Game heroines as affirmative models

Game heroines as affirmative models


No longer the side-kick healers or evil witches, women carry guns, kill with ease, and move like acrobats, while enjoying the smell of napalm in the morning, just like any male hero before them.

In the beginning, there was Lara
Let us start with a true celebrity: Lara Croft is so famous that there is hardly a person in the Western world that is unaware of her existence. She is a beautiful, intelligent, athletic archeologist who lives for adrenaline and action packed adventures. Starring in the video games series Tomb Raider, she was created by Toby Gard during his work for Core Design and first came to life in 1996. His intention was to counter stereotypes representing women as bimbos or monsters, and show how an intelligent female can take the lead and kick some serious ass. However, Gard also accidentally increased Lara’s breast size by 150 percent, which thrilled his team members who talked him into keeping Lara ‘well-endowed’.

Game heroines as affirmative models

Lara’s usual outfit is quite skimpy: a sleeveless tank top, shorts, boots and white socks, along with a small back pack, a utility belt with holsters and two guns. As the game and its story-line evolved and numerous sequels followed, Lara got new outfits for cold weather and underwater exploration. Her long brown hair is usually tied in a plait or a pony tail and she is very fit and athletic.

It is precisely Lara’s appearance that causes numerous controversies in the public, with critics claiming she undermines female self-esteem and body image. While it can be argued that Lara is presented as a highly sexualized heroine, her world is removed from the usual social surroundings where such a female could be found. She does wear revealing outfits, but they are mostly practical and functional; most of the time, Lara is alone and does not require male approval or presence to affirm herself and her looks. Her long hair, which is a stereotypical sign of femininity, is always tied back because it might get in the way of her acrobatics and be an obstacle in dangerous situations.

As for her ‘unattainable body’, Lara’s athletic figure is by no means an anorexic, cubist model we often encounter in the mainstream media; at the beginning of each game, players can get acquainted with Lara’s skills in her very own gym in the Croft mansion. I would argue that Lara actually advocates a healthy life of fitness and fulfillment in doing sports, especially martial arts, which is a good model for self-improvement and mental balance.

Lara’s personality is another point of conflict. Some critics have called her an empty shell, a tabula rasa lacking in a defined personality, which makes it easier for players to ‘imprint’ on her. That argument is hardly sustainable, for Lara is all about character. She is portrayed as an eloquent, educated woman who loves challenges and extreme situations. In Tomb Raider 4, she says a famous line: ‘I make my own luck’. She literally does, by rejecting fate and socially prescribed roles like marriage, children and passive professions and decides to be proactive instead of being a victim of circumstance. These character traits can only be empowering for players, allowing them to identify with her intelligence, independence and courage.

Love her or hate her, Lara remains a controversial, yet attractive and inspiring heroine for female and male gamers all over the world, and after nine sequels, she still challenges with her looks and intelligence.