the international journal of computer game research volume 2, issue 2
december 2002
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Helen W. Kennedy

School of Cultural Studies, University of the West of England.



Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?

On the Limits of Textual Analysis

 

by Helen W. Kennedy

 

As the title suggests, the feminist reception of Lara Croft as a game character has been ambivalent to say the least. The question itself presupposes an either/or answer, thereby neatly expressing the polarities around which most popular media and academic discussions of Lara Croft tend to revolve. It is a question that is often reduced to trying to decide whether she is a positive role model for young girls or just that perfect combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys. It is also increasingly difficult to distinguish between Lara Croft the character in Tomb Raider and Lara Croft the ubiquitous virtual commodity used to sell products as diverse as the hardware to play the game itself, Lucozade or Seat cars. What follows then is an analysis of the efficacy and limitations of existing feminist frameworks through which anunderstanding of the kinds of gendered pleasures offered by Lara Croft as games character and cultural icon can be reached. I will begin by analyzing Lara primarily as an object of representation – a visual spectacle – and then move on, considering the ways in which the act of playing Tomb Raider as Lara disrupts the relationship between spectator and "spectacle."

There is no doubt that Tomb Raider marked a significant departure from the typical role of women within popular computer games. Although a number of fighting games offer the option of a female character, the hero is traditionally male with females largely cast in a supporting role.  In this respect alone Lara was a welcome novelty for experienced female game players. "There was something refreshing about looking at the screen and seeing myself as a woman. Even if I was performing tasks that were a bit unrealistic…  I still felt like, Hey, this is a representation of me, as myself, as a woman. In a game. How long have we waited for that?" (Nikki Douglas in Cassell and Jenkins 1999).

When Tomb Raider hit the games market, it did so with a good degree of corporate muscle behind it: indeed the game was launched as a significant part of the Sony Playstation offensive. It was a game which deployed the latest in technical advances in games design. Featuring a navigable three-dimensional game space, a simple but atmospheric soundtrack and a level of cinematic realism previously unattainable.[1] The game also made use of a familiar and popular adventure-based narrative format. A great deal has been said already about the extent to which Tomb Raider pillages the Indiana Jones movies for its narrative structure and setting. The success of the game is arguably attributable to this synchronicity between new techniques, a highly immersive and involving game space and game narrative and the controversial (and opportunistic) use of a female lead. Lara is provided with a narrative past appropriate to her status as an adventurerwhy ital? and an aristocratic English accent – a greater degree of characterization than the norm. Certainly, fans and critics suggest that none of these factors alone can explain the world beating success of the first game and its many sequels. "Lara's phenomenal success wasn't just about a cracking adventure, other games had that too. Lara had something that hooked the gamers like nothing has before. At the center of Tomb Raider was a fantasy female figure. Each of her provocative curves was as much part of the game as the tombs she raided. She had a secret weapon in the world of gaming, well... actually two of them" (Lethal & Loaded, 8.7.01). For this fan, judging from the tone, it seems that Lara herself is at least as significant as the story or gameplay. This comment also signals Lara's status as an object of sexual desire, a factor which the marketing/advertising of Tomb Raider was keen to reinforce.

It is clear that the producers of Lara wanted to market her as a character potentially appealing to women; her arrival on the game scene dovetailed nicely with the 90's "girlpower" zeitgeist and could potentially have hit a positive chord with the emergent "laddette" culture which very much centred around playing "lads" at their own game(s). In Killing Monsters Gerard Jones locates Lara amongst a number of feisty and highly sexualized female characters that rose to prominence in the 90s – including Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002). These characters have a strong "bimodal" appeal in that they manage to engage a large following of both young men and women. The console games market has traditionally been very explicit in their exclusive address to a male audience. In the late 80s and early 90s both Nintendo and Sega made it very clear that to attempt to market games for girls would threaten their real market – boys and young men. Sony's? Playstation, by addressing youth culture in general, broke with this tradition[2]. The featuring of Lara Croft as girl power icon and cover girl for The Face magazine (1997) – where she is compared to both Yoda and Pamela Anderson – demonstrated the success of the marketing campaigns and signaled her penetration within a wider cultural landscape:  people who had never played Tomb Raider could not help but have some awareness of Lara the character/icon.

Lara Croft as Action Heroine

The obvious connection between Tomb Raider and film narrative conventions and the way in which the game deploys themes and tropes from other popular cultural forms means that a feminist critique at the level of the politics of representation is somewhat inevitable. One such possible feminist approach might be to welcome the appearance of active female heroines within traditionally male or masculine genres. Lara Croft is by no means the first gun-toting action heroine and the iconography of her representation conforms to conventions deployed from Annie Get Your Gun onwards, but also has forerunners in comic book heroines such as Tank Girl. If, for example, we were to compare her to the representations within the female buddy-movie Thelma and Louise we can find many key commonalities. Tomb Raider also reworks a male-dominated genre and features a female central character: Lara totes a gun as she navigates a hostile landscape fraught with danger. Consider also the ending of Thelma and Louise – they die within the story yet the white screen and the snapshots of them during the credits offer other possible, more positive, endings; with Lara this process becomes even more elaborated as she is resolutely immortal – with each death there is the possibility to replay the level over and over until it comes out right. The popular media and feminist response to Thelma & Louise was also similarly polarized around the issue of their representation – did the fact that they wielded guns guarantee or undermine the films status as feminist? [3] The juxtaposition of physical prowess and sexuality continues to produce a great deal of ambivalence amongst feminist and non-feminist commentators.

Thelma and Louise, and other action heroines such as Trinity in The Matrix, can also be considered as what Mary Russo describes as "stunting bodies" (1994): Female figures which, through their performance of extraordinary feats, undermine conventional understandings of the female body. Thelma and Louise, Trinity and Lara explosively take up space within a particularly masculinized landscape – the desert, dark urban landscapes, caves and tombs – and in doing so offer a powerful image of the absolute otherness of femininity within this space. The action genre is typically masculine so this type of characterization is often celebrated as at least offering some compensation for the ubiquity of oppressive representations of women and the preponderance of masculine hard bodies. The general absence of such characters is part of the reasons why fans become so invested in these characters and helps to explain why the popular, critical and academic response is often so polarized. The transgressive stunting body of the action heroine is replicated in the figure of Lara. Her occupation of a traditionally masculine world, her rejection of particular patriarchal values and the norms of femininity and the physical spaces that she traverses are all in direct contradiction of the typical location of femininity within the private or domestic space. If women do appear within these masculine spaces their role is usually that of love interest (often in need of rescuing) or victim. Lara's presence within, and familiarity with, a particularly masculine space is in and of itself transgressive. By being there she disturbs the natural symbolism of masculine culture.

The absence of any romantic or sexual intrigue within the game narrative potentially leaves her sexuality open to conjectural appropriation on the part of the players. The fact that little evidence can be found of lesbian readings of Lara does not in itself prove that this does not or cannot happen. The ubiquity of the heterosexual readings and re-encodings of Lara leaves little space or legitimacy for this form of identification and desire. Within the masculine culture that pervades gaming practice/discussion and dissemination it is unlikely that female gamers will feel adequately empowered to make such a position explicit. However, the fact that a number of the female fan drawings/images of Lara are ones which  portray her in sexually coded poses at least hints at this possibility. (For examples of this artwork see http://www.ctimes.net, http://www.eidos.co.uk;  http://network.ctimes.net/volcl). So within this particular feminist framework there is some cause for celebration of Lara's presence as marking a significant breakthrough in the representation of women within the game space itself.

Lara as Fatal Femme

There is another feminist film studies approach that is much less inclined to celebrate the presence of masculinized female bodies. Psychoanalytically informed approaches which have developed from the insights offered by Laura Mulvey's landmark essay (1975) on the function of women within film narrative have a very different take on the tropes of this type of image. Two key insights which appear relevant to Lara are Mulvey's argument that the female body operates as an eroticized object of the male gaze and the fetishistic and scopophilic pleasures which this provides for the male viewer. The second argument was that "active" or "strong" female characters signify a potential threat to the masculine order. This is a more complex argument, dependent as it is on a pyschoanalytic reading of unconscious processes. Within this narrative the female body is a castrated body and as such it represents the threat of castration itself. This threat, it is argued, is disavowed or rendered safe by the phallicization of the female body. It could be argued that Lara's femininity, and thus her castratedness, are disavowed through the heavy layering of fetishistic signifiers such as her glasses, her guns, the holster/garter belts, her long swinging hair.

What is certainly apparent is the voyeuristic appeal of Lara. This is clearly expressed in the critical analysis of Lara by Mike Ward. In a discussion of the relationship between the male player and Lara, he describes his initial discomfort when faced with a photograph of the latest model posing as Lara for marketing purposes (Lara Weller). What disturbs Ward about this image is that Lara is looking directly out at the viewer of the photograph, a look he interprets as signaling her awareness of herself as the object of the gaze. This is something which never happens in the game – voyeuristic pleasure depends upon being empowered to look without being seen. For Ward this appears to betray the contract between the player and Lara. In his view "If Lara never returns the ever-present look, she demonstrates her awareness of the player in other ways: her only spoken word is a terse, slightly impatient, "no" if you try to make her perform a move that isn't possible. To the novice player at an impasse, there seems to be a frustrated potentiality in the way she stands and breathes, the user's ineptitude holding all her agility and lethality at bay"(Ward 2000, my emphasis).

By looking back, Lara disrupts the "circle" of desire which he describes: "And even if she incorporates my banality, my ordinariness, still, she's beautiful. The player's gaze is a strange closed circle of the desiring look and the beautiful, powerful exhibition. In fact, the look and the exhibition are one and the same, bound into a single, narcissistic contract safer and more symmetrical than anything Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was ever able to dream up"  (Ward 2000). What is curious about this article by Ward is both his apparent awareness of the complex range of scopophilic pleasures which Lara affords and his utter acceptance of, if not abandonment to, these pleasures. In his reference to Sacher-Masoch he also signals an awareness of their potentially sadistic nature. It has been argued that the internal spaces of game worlds stand in for the mysterious and unknowable interior of the female body; deploying Lara's lethality to navigate and master this space could be argued to enhance these pleasures. Ward does acknowledge that Lara is not real, yet his investment in her and the pleasure he derives from looking at her appear to be very real. Lara is the perfect "object" of desire in what he describes as the equivalence between his look and her performance: she is unwittingly consumed and incorporated through this look. This pleasure is only disrupted when she is made flesh in the form of Lara Weller who can look back, and through this can express a subjectivity outside of this phantasmic circle. The discussion of Lara as a male fantasy object can, however, foreclose any discussion of how she might equally be available for female fantasy. The encapsulation of both butch (her guns/athletic prowess) and femme (exaggerated breast size, tiny waist, large eyes, large mouth) modes of representation makes Lara open to potentially queer identification and desire.

There are also limits to the applicability of this theory to a games character who is simultaneously the hero (active) and the heroine (to be looked at). Lara is closer to Mulvey's later work on the Pandora myth which she explores in Fetishism and Curiosity (1996). Lara too has "a beautiful surface that is appealing and charming to man [which] masks either an "interior" that is mechanical or an "outside" that is deceitful" (1996). Mulvey argues that "Pandora prefigures mechanical, erotic female androids, all of whom personify the combination of female beauty with mechanical artifice." (1996) Whilst relating Pandora to the femme fatale Mulvey finds this productive of a more interesting reading when discussing an active female protagonist. "Pandora's gesture of looking into the forbidden space, the literal figuration of curiosity as looking in, becomes a figure for the desire to know rather than the desire to see, an epistemophilia" (1996). Mulvey's conceptualization allows us to move from considering "activity" as masculine within the dynamics of the spectacle. Within this framework Lara's active negotiation of these hostile landscapes can be conceptualized as a feminine coded "desire to know" – a curiosity which enables us to sidestep the "rather too neat binary opposition between the spectator's gaze, constructed as active and voyeuristic, implicitly coded as masculine, and the female image on the screen passive and exhibitionist." (1996) Whilst this is a useful framework which allows for a more positive reading of Lara it cannot account for how the processes of identification and desire may be enhanced or subverted through playing the game. By focusing on Lara as an agent and a spectacle there is little here that would differ from a reading of the film version of Tomb Raider (2001), and this does not account for the specificity of the experience of playing as Lara.

But Playing as Lara... What Then?

What difference does it make to the argument if we focus on Lara as a character within a game and not a film? One response is to suggest that there may be something of interest in the fact that it is typically a male player who, at least for the duration of the game, is interacting with the game space as a female body. In the game it is the player who determines the actions, so the involvement is potentially that much greater than with other media forms – "the computer "functions as a projection of certain parts of the mind ... producing the uncanny effect of the computer as a second self" (Sofia 1999). Thus, interaction with, and immersion in the game "affords users the narcissistic satisfaction of relating to a technological second self," in this case a female second self (Sofia 1999). The relationship between male player and Lara when playing the game could be seen as analogous to the relationship between Case and Molly in Gibson's Neuromancer (1984). Case is a "console cowboy" who is able to "jack-in" to Molly's sensorium and experience her actions and sensations – she becomes an extension of his nervous system. "Between self and other, subject and object, [the interface] permits quasi-tactile manipulation of computational objects that exist on the boundary between the physical and the abstract"  (Sofia 1999). This collapse offers a promise of a utopian subjectivity which is free from the constraints of fixed gender boundaries.

Thus, in this complex relationship between subject and object it could be argued that through having to play Tomb Raider as Lara, a male player is transgendered: the distinctions between the player and the game character are blurred. One potential way of exploring this transgendering is to consider the fusion of player and game character as a kind of queer embodiment, the merger of the flesh of the (male) player with Lara's elaborated feminine body of pure information. This new queer identity potentially subverts stable distinctions between identification and desire and also by extension the secure and heavily defended polarities of masculine and feminine subjectivity. Through this transgendering process, the Lara/player interface is open to two possible queer readings. One is that she is a female body in male drag – a performance of masculinity that undermines its reliance upon a real male body and highlights the instability of masculinity as an identity. Or conversely, Lara could be considered a female drag performer in that the bodily signifiers of femininity are grossly exaggerated to the extent where they threaten to collapse. "What drag exposes… is the "normal" constitution of gender presentation in which the gender performed is in many ways constituted by a set of disavowed attachments or identifications" (Butler 1993). However, this transgendering process can only be argued through if we agree that Lara is in fact a feminine subject in any real sense. Lara's feminity is only secured through these key exaggerated signifiers (or perhaps just the two). This femininity is immediately and irrefutably countered by other phallic signifiers.

Furthermore, the potential transgendering function of playing as Lara does not appear to have any real consequences in the gaming culture sustained by the male players. If anything, any kind of identification with Lara is disavowed through the production of stories and art that tends to want to securely fix Lara as an object of sexual desire and fantasy. The fact that Lara has no sexual or romantic encounters within the game also suggests that the male players and, of course, the designers might feel uncomfortable with identifying her as the object of male desire.  It also means that Lara has no sexual identity or subjectivity. To date there are no male-authored fan sites which deal with the question of "how it feels to play as a woman" and it is hard to imagine that there ever could be. Instead, you have a proliferation of sexualized imagery dominating the official and unofficial websites. Alongside these images, there exist rumours and discussions about game patches which enable the player to play with a nude Lara - the legendary "Nude Raider" game patch, or to get her to perform a strip tease. These appear to be more grounded in fantasy than reality, although there are nude images of Lara available on the web. There are also a number of web pages which offer "fragging" opportunities for female gamers to "set fire to" these nude images (see for example http://www.grrlgamer.com/fraggednude.htm). It is the presence of both the official and unofficial highly sexualized images of Lara which is often the focus of critical discussion.

It seems much more likely that the pleasures of playing as Lara are more concerned with mastery and control of a body coded as female within a safe and unthreatening context. The language and imagery remains resolutely sexist and adolescent. However, Jones (2002) argues that "indirectly, these boys are accommodating shifting gender roles, building confidence that they can find even strong, challenging women attractive and that they wont be overwhelmed by their own fears as they deal with real girls." Jones sees these sexy and powerful female characters as providing complex resources for both fantasy and identification as stable gender roles are eroded. Playing as Lara, enables engagement with an active female fantasy figure, providing opportunities for exploration of alternative versions of themselves. He argues that although "these kids may approach their bad girls as objects at first, as the game or movie or the tv show begins to unfold, they are clearly identifying with them" (2002). Even the apparent use of sexist imagery within the fan culture does not necessarily foreclose a feminist reading of playing as Lara. Jones goes on to argue that young men often choose to play games as a female character (when provided the choice or given the opportunity to design their own) as it enables them to experience a greater range of emotional complexity. For Jones, the popularity of these games and the female characters is a positive sign of greater gender flexibility and a general license to experiment with alternative identities. (2002).

But we are still some way from a full analysis of the game/player interaction. It may be that the relationship between player and game character advances in phases as the player becomes increasingly proficient at working the controls. As this proficiency or expertise develops the game character may become an extension of the player herself and Lara's separateness as a female body is eventually obliterated. "Engagement is what happens when we are able to give ourselves over to a representational action, comfortably and unambiguously. It involves a kind of complicity, we agree to think and feel in terms of both the content and conventions of a mimetic context. In return, we gain a plethora of new possibilities and a kind of emotional guarantee" (Laurel 1993). Thus the technology (including Lara) becomes a mask which signals our participation in an artificial and immersive reality and simultaneously "signals that we are role-playing rather than acting as ourselves' (Murray 1997). As a liminal space the game world allows a transgression of social and cultural norms – as an act of play we recognize the time spent playing as separate to other forms of interaction and unbound by conventional rules of behaviour. When what Murray describes as "the symbolic drama" reaches a level of intensity we become compelled to complete the game, often neglecting other activities in order to do so. The sense of presence we experience within the game world means that it can be hard to "jack out" of the game sensorium and attend to mundane matters. Thus, potentially, the fact that the polygons within the game are arranged in such a way as to denote a female body adds becomes an extra dimension in developing an understanding of the game playing experience.

For the female game player, these complex and visceral experiences may provide further opportunities for the gratification of fantasies of omnipotence and may allow for empathic experience of the pleasures of exploration and adventure which are absent in the real world. This may even be enhanced by the possibilities of identification with the game character – "empathy is subject to the same emotional safety net as engagement –we experience the characters" emotions as if they were our own, but not quite; the elements of "real" fear and pain are absent" (Laurel 1993)[4] . From this we might also speculate that some of the desperate re-encoding of Lara as "sex object" - on the part of male players - may arise from an anxiety over the fact that these experiences are mediated by a female character and thus signify an attempt to deny any empathy/identification with Lara.

Virtual Lara:Cyborg Embodiment

Don't look at the Idoru's face. She is not flesh; she is information. She is the tip of an iceberg, no an Antartica, of information…she was some unthinkable volume of information. She induced the nodal vision in some unprecedented way; she induced it as narrative. (Gibson 1996)

In 1996, Kyoko Date – another virtual character – released a single in Japan. She was created by the Visual Science Lab in Japan and was promoted through a successful talent agency Hori Pro. Kyoko's personality and performance were scripted and controlled in exactly the same way as Stock, Aitken and Waterman managed and controlled the identity and image of Kylie Minogue or Jason Donovan. As virtual commodities invested with a specifically human backstory and personality it could be argued that Date & Lara destabilize the reality of more human idols. It could be argued that Madonna is no more real or approachable than Lara or Date. In a sense, Lara the game character is no more virtual than the images of real movie or pop stars: they too are representations which are carefully managed. Gibson's Idoru, published in 1996 at the same time as the launch of Tomb Raider and Date, pivots around the romance between a real rock star and Idoru herself , a virtual performer/artist.

The Idoru appears omniscient within this story. She is able to reflect and respond to whoever she communicates with – each encounter with her is particular to the interlocutor and Idoru herself demonstrates no central subjective coherence – she is as depthless as a mirror. The same is true of Lara, who will perform differently (and reflect differently) depending on the skill and proficiency of the player. These virtual "babes" are ludic postmodern signifiers par excellence (Morton 1999),endlessly available for resignification, and providing multiple possibilities for narcissistic pleasure. When the game is mastered the player experiences Lara's mobility, agility and athleticism as his or her own. The creation and maintenance of a fairly complex backstory for Lara is an attempt to secure control of her virtual identity – she is a commercial product after all. Providing Lara with a (fairly) plausible history gives her some ontological coherence and helps to enhance the immersion of the player in the Tomb Raider world, and abets the identification with Lara. What Idoru, Lara and Date all highlight is the willingness on the part of real humans to invest erotically in fictional characters. It could potentially be argued that this is in no way a new insight — people have always invested emotionally in literary, film and television characters. This could also be seen to underline the fact that male sexual desire and fantasy are always bound up in an image of femininity which is virtual (in the sense that it is not real). Femininity is thus finally exposed as an empty signifier, a sign without a referent.

These occasions for both virtual embodiment and "erotic interfacing"(Springer 1999) need to be more fully understood as complex experiences in their own right.

"The phantasmic mobility of virtual bodies not only satisfies our infantile desires for omnipotence and omnipresence, but can provide hallucinatory satisfaction to those whose real body's mobility is impaired in some way" (Sofia 1999). This celebration of virtuality is also premised on an understanding that "computers are machines for producing postmodern forms of subjectivity" (Sofia 1999) and that these may help to bring about the collapse of other more oppressive subjectivities. As with the examples above, these more celebratory readings remain somewhat utopian in the face of the extent of the proliferation of virtual female bodies which are mere "objects". "Lara Croft is the monstrous offspring of science, an idealized eternally young female automaton, a malleable, well-trained technopuppet created by and for the male gaze" (Schleiner 2000). Technology becomes a means of extending or transcending the body as the final site of the monstrous feminine other, as well as providing opportunities for the playing out of fantasies of conquest and control of this "other." These hypersexualized versions of virtual femininity are strategies of containment which need to be understood as such. The trenchant encoding of the technological imaginary as a masculine preserve and the positioning of femininity as an aesthetic rather than agentic (i.e. the player is the agent) presence within this landscape serves to maintain the exclusion of girls and women from the pleasures of the interface, erotic or otherwise.

These virtual "babes" are not welcomed by some feminists. Elaine Showalter argues that "since the computerized cover girls are patched together from the best features of real models and stars no real woman can ever hope to equal them; but their popularity… nonetheless is part of the millennial taste, for elaborate feminine artifice, especially an artifice shrewdly designed to look natural" (Sunday Times, 10 June 2001:6). Like the earlier discussion around transgendering, this elaborate artifice could serve to underline the very constructedness of conventional ideals of femininity. However, Showalter and others fear that we will have a generation of young girls who grow up even more dissatisfied with their own bodies and who are willing to make more and more drastic interventions in order to recraft their bodies in line with these impossible images, there is a sad irony in the idea that real women are more and more likely to use technology in order to become more like virtual women who fundamentally are just technology. "More generally, Croft and the cybermodels epitomize the era of power grooming. No longer can women depend on a dab of powder and lipstick before they face the public" (Showalter 2001).

In the end it is impossible to securely locate Lara within existing feminist frameworks, nor is it entirely possible to just dismiss her significance entirely. These readings demonstrate the range of potential subversive readings, but there exists no real "extra-textual" evidence to back this up – hence the focus on the text itself, which is on its own inadequate to explore the range of pleasures available from playing as Lara – we can only conjecture. The girl gaming community which communicates via the internet has its own highly critical discourse about the imagery and content within computer games. They not only complain about the degree of sexist portrayals of women but also bemoan the stupidity of many female games characters and lack of strong female leaders in role playing games.[5] This critique must be acknowledged and addressed by designers and producers of games if they intend to attract and retain this audience.

Where are the game companies that say its okay to be girl who doesn't think like one? ... I refuse to be charted like a map, and confined to several "common" characteristics. I am uncommon. Make games for me.(Douglas 1998)

If we are going to encourage more girls into the gaming culture then we need to encourage the production of a broader range of representations of femininity than those currently being offered. We also need to offer a critique of the entire discourse around gaming which serves to create the illusion that it is a masculine preserve. Feminist film criticism has had an impact (albeit only to a limited extent) on the representation of women in cinema. This critique has inspired many writers and directors, both within and outside the Hollywood system, to increase the range of possible subject positions offered to women. It is similarly vital that in the construction of a critical discourse about games we encourage and stimulate innovative and alternative images of men and women that do not simply reinstate doggedly rigid gender stereotypes.

In this article, I have tried to be attentive to what might be different about the relationship between representations within the game world and the experience of playing the game. It is clear that games are an increasingly sophisticated representational and experiential medium and that we need analytical tools which are precise enough to capture both the similarities and the differences to other forms of leisure consumption. Simultaneously, it is becoming more and more evident that the interactive and immersive modes of engagement so central to gameplay are the model driving other forms of computer mediated consumption. This means that feminist theory cannot afford to ignore the games paradigm. By the same token, the politics of representation – and here I would extend this to racist and homophobic as well as sexist modes – is a vital issue which the games industry should not ignore.


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Ward Gailey, Christine (1994) "Mediate Messages: Gender, Class, and Cosmos in Home Video Games", Journal of Popular Culture 27 (4): 81-97.

Ward, Mike, 14 January 2000, "Being Lara Croft, or, We are All Sci Fi", Pop Matters. Available at http://popmatters.com/features/000114-ward.html. Accessed 19/06/01

Woolley, Benjamin (1993) Virtual Worlds: A Journey in Hype and Hyperreality, Penguin Books.

Endnotes:

[1] Sony are alleged to have invested $500 million in the hardware behind the Playstation and a further $500 million in the software. These figures are quoted in The Face (1997) but also in Poole (2001).

[2] See Poole (2001), Herz (1997) but ample evidence for this address to a male audience is provided in early marketing campaigns and was certainly a factor in the Tomb Raider adverts. This is most particularly evident in the "Where the Boys Are" advertising campaign for Tomb Raider II.

[3] For an overview of the complex debates around Thelma & Louise see Read, Jacinda (1999), "Popular Film/Popular Feminism: The Critical Reception of the Rape-Revenge Film" 29.11.99. in Scope Online Journal www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/journal/articles/popular_feminism.htm

[4] The degree to which fear and pain are not experienced by the player is debatable. I know that my heart rate rockets, my palms sweat, I leap out of my chair and develop callouses on my thumbs . The experience of playing Tomb Raider has often left me shaken and exhausted.

[5] For some fairly typical examples of this discourse see www.grrlgamer.com & www.chiq.net

 

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