It’s that time again. It’s time to look back at the sexual history of gaming.
Last time, we waded through the murky waters of the original games in the Duke Nuke ‘Em series. This time, I’ll be bucking my trend of just going through individual games. We’ll talk about gaming’s first sexual icon, Lara Croft. Sorry Ms. Pac-man, but you were a filthy, disgusting whore that did nothing for me sexually. You filled your mouth with anything you could get your non-existent hands on. A slut for dots. Not to mention there’s just something forever unclean about eating that many ghosts.
The first Tomb Raider came out on the first PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and the PC in 1996. Lara Croft was tough, British, female protagonist built like a brick shit-house. In the early days of polygonal animations, body designs were crude at best, but that didn’t stop pubescent boys from jumping all over themselves to take a gander at those cone-shaped titties. Ms. Croft was the new version of Indiana Jones (long before that Crystal Skull nonsense), just much easier on the eyes with huge knockers. Sorry Harrison Ford, maybe you should have gotten a boob job. How many other synonyms for breast do I know? Melons.
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As it turns out, Lara Croft used to be a man. No I don’t mean she’s a post-op transsexual. The team at Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix) had this great idea for a game in the style of Indiana Jones, but they also saw a huge marketing opportunity. A lot of teens who had grown up playing Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, and other cutesy games were getting older and starting to hit puberty. So why not capitalize on it and do something a bit different? Well, not that different. Time to make her a chick, slap on some hips, some huge tits, and a hot British accent and get going. It’s really simple when you think about it.
The original Tomb Raider did not disappoint and ended up selling over 7 million copies. More games came and went with mixed reviews, but sold well enough that they just continued to get made. Even though her beauty was only pixel-deep, Lara Croft had become the first mainstream video game sexual icon. Much like Mario, she became bigger than the franchise that spawned her. Everyone knew who she was in the mid to late 90’s, even those that had never touched a copy of Tomb Raider. We were stepping into gaming’s third dimension, along with that weird first step into (somewhat) realistic sex appeal.
There was another new technology taking strides in the mid-90s: the internet. Cheat codes, secrets, and other goodies no longer required a subscription to Nintendo Power or lying friends around the lunch table to obtain. Though limited, the World Wide Web was sharing information between users as fast as a dial-up modem could handle. Unless of course someone picked up the phone and booted you. Fucking AOL. Anyway, there was a tale almost as murky as the catacombs Lara Croft was navigating through herself. It was known simply as the nude code.
The urban legend floating around stated that you could enter a cheat code in your console and play the game as a fully-nude version of your favorite relic hunter. Spoilers: there wasn’t. We were computer infants and it took a while to learn for the average user that the internet is full of bullshit and treachery. No one’s quite sure where this idea originally came from, but there are theories. Was it horny kids trying to make their fantasy a reality? Was it evil fuckers just spreading rumors for the hell of it? Was it the video game publishers themselves spreading the idea around to help sell copies? Or in fact, could it have been technology shared with our ancestors by aliens? Probably ancient aliens.
Fantasy did end up (sort of) becoming reality with the release of the Nude Raider patch for the PC version of the game. It wasn’t created by those who made the game, but by some friendly neighborhood hackers. Though just a texture and color change, it looks like Lara Croft is indeed nude and you can see her naughty bits. It didn’t exactly live up to the inflated expectations of a 13-year-old boy, but nothing really ever does.
Today, it’s commonplace for the code of a game to be altered to change the visuals, to cheat, or to otherwise mess about with the experience of it. It wasn’t even that new at the time with things like Game Genie being around for years. What was revolutionary at the time was the accessibility of it all. Nude Raider wasn’t the first user-made patch for a PC game by any means, but the desire to see Lara Croft naked made people take notice of the possibilities that otherwise might not have.
All the nudity quests aside, Ms. Croft became not just a sexual icon, but a pop culture icon as well. There was even controversy about her being too sexy that luckily never gained enough traction to garner any results. Whenever you get big, there are always people trying to tear you down. It’s almost as if she became a real person, at least for a minute.
Then she made a trip to the cinema. You can’t get any more legit than two movies starring Angelina Jolie. And don’t forget, this was back in the early 2000s when everybody wanted a piece of her. Not now of course, when she’s snatchin’ up African babies with her cohort Brad Pitt. Made by Paramount, the first movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, was very successful. The sequel wasn’t as fortunate and ate it hard at the box office.
Tomb Raider games continued to be made with waning success before an eventual reboot in 2013 where Lara Croft was scaled down to a less cartoonish body type. It’s the age of the reboot, it was inevitable I suppose. Even as the popularity of the games fell slightly, the popularity of the character has never died down. Go to any convention and you’ll see her in varying degrees of attractiveness yucking it up with anyone who wants a picture.
On the forefront of three-dimensional sexuality in gaming, she pushed boundaries that didn’t exist prior to her arrival. Lara Croft will always be remembered long after the last Tomb Raider game is ever made. Who am I kidding? Someone will just end up fucking rebooting it again anyway. See you next time.
– David Chaney