Category: Theory

Extra Observation on the Early Tomb Raider Games

After reviewing the first nine Tomb Raider games, I noticed a theme in the games I had not noticed before. There appears to be a subtle, almost non-existent, anti-male theme to the games. Lara Croft has a reputation of being one of the sexiest characters in computer games. I believe this reputation was gained due to her appearance and clothing. Her character in the games, however, seems to be quite arrogant, sarcastic and cold. She also appears to be humourless, when she is not making witty jokes at other’s expense.

The vast majority of the characters in the early Tomb Raider games are male, therefore, it seems that her manner is a product of her contempt for men. While Lara Croft seems to retain a feminine style and moves in an elegant and graceful fashion, her method of combat, however, seems to use methods more traditionally associated with men than women (basically shooting enough bullets at the enemy and using the most powerful gun). The fact that most of her enemies are men suggests she is in a male-dominated environment and manages to defeat her foes by being more aggressive and masculine than them.

Lara Croft also appears to be asexual on a personal level. The character is introduced by Larsson throwing a magazine in front of her, accompanied by the line “What’s a man got to do to get that kind of attention from you?” This suggests that Lara is well known for not being uninterested in men and prefers to concentrate on her work. her reply of “It’s hard to say exactly, but you seem to be doing fine.” seems to confirm this idea and reinforces a concept that she is unaware of her desires. During her adventures, Lara appears to have few friends and none seem to be intimate with her. Professor von Croy seems to be her first ally, but the relationship appears to be antagonistic, with the two of them making sarcastic comments at each other, and his later obsession with finding her seems more like an act of repentance and remorse for endangering her. Jean Yves, in the fourth game, seems to be more friendly with her, but he seems to act as an advisor who helps her mission and directs her to interesting locations, while she jokes about the ancient myths and her tiredness. While she does seem to be lighter with him and talk in a personable way, he seems more interested in defeating Seth than her. The choice of mourners remembering Lara in the fifth game is also suggestive. The stories seem to be told by the man in green (a mysterious employer with little information to how much he knows her personally), the priest (a father figure who tries to keep her out of danger and persuade her from undergoing more adventures) and Winston (a father figure who boasts about her like a proud father discussing a gifted child). None of these characters appear to have intimate relations with Lara.

More interesting allies are used in the later games. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness uses a character called Kurtis Trent. One of this character’s early appearances features him disarming Lara in a strange manner, with caresses of her arms and stomach. Following this strange event, Lara seems to move closer to seemingly kiss him (while at gunpoint) before quietly gazing at him while he moves away. Later in the game, he antagonises her by locking her in a room and she disarms him using a forceful manner. They agree to form a team (Kurtis becomes one of the only character to directly share an adventure with Lara and become a playable character). While Kurtis looks like a handsome man with a casual attitude, whether he is actually human is a mystery (he exhibits unusual powers during the story) and the game ends with Lara trying to follow him. Their relationship seems similar to that of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (the only person to “beat” the highly intelligent detective and leads to him mistrusting the rest of the female gender) with Lara and Sherlock being defeated in their specialities by members of the opposite sex, who they were previously believed to be superior to.

The later Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld games feature more developed male characters. Throughout the levels (particularly in the earlier game), Lara communicates with two characters called Zip and Alister. These sidekicks provide background information to the story and add a sense of light relief to the game. They also seem to be distant from Lara as, other than during animated sequences within Croft Manor, they do not appear in the game and provide support over a long distance. When one of them dies, Lara is upset for a while, but quickly continue her quest (leading to the other ally to question if she cares), but still retains a fierce desire to avenge him.

Throughout the Tomb Raider: Legend game, a number of secondary characters appear to help Lara in her quest. A female friend, called Anya, seems to be close to Lara and is aware of her past, while a male friend, called Toru, seems to function as a way of getting to a piece of the sword, even though Lara seems to enjoy his company.

The villain in the first game, Jacqueline Natla, is also interesting. In general, the villains in the Tomb Raider games have little backstory with unusual motives. Little background information is available for Marco Bartolli, from the second game, other than he continues his father’s search for the dagger and wishes to become a powerful dragon for an unexplained reason. Dr Willard Scott, the villain from the third game, appears to be the discoverer of the first Infada stone and wants to collect all the stones to reach the meteorite to progress human evolution. Professor von Croy has one of the most detailed background story, because he has had a prior relationship with Lara, and seems to be an archaeologist whose desire to possess an artefact leads to him being possessed by Seth and becoming more sinister (even though he appears to be a little villainous before obtaining the treasure). An assortment of villains are present in the fifth game, ranging from gangsters wanting power, archaeologists wanting treasure and spirits attempting revenge. Eckhardt, from the sixth game, appears to be a brutal murderer with everlasting life and a desire to revive an ancient race of creatures (like a father?).

Jacqueline Natla seems different. As described in the game, Natla was part of a trio of rulers of the ancient city of Atlantis. She was imprisoned for many years for creating strange creatures. Like Lara, Natla was a woman in an environment dominated by men and she was still surrounded by men years later. I could never find a motive for Natla creating a race of creatures. This part of the tale seems similar to the story of Frankenstein (the story of a scientist creating a monster from parts of dead bodies). For the original novel and some adaptations, it has been theorised that the scientist’s motive for undergoing the experiment is to create life without women or performing sex. Something similar could be suggested for this game. At the beginning of the Great Pyramid level, Lara fights a large creature. The creature is shown breaking out of a sphere (or egg), but, unlike the other monsters, it seems this creature has blonde hair. Is this supposed to be Natla’s son? Created without the intervention of man? During the Atlantis level, Lara encounters a strange creature that closely resembles herself and mimics her moves. It is never explained where this creature comes from or why it was created. Is this supposed to represent Natla creating a daughter in the image of Lara?

A strange aspect of the game occurs after Lara has retrieved the third part of the scion from Egypt. Outside the Sanctuary of the Scion, Lara encounters Natla and her group of henchmen. At first glance, these bodyguards appear to be a very mixed group with no shared characteristics. It also seems, however, that these figures represent men with enhanced masculinity. One of them is a pubescent adolescent (recognised as having a heightened sexuality and developing exclusively male traits), another is a cowboy (associated with rugged good looks and being accustomed to fighting) and the third is a muscular man (considered to have high testosterone and even displays his naked chest). A suggested reason Natla has collected a strange group of men is so she can dominate them and she seems to command them and insult them quickly. In the end, these masculine men are defeated by Lara dominating them with guns and bullets.

In the version of the story presented in the Tomb Raider Anniversary game, Natla’s attitude changes slightly. She states that her previous fellow rulers (Qualopec and Tihocan) were incompetent, but believes Lara would suitable as a fellow leader. This seems to follow a feminist ideal, the overthrow of the male domination over society by fierce women.

Natla returns to help the villain from the Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld games. The villain, Amanda, also has an interesting relationship with Lara. The story states that both Lara and Amanda were participants in a disastrous archaeological expedition which lead to Lara abandoning her friend. Amanda is driven by a need to avenge herself against Lara. When the two characters meet, Lara is deeply apologetic for her previous actions and asks for Amanda’s forgiveness. She seems more concerned about the ending of this relationship than the death of her ally later on in the story. By the end of the story, Lara has hardened her attitude to her former friend, but is still reluctant to kill her.

There is also an interesting part of the game removed from the Tomb Raider: Underworld game. Originally, the developers included two characters, Professor Peter Eddington and her niece, Jessica. According to Eric Lindstrom (creative director of the game) the removal of these characters “Helped steer away from the misconception that Peter and Lara had a relationship…”. This suggests the makers of the game were reluctant to show Lara in an intimate relationship with another character.

Lara’s relationship with her parents is interesting. In the Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld games, Lara’s mother has been missing since Lara’s childhood and Lara’s efforts to find her form the story for the two games. Lara’s father also desperately tried to find her, but was ultimately unsuccessful and was manipulated by Natla. While Lara’s mother appears in flashback sequences, her father, Lord Croft, does not, which gives her a stronger physical presence in the game. In the story for the fourth game, Lord Croft seems like an unsure aristocrat. According to the instruction manual, “…Lara’s parents decided that now she was 16, she should broaden her education by studying for her A’ Levels at one of England’s most prominent boarding schools.”. He also seems a little uneasy when Lara states a wish to join Professor von Croy’s expedition and, “As Lara argued the case further, he found himself walking over to the desk and penning a letter to von Croy.”,  using his wealth to convince Professor von Croy to take her. In the first game, he seems more dictatorial. After Lara survives a plane crash and journey through the Himalayan mountains, the story describes her family as disowning her (possibly because “Lara’s marriage into wealth had seemed assured”) and she follows an independent life (“she turned to writing to fund her trips”). Her backstory in the original game seems to mimic Natlas, both are punished by men for making their own decisions.

Finally, both the Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld use the same description of Lara Croft, emphasising her mysterious personality and polarising exploits. According to the story, “There are thousands of rumours surrounding Lara’s exploits, invariably involving the unexplained or outright unbelievable”, which suggests Lara is associated with unusual adventures and strange events. Lara’s reluctance to discuss herself is described as adding to “…the fog of mystery which surrounds her life and work”, which suggests her personal life is also mysterious (as well as her exploits) and she keeps aspects of her personal life secret. Claiming “Lara Croft continues to be the focus of wild speculation and intense debate” makes it seem like both the ethics and value of her work are discussed, along with rumours about her private life. The description also contains the line “Idealised and vilified in equal measure…”. Does this quote refer to Lara’s work as an archaeologist being polarising? Or is it a reference to her lifestyle? The description ends with her being described as the “…one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figure of our times.”

Alternatively, these observations are based on the development of computer games, rather than the character of Lara Croft. The Tomb Raider games were created during a time when story and character development were being introduced to computer games. Many earlier games did not feature a strong story (which was mostly described in instruction manuals or text during the game) and seemed to consist of players completing challenges and solving problems. The characters in these games were silent and seemed to function as a figure that could be manipulated by the player. The Tomb Raider games seemed to be an improvement, with a complex story and characters with personalities, but do not use strong secondary characters or characters with complex personalities (except for the later games). The developers also probably specifically designed Lara to be a lone adventurer, which was welcomed by the audience. I, personally, liked the character of Lara as an independent character (even with the commentary and advice of unseen characters in Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld) and would not like a boyfriend character added to the games in a lazy way.