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Dreams of Being/Killing Lara Croft: Exploring Agency and Gender in Tomb Raider

by Ethan Tussey

by Agnes Trzak and Alex Annetts for While designing the character of Lara Croft, Toby Gard envisions her as a ‘very strong’, protagonist modelled on ‘Clint Eastwood-style heroes’. In spite of these masculine traits however, Gard assumes that her female body evokes a sense of protection. On the other hand, a sense of control characterises the experiences of others, providing players with the desire to kill her, 'the god complex'. Is it correct to assume that male players cannot identify with a female avatar and thus are forced to assume agency over her, by either protecting or killing her?

The game is constructed to facilitate both these urges, as gameplay is built upon a series threatening obstacles, several with their own unique animations, fetishising her death. Considering that protecting her life or causing her harm are the only available options, the question then becomes one of character and player agency. The fragility of Lara -regardless of her gender- still recognises a degree of agency on her part, as an emotional reaction in the player can only occur in response to her danger. By actively seeking her death however, players assume full control.

Our own experiences playing Tomb Raider, differ from Gard’s assumptions:

Playing as a young girl, not identifying with the character made Lara’s death a form of entertainment, with the environment serving as a morbid playground. Returning to the game in adulthood, this sense of fun is replaced by a fear for her/my life. As a 7-year-old boy, Lara’s uncompromising character within a female body, evoked a strong urge to embody her both physically and mentally. This caused great distress upon the realisation that our bodies’ discrepancies prevented me from becoming her. Playing today, the urge to protect Lara, or other - gendered or ungendered - characters, has replaced the urge to become the figure.

To what extent then, are Gard’s assumptions valid concerning gender and its importance in colouring gamers’ perceptions of the avatar?


Interview with Tony Guard

Interview with Tony Guard

from Playing a Female Character (2013)
Creator: Critical Path - Dynamic Interview Archive
Distributor: Dynamic Interview Archive
Posted by Ethan Tussey