Is Lara Croft Sexist?
This year’s Tomb Raider Underworld will be the ninth proper home console installment of Lara Croft’s never-ending quest for booty. The buxom heroine first debuted in the original 1996 Tomb Raider, with developer Core and publisher Eidos drawing back the curtains on what would become a pop culture phenomenon that transcends gaming.
But Lara Croft is an interesting duality: on one hand she has served as a symbol of female empowerment–a strong, smart, sexy woman whose dual-wielding is worthy of a John Woo flick. On the other hand, Lara and her exaggerated womanly proportions have been viewed by some as an objectification of women–an easy way to exploit the raging hormones of the young, videogame-buying male demographic.
The question of whether or not Lara is sexy or just plain sexist is not such a cut and dry issue. With Eidos’ introduction of a new living, breathing (gymnast) Lara Croft model, we asked women of the games industry about Lara’s evolving role as the iconic front-woman of the hit Tomb Raider franchise.
Tracy Whitelaw, PR rep for LesbianGamers.com tells Edge, "…She’s a dichotomy in our opinion. Lara was primarily viewed as an idealized female gaming character with an unattainable body. Her body shape is completely unrealistic and there’s no doubt that her appeal to male gamers and the way this feeds into the male gaze is a dominant factor in her worldwide success and subsequent status as a cultural icon."
She continues, "However, and this is where we disagree with many feminists, what Lara did for women in gaming is provide great strides forward in including female characters as the playable character in videogames. Yes, we’re still looking for more strong females in games, but without doubt there is an improvement in this area, no matter how slowly it moves, and Lara Croft and her success are responsible in part for this."
But Whitelaw concedes, "Sex sells as we all know and having a hot Lara Croft model for guys to have their photo taken with or to drool over is simply a sad fact of life. It’s not empowering to women, it’s demeaning if anything, but it’s a fact. At least having a skilled model who can pull off some of what Lara puts out there is a step towards seeing her as not just eye candy, but as a capable, strong role model for young girls."
Some industry women feel that the live model "Laras" don’t always stay true to the original essence of the videogame character.
Fiona Cherbak, VP of marketing for GameRecruiter and chair of the IGDA Women in Games Special Interest Group, calls Lara "gutsy, clever, physically adept and well-trained in weaponry and martial arts, and endlessly confident."
"What woman (or man, for that matter) wouldn’t want to be this character in real life?"
But she adds, "In terms of using a ‘live’ model who plays Lara Croft in real life, it becomes a sketchier proposition, since an actress is being utilized as a marketing device. How the marketing team chooses to represent her to their consumer audience determines whether they will stick to portraying Lara as the character that has been developed in the game, or if they will pander to more sexualized or limiting concepts that may alienate various players. Ideally, they will follow the established Hollywood model of ensuring that your live model is perpetually ‘in character’ and does not ever break from the known in-game protocols for that character, including costume, behaviors, and speech.”