The New Face of the Venerable Tomb Raider

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Video game years feel like dog years.  If this is truly the case then the Tomb Raider franchise has the feel of antiquity.  1996 feels like  a very long time ago.

By any measure Tomb Raider needed a kick in the pants.  I wish I could say I was a longtime fan, but initially it seemed like the rabid fans were young men who overly excited about seeing a large chested video game character for the first time.  I’ve tried several times to play entries in this series, but it never captured my attention.  I will give the originals credit for creating an acceptance of female characters in games, but I am happy things are evolving, even if it took seventeen years.

The release of a Tomb Raider reboot has changed things for me.  It was announced in the distant past of 2010 with a fairly divisive trailer.   It featured a younger inexperienced and unsure Lara getting the absolute snot beaten out of her in improbable circumstance after improbable circumstance.  It immediately spawned a hate storm of criticism.

Here are the camps involved.  Tomb Raider fans and purists noted the change in character and the fundamental difference in game play mechanics.  The second group was deeply concerned about the suggestion of sexual and violent exploitation.  They equated it with torture porn.  The third group included myself who were enthralled that we were getting narrative based game play with a heroine that solved her own problems.

I want to highlight that second camp for a bit.  The industry needs to take that criticism seriously.  The game trailer offended many, despite the accuracy of how this game actually plays.  It was marketed to the lowest common denominator and Square Enix lost players because of it.   The gamer stereotype is of a sweaty, young, basement dwelling, neck bearded male and the way Tomb Raider was advertised did not help.  True gaming statistics reveal that the average gamer is older, more affluent and spread across gender.

Tomb Raider was the first game for a lot of male gamers where they felt comfortable playing a female character.  This was a huge evolution in how females were portrayed in games.  Seventeen years later we can look at this original character and see how deeply flawed it was, exploitative and shallow, degrading to women and set a poor precedent for how women characters were written going forward.  Even so, it still helped the industry and gamers grow if only in a small way and this should be considered.

I want the third camp to be right, I fear that the second camp is.  The reviews so far look like my initial instincts were correct, but we shall see.  I am looking forward to hearing the thoughts of others and turning this into a lively discussion.

Tomb Raider is available for all major consoles and the PC.  It is rated M for mature audiences.

Trailer:

The evolution of the character:

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