Lara Croft, Objectified Female, Relationship with Rape

Lauren Jackson

Lara Croft is a video game that has long been sexualized; in fact I think it’s rather safe to say it’s a game that has been hyper-sexualized. Lara Croft, with her ideal hourglass figure, has often been ogled as the epitome of female sensuality. Not only can she fill out a dress nicely (with a slit up to her thigh), but she can handily withdraw her holstered gun (also strapped to her shapely thigh) and shoot an enemy through the heart. The Lara Croft video game industry has been a long-standing series of video games that have slowly progressed through the years, not only in storyline, but in game play. Lara Croft is a wealthy heiress who goes about rescuing artifacts from tombs and solving age-old mysteries. The games boast nearly impossible puzzles, blood-thirsty animals, and the occasional male antagonist. The games were so successful they progressed through platforms: from computer to game system to movie productions. The perfection of Lara’s character has long been lauded as one of extremes, and in fact, to an inappropriate level. It is believed that Lara has been turned into nothing more than a sex object, despite the strength of her character. Some argue that her strength is tempered by her sexuality because of the male creators; they cannot have an all-powerful woman, she must still be dominated by men sexually. Or perhaps this is only what men view as the penultimate woman – one who is capable in all arenas.
To highlight Lara’s sexuality and prowess and the recognition of it we can look at some facts outlined in Kurt Lancaster’s article “Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl” The article states that Lara Croft has been on more than 200 magazine covers, was one of Entertainment Weekly’s 100 most creative people, was one of Details magazine’s “Sexiest Women of the Year”, the greatest cyberbabe in Guinness Book of World Records, in television commercials in U.S., Europe, and Asia, nominated as a British Ambassador for Technology, one of Forbes wealthiest celebrities, and has over one thousand fan sites dedicated to her. Most interesting of all is the fact that Elite Modeling Agency turned Lara down for not being human, yet has subsequently developed a division of “virtual models”. Her impact as an icon, an international figure, and a sexy “cyberbabe” has made her into a $500 million dollar enterprise in just sixteen years.
Anne-Marie Schleiner quotes in her article the back of a Tomb Raider game case: “Sometimes a killer body just isn’t enough” (Schleiner 1). The very packaging that the game comes in, shiny, plastic, and cellophane wrapped tells you in all explicit block letters that Lara Croft is a sexy female by this very statement. It seeks to use a witty pun to reference the strength Lara also possesses by the word ‘killer’, yet this phrasing misses the target by a wide stretch. It instantly portrays Lara as a very specific type of character before we are allowed to make our own judgment of her. An image coupled with a sentence destroys our lack of bias and innocence on the matter and we are given what we are expected to believe. Yet it has not diminished her appeal in any sense of the word.
The appeal to Lara seems to stem directly from her strength yet it is tempered by her sexuality that is again and again blossomed into an extravagant theme in casting models and actresses in the role of Lara Croft. Her character has been epitomized as the essential female figure that women have taken the idea of Lara Croft to extremes. Some fan site owners have gone so far as to post pictures of themselves dressed up as Lara Croft, hoping to be “accepted” by others as Lara. Others have a much greater problem to deal with. At gaming events, producers hire models to portray Lara Croft to help sell the product. This is considered part of the norm of the hypersexualized industry that is Lara Croft. Only shapely, thin models make the cut, and must smolder fans with fiery gazes and low cut tops. Lucy Clarkson, a Lara Croft model, went out on a date with a Tomb Raider fan. He insisted she dress as Lara, and referred to her strictly thus throughout the entirety of the episode. He entirely ignored the fact that Lucy was a real person underneath the persona of “sexy Lara Croft” and instead believed the reality of this character to be truth. To quote this particular fan, Niels Berndsen, he says: “I arrived at the restaurant a little bit on the late side. Lara Croft was already waiting. It was feeling a bit wrong to leave the lady waiting for you to arrive, but I guess that’s the way Lara Croft is” (Lancaster 92). In this “reality”, Berndsen believes he is with Croft – bringing a two-dimensional game to life.
Two arguments have arisen in light of Lara Croft being formed into a three-dimensional figure. One is in light of the film adaptation of the video games and the other is the newest Lara Croft video game that threatens to shed an emotional light on gaming that has never before existed in quite this manner. Bringing Lara Croft to life in a psychological way threatens to expose too many realities within game play that are best left to “real life.”
The very gaming qualities that are inherent within the Tomb Raider game help to sexualize Lara; rather they are intentional or not are left up to the player to determine. However, in Schleiner’s article we are given a sense that it was done with determination: “The angled ‘third-person’ view of Lara Croft from behind and below and the shifting close-up and wide-angle camera shots effect a visual fragmentation of Lara’s Barbie-like proportions. In her 1970 landmark essay ‘Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,’ Laura Mulvey described the cinematic mechanisms by which women’s bodies are fetishized, fragmented and posited as objects of the male gaze. We see these same cinematic apparatuses at work in Tomb Raider. The popular Nude Raider patch, a pornographic add-on that removes Lara’s clothing, is further evidence of this gender-subject configuration, which posits Lara as fetish object of the male gaze” (Schleiner 2). Not only does the fact that we view Lara, rather than look through her eyes as most games of the time were – first person – but it is also highlighted in the patch that gamers use to create a nude Lara! Not many games have received such popularity in such an aspect as the removal of clothing of the protagonist. The delicious appeal to such a creation must arouse such a desire within a community of individuals most decidedly male who enjoy ogling or objectifying their strong female game character. The absurdity of this is not lost in translation; however it is minimized in respect to the cultural acceptance of such behavior. But cultural relevance has snapped its head in concern with the new Lara Croft game that moves beyond merely positioning the camera behind Lara, now we are positioning it within her because of psychological developments creators have decided upon.
The newest Lara Croft video game’s upcoming release has caused controversy within the gaming community. The source of the consternation is that the new video game involves Lara Croft in an attempted rape by a male character in the game. Seduction as the tool of power of a female is considered sloppy and insensitive to many. Lara Croft is manhandled in the game and threatened with unwanted sexual advances. Lara must fight her way out of the situation, but many feel this is an unnecessary addition to the game and could have easily been left out of the storyline as it is nonessential in its psychological link. As though Croft were not objectified enough, now male players will be able to “rescue” her from the attempted rape. Executive producer Ron Rosenberg says that players want to protect Lara, but this angers Mary Hamilton in her article: “Rosenberg seems to suggest it’s because she’s female – and it’s hard to see that as anything other than a sexist approach, an assumption that men can’t lose themselves in stories with female protagonists and/or that female gamers simply don’t exist” (Hamilton 1).This is an obvious referral to the fact that male players do not empathize with Lara, they do not feel that they wholly embody her character – otherwise they would feel violated by an attempted rape, rather than feeling that they were rescuing her. And what of the female players? Are they to also feel that they are rescuing Croft from rape? Is this a way to empower females? If so it is a far cry from reality, as not only physically, but emotionally it creates vulnerability and a psychological link between the game and player that would not otherwise exist. I cannot imagine that any sexual assault victims will find it very liberating to be forced to “rescue” or “experience” rape on a video game of a female character that is supposed to be strong. Lara Croft’s representation of female strength or “badass” woman is sorely misrepresented when given the guise of helpless victim of sexual assault. This is only underpinning the original sexuality of Croft when considering the typical questions surrounding rape when blaming the victim: “What was she wearing?” Indeed Croft’s skimpy attire will call into question cynical ramblings such as “Well she was asking for it” – despite the video game representation!
This is ignoring the fact that women who have actually experienced sexual assault will find the graphic representation nothing more than a misrepresentation and another thread of how males do not understand. This is a huge source of contention in the upcoming release of the game, and has caused much backlash in not only the gaming community, but the feminist community at large. Some even find that the creators are lazy; dubbing this sexual assault as nothing more than what men could come up with to make Lara Croft go through something difficult. What other difficult situation could a strong female character be presented with after all? Mary Hamilton’s article says of the rape: “…its use is a lazy shorthand that allows a writer to paint a bad guy as particularly bad, and a woman as particularly vulnerable (the genders are rarely reversed), without dealing with the consequences or meaning of such an act for any of the parties involved” (Hamilton 1). This does highlight the implication that gender roles are strictly adhered to in all arenas of the gaming world, and it would seem quite unfeasible to imagine that Lara could actually be a strong woman. Falling into the rape pitfall seems to be the only thing left for the game creators to pick at when looking at all stereotypical aspects of a female character.
In Kate Stables article “Run Lara Run”, it is made clear that Lara is different and is sexualized: “Action heroines have traditionally been defined by their adoption or refusal of femininity, which surfaced as an issue for the make-a-man-of-yourself protagonists of the early and mid-90’s” (Stables 20).Is Lara Croft really a strong woman, or merely the fantasy/ideal woman of her male creators? Are these two representations actually one and the same? Lancaster says it quite plainly in his article: “What man or older boy would not want the best of both: adventure and sex in one package? “(Lancaster 91). It seems that we undercut and misrepresent Lara when we are only looking at her from this third-person angle. We are identifying her as a separate figure and not someone we embody or inhabit. We have turned her into an object to be ogled rather than a character to be. My belief is that Lara Croft may be strong, but she is undermined by sex and her own inability to apparently control that sexuality (resulting in rape). If Croft cannot control her reality, how can we hope to control ours – especially as we are controlling Croft’s! Has our opinion of women spiraled to such a low that we must ‘perfect’ one in the two-dimensional world and give her such a personality as to nearly step off the screen? Do we then allow her to tie us in emotionally to protect her, empathize with her, or just plain ogle her? It seems Lara Croft is nothing more than everyone’s fantasy tied up together in one fantastic composition that clearly deserves the limelight. But taking a step back from the objectified female role will help Lara be the strong woman she was renowned for being, or rather, has the potential to be.

Works Cited
Griffiths, Daniel N. Gender, Sex and Games: A New Lara Croft Hits An Old, Old Problem. N.p., 12 June 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .
Hamilton, Mary. Does Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft really have to be a survivor of a rape attempt?. N.p., 13 June 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .
Lancaster, Kurt. “Lara Croft: The Ultimate Young Adventure Girl or the Unending Media Desire for Models, Sex, and Fantasy.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 3.7826 Sept. (2004): 87-97. Print.
Rebooting Tomb Raiders’ Lara Croft as a rape victim: Revolting?. N.p., 15 June 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .
Rosenberg, Alyssa. Lara Croft Will Be Threatened With Rape In the Next Tomb Raider—But Don’t Worry, Guys, You Can Rescue Her. N.p., 14 June 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .
Schleiner, Anne-Marie. “Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons? Gender and Gender-Role Subversion in Computer Adventure Games.” Leonardo: International Journal of Contemporary Visual Artists 34.3 June (2001): 221-26. Print.
Stables, Kate. “Run Lara Run.” Sight and Sound 811 Aug. (2001): 18-20. Print.

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