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Fluff(er) Piece: Tomb Raider


Hey gang!  It's been a while since I posted on here and it's high time I remedied that!  This will hopefully become a semi-regular column that touches on my experiences with the videogame industry and it's uses and abuses of sex and sexuality.  So let's get started with the game that brought this crazy concept to mind: Tomb Raider!

In late 1996, Eidos Interactive dropped a bombshell on the world:  Lara Croft.  The titular tomb raider would go on to revolutionize the videogame industry by creating not only a powerful leading lady but a globally recognized sex symbol.  Twenty years on, it's hard to remember a time when our hobby didn't have scads of scantily clad vixens undulating through our virtual fantasies.  But in a more innocent era, characters didn't get more scandalous than Ms. Croft.

I almost feel like there is a definitive line drawn between all that came before Tomb Raider and all that has come after.  In the time before Croft (B.C.), I don't distinctly remember sex and sexuality having much at all to do with my videogames.  Of course, as a young lad of ten, I hadn't had a whole lot of time to think about the subject.  Still, the "hot babes" of gaming at that time were characters like Chun-Li and Cammy, comparatively crude sprites that required more than a little imagination to get the full effect.  These leading ladies weren't designed entirely with the intention of gripping the attention of the pubescent mind.  

Ok, well maybe Cammy's costume is a little bit extreme.  Point being, the desirability of these characters was secondary to what made them memorable in the first place.  With Lara Croft, however, I always felt that sex was the selling point.

From the moment she was revealed, it was easy to see that something was very different about Lara Croft.  From the wildly exaggerated proportions to the skin-tight ensemble, there had been few, if any, videogame heroines with this kind of inflated (no pun intended) sex appeal.  Beautiful and dangerous, she represented everything that a man could possibly want in a woman, fictional or otherwise.  Lara's sex appeal wasn't just part of her character: it defined her.  Not some demure princess to be rescued, she had a presence that demanded your attention.  We were all ears.

It seems so childish now, but the massive buzz about Tomb Raider turned into a deafening roar that no kid my age could possibly ignore.  Lara Croft became the talk of the schoolyard.  It didn't matter what age group you talked to; everyone knew who Lara was.  We traded pics out of magazines like some kind of underground smut ring.  A day didn't go by that someone didn't come forward claiming that they knew the real nude code.  I'll be honest:  I spent more time than I care to remember in Lara's mansion, fruitlessly trying to jump off that damn statue into the pool to get a peek at those polys.  But there was one thing that always seemed to slip by our overactive minds: the gameplay.

Pictured: My wasted youth.

To be fair, it's not like my friends and I didn't enjoy our time spent underground, blasting away at dinosaurs and weird skinless meat monsters.  But I still have no idea what the plot of the game actually is.  It wasn't important to us then.  We were trying to appease our baser instincts and couldn't be bothered with silly things like story.  Take a look up at that ad again and you'll see what we were told was important: guns and gams.  Impressionable youths that we were, it was an irresistible cocktail.  

We weren't alone.  The whole world was on fire about Lara Croft, whoever she was.  It was the first time since the videogame violence debates that the industry was in the limelight.  It was a strange mixture of fascination, attraction, and revulsion for the newborn star.  The sad truth, however, was that very few people actually cared about what Tomb Raider had to offer, other than eye candy.  Having a rich, independent, and powerful heroine was progressive for the time, and while a few individuals picked up on the importance of that milestone, the rest of the world stared, mouth agape, at a commercially constructed digital goddess.  The marketing team at Eidos played to it's demographics perfectly.  We fell for the oldest trick in the book.

Compared to her modern counterpart, the original Lara Croft seems like some kind of strange caricature, more an erotically-charged piece of fan art than the face of a multi-million dollar franchise.  But at a time when Sony was a new player in the world of electronic entertainment and companies were all vying for a slice of the newly divided pie, it took a bold approach to really stand out from the crowd.  While perhaps in bad taste, it cannot be argued that the early emphasis on Lara's aesthetics was a key to the success of the franchise as a whole.

Tomb Raider represents, for me, the turning point from games as "child's play" to a more adult-orient entertainment option.  It was, as I recall, the beginning of a onslaught of titles that would continue to push the envelope to a point unfathomable even a few years prior.  The industry seemed to become edgier, as ads grew brash and games themselves adopted a more "adult" tone.  And, as the content changed, so did I.  I was fortunate that I was able to grow in maturity alongside the industry that I love so much.  Maybe, in some way, I have Lara to thank for all that.

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About SpaghettiOReillyone of us since 6:27 PM on 05.05.2014

Hiya! I'm just your average joe who loves to play the vidya games. My earliest memory is playing Super Mario on NES when I was 3. I have a sizable collection of games spanning the decades. I love my Super Nintendo more than some of my family. I remember more about games I've played than my own past.

I think I have a problem.