Tomb Raider Anniversary: Representation of Gender.


The CSP is the 2007 game Tomb Raider Anniversary (made by Crystal Dynamics and Buzz Monkey Software and published by Eidos).

The game itself is a re-working of the original, 1996, game Tomb Raider (made by Core Design and published by Eidos).

The original designer was Toby Guard (who was the writer for Anniversary). As a result looking at the design choices for the 1996 game is really important but you MUST make it clear you are writing about the 2007 game!


I have now written a set of notes to help you write about gameplay in all three CSPs.

Playing the Game: Writing about Game Content: AQA Media A Level. Tomb Raider Anniversary, Metroid: Prime 2 Echoes and Sims Freeplay.

This is the first look my students have had at one of the new AQA Media Studies A level’s Close-Study Products.

There is quite a tension in the new course between the requirements to have a core set of primary media texts (that can be selected/monitored and standardised) and the business of Media Studies (that is the analysis of current, popular and ephemeral material). This tension is most clearly evident in the selection of a game which is a decade old.

The new Tomb Raider games have a very different set of gender representations to this product. I can however see that this product’s inclusion does allow some diachronic study of probably the most important video game character ever but the analysis is rooted in gender issues in 2007 (to put it into perspective this is only two years after the invention of YouTube, pre-Twitter, pre-financial crash).

This final piece is based on a task and a set of notes and is not an exemplar answer.

First some background:

Here are some really, really useful links to get you started with this close-study product. I think that one of the reasons that this is an interesting product to look at is the way that, within one of the newest media forms (often looked down upon as the most ephemeral, and therefore the least worthy of academic study – which should be something rings alarm bells for any self respecting Media Studies student – it is the stuff that makes the subject important) we have a character who has been presented, and re-presented, for over 20 years. She has a wide ranging fan base (from fan-boys to feminists, LGBT negotiated readers and beyond. This allows some elements of diachronic study (changes across time) and this will be important in establishing the way cultural factors have shaped the presentation of the character in this game.

Anyhoo, check some of these out!!/2015/07/lara-croft-tomb-raider-and-queer-icon.html


Our product – third from the right!

The franchise has a complicated relationship with representation. Is it positive? Negative? Or is it constantly sliding between the two? The media terms progressive (showing audiences positive, new representations of groups of people) and regressive (showing negative, stereotyped and old representations designed to keep people in their allotted place) are useful here but plenty of people disagree about whether Lara Croft is progressive or regressive.

A look at the way the designers encoded meaning and the way audiences have decoded her for their own purposes (Stuart Hall) is a good place to start.


Note the sorority imagery in this fan-art. This audience member has created a sisterhood of Laras. Would a James Bond collage (in some ways a masculine equivalent) be encoded the same way?

First representation mix: 1996

Lets look at the original media product and the original set of encoded representations. All the way back to 1996, the year that Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage at the BRIT awards, whilst Michael Jackson was singing, and the film Trainspotting was released at the cinema.


The character’s first designer was Toby Guard.

Initially the character was to be male, American and an Indiana Jones derivative.


Even the title (as well as publicity design) references Spielberg’s 1981 film. Look at the colour palette of both the film poster and the game cover. This very much builds on Medhurst’s idea that producers use shorthand forms to help orient the audience and get to grips with character, location and action.

The narrative/representation draws on well established tropes. There was already a well established trope of the upper-class gentleman adventurer (Allan Quatermain in the Victorian King Soloman’s Mines is a good example).

Tomb Raider takes key cultural inspiration from the myths surrounding Victorian Egyptologists especially the Tutankhamun tomb.

Pop musician Neneh Cherry was cited by Guard as a key design influence.


She was notable for presenting herself in a super-competent manner (note in this picture similar clothing choices).

Other key influences cited by Toby Guard include the comic character Tank Girl and the, then current, Riot Grrrl bands.


What is interesting here is that both the comic-strip, and the music choices were non-mainstream, alternative or counter-culture references.

The Spice Girls had recently released their first single three months before the game’s release. Look at the similarity between Geri’s outfit and the clothing choices made by the game’s designers.


The first game was created by a very small team.And here they are! Lots of Dr Martens.


This has an impact on the way representational choices were made. The usual rule is that the smaller the creative team the purer the vision (less interference). Also note the fact that the team included one woman (very rare in the 90s), Heather Gibson; a level designer and so a key part of the representational encoding. In a recent interview she talks about the way she wanted to utilise stereotype:

“To begin with we created a stereotypical Upper Class Country home for Lara. We wanted to indicate her lineage as part of an old aristocratic family. There was a time in history when it was accepted that wealthy estates in Britain hired staff such as Butlers and servants. We wanted to create the impression that Lara was from an old established estate and family, the Butler added credence to this.” You can find the rest of the interview here.



At this point it would be useful to note a key representation similarity, which may answer the question as to why a female, action character was produced by a British media company.


There are some similarities with the femal characters in an earlier T.V. show.

In the 1960s UK T.V. show “The Avengers,” the first female lead character (Cathy Gale) replaced the male character with no rewrites. The result was a far more dynamic representation. The character developed into Emma Peel. These characters were the first representations of a female action lead.

Also – class representation. The Avengers leads were resolutely upper class.

The series prefigures Tomb Raider’s complex relationship between positive gender representation, action/violence, sexuality, sexualization and cultural impact.

Another key contextual point: Rave!

It is important to note how Lara Croft, as an image/icon is closely linked to 1990s, post acid-house, club culture. Her original design is tied up with 90’s clubwear (note boots, not heels – just right for that illegal rave in a muddy field). The image of Lara croft was linked to rave culture – see the long-running tie –in with Lucozade.


lara luc1lara luc 2

Very, very briefly: Gender representation: Mid 90s.

Just to note. Action female leads were beginning to gain traction in the mid 90s.


Buffy: Season 1 – 1997. In production long before the game’s release but an interesting cultural and representational indicator.

 Character history – reception and cultural status.

See cultural impact section:

Lara Croft is often referred to as both a gaming and a cultural icon:

“millions of kids playing games suddenly had a different interpretation of what women could do. Just because a lady’s a lady doesn’t mean she has to wait for a man to come save her. She can live in the big mansion, she can be the educated globetrotter, and she can be the star of her own videogame. That’s how you make an impact.”IGN

ang 3.png

The Face Magazine: cover-star status was used to recognise pop-cultural importance; usually musicians or actors.





REALLY IMPORTANT! (Hence caps-lock). Note promo material for the 2001 film. Sear into your little mind – costume, stance and ponytail!

We have to deal with a key, problematic area here. Lara Croft’s status as a sex symbol and the sexualization of the character. This was not intended by first designer: Toby Gard’s intentions were for her to be sexy “only because of her power.

“quite possibly the first gaming icon ever to be accepted as a mainstream sex symbol.”IGN

Now this is an interesting area and it becomes a bit complex: There are different producers of media content here.

Core Design created the gameplay Lara.

1996 game.jpg

Eidos’ publicity dept. created the cover and marketing images.

se sel.png


There is evidence that they constantly pushed the representation into more sexual areas (this promo for the 1997 game for example).

There are wider media re-interpretations (e.g. the Lucozade ad, comic strip, feature film etc.) Many of these sexualise Lara to a greater or lesser degree.


Rise of the Tomb Raider: 2015

Since 2013 the Tomb Raider series has been rebooted. Representation and narrative have been comprehensively rethought. The character has been written by a woman (Rhianna Pratchett).

This is the second reboot. Tomb Raider: Anniversary was already a remake of the 1996 game.

This is a media franchise which has re-mythologised itself a number of times.

Don’t forget:

  • Stereotype:
  • Dyer – Those with power stereotype those without to maintain status.
  • Medhurst – Stereotyping is a shorthand to aid the audience.
  • Perkins – Stereotyping is not always negative and contains elements of truth.
  • Readings:
  • Preferred/dominant
  • Negotiated
  • Oppositional

See The Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling: Audience Positioning. for more detail.

What would Stuart hall say about encoding, decoding and power structures?


  • Negotiated readings: Look at the way marginalised gamers (LGBT+ and women for example) have negotiated various readings.


  • The Laddish 90s promotional material is not central to these reader’s interpretations. Check out the links I provided at the start for more information.

Close Study Product: Representation Issues.

Tomb Raider Anniversary: 2007

Representation areas:

  • Gender
  • Psychogeography
  • Race
  • Class

What choices have been made in the representation of gender in both the game and the game cover for Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007)?

You should consider: gender is represented through processes of selection and combination

2.the reasons for the choices made in the representation of gender far these representations are influenced by historical, social and political contexts of media

Cover design: Gender


  • T and A shot. (Tits and Ass) Note the body twist. This fails The Hawkeye Initiative test.


The Hawkeye Initiative is a fun fan-game in which people post up images of the Marvel character Hawkeye in the same pose as a female super-hero. If he becomes camp then the female image fails the test and is definitely sexist.

  • Fanservice? Giving male hetrosexual consumers titillation – “But the only “strong” in many “strong female comic book characters” are the oblique muscles required to point their ass and boobs in the same direction.” Luke McKinney – Cracked Magazine.
  • Iconography –builds upon existing elements. Dual wielding guns, costume reboot of 1996.
  • Why so many straps? Bondage imagery.
  • Ponytail – design element. Could not be realised in original game. Had to be removed. Signification – femininity, athleticism. Braid/plait: Girl/woman blurring.
  • Post 2001 film. The image

From T.V. Tropes.

sex sells.png

This explains why the gameplay representation is different to the cover.


Third Person perspective – usually behind.  Less sexualisation?

Face tends to be hidden. Difference with publicity material. The marketing material emphasises eye contact with the viewer.

Little spoken content: Gamer can fill-in character personality during gameplay.

Lara Croft is alone: The Damsel in Distress trope is therefore avoided.

Some commentators claim that the success of the character is based on the way players (especially male players) take on the role of the protector. Players feel more protective than they would a male character. They therefore do link the representation to patriarchal masculinity.

Lara has a Tabula Rosa personality: Lara’s knowledge comes from experience and perception.

Gameplay mechanics.

game 2

  • Lara Croft’s gymnastic ability is HYPERREAL (key media term).
  • This means that it is an exaggeration of the real world which the audience accept as a representation.
  • Does this help to explain other aspects of the representation?






  • Psychogeography – locations are hyperreal.
  • They are rooted in the real but are “fabulations.”
  • Part of Roland Barthes “process of mythology.”
  • Could this hyperreality be the same for gender?


game 6

  • Some game elements are complete fantasy (check out the T Rex).
  • Reflects the concept of game as escapism.
  • How might this be reflected in the representation of gender?
  • Fantasy as positive/negative: See the recent debate surrounding the recent Wonder Woman film. Directed by Patty Jenkins as a positive fantasy. Criticized by some (director James Cameron for one) as lacking complexity and giving a positive gloss on regressive representation. Jenkins’ response is that representation of women should allow for the fantasy-perfect as well as realistic and complicated.

Progressive elements?





Conflict with male characters: Lara Croft fights alone and can defeat them. Is this gameplay as empowerment or gameplay as fantasy?
There are elements here of constructionism (making a version of the world as we would like it) as opposed to reflectivism (showing us the world as it is).

Cut Scenes





These use the same construction techniques as film to create meaning. Shot-types, camera angles and movement (although without cameras) and music/sound interplay as they would in cinema.

The final cut-scene creates an action-film style ending.

Would the meaning be different if the character was male?

Progressive or Regressive Final Boss?





  • Natla as final “boss.”
  • Regressive or progressive? Marvel Films have only shown us a female villain in 2017 (Thor Ragnarock). This product gets there well before.


Title: What choices have been made in the representation of gender in both the game and the game cover for Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007)?

You should consider: gender is represented through processes of selection and combination

2.the reasons for the choices made in the representation of gender far these representations are influenced by historical, social and political contexts of media

In thinking about this you need to consider what has been selected and combined in cover design and compare and contrast it to what has been selected and combined in the gameplay?

Try to explain the choices and combinations in terms of previous media representations (films, T.V. shows etc).

Try to link your ideas to stereotype theory. What might Dyer, Medhurst or Perkins have to say?


Oh and please like, comment, leave feedback or follow me. This will help me improve my service to you and make this a more useful thingamabob!


One thought on “Tomb Raider Anniversary: Representation of Gender.

  1. Pingback: The Mr G. Request Spot. – Mr G's English, Film and Media.

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