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Is Lara Croft Really The Most Iconic Game Character?

Lara Croft has been named the most iconic video game character of all time by the BAFTA Games Awards and my first thought was “what?”

I mean, it makes sense. As someone who remembers the magazine covers, the cardboard cut-outs and the rave reviews from balding middle-aged non-gamer dads, I get it. She was the first character I remember truly transcending the medium. Mario and Sonic (mostly Sonic) might be more obvious. But they didn’t have a quarter of the appeal Lara had to that wider audience.

That’s not nothing. Lara Croft is iconic in a way very few characters are. Or were. Because while Lara Croft’s sex appeal and attitude made her a symbol in the 90s, it is long time ago. And, for obvious reasons, nobody seems very keen to bring it back. At least not in as blatant a fashion. You’re never going to see Lara lying naked on the cover of magazines again. That kind of iconic sells video games.

Now she’s just one of a number of “strong female characters”. I don’t necessarily mean it as a criticism. We want characters who are strong enough to overcome the odds against them, and they might as well be women. But has Lara been treated well enough in the years since the PS1 era to really still count as iconic? Does she stand out against other characters who have edged her out of her own arena?

The rest of the list contains an unsurprising collection of characters. Go take a look at the Smash Bros line-up and you’re not far from who BAFTA have named. Add in Master Chief, Agent 47 and Sackboy, and you’d have the list down perfectly.

Perhaps that says something about where we are as an industry.

Lara Croft: A Changing Icon

It’s hard to explain just how iconic Lara Croft was back then. She was everywhere. But gaming doesn’t really have icons any more. Perhaps it’s too mainstream.

Sure, like BAFTA we could point to Mario, to Pac-Man, to Sonic. Each, in their own way, transcends the bits and bytes that make them up. But they are, through and through, video game characters. Mario and Sonic both have rather gamey feature films. Pac-man has popped up, beeped and booped for a bit, then died in as many cameos as you want to name. Each have endless products, tie-ins and cash grabs.

They represent gaming, sure. They’re even iconic representations of gaming. But they’re tethered to a medium that is built around running really fast at a goal, or jumping up to hit blocks. People are as likely to recognise a Tetris block.

Perhaps then Lara Croft really is the most iconic video game character, because for the life of me I can’t think of any character that has hit the wider world the way she did. And I can’t think of any character that will again. Is it sad that for that one flash in the 90s a gaming character demanded your attention and then the industry became so mundane and accepted that it would never happen that way again?

I don’t know. But I’m glad it happened at least once. And for that, Lara Croft will always be iconic.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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