I’m often greeted with incredulity when I tell people outside of our little group that I preferred the original Lara Croft.
“But she was an ice queen!” says one friend.
“She was just a pair of boobs!” cries another.
“How can you prefer that version of the character to the more realistic one we have now?”
Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their love of the current version of Lara. I accept that people may find this version of the character inspirational for their own reasons.
However, I do resent being told that I need to ‘let it go’ and ‘stop living in the past’ when I talk about how current Lara is not my Lara. It’s as if people think I’m wilfully being bitter and awkward in not embracing this new character, when in fact it’s that the original meant something to me that the current version just can’t touch.
Lara’s background was very simply told. No in-game cutscenes. No playable childhood chapters (or trilogies). It was just a single page of the instruction manual but it told us so much about her.
Lara Croft, daughter of Lord Henshingly Croft, was raised to be an aristocrat from birth. After attending finishing school at the age of 21, Lara’s marriage into wealth had seemed assured, but on her way home from a skiing trip her chartered plane had crashed deep in the heart of the Himalayas. The only survivor, Lara learned how to depend on her wits to stay alive in hostile conditions a world away from her sheltered upbringing. 2 weeks later when she walked into the village of Tokakeriby her experiences had had a profound effect on her. Unable to stand the claustrophobic suffocating atmosphere of upper-class British society, she realised that she was only truly alive when she was travelling alone. Over the 8 following years she acquired an intimate knowledge of ancient civilisations across the globe. Her family soon disowned their prodigal daughter, and she turned to writing to fund her trips. Famed for discovering several ancient sites of profound archaeological interest she made a name for herself by publishing travel books and detailed journals of her exploits.
We’re informed of her rich upbringing and privileged existence; daughter of a Lord, sure to be married into another wealthy family, all the while feeling suffocated and stifled by this upper-class life.
There are parts of the north of England, including my own home town, which resent the wealthy. It’s largely due to bitterness and jealousy of course, as the area has declined and withered while other areas of the country prosper. Especially loathed are those who are well-off without seemingly doing anything to earn it. Reality TV shows featuring idiot socialites and the Royal Family are frequent targets of ire.
The northerner in me greatly appreciated this character who refused to settle for a comfortable life of inherited wealth, rebelling against the privilege of her birthright and setting out to make her own mark on the world. She even became self-sufficient when ‘she turned to writing to fund her trips’. Here was a woman making a “name for herself by publishing travel books and detailed journals of her exploits”. Northerners respect a bit of hard-graft, after all.
Then there’s the part that called to the gay part of me; the same part that found the LAU and Reboot versions of Lara unpalatable.
I was encouraged from an early age to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and be a ‘man’s man’. To take up boxing and play rugby. To eventually find a nice girl and settle down to raise a family. As I grew-up, feeling like an outsider and very different, I avoided pursuing things that I believed would make my parents unhappy while slowly dying inside.
In Lara, I found a character who was very much struggling with what was expected of her versus who she really was and the life she wanted to lead. The idea of following in her mother or father’s footsteps was unbearable, and I could absolutely relate.
Living a lie until a traumatic event inspired her to break out of her gilded cage; she risked being, and ultimately was, disowned for refusing to conform. This is something I worried about as an 11-year-old, and something that LGBT people still have to worry about today, despite us living in (generally) more progressive times.
After I came out to my parents and our relationship crumbled, Lara was a reassuring presence. Even if my parents couldn’t accept me for who I was or respected the life I wanted to lead, it wouldn’t matter. Just like Lord and Lady Croft to Lara, my parents would be just a footnote in my story. Eventually I would be fine and, crucially, happier without them.
While Core Design made tweaks to Lara’s history as the character (introducing Von Croy, ties to her wealthy Aunt, inheriting the manor etc.), it was this original story that had a huge impact on me and I’m grateful for it to this day.
Crystal Dynamics were always going to be fighting an uphill battle trying to make their Lara was more relatable, after gutting the crucial things that resonated with me.
Sure, this change began with the Angelina Jolie movie, but Crystal opted to mirror that universe when they took over from Core. Stripping away the rebellious traits I found so inspirational in favour of a dutiful daughter desperately wanting to restore the family reputation – only becoming an adventurer because of her father – was a misstep. When I think of characters in fiction who are overly concerned with family reputation and legacy, they’re not typically a nice bunch.
And then there’s the royal connection. I’ve known a few Americans who have been obsessed with the Royal Family in a way that I simply can’t relate to. I even have an extended family member in Washington who collects commemorative Royal wedding plates. Was it this kind of mentality that lead to Crystal naming Lara ‘Countess of Abbingdon’? Let’s just say that I wasn’t a fan.
The character I loved slipped away and all the while I was being told that I should get over it and get with the times, as if this newer version of the character was some shining example of what a video game protagonist should be.
With the conclusion of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, new Lara is now the finished article. She has been, as my people would say, “through the wars” and she has come out the other side stronger.
She has transitioned from scared little girl to muscle-bound terror of secret societies, though the actual muscles were largely removed from the actual retail product (because it wasn’t relatable, I’m sure.)
I’ve waited a long time for Lara to return to the iconic badass she was and she’s just about there. It’s a good point to now start afresh. Modern Lara no longer needs to look back, and perhaps I can start moving forward with her and just be the Tomb Raider.
I don’t think it’d be possible for another character to resonate with me like original Lara did. That single-page backstory had an impact on a scared 11-year-old that two reboot trilogies could not even begin to replicate.
I live in hope that maybe, in a few years time, Lara will be making a similar impact on the 30-something person I’ve become.
Written by Matt Taylor. Edited by J. R. Milward.
Why I refuse to ‘get over’ the original Lara by Matt Taylor / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.