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Crossing Over: Tomb Raider 1-3
August 14, 2012 | Justin Ancheta

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The Tomb Raider menu screen.
Game: Tomb Raider
Release Date (Windows): November 14, 1996 (MS-DOS)
Release Date (Mac OS): March 1999 (Tomb Raider Gold)
CrossOver Profile: n/a
WineHQ AppDB entry: n/a
IMG Review: Read Here (Trilogy Release)
Test Platform: MacBook (Mid-2007/Late-2006; GMA 950, 10.6.8, CX 11.03)
Price: $9.99 (Bundle with Tomb Raider 2 and 3)

Game: Tomb Raider II: The Dagger of Xian
Release Date (Windows): November 24, 1997
Release Date (Mac OS): April 2, 1998
CrossOver Profile: Read Here
WineHQ AppDB entry: Read Here
IMG Review: Read Here (Trilogy Release)
Test Platform: MacBook (Mid-2007/Late-2006; GMA 950, 10.6.8, CX 11.03)
Price: $9.99 (Bundle with Tomb Raider 1 and 3)

Game: Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft
Release Date (Windows): November 12, 1998
Release Date (Mac OS): October 19, 1999
CrossOver Profile: Read Here
WineHQ AppDB entry: Read Here
IMG Review: Read Here (Trilogy Release)
Test Platform: MacBook (Mid-2007/Late-2006; GMA 950, 10.6.8, CX 11.03)
Price: $9.99 (Bundle with Tomb Raider 1 and 2)

"Welcome to my humble abode..."

I think it's worth getting a few things out of the way first before we talk about these three games.

  1. The protagonist of this series is a young woman.
  2. This series were originally available on the Mac a long, long time ago.
  3. The series can be purchased on GOG, for a very good price, and is eminently playable on modern Intel-based Macs through CrossOver or WINE.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about the most controversial female characters in video gaming, or at least, one of the most controversial characters in video gaming as a whole.

"Don't you think you've seen enough?"

Few game characters have generated as much controversy and discussion as Lara Croft. With all of the talk surrounding what she represents for both women and men in gaming and the popular media, Lara is one of the few characters in video games that arguably entered the mainstream consciousness almost purely on the strength of the controversy that she generated. Compared to characters like Mario, Sonic, or Link, Lara's fame arose not because of who she was, but because of what others thought of her, or perhaps, what others projected on to her. Beneath the surface image of a globe-trotting young female treasure hunter was almost an empty vessel, into to which the player could pour whatever notion of her personality that he or she carried going into the game. Like the central character of Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace, the nature of who Lara really was, almost entirely depended on the viewpoint of whoever was examining her. Was she little more than a gamer's wet dream, a subject of masturbatory fantasy intended to sell more copies of games to an increasingly jaded generation of gamers? (The desktop picture of Lara posing seductively in a white I and II, not-so-subtly showing off Lara's best assets. If it weren't for the fact that her generous bosom was a product of an accident while "making test adjustments to her girlish figure", one would have perhaps thought that it was the offspring of clever marketing and an appeal to the more baser instincts of Lara's audience.

On the other hand, was Lara actually the symbol of the exact opposite? Lara is a young woman who knows what she wants, and isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to get it. She doesn't let anyone, women - or especially men - get in her way. From the cleverly designed tutorial levels across the first three games in the Tomb Raider franchise, we get a sense that she, in fact, doesn't have to do any of this at all. She could have simply settled down into the comfortable gentility of the life of a young British noblewoman. Instead she chose a radically different path. She chose to have an extensive assault course built on the grounds of her mansion, where anyone else in her place would have had the good sense to put in a nice English country garden, while her ballroom was converted into an indoor gym. She chose to study ancient history instead of manners and etiquette. She's more at home in dank caves encrusted with moss and algae than a fashionably decorated parlor. She'll face down menacing tigers, rampaging Tyrannosaurs, angry Egyptian gods, and heavily armoured soldiers with nothing more than a shirt, shorts, and a pair of pistols, all without breaking a sweat. That she had the courage and strength to become what she is in the Tomb Raider games (getting by with her wits and her abilities, instead of her sexuality) was surely proof positive of Lara's significance as a symbol for female empowerment, a woman who was not afraid to venture boldly into that territory of the imagination ruled and defined by testosterone-fuelled übermensch. Not only did she survive, but she thrived. We would of course expect nothing less of a woman who could trace her inspirational lineage back to the cult-classic figure Tank Girl.

And on top of that, she's not doing it to save the world (save for a major plot point of Tomb Raider III), or rescue anyone - she's in it for herself, and if any good is done by her somewhat culturally-insensitive "aggressive archaeology", so much the better. (Of course, that good only seems to come about because she comes into conflict with people who are only worse villians than herself.) That leaves us with a woman who is seemingly equal parts Marilyn Monroe and Arsène Lupin, by tangential way of Indiana Jones. A woman who defies any conventional patriarchal notion of what a young woman can or should do with her life. Now of course, any reasonably, seasoned gamer would agree that female characters in video games don't need hourglass figures or generous bosoms to be compelling or appealing. For every Lara Croft there is a Konoko, and for every Julie Strain there is a Rosangela Blackwell. However, the fact that Lara Croft -- and the fixation on her sexuality -- is not the be-all and end-all of female roles in gaming is something that still needs to be stressed. Arguably, this point needs to be stressed now more than ever, with sexism recently becoming a significant and visible topic in gaming circles.

The reinvention of Lara Croft, announced by Crystal Dynamics in late 2010, is an encouraging sign that more developers are aware of this point. The Tomb Raider reboot, slated for 2013, gives us a new, almost deconstructed Lara, stripped down to her very core as she attempts to survive a set of circumstances potentially horrific enough to break anyone. By making Lara almost the opposite of her outward appearance in previous games -- a relatively slender young girl with the most basic and rudimentary of survival instincts, who reacts to death in a very human, very relatable way -- the new game seems to be trying to paint a picture of Lara as a woman to be known for the strength of her character, as opposed to the strength of her bra straps. Time will tell if Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix succeed in presenting this reinvention in a convincing way through gameplay and narrative development. Even if they fail, they still deserve to be credited for making a visible and significant effort to move Lara past and beyond the constrictions of her earlier incarnation's outward sexuality.


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