Meet Lara Croft: Culture raider

A video game vixen has invaded our society. MSNBC's Lisa Napoli has a message to all you Lara Croft fanatics: Get a life--or a girlfriend.

COMMENTARY--My love of video games stopped with the arcade versions of Joust, Asteroids and PacMan, back in the days when you went to the mall and put quarters in the slot. God knows that at this point, if I had another screen to stare into all day, I'd mummify. And even so, the phenomenon of Lara Croft was never really directed at me, a woman in her late 30s. I don't need guns or an action figure with guns to get a tutorial on powerful women.

So, it is with great amusement that I watch the frenzy over the movie "Tomb Raider," which opened Friday. An action adventure film based on a video game. Wokka wokka wokka! Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Brothers, eat your hearts out!

Of course, it was by design that the creators of Lara Croft unleashed this digital sensation. The whole point of her character, created five years ago, was to appeal to men and to spawn a cottage industry (no more valiant goals than those in this digital age, and not necessarily in that order.) What a fabulous fantasy, rife with double meaning: Players got to shoot things and solve a giant, seemingly endless, mystery while staring at a buxom gal, whom you were actually impersonating. Hop on the couch and start analyzing that.

Even stranger are the people who are so smitten by Lara and her wiles that they want their girlfriends to dress like her. It's one thing if your man says to you that he wants you to wear that dress he saw on Jennifer Lopez. But it's quite another if he wants you to look like a digital depiction of a woman. It's not quite like having your lover ask you to do your hair like Marge Simpson, but it is kind of weird to think someone might like the looks of a faux person more than your own.

Let's not even talk about the people who want to take Lara's clothing off or who have created versions of the game where she is naked. Get a life. Or a girlfriend.

Derivative movies and literature never really do it for me, regardless of the subject matter. Aren't there about a zillion unmade film scripts circulating out there that possess more interesting content? Must everything in this world be a spin-off or a tie-in? Seventeen million copies of these games have been sold--didn't the creators have something else to say, some other story to tell?

That said, as long as no one forces me to see this movie, it doesn't really bother me. I just think we should all step back and look at what the very existence of Lara and her invasion of the culture means. Maybe it doesn't mean anything except that people are bored and want to maneuver fictitious characters through fictitious worlds. Me, I'd rather read a book, write one or go sit in Starbucks and talk to all the real, live, strange people who are out there with stories to tell.

But because I recognize that not everyone shares my perspective, and because for all matters having to do with video games I seek outside counsel, I talked to my friend The Bump, who is 15 years old and lives in Damascus, Md.

We had this IM session a few days ago:

Napoli: tell me all you know about Lara Croft

TheBump: shes unrealistic

Napoli: do you care about the movie?

TheBump: not at all. heh.

Napoli: why do you say unrealistic?

TheBump: well the point of her is she's "hot" and she's "well-endowded." i cant stand characters like that.. i can't stand teenage boys who like that, either. heh.

(The Bump is a feminist and doesn't even know it. Fabulous!)

Napoli: I think it's weird to make a movie out of a character in a video game, but maybe that's cause I'm old.

TheBump: the license is a GAME. it shouldnt be a movie

Napoli: ???? 'splain.

TheBump: i dunno just doesnt seem right. i don't like games like tomb raider. they aren't entertaining to me.

Validated by The Bump, I got a copy of the game, borrowed a PlayStation and watched the crew gather round the MSNBC studios to play it. Many of us were stumped, but anchorman Gregg Jarrett, who says he's never played a game before, was riveted by the challenge. And when I mentioned on the air that there are naked Lara versions out there all over the Web, he took note--as did a variety of viewers, who wrote in to ask me for the links.

Maybe it's just that I'm not a guy. Looking at a hunky digital guy running across the screen is not my idea of a way to kill a few hours. but come to think of it, maybe that's the game to create ...


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