VG boundaries 4

Imperialism and White Woman Victimhood in Tomb Raider

In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, the playable character is a young, white, British, incredibly able-bodied, Lara Croft. In the opening scenes of the game, Lara is already characterized as a helpless victim, nearly drowning without the help of her male counter part. In the flashback sequence, Lara, though the crew members end up agreeing to her proposition, has to argue with a grown, white man who uses his academic titles to appeal to ethos. This expedition is based in archeology and adventure — both of which reek of western expansion, and because Lara is British, British colonialism. When we get to the island, Lara is immediately captured by the assumed inhabitants of the island and is left hanging helpless in a cave. The cave, the skulls and the rest of the intentionally “tribal” markings and decor mark a non-western culture. In addition, the purpose of this expedition was to discover Yamatai which has historical roots in Japan confirming the Western panic this game produces through the characterization of the island. On this island, Croft is forced to fend for herself by hunting, building a fire, fighting off multiple men, and also fighting off a sexual assailant. Because Croft is a white British woman who is being attacked by a group of men who are coded as foreign (speaking another language), white victimhood is exacerbated by the non-western setting and assumed “savage” culture. Similar to the ideas further fleshed out in Soraya Murray’s piece on Spec Ops in Gaming RepresentationTomb Raider, through both its characterization of Lara as a victim and the characterization of the island itself as a non-western setting, allows American and British players to see the West as “developed” and “morally good” in opposition to the island that is a place where violence against white women can coexist and is even a product of “underdeveloped tribes”.

I wondered if there could ever be a game in which the depiction of America or other colonizing “western” countries was posited in a similar way (illuminating our own problems with sexual violence, misogyny, prisons, policing, surveillance, etc) and what kind of reactions that type of game would garner from the gaming community. Could there ever be a successful self-reflective game that would expose the harmful power structures operating within “western” contexts? To that I point to two fairly recent titles, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. In contrast with Laura Croft, this Uncharted title focuses on two women of color, Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazier, a treasure hunter and ex-militant mercenary leader who embark on an adventure that while is centered on their own “self glory” offers the backdrop of cultural discourse, and what it means to excavate an item with exponential cultural significance and power. As a bi-racial character, Chloe Frazier experiences what one might consider several existential crises as she questions her own intentions and identity as an Indian woman raised in a westernized space and how that effects her intentions and choices throughout the narrative.


3 comments on “Imperialism and White Woman Victimhood in Tomb Raider

  1. ariana825
    May 10, 2018

    Hi Raven,
    I think you brought up some really interesting points about white savior in “Tomb Raider” and I think that this is a trend apparent in a lot of video games as well. As you mentioned, it perpetuates the idea that the West is morally superior and more developed, and reinforces stereotypes about non-Western cultures. This is why I believe it is important to have games such as “Never Alone” that allow players to effectively understand and appreciate different cultures through a means that is not problematic/culturally appropriative. Furthermore, the fact that the protagonist in “Never Alone” is a young girl breaks the traditional stereotype of what video game protagonists should look like.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. River_Scallop
    May 10, 2018

    Hi Raven, thank you for clearly naming how imperialism and white woman victimhood manifest in Tombraider. Naming and explaining how these things manifest visually or thematically is always important. I was particularly interested in your attention to how space gets characterized. I completely agree with what you say about the islands characterization as savage contributing to imperialist narratives. To answer your question “Could there ever be a successful self-reflective game that would expose the harmful power structures operating within “western” contexts?”, I think an interesting approach might be to pay particular attention to how spaces are being characterized.


  3. sawwbee
    May 13, 2018

    I like that you pointed at the overall very controversial and problematic nature of Tomb Raider, at least under the context of the character Lara Croft. In many ways, it reminds me of the in-class discussion we had on female representations and the ways that game developers choose to sometimes do the bare minimum in terms of representation. While it is great that the main character of this game is a woman, there are so many other problematic qualities with her being a white woman “raiding” these territories, portraying these places as “exotic” and distinctly opposite of western values and ideas of civilization, and of course the hypersexualized nature around her character, that outstrip the positives in her being a woman protagonist.


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This entry was posted on May 10, 2018 by in Theory & Criticism and tagged , , .

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