Lara Croft: The role of female characters in games
In 1996 gamers were first introduced to Lara Croft with the first Tomb Raider game. As the franchise has grown the question remains as to whether or not Lara is actually a strong female character in gaming. Some people would argue that by simply putting her as the main character in the game that it was enough. Others like myself would argue that Lara was a completely forgettable character that only survived based on how she looked. That it’s simply not enough to say, “Hey this hot girl is the main character, we’ve created a strong woman for you to play”.
The argument could be made that in fairness a lot of characters that came out in that time frame were not exactly complex, so Lara being flat in 1996 doesn’t really have anything to do with her being a woman but rather just all the characters being limited. However, Tomb Raider is hardly a limited series, and has been running for years. As the technology has changed though Lara’s personality has not. The only major changes to Lara has been solely focused on making sure Lara is always pleasing to look at. While Lara Croft is not the worst example of a strong female character she was definitely not the best.
When the series changed hands to Square Enix who announced that they wanted to reboot the hero it seemed like people could see an honest change in Lara. The question remains though if they succeeded in making Lara Croft more than just a pretty face? In my humble opinion I have to say yes. The new Lara Croft really stood out to me as something special and a very strong woman, that as a female gamer I am excited to get to play again. Checkout my review of the new Tomb Raider game from Square Enix
I think a very important and distinct difference with Lara is not that she started the game strong, but rather that she developed throughout the game. When dealing with fiction and the story of a hero most people find themselves connected to those heroes that face trials and tribulations, and develop and grow as they go through their journey. Old Lara Croft was a hero already so as she faced the adventures in her games she didn’t really develop or change much, instead she was just any replaceable person that you controlled through the game.
In this game Lara is far from a hero at the start of her game. She lacks confidence and depends on the other crew members; especially her male counter parts to help her. In one segment the gamer views her unable to fight for her own career even. She knows where they should go next but people won’t listen to her, and other people on the ship have to back her up and even demand that they listen to her. When actually on the island and Lara is first able to make contact with Roth (the character she depends on the most) Lara actually asks him to leave his post in order to come rescue her. Once he says that he can’t, Lara finally agrees to move forward on her own, but then needs to keep him constantly on the radio as a lifeline driving her forward. It’s not really annoying because given the things that Lara has already seen it’s understandable that she is so afraid. What it does manage to do though is show that Lara is no where near the strong character she is going to have to be in order to truly be considered the “hero” of this story. It’s her dependence on the others around her that gives her a real chance to develop and change, and makes her more believable.
As Lara’s story progresses she experiences loss, heartbreak, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility for bringing the crew to this island. It’s this sense of guilt that first starts to drive her and change her. When she finally starts striking out on her own it’s because of the guilt that she feels. She ignores Roth’s direct wishes and wants to push forward on her own in order to try to rescue others. This is not when Lara finishes developing, but rather another realistic stage. She goes from weaker and relying on others to acknowledging that she has caused this mess and must at least attempt to save those around her. While Roth is still a guiding voice that she keeps near it’s clear that the island is starting to change her.
Later Lara suffers a rather large loss, but in the process also learns something about the island that the other survivors are not ready to accept. This marks the final and largest change in Lara Croft. She no longer can depend on other people because she knows that they are on the wrong path but that they also won’t believe her. Lara is forced to really depend on herself for the first time. She has to learn to trust her own instincts and rely on her inner strength not just to save herself but save her friends as well. She is also forced to face the fact that she may have to betray the other survivors in order to assure her own survival because if they don’t listen to her she is not going to allow them to kill them all. It’s at this point that gamers can truly see Lara as a hero. She no longer depends on the radio as a life line to those that can drive her to be better. She no longer has anyone to rescue her for her to depend on coming to her aid. And most importantly she has to not only face the responsibility of bringing everyone to the island but also getting them off the island.
By the end Lara doesn’t follow orders, but gives them. She doesn’t doubt what she is experiencing, but relies heavily on her instincts and smarts. She doesn’t need to be driven to take risks, she is instead driving herself and pushing herself further than anyone else ever had. Lara goes from a slightly insecure archaeologist to a full fledged hero that is ready to face any challenge. She also knows though that becoming this hero is a direct result of the island breaking her. Instead of accepting that though she wants to continue to drive herself further and see what else she can discover.
Lara Croft may still be an attractive lead female that is pleasing to look at, but she is no longer forgettable or replaceable. She has an incredibly distinct personality with an interesting back-story to explain why Lara is the way she is. Also instead of just being some girl in a game she is a character that I feel I can connect to and am glad to have someone like her to play. As a female gamer I am very excited to follow Lara’s development in her new rebooted series.