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Tomb Raider 2013: Sexist or Feminist?

Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider franchise is by far the most recognizable and the most bankable character from the post-90s video games era. With 10 games and two motion pictures starring Angelina Jolie spanning over almost two decades, Lara Croft has been one of the most iconic characters in the History of Video games.

The first Tomb Raider game came out in 1996 which set the benchmark for for all future 3D games to come. The video games industry back then catered mostly to the male audience. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when Lara Croft was modelled something like this over the years until today.

The portrayal and imagery of Lara Croft has always been controversial. A 17 year debate has been raging on whether the Tomb Raider Games are sexist or feminist. Well, to be honest, it’s a bit of both. On one hand she is busty and unnaturally voluptuous in the most inappropriate attire for …um Tomb Raiding.  But on the other hand she breaks the ‘Damsel in Distress’ stereotype. She is a strong character, a master of Butt Kicking, performing death defying stunts, finding lost civilizations, killing T-Rexes riding her Ducati Monster on rooftops, snowy valleys, deserts, not thinking twice before emptying an entire magazine of bullets on villains and what not! The game was rebooted once in 2006 as Tomb Raider: Legend. The graphics became more realistic but all the core elements, gameplay and Lara Croft’s character remained the same. Such has been the impact of Lara Croft that another similar game for the PS3 Uncharted’s lead character Drake was nicknamed as ‘Dude Raider’ by the gaming community.

Enter 2013. The ‘Gamer’ demographic has changed from the predominantly teenage boys to a more diverse consumer base of mean average age 35 consisting of 47% Female gamers. The gaming ecosystem has changed. More strong female characters like ‘Faith’ from EA’s Mirror’s Edge was introduced. Big and  historically sexist franchises like Duke Nukem failed both commercially and critically. Simultaneously a long overdue reboot of Tomb Raider was echoed across the gaming community. Crystal Dynamics studio came up with a master reboot of Tomb Raider last March.

This is of just a graphics and story overhaul. In fact this game completely revisited the character, back story, origins and gameplay characteristics of Lara Croft. Tomb Raider 2013 feather a younger, more realistic and natural Lara Croft. Now she is not a out-and-out Tomb Raider but more of an academic and a wannabe adventurer. She is now an archaeology student whose biggest tryst with adventure till now has been  a backpacking trip across Bulgaria and a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with her best friend Sam. She is just like any average tween; insecure, ambitious, scared and unsure. The game begins with an amazing cinematic sequence in which Lara Croft along with Sam, her godfather Roth and a few other friends sets out on her first big adventure to find the lost Japanese civilization on a ship named Endurance. Things get wrong when they are shipwrecked in the ‘Devil’s Triangle’ and stowed away on a mysterious island.

Lara, isolated from her group trying to regroup with her friend behaves like a real human being in a similar situation instead of a digitized game character. She is scared, she is shaken, she is tired and vulnerable  The Lost-esque island throws up horrifying secrets in regular intervals. The way she is confronted by the Island’s hostile residents is beautifully directed. Cornered, abused by the hostiles, she is forced to kill for the first time in her life. Powerful scene. Alone in the jungle, hungry and scared the way she kills deer for food and says sorry to the carcass shows the new human Lara Croft. In the initial action sequences, hiding behind cover with a new characteristics bow and arrow she pleads with her enemies that she doesn’t want to kill them. One of the best voice acting in recent memory. One of the very few games in which the facial emotions and full body movements are captured realistically. Slowly over the game battered by the situation and hardened by the hostile island her survival instincts kick in and she gradually turns into the Badass-in-Chief, Lara Croft is known for being. She turns from the cornered prey to the rescuer. By the end of the game her kill count is an amazing 443!

The game is painstakingly and beautifully directed. One scene where she has to climb a communication tower is tense and particularly intense. Tomb Raider 2013 likes to stay in the heat of action all the time; Is more shooter less platformer unlike the previous Tomb Raider titles. Even though a lot of puzzle elements have been replaced with action sequences, the game still feels richer than the previous titles. The story though is a done and dusted ‘seen it before’ kind of story, is presented beautifully. The game passes the Bechdel Test. It’s a test to identify gender bias in movies and games. Any game has to pass three criteria to pass this test.It as a pretty simple criteria. Two named female character converse with each other on a topic other than men. A surprisingly large number of movies fail this test including Avatar, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2! Also the Comic Con would be cut down to 45 mins from 5 days if passing the Bechdel Test was made a criteria to be eligible for the mega comics, game and movies gala event!

 Finally Crystal Dynamics manages to reinvent Lara Croft with Tomb Raider 2013 without unnecessarily sexing her up. Definitely the best Tomb Raider game till date.

Originally Posted in on 4/13/13.