Laura Croft – A reboot in video game culture?

So, let’s be real. I love video games. Like a whole lot. A shitload, you could even say. I started with the Nintendo 64, and have owned every system that’s come out since. Playing video games competitively and for fun has been a HUGE part of my life, and has been making an impact since I first picked up a controller. So…. Why does this matter in a Feminist blog, you might ask? Well, I’m here to tell you the truth, I just picked up the new Tomb Raider game.

As you may know (if you’ve ever played any of the games, or seen the movies) the main character is Laura Croft, an adventurer archaeologist who loves looking for hidden treasure and has a knack for getting into trouble. However, when the first Tomb Raider game dropped in 1996, Laura was basically a hypersexualized and over the top femme who just kinda jumped around and shot off her duel pistols. While it was fun, it was pretty clear she was literally built out of a 13 year old boy’s wet dream. Yeah sorry, that’s kinda gross.

Well the newest game, which came out last year, totally reboots Laura as a character, and the style of the game overall. What was once pushing around boxes and jumping over ledges has turned into a gritty survival game where Laura has to deal with brutal injuries, kidnappers/killers/hostile locals and straight up life or death moments. It really puts you into a situation of immediacy, making you feel part of the game. Along with the gameplay, Laura’s model really changes from some perverted fantasy to a more athletic and realistic character who kicks ass and takes names.

The problem I have is this though… from an overly masculine perspective there’s been a lot of talk about whether the gamer actually plays “as Laura” or “as Laura’s protector.” Like I said, when the game first came out in ’96 a majority of gamers were male- which meant in a dominant market the game designers didn’t really cause any uproar. But people were almost treating this female character as a “toy” they could control with their hands (read: creepy). Now that almost half of the gaming population is female- does Laura give girl gamers someone to relate to? Is she a hero that gives us the ability to see ourselves as? Or is she just another recreation of a fantasy for male gamers? The game developers even added an “almost” rape scene in the game… just for the sake of it. And when they were asked why, they claimed that if they didn’t the male audience wouldn’t be able to relate as much with a female protagonist if some sort of sexuality wasn’t involved. That’s pretty disgusting.

So I guess when it boils down to it…. I’m asking myself- is Tomb Raider the problem? Is Laura’s image the problem? Or is it the gaming community and construction the problem- as in, are all video games perpetuating both power hierarchies and masculine ideologies?

Image Courtesy of The Tomb Raider Forums.

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