Lara Croft – Pixelated Object or Feminist Gaming Icon?

Jade Avis

In this essay Jade Avis provides an insightful and thorough analysis of the role the character Lara Croft has had to play in the representation of women in the media. This extensive study takes into account LC’s part as a protagonist not only in the video games of her origin, but in the adaptations made for film, and made by fans.



Lara Croft – pixelated object or feminist gaming icon? Looking at the representation of female video game characters inside and outside of game space.


This investigation will explore how one female video game protagonist – Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series – is represented both inside and outside of the game space, i.e. how the developers of the games present LC and how fans/players perceive her. This will be carried out via content analysis on scenes of the games, a questionnaire, the two movie adaptions and fan art posted on the Internet.


Video games are considered a popular form of entertainment, especially among children, however, there is a distinct lack of female characters, especially ‘strong’ female characters that act as protagonists. But the very few females within video games are often portrayed in two ways: ‘the sexy female’ or ‘the damsel-in-distress’. Because of these representations, and the immersive environment of video games, children may end up believing that this is how females should be labelled. Lara Croft seems to follow these two stereotypes, as will be discussed throughout this research paper.


Video Game History

Mark Wolf writes that “[t]he history of video games now spans over four decades…” (Wolf, 2008, p. xv), however, it is only in the last 20 years that they have been studied academically, as Espen Aarseth stated, “2001 can be seen as the Year One of Computer Game Studies as an emerging, viable, international, academic field.” (Aarseth, 2001) Over time, video games have come to include a storyline as opposed to having two blocks hit a tennis ball between each other (Pong, 1972) through advances in technology and the demands of gamers. As Wolf explains:


Not only content, but cinematic styles of composition and editing, storytelling devices and other conventions from film and television made their way into video games. Games became more character-centered, backgrounds had more scenery and became locations, and there was often more narrative context surrounding the action of the game. By the 1990s, video games had title screens, end credits, cutting between different sequences, multiple points of view, multiple locations, and increasingly detailed storylines. (Wolf, 2008, p. 20)


The creation of gaming consoles meant that the public had better access to video games. With better access, consoles can reach a larger audience, meaning that even young children can play games for hours.


Gender in Video Games

Despite the gaming industry becoming popular, playable and non-playable female characters were a rarity in these games. And even when females were included within games, they were often portrayed in a negative way, as Gareth Schott and Kirsty Horrell write:


For Provenzo, stereotyped portrayals of gender embody the culture in which games exist as well as reveal its prevailing attitude towards women. Indeed, examples of sexism and misogynism are easily found within the annals of computer games. An extreme case is Custer’s Revenge (Atari VCS), an infamous early eighties game which allowed players to have sex with an Indian squaw tethered to a pole or in less liberal terms ‘had nothing less than rape as its goal’. (Schott and Horrell, 2000, p. 37)


Female characters were scarce as Berrin Beasley and Tracy Collins-Standley found in their study of analysing female and male clothing in video games, “[o]f the 597 characters analyzed, 427, or 71.52%, of the characters were men, 82, or 13.74%, were women, and 88, or 14.74%, were of an undeterminable gender.” (Beasley and Collins-Standley, 2002, p. 286)


When discussing female characters in games, in this study girl gamers expressed their dislike for the portrayal of them, as evident here where the interviewer and interviewee discuss LC:


“Inevitably the exaggerated physique of Lara Croft also figured in girl gamers’ explanations for their dislike of the game:


Adult gamer: Her boobs are too big, huhuhuhu well the Lucozade advert, I don’t think anyone looks at the Lucozade, well the men don’t, but I mean it is pathetic really, I mean I have played the games…but her as an individual is a bit over the top.


Interviewer: What do you mean by pathetic?


Adult gamer: Well it’s like, Lara Croft is like curvy and everything, whereas the blokes that she’s shooting are straight figures…they’re all ugly. Anyway, I prefer games where you don’t have to keep shooting.” (Schott and Horrell, 2000, p. 45 – 46)


This suggests that girl gamers are aware that female characters are sexualised and for this reason, do not play as female characters.


In Schott’s and Horrell’s study, they concluded that: “[o]verall, the discussion with girl gamers did not present the home as a gaming context that possesses an operational philosophy of equal access and opportunity.” (Schott and Horrell, 2000, p. 41)


But these representations of female video game characters were challenged in 1996 when Core Design developed the game Tomb Raider (1996), starring a female British archaeologist who adventures around the world searching for ancient relics as the protagonist. The game was – and still is considered – a huge success (Schott and Horrell noted in their study that, “[a] game such as Tomb Raider may have sold over 16 million games,” (Schott and Horrell, 2000, p. 37) at the time of their study).


However, despite LC’s creation, scholarly authors and researchers still believed she was portrayed negatively. As Melinda Burgess et al. describe LC: “…it would be anatomically difficult to explore tombs and climb mountains with breasts the size of basketballs with legs and arms the size of toothpicks as Lara Croft© is portrayed.” (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess, 2007, p. 427). She was – and still is – the lead character, but dressed in a sleeveless blue tank top, brown short shorts and calf-high boots (this changed in the 2013 reboot) with ‘ridiculous’ body proportions, she was seen as ‘inappropriate’. No clothing became an issue too – a mod (an alternation of the programming of the game so that the game looks a different way or can be played in a different way) was used on Tomb Raider called “The Nude Patch” meant that the player could control a naked LC (see Figure 1). As Anne-Marie Schleiner writes, “[t]he popular Nude Raider patch, a pornographic add-on that removes Lara's clothing, is further evidence of this gender-subject configuration, which posits Lara as fetish object of the male gaze.” (Schleiner, 2001, p. 222)


On the other hand, LC became one of the first main female characters within a game that could be considered a feminist role for female gamers as well as an iconic figure, as Esther MacCallum-Stewart wrote:


Analysis from both the media and academic perspectives has been applied heavily to Lara, and she is often the postergirl -- sometimes quite literally -- of a number of debates within gaming, again both formal and informal. The result of this is that Lara has remained a critically visible figure for nearly 20 years. (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014)


(Figure 1, courtesy of


It would seem that the designers of Tomb Raider did not set out LC to be seen as a sexy female as the findings from the questionnaire supported this – participant D disagreed (while participants B and E were undecided) with Schleiner’s statement of LC being created for the male gaze; they believed that the developers did not purposefully design LC to be sexualised, and instead that the developers designed her with female players in mind). Perhaps it can be argued that because of the Tomb Raider fandom, LC is portrayed this way due to ‘manipulating’ LC outside of the games. For example, the Nude Patch, fan art, and the movies (both of which will also be analysed later in this study) and advertising (see Appendix 2a), all of which have been produced by non-developers (i.e. fans and the media in this case). But with the designers and fans never really portraying LC as one consistent image or definition, it may be suggested that LC has a mixed image – she is a strong female video game character but also has a (possibly unintentional) sexy side.



Jo Bryce and Jason Rutter claim that alongside the absence of female characters, “the stereotypical and sexualised portrayal of those female characters which are included is another factor explaining the lack of popularity of computer gaming as leisure activity among females.” (Bryce and Rutter, 2003, p. 7)


When they do appear, they are often sexualised, therefore making them unpopular. Beasley and Collins-Standley continue:


The majority of female characters are dressed in such a way as to bring attention to their bodies, particularly their breasts, which carry strong sexual meaning for the young boys who predominantly play these games. As social learning theory and gender schema theory explain, children exposed to gender role stereotyping in the media, including video games, may develop those attitudes themselves. When applied to the 47 games analyzed for this study, social learning theory and gender schema reveal that the dominant theme of the games is the same—female characters are unimportant based on the fact that only about one in four characters are women, although one half of the world’s population is female. Furthermore, those female characters that do appear in the games are big busted and dressed in clothing that emphasizes their sexuality by drawing attention to their breasts. (Beasley and Collins-Standley, 2002, p. 289)


This suggests that female characters were portrayed negatively at the beginning of the gaming industry compared to male characters.


One example of this is Isabella ‘Ivy’ Valentine from the Soul Calibur series (1996 – ongoing). She is the opposite of Peach – during the storyline of Soul Calibur, she is known to have protected herself without relying on anyone else and be ruthless when achieving her goal. Nevertheless, her clothing (or lack of it) is what makes her stand out (see Figure 2).


(Figure 2, courtesy of Wikipedia)


Promotional posters for Soul Calibur V include images of IV’s enlarged breasts and buttocks (see Figure 3 and 4). This encourages the image that female characters have to be sexy in order to be playable. As Schleiner writes, through video games “boys and men are permitted to develop unrealistic ideals of female body type” (Schleiner, 2001, p. 223).


(Figure 3 and 4, both courtesy of


Lara Croft seemed to want to change the image of female characters. When Tomb Raider was first developed, she was clearly shown as a gun-toting female protagonist with an ‘unrealistic’ body that remained as the games continued. With the more recent reboot (Tomb Raider 2013), LC has remained a beautiful young woman but has become much more ‘clumsy’ due to her inexperience – she no longer gracefully flips onto ledges; instead she scrambles up them, nor does she express her confidence streak; instead she feels guilty when she kills a deer or a Yamatai-cultist.


But with LC, there seems to be a spilt between representations: she is someone that female gamers can admire and male gamers can appreciate but at the same time, LC is someone who is renowned for her graphic-induced body. This was supported by the questionnaire as participants who were undecided about LC being considered a role model mentioned issues of writing and developing strong female characters that, at the same time, were likeable.


But with video games also being aimed at young children, with these interpretations, this may lead to players to have ‘exaggerated’ images of males and females. As Tracey Dietz concluded, “[i]t may be argued that even though these female characters are depicted as primary characters, they represent negative role models of women at the same time, teaching that the contributions of women are somehow subordinate to, or less important than, those of men.” (Dietz, 1998, p. 438)


The method used in this dissertation will be similar to the method Vit Sisler used in his study on how Arabs and Muslims are portrayed in video games. As Sisler notes, “[t]he methodology used for content analysis involves playing the whole game while taking notes and screenshots of relevant visual signifiers…Correspondingly, other paratextual materials related to the game were analysed (booklets, manuals and websites).” (Sisler, 2008, p. 206) This study will include five games from the Tomb Raider series: Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007), Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008), Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010) and Tomb Raider (2013), all on the Playstation 3 platform. Notes will be taken while playing these games and play-throughs of each game via YouTube for particular scenes or sequences if necessary will be included. Notes will also be taken while watching both Tomb Raider movies (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – Cradle of Life (2003)). Fan art will be analysed via the DeviantArt website (


All of this material will be examined via content analysis. Gillian Rose describes content analysis as “used to analyse large numbers of images” and states that it “focuses most on the image itself in its compositional modality.” (Rose, 2012, p. 103) Rose breaks down the method into four steps: finding the relevant images; creating categories so the images can be coded; coding the images and the analysing the results. This study will categorise the images found into ‘positive images’ (for example, when LC displays traits of heroism) and ‘objectified images’ (for example, when LC is displayed as a sexual object) along with any other findings (for example, anything that the researcher did not expect to find when initially examining material for each category). 


In order to examine players’ and non-players’ perceptions of LC, it was decided that the best quantitative method to use was a questionnaire. As Rob Webb et al. wrote “[t]hey are a quick and cheap way to gather large amounts of quantitative data from large numbers of people, widely spread geographically.” (Webb, Westergaard, Trobe and Steel, 2009, p. 175) It was also decided that self-selecting participants would be used via placing a Facebook status because of the negative connotations around gaming which may cause people not to play video games, meaning that if the questionnaires were posted using a random sample technique or interviews were conducted, there may not be a high response rate. An advantage of the self-selecting sample technique, as Martin Holborn and Liz Steel wrote, is that they are “[u]sed mainly with groups who are hard to identify or access’, however a disadvantage is that they are ‘very unlikely to be truly representative”. (Holborn and Steel, 2011, p. 49).


Schleiner’s paper on LC was incorporated into this questionnaire because not only did Schleiner use a questionnaire in her research, she also includes different theories of LC’s representation and perception.


When writing the questionnaire, it was decided what type of questions to ask. David Putwain and Aiden Sammons define questionnaires as containing two types of questions:


Closed questions only allow a restricted range of possible answers (e.g. yes/no) whereas open questions allow PPs [participants] to respond in any way they like. Closed questions are quick and easy to analyse statistically. However, closed questions may distort PPs’ responses by forcing them to answer questions in a particular way. Open questions are less likely to distort the data but are harder to analyse and take longer for the PP to complete. (Putwain and Sammons, 2000, p. 77)


It was decided that a mixture of open and closed questions would work best because the data received would be reliable (i.e. answers would be given in a quantitative measure, however, with the use of open questions, participants would be able to give a reason for their answer) and can be generalised. 10 questions were created to be suitable for this research. A Facebook status was made on 12/03/2015 and 5 participants were secured the following day. Once they were secured, both the consent forms and questionnaires were sent to the participants. They were given a week to complete them. All completed questionnaires and consent forms were collected on 19/03/2015.


Using Holborn and Steel’s table of advantages and disadvantages to using a self-selected sample and questionnaires, there were a few advantages and disadvantages encountered during this study (Holborn and Steel, 2011, p. 49 and 50 – 53). Advantages:


· Using self-selecting participants means there are no processes to go through when selecting the right participants

· Posting a notice on the internet means that lots of people have access to it at the same time

· It will remain anonymous to protect the participants

· Having self-selecting participants means a high chance of the participants having played the game or having some knowledge of it

· Using a questionnaire tends to mean a high response rate

· Open-ended questions mean more in-depth data

· No interviewer bias




· Self-selecting participants are not truly representative of the population

· Also, there is the possibility of not having a high response rate

· Analysing the data may be time consuming

· Participants may give a desired answer rather than their own true answer to the questions



Since its debut in 1996, the Tomb Raider franchise has accumulated around ten games with a total of three incarnations of Lara Croft. Within this chapter, scenes from five of the games (including a spin-off) will be analysed via content analysis. The categories for this section will be LC being portrayed as:


· a ‘tough female’ (for example, action scenes within the games)

· a ‘sexualised object’ (for example, scenes and paratexts that display LC’s body in the games)

· LC as a ‘helpless victim’ (for example, scenes that show LC as weak in the games). 


The first three games are taken from The Tomb Raider Trilogy (Classic HD Remake) – Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld. While all three games are slightly different, they are all voiced by the same woman (Keeley Hawes) and the primary outfit remains the same, albeit not consistently – a sleeveless blue tank top, brown shorts, a utility belt, black fingerless gloves and brown lace-up boots (see Figure 5).


(Figure 5, courtesy of


Comparing the LC model from the original game to remakes reveals that she is much more detailed in the latter, most likely due to improvements in graphics. The other games examined will be a spin-off game (Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light) and the latest game in the series (Tomb Raider (2013)). Helen Kennedy describes her appearance as “[t]he encapsulation of both butch (her guns/athletic prowess) and femme (exaggerated breast size, tiny waist, large eyes, large mouth) modes of representation” (Kennedy, 2002) (see Figure 6).


(Figure 6, courtesy of

Tomb Raider: Anniversary

The game is set in 1996. LC is approached by a man named Larson Conway as a representative for a woman called Jacqueline Natla. Natla asks LC to find her the missing pieces of the legendary artefact The Scion. Knowing that her father had previously searched for it before his death, LC agrees.


Within Anniversary, LC and Natla are the only female characters, suggesting Tomb Raider followed the early ‘trend’ of a lack of female characters in video games. Many of the enemies in this game include men – such as Larson, as mentioned previously – and animals. While it does seem that LC and Larson do have some kind of relationship there is one particular scene in the game that perhaps suggests Larson sees LC as a desirable woman – after finding the first part of the Scion in Peru: Larson reveals that he must (forcefully) take it. The two fight, fuelled by quick-timed events in gameplay, but LC comes out on top, quite literally – after defeating him, LC is seen straddling Larson while trying to get information out of him. While this scene does suggest LC is a powerful woman who can take care of herself, it also suggests her as a sexualised object (see Appendix 2b). As Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Dana Mastro suggest, “these characters are often high status, powerful characters, such as the heroic figures more commonly associated with men.” (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2009, p. 809). And while LC is perceived as a strong woman, there are scenes towards the end of the game that suggest LC is not as ‘stable’ as she seems – after killing Larson (later in the game), she is shown looking at her shaking hands, presumably, covered in blood (see Appendix 2c).


Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider: Legend was released a year before Anniversary; however it takes place afterwards, storyline-wise. In this game, after receiving information about an archaeology site in Bolivia, LC must locate and find pieces of the broken Excalibur sword in order to stop James Rutland and uncover secrets of her past.


One of the differences between Anniversary and Legend is that the player can actually choose what outfit LC wears, although this feature is limited (more outfits are unlocked as the player collects relics throughout the levels). However, there is one particular level that suggests another sexualisation of LC. In the level ‘Japan’, LC has to attend a party in order to get a piece of Excalibur from a Yakuza gang leader. In the beginning of this level, LC is seen with her hair down instead of the usual braid or ponytail, wearing a black backless dress that shows off her cleavage with high heeled shoes, painted nails and a handbag. For the first part of this level, the player can only navigate LC around and is unable to draw weapons or attack bystanders – she can only walk with swaying hips. However, this does not last long as LC soon has to take action, causing her to rip her dress in order to fight enemies (see Appendix 2d).


Much like Anniversary, LC is one of the few female characters included in this game. Legend sees a slight increase, but collectively still not a lot – LC is joined by her mother Amelia (in flashbacks), her friend Anaya and her new-found enemy Amanda. This supports Jeroen Jansz and Raynel Martis’ results from their study of the role of female characters in video games – “[w]ith respect to the roles played in the games the hero role was observed in 60% of the cases (13 of 22 characters). This was followed by the friend or helper role (18%), the villain (9%), the victim (9%), and the tough character (5%).” (Jansz and Martis, 2007)


Tomb Raider: Underworld

Legend’s sequel, Tomb Raider: Underworld was released in 2008. LC continues to scavenge her father’s previous archaeology sites, and after exploring the ruins of Niflheim, she finds herself caught up in an adventure to gain Thor’s hammer to stop Amanda and Natla once and for all (see Figure 7). 


While this game does not have any scenes that portray LC in a certain way, like the previous games, this does not necessarily mean that the perception of LC as a sexualised object is discontinued – it can be argued that this perception is present one scene in the beginning of the game where LC encounters a man wanting to steal an artefact from her and she suggests bribery. However, because the bribery is never actually stated, it cannot be argued for certain that LC is aware of her sexuality and uses it to get what she wants (see Appendix 2e).


(Figure 7, courtesy of


The three male characters that have helped LC on her journey in Legend (Zip, Alister and Winston) act as assistants once again in this game, which goes against Burgess et al.’s findings that “[t]he male could serve as protector, guide, or actually perform most of the action while the female serves as a sidekick.” (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess, 2007, p. 425)  


Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

In 2010, a spin-off Tomb Raider was released called Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (she is still voiced by Keeley Hawes). The story follows LC exploring a tomb and coming across a demon called Xolotl. With the help of Totec, LC must seal Xolotl into the Mirror of Smoke before sunrise. While the gameplay is consistently different to previous games it is only in this game that it is suggested that LC is weak because she is a woman: when talking to Totec, he questions her abilities when she offers to help (see Appendix 2f). However, this does change as the story continues.


Tomb Raider (2013)

The latest Tomb Raider (and the third reincarnation of LC) is Tomb Raider (2013). This story follows a younger and ‘undeveloped’ version of LC, giving her a backstory. LC, along with 6 crew members, travels across the sea to find the lost island of Yamatai. When they stumble across it and become stranded on the island with a large murderous cult. To begin with, LC looks much different – she is more ‘normalised’ compared to her previous counterparts, and also acts much differently – while having completed survival training, she no longer possesses gymnastic skills or weaponry confidence like before (until she further progresses through the island) (see Figure 8).


(Figure 8, courtesy of


As MacCallum-Stewart writes:


Lara’s body has significantly changed. Whereas prior Lara was pneumatic and unrealistic, the new Lara is modelled on actresses Camilla Luddington (body and voice), and Megan Farquhar (face). Her body is now slim and athletic, easily damaged or dirtied by the actions she performs. She does not do handstands on the edge of precipices, or swallow dive into waterfalls; instead she scrambles over ridges and screams in alarm as she plummets through the water feet first. Her breasts have deflated to a normal size and have accurate gravitational abilities. Her face is emotive and often distressed, frequently accompanied by dialogue where she expresses self-doubt, encourages herself through short monologues, “come on, you can do this!” or is relieved to be out of danger. (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014)



Much like the previous games, LC is one of very few female characters. They include her best friend Sam and another crew member Reyes, along with the antagonist Himiko. These characters do, however, show other representations of female characters in video games – LC and Reyes are examples of the ‘lead female’ perception, while Sam is an example of the ‘helpless victim’ perception and Himiko is an example of the ‘evil female’ perception (see Appendix 2g). As Dietz categorized in her study:


no female characters at all, female characters portrayed as sex objects or prizes (based upon physical appearance such as wearing revealing clothing or body shape, or characterizations including women leaving with the male winner), females as the victim (based upon women who had been kidnapped or assaulted as part of the plot), females as the hero (based upon whether or not there were female characters who were or could be the action character and winner of the game) (Dietz, 1998, p. 433)


For the first time in a Tomb Raider game, a romantic interest for LC is prominent. Kennedy comments on how in the previous games, LC had no romantic interest: “[t]he absence of any romantic or sexual intrigue within the game narrative potentially leaves her sexuality open to conjectural appropriation on the part of the players.” (Kennedy, 2002) With this Tomb Raider game, another crew member and fellow friend Alex seems to express a desire for LC; e.g. when Alex becomes trapped and LC tries to rescue him, she exclaims a surprised “You managed to get the tools?” to which he replies, “Finally, I impress you”. It is uncertain whether she returns these feelings.


Another scene from the game does show the more ‘helpless’ side to LC. After trying to escape from the Solarii, one member manages to capture her and it is suggested that he has the intention of raping LC (see Appendix 2h). After some quick-timed events, LC does escape but it does suggest not only that LC is ‘weak’ but also that she is a desirable object. As MacCallum-Stewart notes when writing about fans’ reactions to the new LC, “[c]omplaints that Lara was being reconstructed as a weak victim seemed to be supported by a trailer apparently demonstrating that Lara could only become proactive after the threat of rape.” (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014)


Overall, when comparing the 2013 version of LC to her previous avatars, she is seen to be victimised much more frequently, most likely due to her lack of skills. The perception of LC being a desirable object is also noticeable in this game, but perhaps not as much as the previous games. Participants from the questionnaire agreed with this statement (participants also answered ‘other’ when describing her and made comparisons of the 90s version of LC to the new version of LC (2013), highlighting that they felt that she was much more sexualised in the previous instalments than in the new incarnation).


While her outfit(s) changed (through the developers of the games and the players), they still remain slightly consistent – they do tend to ‘expose’ some of Lara’s body, mainly her upper torso area. Another shared theme is that LC tends to be one of very few female characters in the games, despite the changing trend of including strong female characters and having a female scriptwriter for the storyboards of the game (Tomb Raider (2013)). But the most consistent recurring theme in all of these games is that LC is perceived as a strong, (mainly) independent woman who is also seen as a sexualised object. This is also backed-up by the results from the questionnaire as all participants described LC as ‘powerful/strong’.


Tomb Raider Movies

Due to the success of the Tomb Raider video games, two movie adaptions were made: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). The first movie was directed by Simon West while the second was directed by Jan de Bont. Angelina Jolie was cast as the main protagonist for both movies. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider follows Lara racing against the Illuminati to find an artefact called The Triangle of Light while discovering the truth behind her father’s death. In The Cradle of Life, while searching a tomb, Lara comes across a mysterious object called The Orb, which is linked to Pandora’s Box. Lara is tasked by the MI6, with the help of others, to locate the box before the Shaolin crime lord Chen Lo does.


Angelina Jolie

Before these movies were released, Angelina Jolie was a well-known actress (she had won an Oscar in 1999 for her role in Girl, Interrupted along with being the daughter of the famous actor Jon Voight). According to her IMDB profile, Jolie had never played an action heroine before the Tomb Raider movies, which goes against Jonathan Gray’s indication that “since many movie posters prominently feature their star or stars, they hail that star as an intertext of all their past roles and their public performance.” (Gray, 2010, p. 53) However Jolie’s presence in the film does agree with Michael Allen’s statement that “[i]t is by no means essential or inevitable, however, that a blockbuster film production will be built around a major star or stars.” (Allen, 2003, p. 108) This way, Jolie herself can be considered as a market strategy for the movies. As Richard Dyer suggests when using Evan Fields’ argument that ‘big names’ (such as Jolie herself) draw in a larger audience compared to a film starring a ‘lesser known’ star, “[t]his suggests how stars both organise the market and act back upon the ‘quality’ of the films they are in. “(Dyer, 1998, p. 5)


Jolie has been voted one of the most beautiful women on the planet in several magazine polls and has received a number of awards, including one Oscar, three Golden Globes and a People’s Choice Award (listed on her IMDB profile). Having Jolie star as LC may have been used as an advantage by the production because LC is known to have caused many debates over female leads in videogames as well as being a sex symbol within the gaming industry. As Dyer continues:


But even a sociologist, I. C. Jarvie, ultimately comes up with the same sort of notion, maintaining that stars are stars because of ‘talent’, which includes, according to him, ‘striking photogenic looks, acting ability, presence on camera, charm and personality, sex-appeal, attractive voice and bearing’ (Towards a Sociology of the Cinema, p. 149) (Dyer, 1998, p. 10)


As briefly mentioned before, Jolie cast as LC has also enhanced the argument of LC being sexualised outside of the game space. Jolie has often been voted as one of The Most Beautiful People in the World, as well as one of the Sexiest Female Movie Stars during her career, and is often described as a sex symbol (according to her IMDB Biography written by Roger Burns). As MacCallum-Stewart argues:


The casting of Angelina Jolie in the two movie adaptations of Tomb Raider (2001, 2003) meant that each film focussed overtly on the male gaze (for example, via cinematic shots of Jolie climbing out of water, wearing skintight clothing or showering), and Jolie herself is a media figure with a highly sexualised profile [...] Her body in the film becomes as pixelated as that in the games, encouraging the idea that Lara is a false [sic] icon of male desire. (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014)


(Figure 9, courtesy of


In other words, Jolie’s own ‘sex symbol’ status reflects upon LC in the movies. In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a shower scene is shown within six minutes of the movie starting, but only lasts around twenty seconds (ten of which LC spends removing her towel). It is worth mentioning that in Cradle of Life, when LC is first seen in the movie, she is wearing a bikini and later changes into a skin-tight silver wetsuit (see Figure 9). These scenes, combined with the sexualised star power of Jolie, point to LC being seen as an object of desire by the audience both inside of games (players) and inside the movies (production team).


Femininity in Cinema

Jackie Stacey wrote extensively about femininity within the cinema. Her main focus was on the 1940s and 1950s and how female stars were perceived onscreen. As she writes, “[i]t has long been recognised that men and women in this culture have a different relationship to the division of looking and being looked at…The female body is on display and is made pleasurable for the approval of the male surveyor.” (Stacey, 2013, p. 7 – 8) In other words, in films, women are seen as the ‘beautiful’ character for the male protagonist to gaze upon and become their romantic interest. Katy Gilpatric focused on more recent changes in femininity in the cinema:


It is now commonplace to see female action characters engaged in hand-to-hand combat, wield swords, shoot machine guns, and employ high-tech weaponry to destroy people and property – behaviours once the exclusive domain of male action heroes. These tough female representations seem to have moved beyond traditional notions of femininity (Gilpatric, 2010, p. 734)


Combining these arguments, it can be assumed that (much like video games) in early cinema, women were simply for the male gaze, but as feminism changed – along with the cinema – women nowadays are central characters who have the same abilities as men in action movies, such as firing guns and using violence, rather than ‘sitting on the sidelines’ and letting the male protagonist take action. It would seem that in the Tomb Raider movies, LC used her sexuality and her power throughout.


 It can be argued that the Tomb Raider films generate the perception that LC is a sexualised object due to costumes consisting of revealing or skin-tight outfits, shower scenes and the fact that LC had romantic interests in both movies. Despite this, in the movies, LC is still portrayed as a ‘strong’ woman – she is still the central character who uses guns, who goes on adventures (along with some help), and rides a motorbike – all of which LC does in the games. By the same token, there seems to be a hint of a joke about how unladylike LC is in these movies (despite being referred to as ‘Lady Croft’) – in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, LC is seen preferring party music to classical; she has an argument with her butler over wearing a dress and even manages to burn a microwavable meal, suggesting that she is not domesticated.

Tomb Raider Fan Art

This section will look at fan art in the Tomb Raider universe. Via content analysis, the images will be categorised into the following:


· LC as a ‘sexualised object’ (for example, LC being displayed seductively or with any nudity involved)

· LC as a ‘powerful woman’ (for example, LC drawn in combat)


During this research, another category was added that was not initially thought of – LC as a ‘romantic interest’ (for example, LC with other characters from the games in a situation that shows a possible romantic relationship).


What is Fan Art?

Alexis Lothian defines fan art as “the practices of online media fan communities: female dominated networks that cohere around affective investments in media properties and that produce and share textual, visual, and video art that is based on “their” TV shows or films.” (Lothian, 2009, p. 131) Gareth Schott and Andrew Burn argue that fan art has more than just one purpose:


Far from aspiring to emulate the surface aesthetic of the digital medium—the actual look of Oddworld—fan art such as the concept drawing in Figure 4 uses a medium that proclaims several kinds of social intention simultaneously: a serious interest in the craft of the artist, a desire to penetrate the surface of the game and reach into the early stages of its production, and a desire to make an original contribution to the gameworld, albeit (and necessarily) cast in the generic visual style of the game. (Schott and Burn, 2004, p. 263)


While the authors are writing about another video game (Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee developed in 1997), this can be applied to Tomb Raider. Fans often create fan art in the same style that the developers of the game themselves would for storyboards and backgrounds to be included in the game.


More often than not a franchise will have a trail of fan art behind it, making the fan art an additional text. Fan art can range from drawings to photos of cosplay and can even parody other texts, such as other popular or similar films and television shows. Fan art used to consist of a private audience – mainly the artist and a few friends who they were brave enough to it show to – but now, with the power of the Internet, up to millions of people can enjoy thousands of fan art texts posted online every day. Many sites exist for this purpose, such as, Fanart Central and As Jeffrey Dennis notes:


Previously most fan art was circulated only among friends or published in low-circulation fanzines, but today it is likely to be uploaded to the internet. Blogs, message boards, and archive sites have published millions of pieces of fan art involving characters from thousands of movies, television programs, animated cartoons, graphic novels, print novels, and video games. (Dennis, 2010, p. 7)


Essentially, fan art is a creative way for readers and fans of a particular text to express their fantasies of the text. This may be through drawing a character in a certain outfit or represented in a certain setting, for example in much of Tomb Raider’s fan art, LC is often drawn adventuring through a jungle or a tomb, which can be seen as fans expanding the game themselves through fan art. As Schott and Burn write:


At one level, a good proportion of the art exhibited by fans is guided and epistemologised by the process of game development and industry pre-production practices at the foundation of successful games. Much like the pre-visualisation of characters through concept drawings prior to programming […], a good proportion of the fan-art exhibited follows these conventions in the reproduction or expansion and development of the game’s creatures, environments and various habitats. (Schott and Burn, 2004, p. 261)


Lara Croft as a Warrior

In the first category, LC is often depicted as a ‘warrior’ – she centres the art, surrounded by jungle/forest or the inside of a tomb, wielding guns or some kind of weapon (see Figure 10). In this particular image, she is seen high in the trees with the bow and arrows she uses in the game, presumably shooting at enemies below while avoiding their returning fire.

Through these images, she is presented as the strong female that she is portrayed as within the video game series. Through this representation she is seen to be able to take care of herself through her numerous journeys (as she often does in the games as you only have one life). Jenkins writes that “many fan writers characterize themselves as ‘repairing the damage’ caused by the program’s inconsistent and often demeaning treatment of its female characters.” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 47) This is evident from depicting LC as a ‘warrior’ through fan art rather than taking on the game creator’s perception of her being a sexualised object. Portraying her as a warrior could be seen as immortalising her as many figures in history were. As Schott and Burn suggest “fans engage with these practices and values in their own work of transformation and tribute.” (Schott and Burn, 2004, p. 255 – 256)


(Figure 10, courtesy of

Lara Croft as a Desirable Object

The second classification, however, may not be seen in a positive light. Within these fan arts, LC is illustrated as a desirable object – she wears little or no clothing at all and poses provocatively, giving the sense that the reader sees her in a sexual ways, despite being only made up of pixels (see Figure 11). With this piece of fan art, LC has her back turned, looking away, both hands poised over her guns while remaining topless. Combined with the title of the art (Lara Croft – Seduction), it suggests a sexy side to LC. As Dennis suggests, “[w]hile explicit sex [is] forbidden by fan art websites, suggestiveness is relatively common.” (Dennis, 2010, p. 15)


 (Figure 11, courtesy of

Lara Croft as a Romantic Interest

Another finding is the amount of ‘romantic’ fan art in the Tomb Raider fandom. In the first and second incarnations of the games LC was not given a romantic interest, although she was often surrounded by male characters, no definitive love interest was hinted at. However, in the 2013 reboot, it is hinted that one of the main characters Alex does have feelings towards LC. While fans have taken this on board, there also seems to be an inclination to pair LC and her best friend Sam (see Figure 12).


This fan art can be seen as not as suggestive when compared to the ‘sexier’ LC fan art. This can be seen as a common trait in any fandom, as Dennis mentions, “[w]hile most fan art doesn’t depict any erotic situation at all, or depicts heterosexual pairs, a surprisingly large amount depicts same-sex characters in love or engaging in an erotic intimacy, or otherwise acknowledges the existence of same-sex desire.” (Dennis, 2010, p. 7 – 8)


(Figure 12, courtesy of


The Readers of Tomb Raider Fan Art

In terms of ‘poaching’ (Henry Jenkin’s term), on the other hand, fans create their own pieces of art to materialise their personal desires, which can be seen as still supporting their fandom. As Lothian argues, “[f]ans mobilize for a purpose that is neither radically disruptive of, nor fully incorporated into, the media industry’s systems of ownership, but simultaneously supports and undercuts them while producing a collectivity of its own.” (Lothian, 2009, p. 136) In other words, by creating their own work, fans can be seen as ‘disloyal’ but at the same time can be seen supporting their fandom by expanding it through activities such as drawing fan art and writing fan fiction. Schott and Burn claim that “[g]ames and game communities offer its fans the opportunity to understand art as something meaningful that symbolises an important part of their everyday practices.” (Schott and Burn, 2004, p. 271)


Jenkins concludes that:


The fans are reluctant poachers who steal only those things that they truly love, who seize televisual property only to protect it against abuse from those who created it and who have claimed ownership over it. In embracing popular texts, the fans claim those works as their own, remaking them in their own image, forcing them to respond to their needs and to gratify their desires. (Jenkins, 2006, p. 59)


While Jenkins wrote his paper on fanfiction within the Star Trek fandom, this can still be applied to the Tomb Raider fan base – fans choose to portray LC in two ways: as an object for the male gaze or as a powerful woman. Either way, fans seem to fulfil the two images with which Core Design and Square Enix have portrayed LC in their fan art (the strong female along with the sexy woman images). As Schott and Burn argue, “[f]ans young, old, male, female and globally were observed engaging fervently in multi-literate discussions that dissect and draw upon the full range of symbolic resources that converge within contemporary digital games.” (Schott and Burn, 2004, p. 260)


While Lara Croft is not the first female heroine to lead a video game franchise, she has certainly made an impact in video game history. From this study, it is safe to assume that when developers started to piece LC together, their initial intention was not to create a female character that male players could gawk at, but rather a character that was different from the other protagonists who could also appeal to a broader audience – in this case, female gamers. As Kennedy explains, “…her arrival on the game scene dovetailed nicely with the 90's "girlpower" zeitgeist and could potentially have hit a positive chord with the emergent "laddette" culture which very much centred around playing "lads" at their own game(s).” (Kennedy, 2002) This may have backfired as some girl gamers have dismissed LC due to her ‘unrealistic’ figure and sexualisation, but nonetheless, it can be assumed that she has a mixture of both elements. Participants from the questionnaire agreed with this statement as all of them (five in total) agreed that LC is a sexualised object while being seen as a positive role model (the final question in the questionnaire). Again, like the describing question (question 6), comparisons were made between the 90s LC and 2013 LC – 90s LC is seen more sexualised compared to 2013 LC. This suggests that perhaps the designers were aware of LC’s sexualisation at the beginning of the series, and as the games continued throughout the years, they decided to lessen this image. LC does not seem to use her sexuality as a weapon (unlike some female video game characters); rather she is a beautiful woman, ready to face danger and overcome it.


With the claim that LC is a positive role model for girl gamers comes the idea that – to a certain extent – LC does have some impact upon players. It is argued by researchers that video games are a more ‘intensive’ media compared to films or TV shows as the player has the ability to ‘transfer’ themselves into the character because they are the one who guides the character through the game space and decides what actions the character must take. As Behm-Morawitz and Mastro write, “unlike traditional media, video games allow individuals to actually play the character depicted on the screen, possibly increasing the level of identification felt with this mediated model.” (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2009, p. 812) Because of this transference, this may mean that characters within video games do affect players. If players (mainly male) play these games, they may form a stereotype of women from the images they see onscreen. As Behm-Morawitz and Mastro theorised, “[r]esults cautiously suggest that playing a sexualized video game heroine unfavorably influenced people’s beliefs about women in the real world.” (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2009, p. 808) The ‘unrealistic’ presentations of female characters, such as LC, who are given large breasts, small waists and more often than not are characterised as helpless victims, means that players will see women in this light. By the same logic, if girls play these types of games, they may want themselves to be seen in this light. Or, as Behm-Morawitz found in their study, “playing a sexualized female video game character negatively affected feelings of self-efficacy in women, compared to playing no video game character.” (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2009, p. 817) But in the terms of both genders, this is still considered unfair. It is also worth noting that games also target younger audiences, as Burgess et al. state, “[i]n the last 20 years, video games have become one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment for children and adults. According to the MediaWise Video and Computer Game Report Card (Walsh et al. 2005), 87% of 8–17 year old children played video games (92% of boys and 80% of girls).” (Burgess, Stermer, Burgess, 2007, p. 419) This in turn, as Dietz writes, may make girls “expect that they will continue to be victims and needy and that their responsibilities include maintaining beauty and sexual appeal while boys may determine that their role is to protect and defend women and to possessive them even through the use of violence.” (Dietz, 1998, p. 426)


Overall, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series do seem to have started a trend of adding female characters into games, especially strong female protagonists. While these games do not have an equal ratio of male to female characters – even in the recent rebooted game – this is not necessarily a bad thing. Lara Croft is a video game character who has changed the gaming world. As MacCallum-Stewart writes, “Lara is an icon, and complete with this is the understanding that she represents various aspects of gaming.” (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014) She may not be a living, breathing person but she has shown that female characters in video games do not have to be helpless victims – they can be protagonists as much as any male character can.



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Appendix 1


Figure 1: WoutF. “Tomb Raider Anniversary Nude Patch.” Screenshot. Tweakers 19/06/2007. [Accessed on 17/03/2015] [Available from:]


Figure 2: L151. “Princess Peach in Mario Party 10.” Render. Super Mario Wiki 22/01/2015. [Accessed on 29/03/2015] [Available from:]


Figure 3: Kung Fu Man. “Ivy Valentine in Soul Calibur IV.” Render. Wikipedia 12/02/2012. [Accessed on 29/03/2015] [Available from:]


Figure 4: Jeffery Dante. “Soul Calibur 2 Promotional Adverts”. Posters. Soul Calibur Wiki 02/01/2012 and 27/01/2012. [Accessed on 29/03/2015] [Available from:] [Available from:]


Figure 5: Steve JC Johnson. “Tomb Raider Screenshot.”Screenshot. The Mercury Rapids. [Accessed on 30/03/2015] [Available from:]


Figure 6: Animagic. “Tomb Raider Anniversary Render.” Render. Tomb Raider Wiki 03/07/2015. [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Available from:]


Figure 7: Samlee198527. “Tomb Raider: Underworld Render.” Render. Tomb Raider Wiki 15/08/2012. 31/03/2015 [Available from:]


Figure 8: Ni8 crawler. “Tomb Raider 2013 Render.” Render. 2013. 31/03/2015. [Available from:]


Figure 9: Paramount Pictures. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider bikini shot.” Photo. 01/09/2011. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]



Figure 10: Paramount Pictures. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Movie Poster.” Poster. Joblo’s Movie Posters 1998. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]


Paramount Pictures. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life Movie Poster.” Poster. Trailer Addict 01/01/2008. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]


Figure 11: Mineworker. “Tomb Raider Reborn.” Drawing. 2013. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]


Figure 12: InsaneKane87. “Lara Croft Seduction.” Drawing. 2009. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]


Figure 13: FitzOblong. “Tomb Raider Kim.” Drawing. 2009. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]


Figure 14: CNKunkel. “Lara and Sam.” Drawing. 2013. Accessed on 17/03/2015. [Available from:]



Appendix 2


2a. Lara Croft starring in the Lucozade adverts


Lara Croft Tomb Raider Gaming Channel (2008) Lara Croft – Lucozade Commercials. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed 31/03/2015]


2b. Lara Croft vs. Larson Conway (Tomb Raider: Anniversary).


AdamSpencer87 (2008) 04. Tomb Raider Anniversary Walkthrough – Tomb Qualopec. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 13:00 – 15:24]


2c. Lara Croft kills Larson Conway. (Tomb Raider: Anniversary).


AdamSpencer87 (2008) 12. Tomb Raider Anniversary Walkthrough – Natla Mines. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 15:10 – 15:55]


2d. Lara Croft in the Japan level. (Tomb Raider: Legend).


TheJullies (2010) Tomb Raider Legend Walkthrough [PS3]: Japan Part 1/2. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 0:00 – 1:40]


2e. Lara Croft trying to bribe (Tomb Raider: Underworld).


1araCr0ft (2008) Tomb Raider: Underworld Walkthrough – Mediterranean Sea 3/5. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015]. [Watch 4:10 – 4:30]


2f. Lara Croft meets Totec (Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light).


LaraCroft MP (2008) Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light: Level 1 – Temple of Light (Single Player). [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015]. [Watch 2:37 – 2:51]


2g. Female perceptions in Tomb Raider (2013).


Lara Croft as a heroine (Tomb Raider 2013).

AdamSpencer87 (2008) 10. Tomb Raider 2013 Walkthrough – Solarii Fortress. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015]. [Watch 10:10 – 10:25]


Joslin Reyes as a female lead character (Tomb Raider 2013).

AdamSpencer87 (2008) 02. Tomb Raider 2013 Walkthrough – Survival. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 12:02 – 12:55]


Samantha Nishimaura as a helpless victim (Tomb Raider 2013).

AdamSpencer87 (2008) 16. Tomb Raider 2013 Walkthrough – Ziggurat Final Battle – Ending. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 0:28 – 1:15]


Himiko as the female antagonist (Tomb Raider 2013).

AdamSpencer87 (2008) 16. Tomb Raider 2013 Walkthrough – Ziggurat Final Battle – Ending. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 15:14 – 15: 38]


2h. Potential rape scene (Tomb Raider 2013).

AdamSpencer87 (2008) 03. Tomb Raider 2013 Walkthrough – The Killing. [Online Video] Available from: [Accessed on 31/03/2015] [Watch 4:32 – 4:48]




Jade Avis


brightONLINE student literary journal

26 Nov 2015