Tomb Raider: How the origin of a legend is headed in the wrong direction

I was 9 years old when I first met Lara Croft. Huddling around a TV with a group of my cousins, we watched in fascination as one of the eldest boys played the newly released Tomb Raider.

“Who’s that lady?” I asked one of them.

“Lara Croft,” The one playing replied. “Hey, watch this.” He stopped what he was doing to shift the camera down, then swoop in for a good look at Lara’s pixilated butt. I rolled my eyes. They all giggled.

I marveled at this new character, because unlike most every other game I had played or watched my cousins play, it was usually a male. Although I had been playing video games since before I could remember, already had I accepted the fact that games were geared toward a certain gender; not mine. This new phenomenon that was Lara Croft left quite the impression on me. Though I was not lacking strong female role models in real life, one had yet to come along in video games. It wasn’t long until I was dreaming of being a fearless explorer someday, just like Lara.

I want to be excited for the new Tomb Raider game, and when it comes down to it, I really am. However, some recent interviews and gameplay videos about the game have been making me hesitant. The one that has got me most nervous was from Ron Rosenberg, executive director of the game. In an article on Kotaku by Jason Schreier (found here), Rosenberg says that:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her'” (Schreier, 2012).

This is not what I want to hear about any character in a video game, regardless of gender. The need to protect someone means they aren’t strong enough to protect themselves, and it makes me wonder how much character development could take place with a character that needs protection. After years of associating Lara Croft as a strong woman, the last thing I want to do is watch her be reduced to a mere shell of the person she once was. Please, I thought when I read this, Please please PLEASE don’t do to Lara what they did to Samus.

An origins story shouldn’t be an incredibly tricky thing to do, but for some reason I feel like it’s becoming more complicated with Tomb Raider. After watching gameplay, the worry of protecting a helpless main character remained, but it was joined by a growing sense of  anxiety about what kind of path this origins story was going on. The gameplay was eight minutes of a nonstop nightmre, almost like the team sat down and brainstormed every possible terrible thing that could happen to a character, and decided to throw it all in a game. It was smotheringly depressing.

Call me a romanticist, but I believe a quality video game should be rich in story with a character that learns and grows, and gives you the opportunity to grow with them. A well rounded story is a good combination of trials as well as triumphs. I don’t want to play a character that helplessly flops around their environment while I pull them by the hand to make them go and do things. I want to play characters, be them female, male, or Hanar, who rise to the obstacles set before them with bravery, however hesitant at first, and with my help, conquer whatever lays in their path.

An example of the perfect blend of challenges and character development: my experience with Fallout 3. There is no coddling what so ever during that game, unless you pay for it. The Lone Wanderer either adapted, and quickly, or died in a horrible and nightmare-inducing way.

My first playthrough of Fallout 3, I was the opposite of hard ass. I was basically like a guinea pig scurrying around the Capitol Wasteland with longer legs and a Chinese pistol. The first mission post Vault extraction was for Moira, to scavenge the Super Duper mart for food and supplies. Sounded easy enough, until I entered the building only to see ominous shadows of human figures in the back of the store. I had almost made it to the other side of the store without them noticing when I accidentally knocked over a shopping cart, notifying every raider in the building of my presence. I was half dead, and crying by the time I stumbled back into Megaton, but I completed the mission. You can bet your bottom bottle cap I was tougher for it, and dark buildings full of raiders weren’t so scary anymore. Repeat similar situations like this a couple times with Super Mutants or Death Claws instead of raiders, and by the end of Fallout 3, nothing scared me.

This is the kind of character growth I hope to see in Tomb Raider. I hope there are situations where Lara is so terrified, she can hardly move, but with your help she does, and she might get her ass kicked, but her kicked ass gets stronger. I think it would be so awesome if at the start of the game, she stands slightly hunched and bent out of fear, but by the end of the game she stands tall with perfect posture and her head held high. By the end of Tomb Raider, I hope her attitude is an exact replica of the Lara I met in 1996.

Tomb Raider is set to drop the 5th of March, 2013, and I will be there, creeping out other people in line so there will be a shorter wait and I can get my game faster. Like the adventures we’ve had together in the past, I look forward to taking on this new one with Lara. Not fighting her battles for her, but side by side, just as we’ve always been.

Reference: 

Schreier, J. (2012, June 11). You’ll ‘want to protect’ the new, less curvy lara croft. Kotaku. Retrieved from http://kotaku.com/5917400/youll-want-to-protect-the-new-less-curvy-lara-croft.

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About Janessa Olson

I like dogs, cake, archaeology, and preparing for the imminent robot uprising.

4 responses to “Tomb Raider: How the origin of a legend is headed in the wrong direction”

  1. wallcat says :

    Good article! I wrote up some of my own opinions on this (http://wallcatgames.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/overly-sexualised-female-characters-in-video-games/). I personally find the idea of watching Lara Croft (someone I once admired for their toughness and attitude) being reduced to a weak character that needs protecting quite off putting. I hate the whole protect the female character thing, it’s getting old. I hope that she does go through a character arc because otherwise I’m going to feel a little disillusioned by her. I will still buy it either way. I’ve been a Tomb Raider fan from the very beginning and own every single game and so it’ll feel wrong not to. People need to understand however, that Lara Croft has actually been appealing to female gamers as well as male gamers.

    • Janessa Olson says :

      Thank you for the feedback, and for reading.

      I honestly don’t think the developers meant to go down the path of reducing Lara’s character, and it sounds like you don’t think that, either. I suppose it just bothers me that no male characters in video games that I can think of show vulnerability, or need protection. To associate these this one of the strongest female video game characters leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m all for times of vulnerability and struggle and in turn seeing the growth that comes from that, but I don’t want that vulnerability to define new Lara.

  2. Sean says :

    Honestly, I don’t see the problem. Course, I never played the first few tomb raiders (off put as I was by the oversexualized nature of the character – I simply cannot take a woman seriously if they tote dual pistols and their belly button is showing because of an over-revealing shirt, can’t do it).

    I think this new tomb raider has the potential to shuck an aging and decrepit design model in favor of a character that actually does grow, instead of stagnate at the top of the Girls with Guns list, lacking more detailed descriptors beyond Sarcastic and Confident.

    I think she has the potential to be more Alyx Vance than, well, Tomb Raider.

    If people don’t like the concept of such a drastic departure fine, I can completely understand that. But seeing as how I never liked the old Lara, this new Lara has me extremely interested.

    • Janessa Olson says :

      Thanks for the feedback, Sean.

      New Lara also has me super interested, and I do look forward to what the final product is. What I was trying to get across was, I don’t want to have to protect a video game character. Something I wonder now that I didn’t talk about it; does it bother me that people want to protect her, or does it bother me because nobody ever associates the need to protect or vulnerability with male video game characters? Maybe it’s more the latter now.

      I posted this on Reddit for criticism and feedback from the internet, and one user named Aspel made the excellent point that “Lara Croft before now could never truly be brave because bravery is facing your fears and she never had any.” This was not something I took into consideration, and I think it was because I was too busy attaching to this rare female video game character who could hold her own to examine the fact that her minimal story line at the time left gaping holes in her own personality.

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