As a professor who research the politics of video games, I am fascinated by the late ’90s. This era of large technological innovation was additionally the crucible by which trendy gaming tradition was cast. When researching the period I typically encounter such an odd piece of gaming ephemera that I am unable to resist monitoring it down—like Lara Croft: The Artwork of Digital Seduction, a e-book printed by Prima Video games in 2000. “Everybody is aware of the best way to make this tomb raider leap, shimmy, and swim,” the advert prompt, “however are you aware what makes her tick?”

I didn’t know what made Lara tick, so I rushed to eBay to buy a tattered copy. What arrived at my doorstep just a few days later is a captivating window into gaming on the flip of the millennium.

It is tough to overstate the impression Tomb Raider had in 1996. Driving the wave of early 3D gaming, Tomb Raider helped redefine the action-adventure platformer and spawned quite a few copycats, none of which matched the attraction (or industrial success) of the unique. Tomb Raider had one thing going for it that its imitators could not match: Lara Croft.

As we speak asking “Who’s Lara Croft?” would sound nearly as absurd as asking “Who’s Mario?” Lara stays one of the crucial iconic characters in gaming historical past. However when Lara debuted, feminine protagonists have been nonetheless fairly uncommon—particularly feminine motion heroes. As a quippy gun-toting lead, Lara Croft occupied an area sometimes reserved for the Duke Nukems of the world. Whereas the group at Core Design initially envisioned a male protagonist, the choice to vary their hero right into a heroine ended up dramatically shaping how writer Eidos would market the sequence.

The mere existence of an formally licensed e-book titled Lara Croft: The Artwork of Digital Seduction factors to Lara’s twin legacy as a groundbreaking feminine protagonist and a male gaze-ified intercourse image. A page-one editorial truly lists a few of Lara’s memorable bodily traits, together with her “imposingly voluptuous breasts.” Later a characteristic explores what makes Lara so sizzling: “She is tall, has sensational breasts, a small waist, and a luscious rear finish that she saucily flaunts when she crawls on all fours. There’s just one drawback: She will not be actual.”

It isn’t a refined e-book.

Tomb Raider art

(Picture credit score: Core Design)

Elsewhere, the e-book refers to Lara’s “clear attraction to primal masculine instincts” and describes her as “a digital girl who at all times does what you need her to do.” Nobody ever described Mario as a digital plumber who at all times plumbs what you need him to plumb.

The Artwork of Digital Seduction’s most important promoting level was its assortment of centerfold-inspired 3D renders of Lara, provocatively posed and sometimes carrying little to no clothes. The duvet incorporates a topless Lara—(canonical measurements: 34D-24-35)—together with her arms wrapped round her breasts. Later within the e-book, she seems topless in mattress, topless on the seaside, topless on the ground of a tastefully embellished lounge, and floating in an inky black void (whereas topless). Due to strategically positioned bedsheets, seaside towels, and so forth. the photographs keep away from precise nudity, however a reasonably apparent theme begins to emerge.

Lara Croft’s unreal design garnered important consideration from Eidos, the press, and thousands and thousands of youngsters (one hopes). Print adverts for Tomb Raider 3 showcased a very cleavage-forward picture of Lara with the textual content, “We improved all the pieces you requested for, however sorry, nonetheless no nude code.”

Lara’s attraction

Tomb Raider art

(Picture credit score: Core Design)

Lara Croft’s gender was a part of the Tomb Raider advertising and marketing system from the start. “Perhaps the explanation you’ve got by no means been man sufficient is you’ve got at all times been a person,” posits an early print advert. One other asks, “You know the way it actually hurts to get kicked right between the legs? Wuss.”

Whereas skewering the masculinity of their goal demographic was maybe a dangerous technique, it clearly paid off. The primary Tomb Raider bought almost eight million copies worldwide, with Eidos’ market analysis indicating that roughly 25% of these gamers have been girls and ladies.

What’s the secret of Lara’s attraction? The Artwork of Digital Seduction brings in an knowledgeable, psychologist Oscar Holzberg, to supply some questionable Freudian insights. “Males have grow to be not sure of what’s politically right to say and the best way to act. Many actual girls have grow to be too highly effective for them; males are afraid of them and flee into digital worlds,” he says. “The kid in a person can notice his masculinity with a totally innocent but concentrated femininity. And when he doesn’t need his digital playmate anymore, he can merely ignore her, with none emotions of guilt.”

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Tomb Raider art

The Tomb Raider video games painting Lara Croft as a globetrotting motion hero—a rarity for feminine characters within the ’90s. (Picture credit score: Core Design)

Identification Disaster

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Tomb Raider art

Emphasizing Lara’s intercourse attraction, Eidos marketed Tomb Raider with pin-up model renders of their protagonist in varied states of undress. (Picture credit score: Core Design)
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Tomb Raider art

As Lara’s reputation skyrocketed, she appeared as a digital mannequin for trend designers like Alexander McQueen and Gucci. (Picture credit score: Core Design)
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Tomb Raider art

Eidos employed a sequence of fashions like Nell McAndrew to painting Lara Croft in photoshoots and at dwell occasions. (Picture credit score: Core Design)

Whereas Holzberg argues that male avid gamers are maybe afraid of precise girls, it is notable that The Artwork of Digital Seduction additionally options photoshoots with fashions employed to painting Lara at conventions and different occasions. A number of gaming magazines ran “Win a Date with Lara” contests, providing determined readers an opportunity to fulfill these fashions in particular person. In its contest guidelines, PC Accelerator famous (with a wink and a nod) that winners weren’t entitled to “any form of touching or carousing with Lara Croft.”

Paradoxically offered as each an empowered feminine lead and a intercourse object, Lara graced the duvet of mainstream magazines like Time and Newsweek, appeared in comedian books and tv commercials, and modeled for high-end trend designers like Gucci and Alexander McQueen. She even made nightly on-screen appearances on U2’s 1997 PopMart tour, where, The Artwork of Seduction experiences, “she posed in full, digital magnificence, then climbed onto her Harley and raced off, solely to instantly reappear. This time, she had a rifle in hand and aimed toward singer Bono.”

Following reboots in 2006 and 2013, Lara’s intercourse attraction is not the focus of Tomb Raider or the way it’s marketed. However weird relics like The Artwork of Digital Seduction function mementos of gaming fraught encounters with gender and sexuality within the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s and the way they proceed to form gaming tradition right this moment. And now I am caught with an undesirable reminder of my very own—anybody know the best way to make eBay cease sending me alerts a few Tomb Raider technique guide that got here packaged with a paper Lara dress-up doll?