Lara Croft Revamped: Hero or Victim?Maggie Jankuloska

The realm of videogaming has perpetually been a male dominated dimension. Apart from the vintage Princess Peach, Zelda and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, my mind is void of any other female protagonists, being a non-gamer. However, I do remember Lara Croft from my early teens. Tomb Raider was one game I actually did enjoy and play. Perhaps it was the adventures experienced through Lara Croft or Lara’s boldness that made it a game suitable for a girl.

We all remember Lara’s gravity defying cleavage and midriff which made her every geeky boy’s fantasy. But that’s not all she is – not hardly. Slowly she has evolved; she is no longer a caricature. The graphics and animation with the heavy use of motion-capture technology have helped Lara advance.

In March 2013, Lara Croft will be rebooted in a controversial new prequel. Gamers will learn of Lara’s past and the events that shape the heroine. Gone are her shorts, midriff and humongous breasts. However, the situation becomes murky when a young Lara is almost raped, on an island of ‘scavengers.’

The new reboot has aimed to delve into a darker territory, hence making Lara a complex, ‘real’ character. Tomb Raider producer Ron Rosenberg has commented on the latest installment, “In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer…she is literally turned into a cornered animal… she’s forced to fight back or die.”

Since the release of the trailer and following Rosenberg’s comments, many have criticised producers for turning a famous heroine into a victim. Jezebel.com have gone as far as to call the trailer ‘torture porn.’ Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher was quick to issue a statement, denying sexual assault as a theme but stating that the game contains a ‘threatening undertone.’

The prequel has been applauded for developing and reshaping and for being interactive.  Lara is definitely created as being more real physically and given a personality and voice. On one hand, people are stating that the reboot places an iconic character into a real life situation, such as assault. This experience appears to turn Lara into a fighter and survivor. However, does the prequel insinuate that a woman who is bold and brave like Lara must have a traumatic back-story? Does her confident demeanor and valour now become a façade to hide the newly discovered ‘real’ Lara – the victimized Lara?

Is she able to be the heroine she is without a history of male oppression? Or does her trauma form her into the no-nonsense warrior we all know? It makes people ask the ludicrous question: Does assault make her stronger? Does a hero or heroine need to be victimised in order to become a champion and persevere? Would a male protagonist require abuse in order to be believed?

Judging from the trailer, Lara has lost her spark and gutsy valour. Even prior to the ‘rape scene’, she is depicted as a victim, a weak girl out of her comfort zone. The raiding of tombs and sense of adventure are replaced by urgency for survival and ‘getting the hell out’. The revamping of a classic is nothing new and it suits an ageing demographic, who possibly demand grittier action.  In this process, has Lara lost her dynamic?

According to producer Rosenberg, gamers feel the need to ‘protect’ Lara since they ‘don’t really project themselves into the character.’ His comment appears to be aimed at male gamers, who are the larger demographic.  Hence, it makes us ponder if the new Lara is a damsel in distress, needing rescuing. Are male gamers uncomfortable with the old, daring Lara? With the game due to launch in 2013, does the new Lara portray a character that is more relateable to women? Does she symbolise triumph through adversity or is the latest strategy lazy story telling to cover-up for her confident, bad-ass nature?

I do admire the attempt to revolutionise her and the effort to demonstrate that she is human and able to arise from situations of violence. She is more than a girl with huge breasts and guns, although to many gamers she was always more than that. However, being a nostalgic, I miss the Lara Croft who discovered treasures and lost civilizations with guns blazing and an unapologetic female bravado.

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  1. While video games are a male dominated medium, I have to disagree with the “victim” discussion. Take the male example of Batman: His parents were murdered before his very eyes. He was a young boy with nothing to do and no shoulder to cry on in a dark and lonely world. He didn’t want to feel like a victim and he didn’t want anybody else to feel the pain he feels.

    This is a lot like Lara Croft.

    Every hero has some sort of motivation to push them into that heroic position, and with this new back-story, they’re simply telling the story as to why Croft does what she does. It wouldn’t make for much of a story if she simply loved to go on adventures, or something like that. Although, I do feel they could’ve given her a different traumatic experience besides the potential rape thing.

    But I do love this article and respect this stance on the situation as well.

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  3. I always wonder if we spend too much time trying to decide if we are offended by things. I feel like if you delve too much into anything, you could find something to complain about. I am a feminist. I will always do things my own way, demand equal treatment, and act according to my values. I find that analyzing video games is misplaced. If you want a different game to be made, go out and make it. Carve your own road, don’t complain about the ones someone else is making…because you don’t have to follow them.

  4. Even this idea of “protecting” is just the flip side of victimizing the female character. I don’t like a narrative that implies the default position for a woman is to be fearful of men, which is what this game is doing. It may be what many aspects of western culture reinforce – sometimes unwittingly – but is it necessary for a game to become a mirror for an ugly status quo in order to be called “realistic”, just so it can sell loads?

  5. I’m not a gamer , but the trailer made me wanna play the game, it looks very interesting!!
    to me it makes sense, traumatic events to model the person she will become in the future, I find it hard to buy someone direct interest in raiding tombs without a real reason behind it, and she being lost in island is pretty much the adventure finds her and she has to fight to survive, then I can understand she going into that again for new discoveries cos then she knows she is capable to survive and make from it her way of life!! sorry I don’t know much about Lara Croft other than the films, so I’m sticking to the part of story telling from what I saw int he trailer,what makes sense to me!!.

  6. Based solely on the trailer, I can’t really see a real victimisation of Lara. Is there something wrong with having moments in which you don’t think you can carry on? Is is weak to think that you can’t actually do anything anymore, that giving up would be easier. If anything, this trailer really does seem to show a glimpse of Lara becoming the strong woman we grew up with. People like that aren’t born that way, most protagonists have gone through something horrific to get to where they are. Yes, perhaps it would have been nicer to have her face something other than sexual assault, since that does seem quite lazy. But with that in mind, there’s so much other things she’s facing her than just that – and your comment about “The raiding of tombs and sense of adventure are replaced by urgency for survival and ‘getting the hell out’” I have to disagree with this, did you not watch the trailer? She’s just been shipwrecked on some random island, with no other sign of life, I challenge anyone, man or woman, to still go about that situation with the laid back coolness of Lara Croft in years gone by. It’s an entirely different scenario to anything she’s faced before. I for one can’t wait to see the vulnerable side of Lara Croft.

    Great article overall, it really posed some interesting questions.

  7. Interesting article! I don’t know if it’s because I am a female gamer, and therefore notice the presence of girls in video games more than most, but I can think of heaps of games with major female characters… The Longest Journey, Mirror’s Edge, Portal, Heavenly Sword, Metroid, heaps of JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts… I would still agree that games have more male than female protagonists, but just thought I’d mention that. As for the new Tomb Raider, I think I want to have a play of it before I decide what I think! :)