaeology student would be so well-versed in combat techniques. Especially since there is no mention of Lara ever learning these skills. In the game, Lara simply picks up the weapons and is immediately an expert at them.
Lara (too) quickly transitions from an archaeology graduate into a seasoned killing machine
As Kline describes in Digital Play, video games originated as “the play of an overwhelmingly masculine world, centered around themes of abstract puzzle solving, exploration, sport, and centrally, war” (107). He lists activities that society generally associates with men, and thus, makes the playing of video games a masculine activity. Portal subverts the notion of…
As Kline describes in Digital Play, video games originated as “the play of an overwhelmingly masculine world, centered around themes of abstract puzzle solving, exploration, sport, and centrally, war” (107). He lists activities that society generally associates with men, and thus, makes the playing of video games a masculine activity. Portal subverts the notion of a gaming community meant for men by manipulating first-person identification.
In film, the viewer identifies with the camera and the perspective it shows, as though the camera itself acts as a character, that character being ourselves. Similarly, in video games that use a first-person perspective, the player identifies with the character they play. Since society takes video games as a male-dominated space, men generally assume companies make games for them, thus, in most first-person games, the player plays as a man. For examples, think Call of Duty and Bioshock. (I literally Googled “first person shooter male protagonist” and got a list of games that have female protagonists, which tells you how much male protagonists dominate the field.) Now, Portal complicates that identification by making the player-character, Chell, a woman. However, the player does not even see Chell throughout the game unless they go looking for her. Since the game lacks mirrors, the player must take advantage of the portals and fire them in such a way that they can look through one and see Chell. Otherwise, one could play through the entire game and not realize her identity, since there is no other indication of her gender. I think it likely came as quite a shock to male and female gamers alike that the character they were playing was, in fact, a woman.
The first-person perspective also prevents player’s from turning Chell, as a female character, into a sexual object. In third-person perspective games, while the player identifies with the player-character, there is a separation between them, as the player watches them, rather than seeing through their eyes. Hence, female characters from those types of games, like Lara Croft, often get objectified and sexualized. Objectifying or sexualizing Chell is incredibly difficult though, because the player is constantly seeing through her eyes. In order to sexualize her, the player must also, in a sense, sexualize themself. Additionally, Chell’s outfit prevents this sexualization because it covers most of her body, and makes her chest flat. It’s through the first-person viewpoint that Portal manages to subvert the first-person shooter genre, by removing the typical male protagonists.