A L L . O P I N I O N . N O . F A C T
Becoming Lara

October 7, 1997

Feel like becoming an empowered female for a little while?

Fire up your Sony Playstation, pop in a "Steel Harbinger," and be transformed into this intimidating and sexy half-human, half-steel female mutant in a Combat G-String, firing plasma rifles at killer alien pods.

Or, if you would prefer to slip on a skintight blue tank leotard and low-slung khakis, strap on two pistols and an uzi, leap out of a window, complete a perfect triple back layout in the air, shooting with each hand along the way down, and land perfectly on your feet, turn on Tomb Raider and become Lara Croft. As Lara, you are a detective and mercenary, hitwoman and big game huntress, thief and murderer who swims with sea serpents and sharks, sprays automatic weapon fire at baboons, wolves, bats, bears, raptors, pumas and crocodiles, scales skyscrapers and pyramids, and speeds through the Incan desert on a 2000 hp Norton cycle.

Why Lara, why Steel Harbinger? Why female? "Video games are starting to use female protagonists because it is new and original, and hasn't been done before, thus is easier to market," a producer at a Marin County game house explained.

In an interview for Next Generation magazine, Core designer Adrian Smith offered a second explanation: "If you have to look at someone's bum, it's far better to look at a nice female bum than a bloke's bum!"

But is that all that there really is to it?

The group of individuals who produce, program and design video and computer games is almost entirely male. The average user of the video game is a 29 year-old white male. Although the market has been expanding to include younger boys and older men, it has not broken into the huge consumer market populated by women. Yet, the newest players on the newest screens are very female.

The mainstream feminist response in Media Watch circles is to point to the games and shout, "misogynist!" Certainly, many of the games, in particular Night-Trap type shoot-em-up styled battles (which do not constitute a majority of the video game market) are unquestionably sexist. And Cinderella-motif adventures speak little about female empowerment.

But when the *player* -- the main action character in the video game whose life form and action is assumed by the person behind the joystick -- is female, a different mechanic is at work.

Male fantasies, it is said, are reflected in video games. In this case, it is a logical conclusion that some of the fantasies in male minds includes being female.

The conclusion that vid-game players are in part transsexuals and transvestites is undoubtedly an unpopular one. But it does add a new spin to a form of media that is largely written of as being one-sidedly regressive.

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Copyright 1997 Rebecca L. Eisenberg mars@bossanova.com. All rights reserved.