Eidos Interactive has recently announced that they are releasing the 10-year anniversary edition of Tomb Raider, a pioneering video game that brought to the game-playing public’s consciousness that a strong-willed, highly intelligent female archaeologist can truly make it in the male-dominated world of video games, so long as she is scripted as being clever, exciting, interesting, and has huge, gravity-defying cans.
Every once in a while, a video game is able to capture the imagination of 12-year old male adolescents everywhere. Usually, it’s a mixture of graphical exuberance, wanton violence, and hackneyed I’m-the-first-person-ever-to- listen-to-Pink-Floyd-lyrics misallocation of wasted wonderment. Tomb Raider upped the ante, so to speak, by adding one more ingredient to the recipe: latent sexuality. How this particular element of gaming had heretofore eluded the video game industry can only be attributed to the marketing concepts that game developers came up with and wrongfully discarded, along with stealing cigarettes from gas stations and detailing the various trials and tribulations of one Deeper Deeper.
The well-endowed protagonist of the game, Lara Croft, soon became a mascot of sorts to those impressed with the blending of incredible graphics and single-minded imagination. Not that Croft’s sexuality is really all that much of a factor in the game proper. Just like any other game, there’s plenty of mindless shooting, jumping, and trap-avoiding, but it just so happens in this case the person doing all that shooting, jumping, and trap-avoiding is trying to hide two overinflated basketballs under her blouse.
Personally, I only played the game once and was fundamentally unimpressed. Mostly it was due to the fact that, as far as I can remember, the first level involved trying to shoot something like 13,000 bats moving at the speed of light in a dimly lit cavern with what appeared to be an ancient artifact known as a Glock 22, an activity roughly equivalent to standing in Madison Square Garden and shooting a three pointer at a basket located on the moon 13,000 times in a row. So I ended my game unceremoniously by trying to get the camera angle to get a good, salacious overhead shot until getting bit to death by a slow, steady stream of winged vampire rats, a process that took roughly a fortnight.
But, lackluster gameplay aside, Lara Croft quickly became either a 1) archetypical feminist icon, representing a very underdeveloped concept in the testosterone-dominated video game market, or 2) a glorified and blatant sexual stereotype catering to the base emotions of the overwhelmingly juvenile demographic that purchases these types of games. Those of use who are astute enough to not be in the camp of those who hunt and seek attributions of virtue onto anything of social insignificance or those who relish the superficial qualities of media icons and stop before they delve any further before they inadvertently discover something of consequence know that in real life, those two qualities—role model and prurience—are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Thank goodness.
Still, as interesting as all of this is, even I was appalled at how much Lara Croft’s sex appeal drove the game to new commercial heights. I was astounded that such a little effort in “accidentally” bumping the 150% button on 3D vector graphics applications when the mouse was hovered over the funbag area would have such a big impact on sales. And this is coming from someone who at one point seriously considered purchasing Manga-themed dishware at full retail.
The instant media sensation of Lara Croft’s attributes as an action heroine was surprisingly robust as well. She appeared on every one of the two thousand gaming magazines in existence in the 1990’s, each in a different provocative pose, such as posing with a gun in her left hand, posing with a gun in her right hand, and posing with both hands on her gun. Some even came with Maxim-style photo spreads, centerfold and all, with Croft in swimsuits or revealing evening wear. The emphasis on her physical attributes seemed to be an almost unconstructive distraction from the actual development of the game itself to an almost negative degree, or even to her face, which until well into the series has a very angular, Geena-Davis like quality to it.
The popularity of the Tomb Raider series quickly eclipsed that of the video game industry. A highly profitable movie based on the game was released in 2001, starring the stunningly underendowed Angelina Jolie (and, perhaps uncomfortably, her real-life estranged father, John Voight). While it promised to be a hypersexualized version of Indiana Jones, a disappointing second movie, released in 2003, effectively ended the franchise as a motion picture venue. The video game series, however, has continued to be a moneymaker, even as Croft’s dimensions have been reduced and more emphasis has been placed on gameplay, apparently in the hopes that the 12 year olds who bought the game in the mid-90’s are now in their mid-twenties and therefore are no longer interested in sex.
Still, the impact of Tomb Raider on the industry as a whole seems to be pretty minimal. There have been few strong heroines that have penetrated the market, aside from Dixie Kong and the Virtual Jenna Jameson. And the push-this-stone-to-make-that-stone-move style of game has given way to more WWII first-person shooters than there were actual soldiers in the European theater and one new Everquest expansion approximately every six hours. Still, the evolution of the video game market being what it is, we’ll no doubt soon see a massively multiplayer Vichy France environment where all of the now-female soldiers’ cups, of course, runneth over. I, for one, can hardly wait.