After having revisited a few of the Tomb Raider games lately, a thought occurred to me: Why is Lara Croft always depicted as a young woman in her twenties?
Her backstory is almost always the same. She’s a rich white girl from England, who enjoys the thrills of adventure and traveling the world seeking ancient artifacts. After a few games, Square Enix reboots the character (even killing her off in one instance) and then we begin the cycle again. Lara just isn’t allowed to age, and this feels like a massive obstruction in allowing the character to grow in interesting ways.
One needs only to look at Croft’s best counterpart, Nathan Drake, as an example for characters being allowed to age and grow. The Uncharted series kicks off Nate’s character by depicting him as a rebellious treasure hunter with a great amount of wit and courage, and an “ends justifies the means” approach to each adventure he goes on.
As Nate gets older throughout the series, and has more experience under his belt, he begins to understand his limits and sees that the human cost of chasing these ancient relics is not as important as keeping the people he loves close to him (and alive). We see this through his relationship with his friend Sully, his brother Sam, and his wife Elena.
You see this gradually happen within Nate over the course of the Uncharted games: when Elena nearly gets killed at the end of Among Thieves, when Chloe and Cutter quit the adventure halfway through Drake’s Deception, and when Nate ultimately chooses to abandon his search for Avery’s treasure to save the lives of his friends and family at the end of A Thief’s End. All throughout this series, you see how this growth has been informed by his relationship with Elena, and their on-again-off-again lifestyle has been caused by Nate’s incessant call to adventure.
So it’s a little sad we’ve never been able to see Lara Croft get the same treatment. She’s an adventurer with a remarkably similar lifestyle to Nate. She’s athletic, a treasure hunter, and has a strong moral compass, but she has never really had time to grow in the same way. But she also keeps being rebooted, given new origins that undoes all of the development we were just starting to get.
If you ask me, I think the next Tomb Raider game should feature an older Lara. Set it twenty years in the future or something, when she’s in her forties. This version of the character would be a little more jaded about treasure hunting. She wouldn’t be pinching these relics from ancient cultures but would instead be working to protect and restore them.
I feel like this detail is crucial, because Lara differs from Nathan Drake in the sense that her family has profited from their past archaeological digs (her father in most canon backstories). Whereas Nate is just some guy, Lara comes from a lineage that specifically exploited and stole from the cultures of foreign countries to profit on them back at home.
Even though the newer Tomb Raider rebooted games toned this down, the elephant is still in the room. I feel that depicting an older Lara as one who works to preserve ancient cultures in their natural state rather than disturb them would be a fitting evolution of the character. You couldn’t really do this with a character that was still in her twenties, as it would only feel authentic if the change in personality was informed by years of experience.
There’s more to it than that though. I want to see what else an extra twenty years has done to Lara’s mind and body. Is she as athletic as she used to be? Has she made any enemies over the years? Any new friends? She’d be much smarter than she thought she was in her twenties, and perhaps would follow down a similar route as Nathan Drake.
There has also been a recent surge in representation for older female characters in video games. Selene in Returnal, Billie Lurk in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and Evie Frye in the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate stand out to me as iconic female characters of the older demographic. There isn’t a lot to work with, sadly, but it still marks a shift.
According to Ukie, 50% of gamers in the United Kingdom are women and 46% of gamers are aged over 40. With there still being so few big examples of older female characters in video games, that’s a large amount of people being shunned out. To see a character as iconic as Lara Croft be depicted as older as this would be a big win for diversity and representation within this demographic.
It would be a dramatic change for the series, sure, but with a development team keen to provide a new frontier for growth in Lara Croft, this is the only way I can see the Tomb Raider series moving forward.