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Ex 5A: Close Playing 2 (Final)

Tomb Raider

Eidos’s popular game Tomb Raider is uniquely designed in such a way that it can be enjoyed by both men and women. Released in 1996, Tomb Raider made waves as the first action game to boast a female heroine. After playing the first edition of the game a player might want to take some time to reflect on what they have just done. These possible actions include blowing up a boat, killing more than a few men, and even maiming attack dogs. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a game about power, and the one controlling Croft is the one with the power at any given moment. As a woman Croft is only empowered by the person on the outside of the game that is controlling her. She does not have the ability to act without the use of an outside force. In reality Croft can only move when the outside player wants her to, but in the fictional world which Croft lives she is acting on her own. Besides the obvious power trip that the player is taken on, there are a few design details that can be examined and de-constructed in order to better understand the issue of reality in Tomb Raider.

One of the first things someone playing the game might notice is the more than untraditional appearance of Lara Croft. From head to toe her wardrobe consists of combat/hiking boots, short shorts/skin tight camouflage pants, and a t-shirt/belly shirt. As a gamer there is the lingering question of how this woman [Croft] could be doing so many tremendous things when she is dressed as if she is going on a trip to the beach. The truth is that none of these incoherent events really matter at all because there is no rule stating that games have to be practical or based in reality.

Literally the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding the realism in Tomb Raider is Lara Croft’s chest size. In reality Croft is supposed to have a 38DD chest, and in that condition there is no doubt that she would not be able to run and jump the way she does on screen. In fact, for both Tomb Raider movies Croft’s larger than life chest was even reduced, to seem more realistic. The reduction of Croft’s chest in the movies is a direct response the differences between video games and film depictions of the same object. In a video game her chest size is accepted, but in film it may be subjected to more scrutiny and criticism for being unrealistic. There are different conventions surrounding reality in film and reality in video games. Though we are continually referring to the idea of games projecting realism, there is no decree stating that games need to have a certain amount of fantasy or reality in order to be accepted by the mainstream.

Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, would argue that as an audience, people do not seem to care about Croft’s chest size or her choice of a certain outfit in different game scenarios because we do not pick up on such patterns. “The brain is good at cutting out the irrelevant,” (18). The brain is indeed conditioned to respond to things unknowingly and this could in fact be just another small detail that we don’t look for when we play games. “We rarely look at the real world; instead we recognize something we have chunked, and leave it at that,” (22). The fact that Croft wears shorts with a winter jacket in the freezing arctic weather or has an unreal breast size is a sign that we as an audience are either too deeply involved in the game to notice, or we simply don’t care. Another theory is that rather than not noticing or not caring, we understand that Croft is simply an artist’s design. She is a character, a creation that has abilities and makes choices that we in real life cannot make.

Brenda Laurel, author of Utopian Entrepreneur, might have a rather different approach to the issues of Croft’s breast size and choice of clothing. In her book, Laurel talked about making games that were in fact true to real life and based in reality. When she met feminist criticism regarding the content of her games she argued that she was representing the real issues of young girls, such as popularity. Laurel argues that idealism is the better approach to creating games, then basing them in fantasy (27). When talking about why she created games based in realism Laurel said, “I took a lot of heat from some people...for portraying girl characters who cared about such things as appearance, popularity, belonging, betrayal...,” (3). Laurel goes on to explain that these were indeed real issues that young girls were dealing with and that the emphasis of game designers should be on culture work [which bases itself in reality] rather than fantasy. It is likely that Tomb Raider creators did not take into consideration the idea of culture work because the game falls into the category of an escapist third person shooter that is constructed around an incoherent world.

Jesper Juul, author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, brings together the ideas of Koster and Laurel into one comprehensive argument regarding the issue of realism in Tomb Raider. Juul’s term incoherent world refers to the idea that “there are many events in the fictional world that we cannot explain without discussing the game rules,” (130). Incoherent worlds are the reasons why gamers can play in a world that has an illogical sense of storytelling, like Tomb Raider. Juul continues by stating that when gamers cannot justify a part of a game, they will refer back to the rules. If this method of thinking is applied to Tomb Raider, the question of how can Laura Croft jump and run with 38DD breasts can be answered by simply saying that she can because it is allowed by the game’s rules. Perhaps these factors are not as incoherent as why Mario has three lives, but it is still off balancer with physical reality, and many fans don’t seem to care about explaining it for a deeper narrative meaning.

The overall mix of fantasy and reality in Tomb Raider is part of what makes it such a great game to play. The reality in Tomb Raider was purposely distorted in order to give the player of the game a sense of power and control, whether they were male or female. Though there are several aspects of the game that do not mesh with our physical reality, this is justified by the argument that the game’s rules allow for such unbelievable elements in the game.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 14, 2006 5:45 PM.

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