Way back in the mid-1990s, I was a teenager who had just got her first PC. I'd been gaming for a few years at this point but owning my very own computer had suddenly opened up new avenues of gaming that I'd never encountered while hijacking my older brother's Sega Genesis.
The day I went into my local video game store and saw Tomb Raider on the shelf was the beginning of my love affair with Lara Croft.
Tomb Raiding As A Teenager
I was only 16 when I first saw Tomb Raider in the store. What attracted me to it was the beautiful Lara Croft on the cover. It was the first time I'd ever seen a game that featured a female character so heavily, and I was intrigued.
Female protagonists are more common these days, but back then it was a different story. Not only were games almost totally devoid of female leads, but many didn't contain female characters at all - not even in support roles. There were also still a number of games which only allowed players to chose from a line up of males; or if you were really lucky you'd get one token female, usually with terrible stats.
Tomb Raider was different. Not only was Lara on the cover, but so was her name - showcasing her importance to the game. I knew I had to play it, but at the time I had no clue just how much of an effect this series would have on me.
Sex Symbol And Role Model
Lara Croft became known as the first female sex symbol in gaming. I completely understood this, because she was and is a total babe - triangle boobs and all. However, the most important thing about her is that she's not a one-dimensional character who looks good and has nothing else to offer. Lara is the full package and that's totally inspiring.
Like most teens, I was very much struggling to figure out what I wanted to do and who I was and Tomb Raider helped with that. As I played the game, I realized that Lara was everything teenage me aspired to be.
We all know she's beautiful, but she's also very intelligent. She loves to learn, is a voracious reader, and finds out as much as she possibly can about the things which interest her. This is combined with a charismatic and lovable personality with a feisty edge and a spirit of adventure that can't be tamed. She has the best clothes, the best lines, and is integral to everything she gets involved in.
Honestly, what young woman wouldn't want to be like Lara? Especially those of us who were shy at school and got bullied for being smart and wanting to learn. Lara gave us hope that you can be clever and have a great life with good friends and amazing adventures.
Girl Power Before Girl Power
To me, Lara Croft will always be the first and greatest example of a strong, independent woman. She was off on adventures by herself and doing it amazingly before anyone else had even dared put a woman on a video game cover.
Back when the franchise started there was no "girl power" movement, but we had Lara. She was a symbol of what was to come, and I love her for it.
While she has had some great friends and co-workers around her as the franchise progressed, those relationships have always been portrayed as equal, all through the series. Lara isn't a damsel in distress, but if she sees one then she's perfectly capable of rescuing them.
I'm so grateful that the developers have never written a storyline that places a romantic interest alongside her to help her out. It must have been tempting to add a strong male sidekick, but Lara has never needed regular support from a man. Instead, she simply has a team, who all look out for each other.
A Respected Leader
On expeditions, Lara is usually the leader and she's highly respected in that role. Others in the teams she's been in over the years have admired her for her skills, talent, and knowledge. Seeing that played out on screen is so important, for younger women and girls especially.
Lara shows us that women can be leaders, that they can be smart and that they deserve respect. Her good looks are also important because she banishes another harmful stereotype, that says beautiful women can't be clever or don't deserve respect.
While the media is crammed full of people who've become famous for such achievements as making an explicit video or voicing obnoxious opinions, Lara is a breath of fresh air. She's got where she is through developing her skills and learning about her passions.
My AAA Babe
I very rarely play AAA titles, but I will keep playing Tomb Raider games until there are no more left to play. While Lara isn't real in the traditional sense, she's very real to me. When I pick up my controller and turn on my console, or boot up my PC, I'm reminded of her personality, her spirit and everything she embodies.
Playing as Lara reminds me, that as a woman, I'm just as capable as anyone else. That I can be smart and read books, and that knowledge is important. Finally, more than anything else she reminds me that as a woman I deserve to be respected for exactly who I am, whatever that may be.
Lara Croft, I thank you - for inspiring teenage me, and continuing to encourage adult me. To anyone who has ever been involved in creating the Tomb Raider franchise, I thank you as well. Your games have had a huge impact on my life and I hope to continue playing them for as long as possible.