Article analysis by Phylicia Cash: Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis3
February 29, 2012 by Phe.
In her article Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo, Helen Kennedy attempts to conceptualize Lara Croft’s unique position of being the protagonist of the video game Tomb Raider. In said article, Kennedy brings forth the idea that Lara, being one of the first video game characters that were in indeed female, could possibly be simply an extension of the male ideal of ‘sexy’. Conversely, Kennedy also posits that Lara could also actually be a positive female role model, a potential win for the feminist world. But which is more factual?
While Kennedy presents adequate evidence for both sides of the argument, it is this readers’ opinion that the Cyberbimbo side rules out. Lara Croft, while admittedly a very strong female lead, is more on the male fantasy side. In other words, Lara was created to be the male video gamers’ perfect woman. While—like Kennedy says—“that “active” or “strong” female characters signify a potential threat to the masculine order”, what she fails to address is the possibility that the male gamers who are playing Tomb Raider come from a different culture, a video game culture, where strength and skill is just as prized (if not more so) as femininity and/or beauty; you can not complete a level with just beauty alone. Lara definitely has both, as Kennedy concedes.
Something else that needs to be addressed is the fact that Lara is the only person that you can play as in the original Tomb Raider. Because of this exclusivity, it is hard to measure just how much Lara was intended to be strong female or just a marketing ploy. “When Tomb Raider hit the games market… 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.” With such knowledge, it can be argued that Tomb Raider and Lara herself were more geared towards generating revenue—with Lara creating the shock value needed to achieve that. With Lara being “a games character who is simultaneously the hero (active) and the heroine (to be looked at)”, it is possible that Sony employed such tactics to make Tomb Raider—which has an obvious Indiana Jones undertone—more unique and accessible to both male and female video gamers.
Because of this, as Kennedy states, “Lara was a welcome novelty for experienced female game players”. However, one must not forget that males liked Lara too—enough for there to be “a proliferation of sexualized imagery dominating the official and unofficial websites [for Tomb Raider]. Alongside these images, there exist rumours and discussions about game patches which enable the player to play with a nude Lara – the legendary “Nude Raider” game patch, or to get her to perform a strip tease.” The male viewpoint of Lara is clearly hyper sexualized. The female view is, however, on the other end of the spectrum. With “a number of web pages which offer “fragging” opportunities for female gamers to “set fire to” these nude images [of Lara]”, it is clear that while serious female video gamers might appreciate having a strong female lead character, they do not appreciate the hyper sexuality of said character.
Also in need of exploring is the fact that Lara, being such a ‘perfect’ female specimen might actually be detrimental to the feminist cause.
“Elaine Showalter argues that “since the computerized cover girls are patched together from the best features of real models and stars no real woman can ever hope to equal them; but their popularity… nonetheless is part of the millennial taste, for elaborate feminine artifice, especially an artifice shrewdly designed to look natural”.
With Lara being such a ‘babe’, it might even deter females from taking solace in the fact that she could possibly represent a strong woman. Also, having such decidedly feminine features (like big breasts and large, doe-shaped eyes) only caters to the thought that Lara is more Cyberbimbo than Feminist Icon.
While there is plenty evidence for Lara being created for both male and female gamers, I believe that more evidence lies on the male side. Her shape exaggerates the female form, she is constantly being even more sexualized by male gamers and the fact that she is seen as powerful—and not a damsel that has no active role in the video game—places her directly in the domain of male video gamer lust.