Posted on Friday, October 28th, 2011 at 12:00 PM by Guest
Today, Zero1Gaming would like to wish a happy anniversary to Lara Croft, as the world’s most iconic female video game protagonist turns 15 years old this week. While some may have issues with the over-sexualization of her character, it is impossible to deny that Lara Croft’s contribution to the industry redefined the standard for female video game characters. Spawning everything from an established game franchise to printed and film adaptations, Lara has also released a brand of apparel, accessories, action figures, and model portrayals since her arrival in 1996 in the first Tomb Raider game, eventually leading to her title in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most recognized female video game character” and a star on the Walk of Game in San Francisco, California.
Lara was first created by Toby Gard during his employment at developer Core Design. Inspired by pop artist Neneh Cherry and comic book character Tank Girl, Croft was designed to counteract the stereotypical female image of her generation. While many girls were usually portrayed as weak, helpless objects that lacked in backstory and emotional depth, Lara’s role as a strong heroine stood out as something more than serving as a love interest to the main protagonist, marking her introduction as a defining point in the gaming industry for female game characters.
Croft’s initial background describes her as the daughter of fictional Lord Richard Croft, raised as an aristocrat and betrothed to the Earl of Farringdon. When a plane crash left her stranded in the Himalayas for two weeks, the traumatic experience spurred her to shun her former protected lifestyle and take on the role of a thrill-seeking adventurer. Usually depicted as a brunette with a ponytail or braid, Lara’s classic image normally consists of a turquoise sleeveless tank, brown shorts, and a utility belt with two holsters and pistols by her sides. This iconic look has resulted in different various media depictions of her character, ranging from model appearances to film adaptations.
Lara’s adventures in the Tomb Raider franchise vary from game to game, but almost always involve ancient temples, exploration, and action-adventure style gameplay. Even though her initial debut in 1996 was well-received, the games began to suffer in quality with each successor, hurting the overall Tomb Raider brand as the publishers strove to use sex as a catalyst in selling their product.
After the poor reception of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Eidos handed the reins to Crystal Dynamics in an attempt to salvage the failing series. Altering the character’s background to include her mother in the plane crash, Crystal Dynamics worked on changing various story elements to reflect the new style of Tomb Raider. Abandoning the initial storyline that Angel of Darkness had began, the development team focused on believability rather than realism when they began to rework the franchise. Her move set became more fluid and continuous, granting her action more freedom in terms of what she could or could not do. Updating the animations so she could better interact with environmental objects, Crystal Dynamics redesigned the control scheme and increased the polygon count, paying more attention to the character’s lip synching and facial expressions to allow for dynamic emotional response to events.
With every addition to the Tomb Raider franchise since Tomb Raider: Legend, the team attempted to use newer technology to improve the sense of realism in their games. In their latest and most drastic reboot yet, the developer has showcased a darker, more gritty re-imagining of her character. Claiming that the “Teflon coating” was the biggest flaw to her character, the team crafted Lara’s biography, focusing on removing the outer shell from her personality and promoting the image of a weaker, more vulnerable humanistic character that players could genuinely care about. Despite this helpless, more vulnerable Lara, the strength of her personality is still reflected in the growth of her character as she strives to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in an effort to stay alive.
Croft’s 1996 debut is often cited as a catalyst for more female leads in video games, redefining gender in gaming by providing a different interpretation of what women could do. As both a gaming and cultural icon, Lara’s reception was widely regarded as an innovation in the video game market, with Angelina Jolie’s role in the first Tomb Raider film often being described as one of the few video game characters to have a well-received film adaptation.
Sadly, while she first began as an intelligent and strong female character, the quality of her games had plummeted over time and the appeal behind her character became more shallow and sexualized, hurting the franchise’s overall image. By being reduced to nothing more than the embodiment of a male adolescent fantasy, Lara’s image as a role model for young girls suffered and it showed as time went on.
Despite this, her latest reboot has regained popularity among fans, receiving wide praise for the darker re-imagining of her character, along with more realistic body proportions and a compelling narrative to boot. This praise, while not universal, has quickly helped to reinstate the franchise’s relevance in the gaming market.
Not all games are created equally, and sometimes a revision of an established game franchise is necessary to maintain its relevance in the industry. Even though she has had her ups and downs over time, Lara Croft’s latest reboot is an example of Crystal Dynamics’s determination to show us, that much like the well-known Tomb Raider series, the human character can overcome seemingly impossible odds, as long as they have the strength to survive.
Happy Birthday Lara Croft.
You go, girl.
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