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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Paula Hawkins: a pulp-feminist follow-up on The Girl on the Train

Hawkins’s writing displays a suspicion of power, especially male power, though she is also eager to identify moments of female collusion in misogyny. 

A couple of years ago, Paula Hawkins, an Oxford graduate with a run of chick-lit novels to her name (well, to her nom de plume Amy Silver), became the latest example of various splashy phenomena. Most obviously, The Girl on the Train, her first thriller, made Hawkins an out-of-nowhere, book-clubtastic, “movie rights gone in a flash” sensation, on the model of E L James. It also made Hawkins, who had formerly worked at the Times, one of those journalist-turned-juggernaut figures, like Robert Harris and Gillian Flynn, a beacon of light to every deadline-haunted hack.

Not so publicised was the kind of writer the book showed Hawkins to be. The Flynn comparisons were perfunctory, the overlap limited to shared use of multiple narrators and that not uncommon word, “girl”. A puff from Stephen King was a little more in tune with Hawkins’s sensibility, a taste for the Gothic intensities that lurk beneath the everyday; but King’s praise – it kept him up all night – still missed her strangest virtue: not the gift for making people turn a lot of pages and feel foggy on the next day’s commute, but for using the mystery thriller form as a back-door polemic, every revelation bringing an adjustment of world-view, every twist of the plot putting a spin on what we thought she thought. More striking than Hawkins’s late success or old career was her emergence as a new practitioner of feminist pulp, the sub-subgenre in which men destroy and women suffer, whose most recent classic had been Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and whose presiding genius – its queen for fifty years and counting – is the hydra-headed literary combustion engine who usually signs herself Joyce Carol Oates.

Hawkins’s new novel, Into the Water, serves to make things clearer. It enables her readers to sketch a Venn diagram to identify what was incidental to The Girl on the Train – what merely helped to grease the wheels – and what she is obsessed with. Why call it an obsession and not a crutch, a formula, the hardening of habit? Not because what Hawkins is up to conflicts with readability – clearly that isn’t the case – but because she is building novels more intricate, more packed with implication, than readability demands.

Like The Girl on the Train, the new novel centres on a female victim with alleged deficiencies as a woman and mother. The body of Danielle “Nel” Abbott, a writer and photographer, is discovered in the part of a lake known as “the drowning pool”. Nel wasn’t much liked by the other local women. She had ideas above her station. She was a “slattern”. In fact, Nel’s death goes unmourned by everyone except her wild 15-year-old daughter, Lena, who is convinced her mother jumped, but for a good – withheld – reason. To Nel’s unmarried sister, Jules, who ignored a number of phone calls and messages, and who has travelled from London to watch over Lena and identify the body, Nel’s death is the final insult, another way of upsetting her existence.

Into the Water follows its predecessor in applying laser scrutiny to a small patch, but there are signs of growth and greater ambition. Last time the setting was a pair of houses on Blenheim Road, Bucks. Here it is the community of Beckford, a village in or near Northumberland, several hours’ drive from anywhere civilised – “if you consider Newcastle civilised”, in the words of one character. The Girl on the Train had three female narrators describing events, in mildly jagged order, that occurred across a single summer. The new novel features testimony from five characters, including Jules, Lena and the brother of Lena’s dead best friend, and provides close access, in the third person, to another five, including the best friend’s mother. Alongside these ten voices are sections narrated by Jules in 1993 – her experiences carry echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie – as well as passages from Nel’s unfinished manuscript: a photographic history of the Beckford lake called The Drowning Pool, containing a prologue and descriptions of three previous deaths, dating from 1920, 1983 and 1679.

The book isn’t free of cliché – the phrase “out of the woods” is not a reference to the rural setting – and some of Hawkins’s devices border on cheating. At various points a narrator starts talking about a previously shrouded incident soon after it has been revealed elsewhere, as if the characters were in cahoots, conspiring how best to frustrate the reader. There’s much recourse to the undefined event, the word “it”. (What?!) The outsider figure, Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan, is severely restricted in her role as a conduit for backstory. “Have you not seen any background on this?” her superior asks. No, she hasn’t. But Erin “should have been given the files”. Well, she wasn’t.

But most of the time, the novel is plausible and grimly gripping, and Hawkins plays fair. Characters aren’t only lying to us, they are often lying to themselves, or else they’re misinformed. The reader always knows more than any one character but never knows all that a character knows, and Hawkins trusts that the promise of enlightenment is sufficiently seductive to deliver information by the drip.

So, Into the Water is on a par with The Girl on a Train – and of a piece with it, too. Hawkins’s writing displays a suspicion of power, especially male power, though she is also eager to identify moments of female collusion not just in patriarchal structures, but in misogyny. The blame lies with men, who react with violence and psychological abuse to the perceived threat of a woman’s independence. But one of the main products of this mistreatment is that the female characters overlook the role played by such damage when considering other women’s behaviour and subscribe instead to a male-sanctioned narrative of stubborn irrationality or wilful coldness.

Hawkins seems more engaged with the second part of the equation, the way that women see themselves and each other. The radicalism of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water depends partly on the persuasive depiction of figures such as (in Girl) the pathetic drunk and the unrepentant home-wrecker, and in the new novel the money-grabbing mystic, the joyless spinster, the trouble-making man-eater. Then Hawkins exposes the truth behind the cardboard, the way these images have been constructed and perpetuated. Her plotting works as an ambush and also as a rebuke. “You didn’t believe that nonsense, did you?” she seems to be saying. “Oh, you did – and here’s why.”

The effect is less patronising than perhaps it sounds. The rebuke is aimed at the reader not as a citizen but as a participant in the thriller tradition. After all, the victim who deserved it is a familiar character: we have little trouble believing the type. Hawkins has set herself the challenge of adding a third dimension to the dramatis personae bequeathed by Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. We are accustomed to characters shifting shape as a story develops. The obvious suspect – twitchy, tattooed, alibi-less – was all along a Good Samaritan; the spotless widow has a cellar full of skulls. Hawkins goes further, showing how narrative presumptions betray unconscious beliefs, upending clichés of other people’s making. You might dismiss her as a killjoy if she wasn’t so addictive. 

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

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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