Is Lara Croft a good role model?

19Jun12

Following the controversy surrounding the attempted rape scene that is to feature in the latest Tomb Raider game, I felt inspired to write my own little piece on Lara Croft as a role mode for young girls.

As my parents likely remember, Tomb Raider 2 was the first game I owned on the PC at the tender age of 11. And boy, did I love that game. It was thrilling, exciting, atmospheric and just plain fun. I gave her feminist credentials little thought at the time, but now I wonder how positive a role model Lara really was for me.

Lara as a positive role model

Even at 11 years old, I was fiercely aware of how few female characters featured in games, particularly as playable characters. In fantasy games, women were healers and magicians, in fighting games they were weak but ‘nimble’, while in many other genres they were simply side characters.

So here I was, presented with the curvaceous, beautiful, achingly well-spoken, terrifyingly athletic Lara Croft as the main protagonist in an action adventure game! Typically a genre dominated by hyper-masculine characters, I was excited to be able to play as a woman for once.

Lara is introduced to us a super-rich heiress with endless funds with which to fund her adventures and expeditions. I’m not sure how much that devalues her ‘independent woman’ status, but I’m willing to overlook it. Within minutes of the first level, we also discover that, provided the terrain she’s faced with is perfectly flat, she can overcome physical feats the likes most ‘real’ humans could only dream of. In fact, she can handstand, swan dive and shimmy her way through the world’s most challenging landscapes without so much as breaking a sweat.

And what else? She’s awesome with a gun. And not just pansy pistols, but massive guns including M16s and grenade launchers. Even more impressive, she carries her entire arsenal in this backpack.

Lara Croft wearing a back pack

So to sum up – she’s witty, eloquent, smart, physically capable, exceptionally talented with a range of guns and vehicles, and can take out 2 T-rexs on her own. As a young girl, what’s not to admire about Lara Croft?

Lara croft and her bad points

Lara Croft is physically improbable. Her breasts are enormous, her waist is tiny and, with a pony tail that long, her split ends should be atrocious. Her proportions are so unlikely that even an 11 year old me had to ask how many of her physical feats were technically possible. Sufficed to say, I don’t think Lara has a body image that should be aspired to. Which brings us to the question, why did the developers make her that way?

Lara Croft was coded largely by men, for men (and women to a degree). It can’t be ignored that the large proportion of gamers at that time were men, and one can only assume that Lara’s sexualisation was driven by a need to cater to that audience. But is her physical representation so out of kilter with the real world, including her unlikely measurements, her sexy hip-swing when she walks and the sexual ‘grunts’ she makes when she’s physically damaged, that her physical-self becomes a sort of parody? I’d like to think so, but I think that may just be a side effect. Maybe those elements are what helped me to side-step that particular ‘diminishing’ effect on her character.

Why I forgive Lara her foibles

So, visually, I don’t believe that Lara represents a good role model for girls or women. But the game’s sympathetic treatment of Lara as our lead character and their slightly parodist treatment of her physicality helps me to think more positively towards Lara as a feminist role model.

After all, the viewpoint of the game is such that Lara never looks us in the eye. It does not allow her to be sexualised to a point where there’s an impression of ‘control’ or ‘domination’ that supersedes her own strength and independence as a character. She never gets naked, she never engages in romantic relationships with others and ultimately, she is a positive, female lead.

I’m not going to engage in any debate about Lara Croft in the movies at this point, as I feel a lot of these ideas are ‘broken’ with negative results (despite being a HUGE Angeline Jolie fan). I also won’t discuss the desexualisation of Lara’s physique in the latest incarnation of the Tomb Raider series (a prequel to all the games so far), nor the supposed ‘character building’ aspect of her attempted rape in said game as these are entirely different arguments.

I’m always open to alternative ‘readings’, so please point out any positive or negative aspects of Lara’s characterisation is the Tomb Raider series that may support or go against my conclusion! But for now, I leave you with this:



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