LARA CROFT: MY FIRST HERO
Oh, Lady Lara Croft. Where do I even begin?
Lara Croft was “born” on February 14, 1996, when she was first introduced as the lead character of Eidos Interactive and Core Design’s Tomb Raider. I was born over a year later in 1997. Lara and I go way back.
I have my dad to thank for introducing Lara into my life. Tomb Raider I, II, and III were some of his favorites on the PlayStation, and they quickly earned my love as well, with so much of my focus placed on the franchise's out-of-this-world protagonist.
Strong, fiercely-independent, capable of impossible feats, highly-intelligent... There was always so much of Lara for me to admire and aspire to be like. Where most loved Lara for her body, I loved her for mind, and everything that she stood for.
Lara flexes her skills in translating ancient biblical texts. Weird flex, but okay. Screenshot captured by Roy Mendez (@royboy456) on PS4.
To this day, Lara is still my number one gal. I love what Crystal Dynamics has done with her character with their most recent entries into the franchise in rewriting her as a much more vulnerable, naive, but still badass and tough-as-nails warrior. Lara Croft will always have a special place in my heart because of the memories I link between her and my parents as well as the sheer genius of her character, and I will always look for means to honor her character and share her with the world.
“Mommy (And Daddy) Game”
My parents had me when my dad was twenty and my mom was eighteen. They sacrificed more than I will ever know in order to build and support our family and give me the life I have been blessed with today, and I am forever thankful for both of them.
Though they both worked hard in order to care for their infant son, my dad was still growing up himself, and he was still very, very much into video games. A PlayStation and a Nintendo 64 were two of the very few luxuries my parents owned, with Tomb Raider being one of his go-to games. According to my mom, my dad used to come home from work, take me in his arms, and play Tomb Raider while I watched (or slept). I had no idea what was going on, but, like cartoons and toys, Tomb Raider was just one of those fascinations that toddlers fixate on.
Also according to my mom: I would run straight from the bath to the living room to "play" video games with my dad. Hence, the emoji. Image provided by Erin Mendez.
As I got just a little bit older and Dad played more and newer Tomb Raiders, I remember noticing that Lara sort of looked like someone I knew… my mom! Looking back now at twenty-one years old, there is quite obviously very, very little in common between my mother’s and Lara’s appearances other than their brown hair and white skin (they are both beautiful though).
But for four year old me, this, coupled with the fact that my mom and Lara both often wore their hair in a ponytail was enough for me to start calling Tomb Raider “Mommy Game.” I swore that Lara was a pixelated avatar of my dear mother.
C'mon... I wasn't THAT far off. Image on the left scanned by Roy Mendez from his copy of Tomb Raider III for the PlayStation. All rights reserved to Core Design, Eidos Interactive, and Square Enix. Image on the right provided by Erin Mendez.
As I continued to get older, newer Tomb Raiders were released, and my dad discovered that there was less time for video games than we would like as we get older, I took over the role of the family “Tomb Raider.” A copy of the latest Tomb Raider game of the time was a much-desired and much-appreciated Christmas gift on more than one occasion, and hours were poured into exploring the world through the eyes of Lara Croft in her virtual world.
Despite the fact that Tomb Raider ended up becoming something that belonged more to me than it did my dad, I always think of watching him play for hours on our couch, and I laugh at how I thought my mom was the absolute coolest because she was the “star” of my favorite video game. Tomb Raider is one of the earliest symbols I have of my relationships with both of my parents.
A Superhero Without Any Powers
Though she possess no supernatural abilities or superhuman strength, I absolutely consider Lara Croft to have been the first superhero I looked up to as a child. She could literally do everything. There was absolutely nothing on this planet that could stop Lara Croft from getting what she wanted. Her expertise in combat, acrobatic abilities that put Olympic athletes to shame, and above-average intelligence were just of the few things that made her seem so cool to me. What kid wouldn’t want to strive to be like someone as unstoppable as Lara Croft?
In examining her character now, I fully recognize that she was created specifically with the male gaze in mind, and much of the nature of the original games is quite sexist by today’s standards. However, as a kid, all of the intentional signifiers of her physical appeal went right over my head.
This takes "unrealistic body standards" to a whole new level. Image provided by PNGimg.
I didn’t take her wearing a tank top and short shorts as a means of accentuating her body - I thought it was meant to show that she was willing to go out into dangerous environments without any fear of getting hurt. I never realized that her sultry drawl and British accent were meant to sound seductive. All I could hear were her witty remarks and clever sarcasm. To kid-me, Lara was never anything but heroic.
Though the new Lara of Tomb Raider (2013) - Shadow of the Tomb Raider is hailed a triumph of feminist writing, I firmly believe that Lara was always feminist - even if not in the conventions of today’s feminism. Lara Croft has always been a hero regardless of her audience.
My Legacy Of Lara Croft
Though she is well known to myself and much of the gamerverse, there are many, many people who have no idea who Lara Croft is. One of my favorite things to do is finding creative ways to share my favorite interests with the rest of the world, and Lara is an interest that comes up quite often.
It had been a minute since I had last played Rise of the Tomb Raider when I posted this on my Instagram story (@yaboyroy456). Screenshot captured by Roy Mendez (@royboy456) on PS4.
For my final project in my Freshman Seminar class, I argued that Lara Croft is a creative work of the mind because she was created first in order to captivate audiences with thrilling globe-trotting adventures, and eventually she became a symbol of strong femininity and empowerment. I placed a cut-out portrait of Lara I had sketched on an Egyptian pyramid - a site she has visited on more than one occasion during her adventures - and presented Lara Croft to the world… of my Freshman seminar class with eighteen people enrolled.
Eighteen people learning about how awesome Lara is better than none!
And, obviously, Lara is splattered all over this blog. My website is dedicated to gaming, and Tomb Raider was my first. It is only fitting that she serve as an important mascot of my site, and I would be doing her a disservice if I did not feature her in my writing.
To the first female icon I ever considered “QUEEN,” thank you for the light you have brought into my life. Looking at you makes me remember some of my fondest moments I share with my parents, and your video game was the first ever to take me to that wonderful world of fantasy only gaming can bring. As one of the most iconic female baddesses in mass media, you are one of the many, legendary fictional women that pave the way for the ones in real life.
And aside from all that, your games are a lot of fun.