Since Tomb Raider’s debut in 1996, the game’s hero, Lara Croft, has been most every adolescent boy’s dream and every grown woman’s nightmare.
Despite her bad-ass moves, Lara’s body—most notably a pair of laughably enormous breasts—has always been overtly objectified and sexualized. But in the most recent iteration of the Tomb Raider franchise, Tomb Raider: Survivor (released March 6th), Lara is realistically proportioned and actually wearing pants.
Tomb Raider: Survivor got off to a rocky start within the gaming community last summer, after the game’s executive producer, Ron Rosenberg, let slip that Lara is “almost” raped and “literally turned into a cornered animal” in one scene.
Tomb Raider fans were outraged that the formerly totally capable Lara Croft would be in a situation where she could be raped, and Rosenberg quickly retracted the statement. Perhaps as a result, the scene in question turned out to be very tame.
Yet the debate remained over whether the old Lara, fully capable despite her proportions, was more empowering than the new, more human Lara.
After playing the game, I chose the latter.
Just because a woman is portrayed as a capable fighter doesn’t mean she is empowered. Even if the old Lara could shoot a T-Rex, her actions and movements were totally ridiculous. The new Lara hurls herself at ledges, runs through crumbling wreckage, and yes, almost gets sexually assaulted. She asserts that a woman can believably be a total bad-ass and also wear a bra.
Yet something was still not sitting entirely well with me when I played this game. In his statement, Rosenberg went on to say, “When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character, they’re more like ‘I want to protect her’… you’re kind of like her helper… when you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”
The idea of the player as Lara’s “helper” is apparent in the gameplay, which is entirely third person. There are cutscenes constantly, intermixed with the actual gameplay, meaning the player often loses control of Lara and must watch her finish out a scene.
What this indicates is that despite the fact that 47% of gamers are female, Tomb Raider: Survivor is, and most games are, still made for males.
Apparently, the developers thought that since the new Lara is vulnerable like a real human, the male player has to feel like he is helping her, otherwise the game wouldn’t be fun.
Aside from the fact that many men play as female characters in games, what about the women who play this game? It seems natural that a female player would identify with Lara. I certainly did, and while the cutscenes didn’t ruin the game for me, I found myself wishing there were less of them. I wanted to be Lara more than I wanted to help her.
What’s also ironic about the fact that the game is geared toward men is that story-wise, it’s all about the females. Aside from Lara, there are three other notable women present, and they are the ultimately the central figures of the game. Nearly every other male is killed, except for one companion.
All in all, this game has too much girl power to be geared towards men. Thankfully, the video game industry is moving in a good direction with the reinvention of Lara Croft, and maybe the next Tomb Raider game will feature Lara as a real, full-fledged hero that any player, male or female, can identify with.
Sarah Hansel is a 23-year-old human female. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in Women and Gender Studies from UC Davis. In her free time she likes to read, play video games, draw, and garden.