We like lists, we like heroes and we like games. In some sort of heinous effort to combine all three we’re launching this little series celebrating the greatest gaming protagonists of all time (according to us, who are never wrong). We’re starting with an international icon and one of the most recognisable characters in gaming, Ms. Lara Croft. It’s relevant too, you see, as the demo for the next Tomb Raider instalment: Tomb Raider: Underworld has just been released, and can be found here.
Let’s deal with the obvious point first. There were no doubt many young men, at the time, who claimed to be lusting after Lara Croft’s hilariously polygonal form (see image below). In truth there’s only so much attraction a man can have for a poorly textured pair of angular pyramids, so there’s a bit of a mystery to Lara’s iconic status. Claims of Lara’s attractiveness have most likely stemmed from insecure pubescent males trying to prove their heterosexuality to their peers, but, to put a more dramatic spin on it and to be a little less harsh, one might depict Lara’s success as a mass celebration of the fact that gaming had its own sex icon, a frontpeice for gaming’s interactions with mainstream popular culture. In hindsight of course it’s a shame (but no great surprise) to think that of all the great things that games can offer, the breakthrough was a great big pair of tits. It’s a language that popular culture understands well. The objectification of the male and female form is now done so casually and habitually that these images are have become branded on our collective psyche. Gaming was eager to join in, and took the most effective route.
With Lara Croft on one hand and GTA on the other, gaming loudly announced its growth from cheerful naive childhood with its primary colours and 8 bit sprites, to spotty, clumsy adolescence. Sensitive, well crafted narratives were not on the agenda. Sensationalism, ‘accurate’ breast physics and kaleidoscopic spatterings of blood were the big new selling points. First impressions are important, and from a mainstream perspective games have only just started to shake the assumptions generated by its shock and awe appearance on the scene. Lara Croft was a significant part of all that.
It’s unfortunate then, that this overshadows everything that was great about Lara.
First there’s the stern, upper middle class British accent, the fact that she lives in a mansion, owns and has expertise in a number of vehicles and weapons, is extremely well educated and in possession of a dry wit sharp enough to cut down the burliest of foes. She’s James Bond except instead of cheesy one liners and a booze habit she gets 2 pistols, some round reflectives and an urge to kick ass and defy natural conservation laws wherever they may be found. Add in the globe trotting and the magical ancient relics and you’ve got Indiana Jones too. It’s a winning combination which is nothing short of genius. Throw in a smattering of back story, a broken childhood and a mysterious father figure and you’ve got the whole package. A proper heroine through and through.