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KENNEDY_Lara_Croft - Lara Croft Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo...

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Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis by Helen W. Kennedy Game Studies: The international journal of computer game research volume 2, issue 2 december 2002 As the title suggests, the feminist reception of Lara Croft as a game character has been ambivalent to say the least. The question itself presupposes an either/or answer, thereby neatly expressing the polarities around which most popular media and academic discussions of Lara Croft tend to revolve. It 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. It is also increasingly difficult to distinguish between Lara Croft the character in Tomb Raider and Lara Croft the ubiquitous virtual commodity used to sell products as diverse as the hardware to play the game itself, Lucozade or Seat cars. What follows then is an analysis of the efficacy and limitations of existing feminist frameworks through which an understanding of the kinds of gendered pleasures offered by Lara Croft as games character and cultural icon can be reached. I will begin by analyzing Lara primarily as an object of representation – a visual spectacle – and then move on, considering the ways in which the act of playing Tomb Raider as Lara disrupts the relationship between spectator and "spectacle." There is no doubt that Tomb Raider marked a significant departure from the typical role of women within popular computer games. Although a number of fighting games offer the option of a female character, the hero is traditionally male with females largely cast in a supporting role. In this respect alone Lara was a welcome novelty for experienced female game players. "There was something refreshing about looking at the screen and seeing myself as a woman. Even if I was performing tasks that were a bit unrealistic… I still felt like, Hey, this is a representation of me, as myself, as a woman. In a game. How long have we waited for that?" (Nikki Douglas in Cassell and Jenkins 1999). When Tomb Raider hit the games market, it did so with a good degree of corporate muscle behind it: indeed the game was launched as a significant part of the Sony Playstation offensive. It was a game which deployed the latest in technical advances in games design. Featuring a navigable three-dimensional game space, a simple but atmospheric soundtrack and a level of cinematic realism previously unattainable. [1] The
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game also made use of a familiar and popular adventure-based narrative format. A great deal has been said already about the extent to which Tomb Raider pillages the Indiana Jones movies for its narrative structure and setting. The success of the game is arguably attributable to this synchronicity between new techniques, a highly immersive and involving game space and game narrative and the controversial (and opportunistic) use of a female lead. Lara is provided with a narrative past appropriate to her status as an
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