Are video games sexist? One thing’s certain: the gamer scene is longing for more female characters – and Lara Croft’s character and body has changed incredibly since the first ‘Tomb Raider’ in 1996, writes Silke Wunsch.
When the first computer game with a female fighting archaeologist came out on October 31, 1996, men in the gaming world were thrilled. In “Tomb Raider”, Lara Croft fulfilled the romantic image of a real Amazon woman: fierce, unflinching, strong, pretty – and extremely curvy.
Of course, this stereotypical portrayal was pretty embarrassing, sexist and ridiculous. Nevertheless, a fascination with the virtual character began and Lara Croft became an icon of computer games and beyond.
Over the course of two decades, Croft has raged through 15 video games and two blockbuster movies; the third in the series, starring this time Alicia Vikander in the heroine’s role, hits theaters later this month.
Lara Croft first hit our computer screens in 1996. The legend goes that her in-your-face ample chest was not an intended feature: a simple coding error gave her those exaggerated proportions. But with the programmer’s male colleagues suitably impressed, the bust was there to stay, along with a suitably skimpy outfit – ideal for an intrepid explorer.
It was only a matter of time before the successful computer game migrated to the big screen – with a real woman taking the lead. Angelina Jolie was the dream woman and she embodied the “Tomb Raider” in two feature films.
In 2013 the makers of the “Tomb Raider” games agreed on a reboot. A completely new central character emerged: tough, petite and clever. The game dealt with the background of Lara Croft, the archaeologist’s daughter, and showed how an inexperienced researcher could turn into a brave fighter and master of survival.
But Lara Croft has long been a rarity in the gaming scene because women characters were not considered playable.
There are famous examples: In 1993, the first “FIFA” soccer video game appeared. For many years, women were not thought of as suitable players, despite repeated petitions from the fans.
For the first time in 2015, EA Sports came out with “FIFA 16”, which had women’s teams – something which has remained since, with ever-better features and choices.
FIFA head developer David Rutter explained why it took so long: “Men walk and jog in one way, and women do so a little differently. We wanted that to look realistic.”
The same applied to what happens on the field. Women’s soccer is played more slowly, and Rutters said that they couldn’t just create characters by putting women’s heads on men’s bodies.
In order to programme a realistic virtual women’s team, sensors were placed on actual female soccer players to capture their movements.
The creators of the adventure blockbuster “Assassin’s Creed” were chastised aplenty by fans displeased that they could not play the role of a female assassin.
A woman could just as easily as main character Arno climb house walls, jump from roofs into haystacks and eliminate disagreeable contemporaries. Developers were having none of that, as creating a female character would be too much work, Ubisoft technical director James Therien told Videogamer.com.
“One has to make many animations and costumes again, which would double the workload in this area. That’s the reality of a game developer.”
In this area as well, the developers have again changed their mind. In 2015, “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” was the first which brought a woman into play: Evie fights eerie Templars in gloomy 19th-century London.
The first-person shooter game “Call of Duty” got its first female character in the same year and “Dishonored 2” also brought in an empress to fight for her throne. High time. Because according to Germany’s Federal Association of Interactive Entertainment Software the audience was by that time already half female – a figure that has not changed significantly today.
In the meantime, there are a number of games on the market which show women as multi-layered characters.
In the “Uncharted” series, Nadine Ross is the leader of a troop of soldiers who has, thanks to her wartime experiences, become an extremely good fighter. In “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice”, the young Celtic warrior protagonist suffers from a loss of senses and brings players along on a psychological field trip with Celtic mythology and loads of gruesomeness.
And what became of Lara Croft? Over time, she has lost some of her curves and gained depth.
This article first appeared at http://www.dw.com