Reclaiming Lara Croft

Reclaiming Lara

Okay, so this blog post is liable to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: “old” Lara Croft (Old Lara) as a character was better in many ways than “new” Lara Croft (new Lara).  Old Lara Croft was portrayed as a “sex symbol” by the media of the late 90s & early 2000s in order to understand this new female character representation in gaming that had traditionally been infused with male characters and male sensibilities.  Old Lara was a breaking of the stereotype, but paradoxically a part of the stereotype in that it was her gender and sexuality (unrealistic proportions) that marked her as an unrealistic construct.  New Lara is meant to counter this: a realistic representation of a feminine body type and a new, more “realistic” backstory.  However, as both old and new film adaptations have shown, people (including the team at Crystal Dynamics currently tasked with developing new games) don’t really “get” Lara Croft and what makes her tick.

Mind Over Matter

Lara Croft is brilliant and I don’t mean that in the “great” sense of the word.  No, I mean it literally.  She is brilliant and much like another British-created character, Doctor Who, she is the “smartest person in the room.”  The Doctor works because he is a “madman in a box” while Lara Croft never was given that one sentence that summed up her character.  For me, Lara Croft is a “raider of Tombs.”  This is where so many representations of her go wrong–they neglect to give her a reason for her to raid tombs (a why is she doing this/why does it matter).  Tomb Raider 2 (from Core) and Tomb Raider Legend (Crystal Dynamics) are the purest expressions of why does what she does and what is at stake if she fails in her quest.

Some might argue that the new games (the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider), the subsequent sequels, and the newest movie (sans Angelina Jolie) depict a better “version” of Lara, but I argue that’s not true.  Lara, who is emotionally blasted from killing a deer in the 2013 reboot, is not much different than stereotypical representations of females of the past.

Puzzles, Traps, Solutions

Everyone keeps making the same mistake of comparing Lara Croft with Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones movies) or Nathan Drake (Uncharted video game series), when her true comparison is Doctor Who. In every room, Lara is (as is the player through the extension of agency) looking for the “exit” or the solution to the puzzle, trap, or what have you. Once located, it becomes a “game” to figure out how to get Lara from point A to that exit.  However, you (the player) and Lara (the character) go into the situation believing and expecting that there is ALWAYS an exit and always a SOLUTION to the problem, so long as you can reason it out.  This is exactly the same characterization used to describe The Doctor: “he always wins because he always assumes he’s going to win”  (paraphrased from Series 9, Episode 2, “The Witch’s Familiar”).  Lara goes into any situation knowing there’s a solution, she just has to find it. Again, she’s smartest person in the room–no matter her physique.  Now we just need for Hollywood to discover this fact and for Crystal Dynamics to rediscover Lara as an actual “Tomb Raider” instead of just relying on it as a “brand name” used to market and sell games in the “franchise.”

Sidney



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