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Unformatted text preview: Kevin Phipps Mickey Casad February 24, 2009 Essay 3 Lara Croft: An Unparalleled Complexity To this day, whenever the name “Lara Croft” is mentioned, heads turn. The impact that the release of the game Tomb Raider has had on the gaming aspect of society today is undeniable. Several sequels to the original Tomb Raider, which designed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive in 1996, have been released, each capitalizing on the success and hype of the former. The reason for the success was at least partially due to the gender of the protagonist: Lara is a female. Such a bold step had not been taken by many other videogame designers. “In the late 80s and early 90s both Nintendo and Sega made it very clear that to attempt to market games for girls would threaten their real market – boys and young men” (Kennedy, 2). By moving against the norm and creating such a character, Sony and the game designers were able to market the game to a much wider audience, leading to its critical acclaim and fame. When analyzing the praise of the game by society, one must ask, what is it about Lara that made the game thrive? Kennedy argues that “[i]t is a question that is often reduced to trying to decide whether she is a positive role model for young girls or just that perfect combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys” (1). According to her, it is much more complex than this. Mulvey and others would argue that it is simply her visual appeal, while other evidence points towards her iconic image of femininity. While these two sides of Lara may appear to be contradictory making it impossible for her to exist in this manner, it is the absorbtion of the player into the game that creates a unique image of Lara for each individual gamer, allowing both sides of her to exist. For those that have not had the opportunity to play the original Tomb Raider, it is basically as follows. The player controls Lara Croft, an athletic, adventurous young woman with a supermodel-like body. The object of the game is to retrieve ancient artifacts while fending off hostile animals and a few people that attempt to cross Lara. All the while, Lara wears s skintight shirt and shorts that barely deserve to be considered clothing, accentuating her curves. The game is played in third person, with Lara in view at all times. The player maneuvers Lara through ancient maze-like tombs, causing the player to rely more on strategy than on violence. Cut scenes are weaved in with gameplay throughout the story, engaging the player in the plot. The relatively simple controls and appealing environment are enough to attract gamers of any age and gender. There is no negating the reason for the wardrobe given to Lara. There is no plausible reason to dress her in such skimpy clothes, other than for sexual appeal. No practicality exists behind the clothes that miraculously stay on her body without any restriction in circulation, as she travels into high mountainous regions where the weather cannot be above freezing. Her athletic trim and enlarged breasts add to this appeal. Mulvey argues, “Women displayed as sexual object is the leit-motiff or erotic spectacle: …she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire” (837). While Mulvey’s arguments are mainly based on film, they can readily be applied to the videogames. Lara is displayed in third person perspective. Her unrealistically attractiveness is thus put on exhibit at all times as the player has the option to take a voyeuristic pleasure in the game. As stated by Mike Ward, “The player's gaze is a strange closed circle of the desiring look and the beautiful, powerful exhibition” (Kennedy, 5). Players that choose to do so may take pleasure in looking at Lara. One interesting side note is that the game never identifies Lara’s sexuality. This leaves her open to queer interpretation extending the option for voyeuristic pleasure to homosexual females. However, scopophilia cannot be forced upon the player. It is up to their own interpretations as well as their own motives for playing the game. Heterosexual females playing the game that gain no sexual gratification in looking at Lara will most likely focus on other aspects of the game more. Players with an interest in the game that is not solely scopophilic are able to form a player-avatar connection, taking their engagement in the game to a new level. As explained by Rehak, “Appearing on the screen in place of the player, the avatar does double duty as self and other, symbol and index” (106). Clearly the player cannot see themselves in the game. Instead, they are shown Lara. As they player controls her, they begin to associate their own actions with those that they witness Lara performing. Without the player, Lara cannot exist, and without Lara, there would be no game. The two are dependent on each other and reflect each other. Thus, Lara is “depthless as a mirror. [She]… will perform differently (and reflect differently) depending on the skill and proficiency of the player” (Kennedy, 9). If someone has little experience playing games, they will likely have a difficult time with the game controls, and thus Lara will not perform as well. This indicates that Lara is almost an entity of the player. As soon as the player picks up the controller, he or she merges with Lara. They become one allowing the player to identify with her as much or as little as they want. They have almost complete power over her, allowing them to do anything within the parameters of the game. Another cause of player-avatar connection is the storyline and the cut scenes that are used to help tell the story. In Rehak’s article, the following is presented: “We cannot identify with someone whose face is always hidden from us. And if we cannot if we cannot identify ourselves, we cannot share the anxieties of the character” (120). While this idea specifically applies to first person games, it is also valid in Tomb Raider. During almost all of the game play, Lara’s back is towards the camera. Showing cut scenes give a more personal view of Lara, allowing the player to see who they are identifying with. It gives a close up view of Lara’s emotions, establishing a much stronger bond with the gamer. Humans, after all, are emotional beings. As soon as the player is able to view Lara’s different emotional states (fear, anger, battles of conscience, etc.), the player feels empathy putting themselves in her shoes and thus understanding her better. When a male plays as Lara, they “experience a greater range of emotional complexity” (Kennedy, 8). This may be a big draw for many male players as they can escape the social norms and live another life. There is much evidence for the viewing of Lara as a feminine heroin. The addition of Lara Croft to the videogame world was a “welcome appearance of active female heroines within traditionally male or masculine genres” (Kennedy, 3). Traditionally, the protagonists in almost all videogames were male. Females played passive roles as they were often used for the purpose of “eye candy.” Instead of sticking to this standard set by early videogames, Lara breaches the masculine frontier, entering dangerous environments and playing an active role. Her strength, agility, acrobatics, marksmanship, courage, and adventurous spirit match that of any man. In fact, in the game, Lara must face multiple male foes. Along with a little help from the player, she is able to overcome these oppressive men quite easily. Lara refused to conform to other games, to become an object of the game, a helpless princess whose safety was the ultimate object of the game. In this way, female players may be drawn to Lara. It gives them the opportunity to finally play as a woman. Many people play games in order to fulfill their fantasies. This sense of power and independence may appeal to many women. By playing as another female, they are able to empathize with her and to form a meaningful connection with her. Thus, Lara becomes a symbol for power, and an empowering icon. There is no simple definition to Lara Croft’s character. She represents two seemingly incompatible traits, proving that they may coexist (at least in the game world). Upon doing so, she was able to create a universal appeal. Just about any gamer can find an attraction in the game whether it is to fulfill scopophilic pleasures, gain a sense of empowerment, or to simply experience the engaging and entertaining gameplay. She may have been one of the first to surpass the social border, yet she likely will not be the last. Lara reformed the video game world as we know it, yet “[i]f we are going to encourage more girls into the gaming culture then we need to encourage the production of a broader range of representations of femininity than those currently being offered” (Kennedy, 11). She may have started the push, but it is up to the game designers to broaden the portrayals of women, as well as the gamers to demand greater diversity in games. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible for any sort of equality to be reached in the videogame world. Works Cited Kennedy, Helen W. "Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis." Game Studies: The international journal of computer game research 2 (2002). Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings (1999): 833-44. Rehak, Bob. "Playing at Being: Psychoanalysis and the Avatar." 103-27. ...
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- Spring '09