Many people enjoy jumping on the hate train when discussing Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. They often cite her as a bad influence because of her sex appeal. However, in 1996, despite the rumors of nude codes, the seductive photos, and the legitimate claims that some of the marketing for the following Tomb Raider games was sexist, Lara Croft was an extremely positive influence on me. At ten years old, Tomb Raider on the PlayStation showed me how women could do everything a man could do.
The positive influence Tomb Raider had on me was subtle. At the time, I didn’t realize how underrepresented women were as major characters in the media I consumed (I was a kid, what do you expect?). Darkwing Duck, C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, The Tick, and Batman: The Animated Series were all awesome, but they usually didn’t feature a female protagonist in the same position as the male ones (which does not make them bad shows. As I said, they were awesome). Gadget from Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers and Trini and Kimberly from The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers were positive influences, but both of those shows featured an ensemble cast. The Tick could sometimes solve a problem without Arthur or another hero, and Batman often did everything alone. However, the casts of Rescue Rangers and Power Rangers required the team to get anything done. Lara Croft could do it all by herself.
But Lara was different from so many ladies in pop culture. Lara was resourceful, intelligent, strong, clever, independent, and a total badass. She showed me that brute strength does not always prevail. She showed me shooting down a T-Rex with two pistols was possible with critical and tactical thinking rather than pure, overwhelming firepower. She showed me that I could defeat the toughest foes by outthinking and outmaneuvering them (and then shooting them with dual Uzis). She is the reason I think dual-wielding pistols is a legitimate strategy. Her existence showed me that the saying “women can do just as much as men” wasn’t just something my parents told me. Without getting preachy or even saying a single word on the subject, Tomb Raider showed me that anyone could be a hero, and that everyone is equal.
Did I understand it then? Hell no. I was a child. However, I remember thinking that if she could do it, anyone could. A non-white protagonist? Yes. A lady protagonist? Absolutely. Lara confirmed that the hero in a story didn’t need to look like me for me to relate to them or to like them, and their looks or gender didn’t define them or give them specific limitations. Maybe I was reading more into Lara Croft than the creators originally intended, but either way, it was a positive influence.
Was Lara attractive in Tomb Raider? Yes, but she didn’t use her sexuality to gain an advantage. It never directly gave her an advantage or a disadvantage, and I don’t remember a moment in the game where it actually came up. She simply looked the way she did and lived her life the way she wanted. Shorts, boots, and a blue tank top all seemed like fine wardrobe choices for what the PlayStation could render, and its iconic design made her stand out among the other protagonists of the time.
Unfortunately, after Tomb Raider’s massive success, marketing started pushing Lara’s sexiness to sell future games. She was flagged as a sex icon, despite the fact that she was so much more than a pair of pyramid-shaped tits and a collection of rectangles that was intended to resemble a British lady. Even now, so much of the focus on Lara is about what she’s done to hurt women over the years rather than what she did when she burst onto the scene pistols blazing. It’s a shame, because if you’ve read everything before this, you know she’s a lot more than just her looks.
I’m not sure if anyone shares my views on Lara Croft, but even if I stand alone, I am a better person because of that experience. Tomb Raider is a fantastic game (I’ve gushed about it before, and I probably will again in the future), and Lara’s positive influence on me made it even better. When I see a Lara Croft cosplayer or when someone mentions the game, I don’t simply think about how fun the game is. I think about all the good things I mentioned. While there are so many people set on only pointing out the negative effects video games and their characters have on people, you should know that it’s not all doom, gloom, and sexism.
@RexiconJesse (Twitter and Instagram)