The year was 1996, and the Playstation (yes, the original one) was taking the gaming industry by storm: the SEGA vs. Nintendo feud of the 16-bit era now dwindling, the 32-bit, disk-based system by Sony was poised to take on the Nintendo 64 in a big, big way. And it had something the big N didn’t: games. Tons of them. And cheaper, too: Playstation disks were cheaper to produce than Nintendo 64 cartridges. One of these games tried to bring in the feeling of adventure created by the “Indiana Jones”, but with a female protagonist inspired by a Swedish DJ and a comic book character called “Tank Girl”. And so, “Tomb Raider” was born, and the character of Lara Croft shot into fame forever.
There’s a multitude of ways you can experience what the world of “Tomb Raider” has to offer, even today: you can play “Lara Croft GO”, either on your phone or on the Vita (we much prefer the latter), you can play old PSOne classics, as well as games from other generations, you can even play the Lara Croft Temples and Tombs slot, which is obviously geared towards a more mature audience. There’s, of course, all the content that came with (and after) the 2013 (second) game reboot, titled simply “Tomb Raider”. But we’ll get to that soon.
A rumor has been going around for decades in the games industry, however, about what generated the peculiarly buxom character design for Lara Croft in the original game. Legend has it that Toby Gard, the lead designer for Lara’s character, accidentally input a 150% increase command for the size of her breasts, while meaning to input a more modest 15% increase. Grapevine whispers say that, upon seeing this, all the big wigs agreed that 150% gave a much healthier, appealing appearance to the character, and that was that.
While the rumor has since been denied many, many times, both by Gard and by other members of the development team, the truth is that, up until 2013, the physical appeal of the character drove the franchise in many ways. Not only was the character designed not substantially changed until the second reboot, but it even drove decisions outside of gaming: when Angelina Jolie was cast as Lara Croft for the 2001 and 2003 film entries, she was wearing rather little in terms of protective clothing. In Jolie’s defense, however, her incredible acting skills and overall kickass attitude (on and off the screen) made for an entertaining portrayal of Lara’s character.
The fact remains, however, that this was not the only decision made to streamline the character’s appeal: a less known fact about Lara Croft is that she was originally called Laura Cruz, and was to be one of the first (if not the first) female latino heroines to head a major franchise. Alas, the big wigs decided that it was “too ethnic”, and changed the character to a British Caucasian (but still kickass) Lara Croft.
This may seem like a normal process to broaden appeal, but that’s the problem: as a latino myself, I yearned to see my heritage represented in games and films. That was not to happen with Lara and the “Tomb Raider” franchise, sadly.
But something changed eventually.
In 2013, “Tomb Raider” was re-booted again as a gaming franchise, and this time, it ticked a lot more boxes for representation. The character design for Lara Croft was toned down, more realistic “explorer” apparel was introduced, and even her attitude within the game changed. This continued to evolve in the sequels, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” (2015) and “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” (2018).
And while I never did get a latino heroine out of the franchise, 2018 would see Alicia Vikander take on the role of Lara Croft for the new film, which, taking inspiration from the newer games, presented the character in a different light, focusing on her abilities and personal struggles, rather than her physical appearance.
In the end, then, it’d take almost 2 decades and a huge shift in popular culture towards women, for Lara Croft to be thought about in terms of what she is and what she can do, rather than what she looks like. We still have a long way to go in order to expand representation in video games (where is my latino super heroine?), but credit where credit’s due: I personally feel like the changes made to the character since the 2013 reboot have been, by and large, positive ones, and we should strive to collectively and as an industry, to forget about the 150% story once and for all, and focus on what makes Lara Croft such an interesting, powerful role model.