The Evolution of the Revolutionary Lara Croft : Tomb Raider
As with most things in life, the element of nostalgia improves video games tenfold. So I am quite sure that I will not be alone in thinking that the 90’s produced some of the greatest games of all time. But if you find exception with that statement, perhaps you will at least agree that the decade spawned the beginning of several revolutionary game series, which changed the landscape of gaming and the attitude towards games, genres and characters for both gamers and critics alike. One game series in particular - that has experienced an evolution not quite like any other - has got to be Tomb Raider.
The character of Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider, has been a continuously dichotomous cultural reference point for over 2 decades. On the one hand, she is an example of gaming graphics progress and a groundbreaking character for her genre thanks to her gender - but on the flipside, many critics have regarded her as little more than an unrealistic sexual object. Lara Croft has been brought to life in video games by an incredible 6 actresses (and that’s not even including those who played Croft in the snippets we see of her as a child), each playing an important part in the development of the character.
Sex Symbol For Men or Revolutionary Character Empowering Women?
Lara Croft has changed in so many ways since her 1996 introduction to the world. The bone of contention about her character is the controversial point of her sex appeal. During the late 90s, it was clear that original publishers, Eidos, considered their target audience to be males which was demonstrated in the game’s 1997 ad campaign “Where The Boys Are”. Despite the encouragement of her sexuality, Eidos did go to court in 1999 to keep Lara Croft’s name (and the Tomb raider logo) out of Playboy, stating that associating her name with porn would permanently ruin her image.
However, it is likely that without Lara’s overt sexiness, the franchise would not have managed to achieve the same level of acclaim, longevity and popularity that it has, with a female protagonist at the helm. This is a point that hasn’t massively changed over the years, as demonstrated by Feminist Frequency who compared the gender of protgonistis in 76 games featured at the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo, finding a mere 7 of them centred female heroes. This begs questions about representation and if there are more male gamers than female gamers or is it the fact that the industry creating the games is more male dominated that results in fewer female leads?
Lara Croft has raised the profile of female leads in the action adventure genre of video games. If the obsession with her clothing and boobs can be cast aside for a moment, there are other facets of her character that have been developed over the years that could be considered empowering. She has incredible athleticism and strength, she is bright and sharp witted and inherently sophisticated.
The Voices of Lara Croft
Over the years, it is clear to see how Lara Croft’s body and overall look has changed due to cultural reasons as well as graphic improvements. In terms of vocal performance, it is usually desirable to maintain the same actor to voice a character for the sake of continuity and the attachment that fans make to a specific voice. However, it seems to have been an active decision to regularly change the voice talent behind Lara - and in doing so change the impression that she leaves on the player.
Your preference of who portrayed Lara Croft probably depends on which of the games you played first, due to the old nostalgia factor I mentioned before. Personally, I love Judith Gibbins for her self-possessed, sarcastically edged, RP British rendition. The RP British accent has been an integral part of her character up until more recent versions of her that have allowed for more of a British lilt rather than a full on posh British accent. This shift is most prominent in Camilla Luddington’s version of Lara in the video games Tomb Raider (2013), Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) and Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018). A similar variation has happened in Lara's portrayal in other mediums too. In the 10-part animated series, Revisioned : Tomb Raider (2007), created in the years before the accent shift was present, she is voiced by Minnie Driver and maintains the original British RP. In the film versions, Lara is portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the first 2 films (2001 & 2003) who puts on a rather good British accent but then the accent shift is noticeable again in the most most recent film (2018) in Alicia Vikander’s depiction.
Keeley Hawes, who voiced Lara Croft in the most games out of any of the actresses, is the first of the video game voice overs who is recognisable for playing other big roles in TV and film. The same applies for Camilla Luddington, who has been the only actress who also performed the motion capture aspect for the character. In the most recent games, we see a reboot to the franchise, taking Lara Croft back to being a younger, more vulnerable character than she was in the first instalment of the game. Luddington conveys this by making Lara more youthful and realistic and somewhat detached from the sexy, dominant delivery previous actresses have attributed her with. This change is performance goes hand in hand with an altogether more realistic body type that she has - which has been met with mixed reactions.
In a video I recently shared on my instagram of actress Ashly Burch discussing female video game characters, she comments that she is noticing an increase in the amount of female roles. While it is proving to be a slow process, the growth of the video game industry means that attitudes and audiences are growing too, which are positive steps for change. Whether you're a fan of Lara Croft or not, she has undoubtedly been an important figure and forerunner in helping that shift and subsequent progress to happen.
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