Lara Croft is one of the most iconic video game characters ever, in a select club of characters with Mario, Sonic and Pikachu that everyone in the world, gamer or not, would recognise. She’s the most well known and most successful video game heroine of all time, her name still routinely raised in counter arguments to the idea that female led games don’t sell. She’s a trailblazer, and has been a hugely influential figure, from pushing innovation in the action-adventure genre to inspiring women in the industry by providing a figurehead and role model. Thanks to her globetrotting adventures though, she’s also motivated some mega fans to travel the world and follow in her footsteps.
One such mega fan is Kelly MCGuire, who runs the site Tomb Raider Horizons, all about the archeology and mythology of the Tomb Raider games. She’s visited tens of locations from the various Tomb Raider games, studied several more, and she spoke to me about why so many players are drawn so deeply to Lara. “None of [the early female gaming characters] captured my attention the way Lara Croft did when she burst onto the scene in the mid ‘90s,” McGuire says. “Her character design may have been created with the heterosexual male demographic in mind but her wit, intelligence, athleticism, inquistive mind, adventurous spirit, and resourceful nature made me an instant fan. I grew up loving the Indiana Jones films and spent a lot of my childhood reading about Ancient Egypt and other civilisations, so it was impossible not to fall head over heels for her. Lara was everything I wanted to be.”
This love of Lara took McGuire to Trajan’s Market, a place she said she visited out of “curiosity, mostly.” McGuire had seen all of the regular tourist spots of Rome as a teenager, so when she returned as an adult, she sought out something a little more Lara. “Trajan’s Market is one of the more memorable levels from Tomb Raider Chronicles, and when I found out that there was a real Trajan’s Market in Rome, I just knew I had to check it out,” McGuire tells me. In photographing the market for Tomb Raider Horizons though, McGuire found that the game had taken significant liberties.
“To be honest, you’d really need to stretch the limits of your imagination to see many similarities between the game version and the real Trajan’s Market,” she says. “One of the most distinctive features of the real Market, the semi-circular exedra, is nowhere to be seen in the game version. The only real similarities can be seen in the corridor Lara Croft finds herself in at the start of that level, which bears some resemblance to the site’s Great Hall, with its multistorey barrel vaults and square doorways. If you’re looking for ancient mechanical heads that shoot laser bolts or stone gargoyles that come to life, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, but you might encounter a friendly street cat or two.”
Chris Carpineti, who runs the Raidercast podcast, also spoke about the power of the locations in Tomb Raider, believing them to have been key to the game’s lasting success; “From day one, the series established itself as a globe-trotting adventure, taking Lara and the player to a variety of locations in each game, and I think there’s a real strength in that,” Carpineti says. “I believe a lot of people were excited by jet-setting in Tomb Raider. If the series had established itself as ‘one location per game’ from the start, then it may well have not achieved such an iconic status, especially not as it has as a series that is renowned for travel and exploration.”
Another mega fan, Laurie Scudder-Walker, runs Confessions Of A Gaming Mum and studied for a Bachelor’s degree in Archeology because of Tomb Raider, even meeting her husband through a Tomb Raider fan forum. She hits on similar notes to Carpineti, believing the locations to be a huge, inherent part of Tomb Raider’s appeal. “I think the locations play a very important role to a lot of fans, and you see the debate brought up all the time amongst them! It’s all about the escapism, so the further away the game takes the player from the four walls they’re currently in, the better,” Scudder-Walker says. “For me personally, it has always been about the specific place she goes to. If it’s done right, then I don’t mind staying in one place. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider and Last Revelation did that really well as there were such differing environments in both games even though they were based in a singular location.”
Through her work in archeology, Scudder-Walker has also gotten to recreate some of Lara’s footsteps in the real world. “Egypt is probably the closest I came to walking in Lara’s footsteps and the closest I felt to her in a long time!,” she tells me. “We visited Karnak and the sacred lake, which were prominent levels in Last Revelation, my favourite game in the series. It was quite an emotional experience for me as I had waited years to go there! We also honeymooned in New Zealand, and although it’s not somewhere Lara has visited, we took part in a lot of activities like bungee jumping, skydiving and canyon swinging that again made my inner Lara happy! I don’t think the younger, pre-Lara me would ever dream of doing something like that!”
Scudder-Walker, who also runs Tomb Raider fansite Survivor Reborn, even managed to take a little piece of Lara with her on her travels. As well as having her Lara experience through some extreme stunts, she also took a miniature Lara on her travels to Egypt, recreating some classic Tomb Raider levels with Lara’s model.
Carpineti also credits Tomb Raider with part of his love for traveling, and spoke about how his love of traveling may well have deepened his love of Tomb Raider itself; “There’s no doubt my love for travel and exploring far away places was majorly inspired by Tomb Raider!” he says. “I can’t give it all the credit though. Growing up in a small Welsh village was quite sheltered. It was a really small place. I was fortunate enough that my parents loved to travel, and as a kid I got to visit many many Greek islands. Places like that really immersed me in ancient culture, temples, tombs, and mythology. So I think that inevitably led me to love Tomb Raider, and Tomb Raider encouraged me to love traveling. Like a globe-trotting feedback loop!”
When asked about the places he’s travelled because of Tomb Raider, Carpineti lists the levels and locations with ease. “I’ve been to a few of the countries featured in Tomb Raider: Greece, France, Egypt, Italy, Japan, USA. But in terms of specific places, I’ve been to Rome, Venice, Luxor/Karnak, Paris, and Tokyo. Out of those, Rome is my favourite. I may be biased because my husband is Roman!
“The mix of cultures [in Rome] fascinates me, the pagan past and the relatively modern capital of Catholicism mixes in such an interesting way, so everywhere you look you’re steeped in different types of ancient history. Ironically Tomb Raider’s version of the Colosseum felt much less ruined than its real life counterpart!”
Carpineti also added that he felt Paris had been particularly well recreated in the much maligned Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness, and that Tomb Raider 2 had captured Venice’s beauty fantastically. “I couldn’t resist standing up in the back [of the speedboat on Venice’s canal], and even though the wind was roaring against me, I popped in my earphones and blasted TR2’s ‘Venice Violins’. It felt like such an authentic Tomb Raider experience!”
After developing a love of Egyptian mythology through Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the real deal did not disappoint Carpineti either; “The Valley of the Kings, and the temples of Luxor and Karnak are some of the coolest places I’ve ever explored. They’re really spectacular places, and it was such an educational trip. There were countless tourists, although we were lucky enough to have a guide who took us off the beaten track to some of the quieter areas. That’s when I felt like I was in Tomb Raider! The wind blowing through the columns, surrounded by ruins. Just like Lara, it felt easy to get lost in so much history.”
Lara Croft has had a monumental effect on the video game industry as a whole, but for her most dedicated fans, perhaps the biggest mark she’s left is in the memories of places they’ve visited on her behalf. Her rope swinging, ledge parkouring footsteps may be difficult to follow in exactly, but that shouldn’t stop you visiting all the fascinating landmarks Lara ventures to. As McGuire says, “Lara might be able to get away with leaping from one ancient building to another but the rest of us sadly have to abide by the rules.”
A feat only a true Dovahkiin could pull off.