Lara Croft Revamped: Hero or Victim?

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. 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.