This week we’re talking about Lara Croft's new reboot and female characters in video games – is the new Lara a sign of maturity in the games industry? Is it a sign of anything at all?
Helping us out today is Tracey Lien. Some of you might know Tracey Lien as 'Rei' from Good Game. Some of you might know her as 'Tracey Lien' from real life. Tracey writes awesomely for a number of mags such as Hyper and is aware of the existence of many, many big words.
MARK: Hey Tracey, you're a girl, right? What did you think of the new Lara Croft character 'reboot'? Does it say something about the representation of female characters in video games? Does it say anything at all?
TRACEY: Checks inside pants* Well what would you know, I am a girl. SOMEBODY NOTIFY MY PARENTS!
There hasn't been a whole lot of information released about the "new" Lara Croft character aside from what has been published by Game Informer, so I think that until I have seen more and actually played the game I can't confidently say "HERE ARE MY FINAL OPINIONS, LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU". But let’s give this a go anyway.
From what I have seen, I think she looks... inoffensive.
Crystal Dynamics have said themselves that this new game tells the story of how Lara came to be the strong adventurer that we have known for years, so it's really looking at the same Lara Croft at a different point in her life and, understandably, she's going to be different and she's going to look younger. But what has pleased me so far about what I have seen is the tasteful direction they’ve taken in portraying her.
I say she looks inoffensive because when you talk about a 'younger' female character, there is so much room for the character design to just turn into smut, and from the images that have been released, there appears to be less of a focus on her tits and arse and more on the gritty nature of her job and the strength she has to develop to go the distance. This isn’t to say I’ve got a problem with Lara’s tits or arse – I think she’s got great assets and I’ve never taken issue with the fact that she flaunted them in previous games – the games were always a bit ridiculous in that way, but no more ridiculous than James Bond.
I’m glad they went down the strong, practical, and independent woman path rather than the youthful smut path, because I think this will probably lend itself to a more interesting character that people will take seriously and want to get to know more of. But for all I know there could be a section in the game were young Lara bursts out of the water in a stringed bikini, armed with a machete, which will still be interesting, but perhaps in a different kind of way.
MARK: Great. We’ve established that you are a girl. That was important. We’ve also established that there is still the possibility that Lara may burst out of the ocean, lathered in soap, in a string bikini, wielding a machete. That is also important.
Lara Croft is such an interesting character though – and is sort of this feminine portrayal of the woman the broader gaming audience ‘wants’ to see in their video games. As a 14 year old, I was the target audience for the original Tomb Raider - at that time I wanted boobs like you wouldn’t believe, and that's what I got. Now that the role of boobs play a diminished role in my gaming life, it seems like the boobs of Lara Croft have also diminished.
Do you think that the changing shape of Lara Croft represents a change in gaming’s demographic (more women, older men) or do you think that it’s simply a functional change that comes solely from the developers themselves.
TRACEY: I think there could be a number of reasons as to why Lara’s shape has changed. Whenever I’ve interviewed industry analysts or academics who study videogames in cultural studies departments, the subject of female gaming characters often comes up and they nearly always attribute the seemingly immature and sexist portrayals of women to the fact that the game development industry is male-dominated, and so many developers create their fantasy women. Apparently that's how we end up with Dead of Alive Beach Volley Ball. So if the analysts and academics are right, then I can only assume that the new generation of game developers entering the industry – males and females – may have different views on beauty, sexuality, and desirability, and we are slowly seeing this come through in videogame characters. (Although I should stress that there is nothing wrong with Dead of Alive Beach Volley Ball – I love sports and jiggling boobs as much as the next person.)
Another thing to consider is society’s changing perception of beauty. Consider that in 1993 Anna Nicole Smith was Playboy’s Playmate of the Year who most teenage boys pined over, whereas now you’re more likely to find a young guy crushing over Zooey Deschanel or Felicia Day. While there’s definitely room for physics-defying, perky G-cups, I get the feeling that kind of 'beauty' isn’t as in vogue as it was a few years ago.
Then of course there’s the changing demographic, and I don’t think it’s just a matter of 'Oh there’s more women playing games now and women don’t like seeing jugs flapping in the breeze', because we don’t necessarily know that this is true. I think it has more to do with gamers expecting more from their games. If they’re going to invest money in a blockbuster action-adventure then they want great gameplay, they want an interesting story, they want characters with depth, and you could argue that when you make a character more realistic, give her a pair of chinos and a supportive bra, it makes her that little bit more relatable and draws the player’s focus to her story, her struggle, and her life, rather than her 'schmexy bawdy'.
What do you guys think of the new Lara – and what do you think about female characters in general? Are they changing for the better? Are they changing at all? Let us know in the comments below.