Game Like a Girl, Grunt Like a Girl

I came home to what I thought was an orgy, and disappointingly it was only Tomb Raider.

Image via Flickr

I came home late last night to begin work on one of my other articles, briefly stopping to greet my boyfriend before he went back to his stuff and I started mine. He was in the lounge, and the study, where I was headed, is next door to it. We’re not too bothered about the acoustics in here, and we usually have the doors open and can hear what music or programmes the other has got on.

But last night, I noticed something peculiar, or troubling, or intriguing, or odd at least. There were all sorts of gasping and moaning sounds emanating from the living room, and I was convinced he was watching a pornographic film. I decided to leave him to it and get on with my work — I was obviously not invited to this party. And so I asked him about it an hour or so later when he came in to see how my work was going.

“Were you watching a porno while I was in here working?” I quizzed him.
“Er, no — I was playing Tomb Raider.”

What? I’m guessing that when you’re playing the game it might not seem as obvious, but only hearing what’s happening from the room next door, it sounded like there was an orgy going on in there. This is the penultimate release of Tomb Raider I’m talking about here, Rise of the Tomb Raider, the second one in the trilogy where Lara Croft looks less like a blow-up doll, and more like an actual archaeologist.

Her appearance is far less sexualised and cartoon-like, in keeping with the recent trend across the games industry to not insult female gamers (who make up a sizeable portion of the market) with depictions of ridiculous boobage and skimpiness. It also makes her character a lot more realistic and relatable — hotpants and a crop top is not practical attire for adventuring in ancient archaeological grounds. And doesn’t she get cold with that much flesh on display?

Someone on Reddit pointed out that the trousers are actually what she started with and then she swapped them for shorts at a future date, if we’re adhering to the timeline.

It’s obvious what demographic the perceived audience was (and likely the designers, too). Thankfully, as of 2013, Lara Croft was able to don a nice, sensible pair of trousers, and by the looks of things a minimising bra. Tits that size are going to get in the way — how she even managed to hold a gun straight in the original games is a complete mystery. But anyway, Lara’s taste in outer- and underwear is far better suited to her career choice, and she looks like a real person rather than a top-heavy cartoon character.

It’s nice that games manufacturers have realised that women exist and no longer design every female character to resemble a warped schoolboy fantasy of the ideal female form. But there’s something else that’s not quite right about Ms. Croft…

Basically every time she leaps, climbs, or just exhales, really, Lara Croft emits a soft grunting noise, the kind one might expect to hear in a more adult-oriented medium. She looks more the part now, but she’s moaning and grunting more than a doubles match at Wimbledon. Is this normal in video games? I only really play Fallout, and the only sounds you make are when you get shot at (and it’s pretty mild considering. All that radiation must have toughened my character up somewhat).

Here’s a selection of games magazines from 2003–2004, courtesy of NIAMH. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how far we’ve come since then.

A funny thing: When local radio was still truly independent, before huge multinationals bought them up and turned them into identical, generically bland copies of each other, with only the local travel news and a different jingle to tell them apart, my local station ran a phone-in contest called Lawn Or Porn. This was also the time when the sound recordings of televised tennis matches was picking up the exaggerated grunts that tennis players made whenever they returned a shot.

This vocalisation is exactly like that! Every time Lara Croft does anything mildly strenuous, she emits a breathy grunt, like she’s just stretched to pelt the ball back over the net. Is that normal? Did tennis players always grunt, and we never knew, or did it all start sometime around 2003? Questions, questions.

There was a big thing in the media, with certain newspapers (you know which ones) concentrating on the female players’ gasps and roars, along with the predictable lamentations of how women players are no longer “ladylike”. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn. But anyway, back to our lunchtime phone-in. Contestants would hear five gasps and grunts, and they had to identify if the sound was from an adult movie, or a tennis match. It is surprisingly difficult to tell.

And so I was faced with more or less the same thing when I came home last night. It’s just… weird. I asked my boyfriend about 5 minutes ago if he noticed Lara Croft’s emphatic moaning during gameplay. He laughed and said actually it was a bit annoying. Who designed this in to the game? We’ve made Lara Croft more realistic in her physical description, but she’s howling like a porn star.

OK, she doesn’t do it all the time, but my beau made extensive use of the “jump” command — which elicits such a sound from Lara Croft. And not all of the sound travels between rooms, so you can only really hear the squealing and none of the background noise. There’s a lesson to be learnt here: play the game properly or you’ll have the neighbours knocking on the wall and telling you to keep it down in there. You dirty lot.

Having played a little of the game myself, and watched others conquer the bits that I’m crap at, I actually really like it. Before now, the last game I’d played from the franchise was Tomb Raider II, and I had a look at some gameplay videos on YouTube to see if things had always been this way. The first thing I noticed was just how “blocky” everything was, and that this was the point at which Lara’s ample bosom went from triangular to slightly more rounded.

I think we can conclusively say where Lara gets her bras from.

(In terms of realism, Triumph make a bra called the Doreen, which makes your tits look pointy, so perhaps Lara’s appearance is once again dominated by her lingerie choices. It’s not a bad bra actually, it certainly keeps everything where it should be. Maybe she should have stuck with pointy boobs.)

But there’s something else about Tomb Raider II that I didn’t realise: there was grunting back in 1996 when Lara Croft first hit our computer screens! I must have forgotten this. But one thing’s for sure, whichever version I’m playing I will make sure the doors and windows are shut!