The five most retrospectively creepy pieces about Lara Croft

Games journalism has come on a lot in a little over a decade.

Over the last few days, I've been playing the new Tomb Raider title, and reading up on the older games in the series. One of the things which has most struck me is how much more sophisticated the general level of discussion is on mainstream gaming magazines and websites these days. 

Anyway, I thought I would share a couple of gems with you. I'm going to read back a couple of these next time I feel down about sexism in games. Yes, we've got a way to go, but look how far we've come. After all, remember Nude Raider?

 

1. Women! What are they about?

Women. What an incredibly perplexing creation. On one hand, they can be beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, engaging, and on occasion, down right awe inspiring. On the other, they can be ugly, spiteful, shallow, heartless, ambiguous and deliberately deceptive to the point of frustration that borders on insanity. But still, we come back for more.

- IGN review of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation in 2000 

 

2. "Bigger tits for Lara Croft"

Lara Croft's breasts are to get a boost for the new version of Tomb Raider. According to the game's designers, her 38D assets [see Technical Briefing below] will be given "more definition". They won't necessarily be bigger but will have added detail - so, presumably they will look bigger. We're also waiting on an answer as to whether this extra "detail" will include nipples.

Of course this is all PR nonsense to raise interest in the game and, as a Reg staffer pointed out, you never get to see them anyway because you're always behind her.

We are unable to confirm whether Core Design will include a new viewing angle purely to enjoy the game's latest enhancements. But don't worry. Apparently, her arse will also be rounder. Incidentally, the woman chosen to play Lara in some upcoming hype-led crap movie only has 32DD breasts, as does the lady that does the games show circuit, getting geeks all sweaty (although, a quick trawl of Angelina Jolie sites shows her varying from 32DD to 38DD. Obsessive reporter John Leyden has offered to visit Angelina and find out once and for all).

- Congratulations to the guys at the Register for seeing right through Core Designs PR nonsense, but bravely writing a story on it anyway. (2000) Also, nice work getting "the only woman in the Reg office" involved later in the piece.

 

3. Who needs a fundamentally sound gameplay mechanic when you got boobs, lads?

There’s a reason that Tomb Raider sales dropped around the point Lara got a breast reduction and it has nothing to do with gamer gender dysphoria, but rather the wane of the communal hard-on.

Thanks, Kotaku writer from 2006! Incidentally, never use the phrase "communal hard-on" ever again, please.

 

4. Did I say "we"? I meant "I".

Throughout the years, young, innocent boys who started their gaming careers on the Atari and NES, grew into old, perverted gamers of the next generation. As we gamers continue to age, our interactive material moves right along with us, and that also means that as women begin to appeal to us, we begin making games that reflect our "perfect woman." These women all tend to have one thing in common: enormous breasts.

Who volunteers to tell this writer from the Examiner in 2010 that although he thinks he's writing on behalf of all gamers, he's really only writing about himself. 

 

5. No no no, these breasts are TOO BIG. I want a refund!

Honestly now...! No, don't get me wrong, I like a huge pair of boobies as much as the next fellow but everything has to stop with Lara Croft's size of breasts. Anything bigger than that is just... plain inefficient if you ask me. Capcom is struggling to achieve more fame the easy way. I repeat. The breasts look great, but was it really necessary? Ivy was already a D if not more.

Basically, video games should present fantasy in the most colorful and luscious way possible. It's like making dreams come true.

A man from Softpedia in 2007 had trouble typing this because his palms were so sweaty with lust. But, like a god-damn hero, he wrote it anyway.

***

By contrast, this time round, you can read IGN's Keza MacDonald interview writer Rhianna Pratchett; Maddy Myers on Lara and the player's "gaze"; and Cara Ellison on her continuing relationship with the character. Not to mention that Kotaku's editor recently told commenters who abused journalist Patricia Hernandez for writing about gender that they're weren't welcome on the site. 

Lara Croft in the 1990s.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Mathias Énard is the most brazen French writer since Houellebecq

Énard's latest novel, Street of Thieves, has ideas and charisma to burn.

This book, though no kind of failure, may seem a little pinched and bashful to readers of Mathias Énard’s novel Zone, a 500-page, single-sentence rumination on European cruelty that was published last summer to giddy applause. A back-cover blurb by the writer Patrick McGuinness, who also teaches French at Oxford, claims that Street of Thieves is “what the great contemporary French novel should be”, but this is a description better deserved by its predecessor – and possibly its successor, Boussole (“compass”), a grand-scale effort published in French this month by Actes Sud, which promises the reader “staggering erudition” and “heartbreaking lucidity”. Street of Thieves never calls for adjectives of that order (“involving” would be closer to the mark) though it still confirms Énard as the most brazenly lapel-grabbing French writer since Michel Houellebecq. Even on a quiet day, he has ideas and charisma to burn.

In a doomy, plague-ridden future, Lakhdar recalls a late adolescence torn between his duties as a Moroccan-born Muslim and the temptations extended by the north, an alternate universe situated just across the Strait of Gibraltar. In one scale sit “prayers, the Quran and God, who was a little like a second father, minus the kicks in the rear”. In the other sit miniskirted female tourists and the pleasures portrayed in the French detective novels that Lakhdar consumes “by the dozen”: “sex . . . blondes, cars, whisky”. When he is thrown out by his family for having an affair with his cousin, it looks as if fate is tipping the balance. But it doesn’t work out that way. Poverty keeps him tethered to his homeland, and he takes a job working as a bookseller for Sheikh Nureddin, the local imam.

Meanwhile, Lakhdar’s best friend, Bassam, is playing out the same conflict in more volatile ways. Though no less lustful and weed-smoking, he is devoted to Nureddin, for whom, it soon emerges, the Propagation of Quranic Thought is an activity broadly defined, accommodating sticks and stones – and knives and bombs – as well as the pamphlets peddled by Lakhdar.

For much of the first half, the novel is an odd mixture of picaresque and parable. Lakhdar is sometimes an object or victim of fate, sometimes a plaything of his author’s purposes, and the gear changes required can be jerky. One moment, Lakhdar will tell the reader, “And that’s how I entered the service of Marcelo Cruz, funeral services,” in a fish-out-of-water, “isn’t life funny?” sort of way. The next moment, he coolly notes the thematic overlap of his work for Cruz with a previous position that involved digitising the records of an Algerian infantry regiment in the First World War. “The idea of sending real stiffs back to Morocco after having imported dead soldiers to it virtually was rather amusing, I thought.”

Énard’s parable-making instincts frequently take control of the plot, with results that verge on tiresome. When Lakhdar sets sail on a boat named after one of his heroes, the 14th-century traveller Ibn Batuta, the vessel equals Freedom. But lack of an exit visa confines him to the port of Algeciras, then a dispute with the Spanish government keeps the boat there, too. So the Ibn Batuta becomes a symbol for the way that life dashes our best hopes – or upends them. Dreams of freedom produce a nightmare reality. An ideal of escape leads to more stasis.

Yet it feels churlish to grumble about the novel’s design when it enables so much potent writing. Sending Lakhdar from Tangier to Barcelona is a contrivance that you wouldn’t want undone. As well as furnishing different possibilities in terms of scene-setting and atmosphere, it turns the novel into a comparative portrait of two societies through their common factor circa 2011: a period of civic unrest and popular anger that failed to produce a revolution. Morocco is the country that the Arab spring forgot, while in Barcelona the deepening despair is only punctuated, never alleviated, by the occasional protest.

In the Barcelona section, richer by far than those set in Tangier and Algeciras, Énard uses Lakhdar’s outsider perspective to lay bare the shallowness of the type of dissent you find in a democracy. He notes that a general strike is claimed as a victory both by the organisers, because “they reach such-and-such a percentage of strikers”, and by the government, which didn’t have to make any changes. To Lakhdar, Spain appears “a land beyond politics”, where the nationalist government “no longer gave a shit about anyone” and industrial action has become an end in itself.

The workings of orientalism – or whatever cross-cultural logic shapes European responses to North Africa – are exposed with clarity, even flair. A feeling for paradox crowds out the platitude, derived from ­Edward Said, whereby representatives of the developed west are only ever blundering and stupid. It’s true that Judit, a student of Arabic literature at Barcelona University, so narrowly associates Tangier with sexual licence and foreign visitors (Burroughs, Paul Bowles) that Lakhdar, as a Muslim from the suburbs, feels that “we were discussing a different city”. But Énard – who teaches Arabic literature in Barcelona – is careful not to present Lakhdar’s Tangier as the “true” version and Judit’s as a romantic Other-laden mirage. Despite her overemphases, Judit never comes across as a dabbler, and it is Lakhdar’s mistiness about Barcelona that receives the harsher humbling. (The “street of thieves” lies not in Tangier, but in the Raval district of Barcelona.)

So, it is a shame, given this balancing of myopic perspectives, that Énard also feels the need to grant the older, reminiscing Lakhdar, smug in his 20/20 hindsight, a prominent place in the telling. But then Street of Thieves gives the consistent impression of a writer who, not unlike Houellebecq, views formal choices as not just secondary, but irritating. The unpunctuated first-person rant, as used in Zone, is surely Énard’s ideal device. It turns crude technique into an engine. The more intricate demands of the novel – the niceties of plotting and narrative point-of-view – merely serve to slow him down. Lakhdar is most convincing when neither a picaro nor a symbolic type, neither totally himself nor entirely representative, but a balance better suited to Énard’s analytic needs: specific enough to be vivid, while clearly standing in for the migrant who, drawn by fantasies of easy passage to streets paved with gold and teeming with blondes, finds instead an obstacle course from one site of crisis to another. 

Street of Thieves is available now from Fitzcarraldo Editions (£12.99)

Leo Robson is the lead fiction reviewer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism