There is no doubt that Lara Croft is one of the most iconic gaming characters of all time, while the Tomb Raider franchise is one of the most iconic gaming series. However, the portrayal and development of Croft’s character has frequently provoked debate. This was partly because of Croft’s pioneering nature, with the character introduced in 1996 at a time when female gaming leads were virtually non-existent.
This ensured that Croft inevitably attracted a greater level of scrutiny than would have been afforded for another cookie-cutter male lead. Unfortunately, this scrutiny often took the form of lewd objectification. That immature response may have discouraged developers from producing more games with female leads, with a depressingly low proportion of modern games featuring women in the main roles. Despite first arriving on consoles over two decades ago, Croft is still the most significant female gaming character in 2019.
The Tomb Raider franchise remains alive and well, with 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider the twelfth installment in the series. Croft has also made the leap into other genres of gaming, with the site Genesis Casino hosting two slots inspired by the series, Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider – Secrets of the Sword. Few characters can carry gaming franchises across different genres, in this case action and slots, but Croft’s popularity makes it possible.
That popularity also saw Croft becoming the star of a string of movies, with Angelina Jolie playing the titular role in a pair of films in the early 2000s. Alicia Vikander then took on the mantle in 2018’s Tomb Raider. Croft also became the star of animated cartoon series Revisioned: Tomb Raider, with Minnie Driver on voice duties. Her marketability in games, movies and television is testament to the global appeal of Lara Croft.
However, it is impossible to shake the idea that this appeal has been generated for all of the wrong reasons. Jess Joho summarizes it most adroitly in her Mashable review of 2018’s Tomb Raider movie. Joho observes how Croft was created by a man and developed “for the consumption of a presumed male audience”. A look back at the Tomb Raider games, especially the earliest releases, gives Joho’s argument particular poignancy.
What made Croft’s character so startling in the very different world of 1996 was that she displayed a number of characteristics that were largely (and wrongly) considered to be masculine. A common description of Croft was as a ‘female Indiana Jones’, which was no surprise given the dearth of adventurous archaeologists in popular culture.
Nevertheless, this demonstrates how Croft had to fight against comparisons with a male character from her very inception. Fortunately, Croft had more than enough skills to capture the imaginations of those simply looking for a thrilling action game. Her wit, her technological skills and her stoicism in the face of danger makes Croft the kind of character that is the perfect leading woman for an action gaming series.
That should be, and have always been, the central thrust behind the Tomb Raider series. Instead, divisive decisions over Croft’s appearance dominated the discussion surrounding each game’s release. There are signs that this is beginning to change, with movies playing their part. 2018’s Tomb Raider provided the most nuanced and realistic portrayal of the character in any form, no doubt a product of Geneva Robertson-Dworet’s screenwriting capabilities.
Even then, it is difficult for the character of Lara Croft to fully shake the arguments that have plagued her past. While Croft is undeniably one of the most successful gaming characters of all time, the question about whether the ends justify the means simply won’t go away.
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