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Videogame Appropriation in Contemporary Art: Lara Croft

08/04/2011
Mathias Jansson

“Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons?” that was the question Anne-Marie Schleiner (http://www.opensorcery.net) asked in a gender analysis essay of the popular videogame Tomb Raider published year 2000 in the Switch magazine.

The videogame Tomb Raider was released by Core Design in 1996 and the heroine a British archaeologist named Lara Croft did not only  have big guns but also big breasts. In a couple of years she became a well known character not only in the games world but also for the general public when she entered the silvercreen, played by Angelina Jolie. You could say that Lara Croft is the Mona Lisa of the game world, beautiful, mysterious and well known for a large audience outside the games world.

a patched version of the Nude Raider patch, which placed police blotter style bar codes across Lara's private parts (and gave her a goatee as a Duchampian homage)

In her essay Anne-Marie Schleiner mentions the famous Nuderaider patch, a game add-on that strips Lara Croft’s clothing so you could play her naked.

The artist Robert Nideffer’s Nuderaider patch made in 1999 consisted of three-parts:

1) an appropriated website where he repurposed the existing commercial site

2) a spoofed mail-server that re-routed messages submit to Lara Croft fan club website to the Director of development at Eidos UK as if it were coming from the Director of Marketing in the US branch

3) a patched version of the Nude Raider patch, which placed police blotter style bar codes across Lara’s private parts (and gave her a goatee as a Duchampian homage), thwarting the game player’s expectation of seeing her polygonal private parts.

“This shows the male dominancy within the game world by having a female lead appearing like a super model. By presenting her naked, it makes the game seem satirical just pushing the creators’ ideas a little further.” Nideffer [2]

In 1919 the artist Marcel Duchamp used a cheap postcard-sized reproduction of Leonardo da Vincis famous painting Mona Lisa on which he drew a moustache and a goatee, in the same way Nideffer later did with Lara Croft. Duchamp called his work L.H.O.O.Q a titled that pronounced in French should be “Elle a chaud au cul”, which translated to English means “She has a hot ass”.

Eidos sent cease and desist letters to the owners of nuderaider.com who were hosting the Nude Raider patch, enforcing their copyright of Tomb Raider.[3]

Robert Nideffer. Tomb Raider Patches 1999
Robert Nideffer. Tomb Raider Patches 1999
Marcel Duchamp reproduction of Leonardo da Vincis famous painting Mona Lisa on which he drew a moustache and a goatee
Mona Lisa with a Moustache or L.H.O.O.Q. 1919 by Marcel Duchamp.

In the machinima “She Puppet” from 2001, the American artist Peggy Aswesh also investigates the gender and cultural identities of Lara Croft by mixing scenes from the Tomb Raider game. Aswesh describes Croft as a virtual girl-doll of the late 20th century, perhaps boy-doll would be a better description since most of the player of the early Tomb Raider games were men or boys. In her essay Schleiner makes the observation that Lara Croft is a “well-trained techno-puppet created by and for the male gaze.” It’s obvious that the videogame Tomb Raider has played a major role in stirring up emotions with its out of date and suspect attitude towards women. But Lara Croft has not only been a subject for critically engaged, artistic gender discussions.

2D Tombraider 0.1
Marieke Verbiesen. Tombraider 0.1 a single-player game installation.

The artists Marieke Verbiesen has created the game Tombraider 0.1 in which she flattened the 3D game into a 2D-world and borrowed aesthetic from the early game consoles. In the new game you could also find references to classic computer gaming experiences such as the stuck “loading” screen, bad language translations and space-invader attacks. It is not unusually that artist create copies of videogames, with 3D hyperrealism graphic, in a retro old-fashioned style.

Lara Croft pixel-graphic
Output: 62.500 Materialized Pixels (2000). Image by Arno Coenen.

Another way to do this is to use pixel-graphic. That is exactly what Arno Coenen, Rob Coenen and, Rene Bosma did when they re-created he 3D game character into a 2D experience with a touch of pixel-feeling. The project Output: 62.500 materialized pixels, used 62.500 pieces to create a floor mosaic measuring 5,25 x 5,25 meters of the videogame icon Lara Croft. The mosaic has been exhibited at different places in Amsterdam and Kiasma at the Alien Intelligence exhibition in 2000.

So fake polygons or not, it looks like Lara Croft has not only made an impression in the history of videogames but also in the history of art.

Extra References:

Tombraider 0.1 – Single-player game installation based on the famous 3d game Tombraider, starring the female fightingmachine Lara Croft. http://www.marieke.nu/tombraider01/eng/

MUTATION.FEM. Anne-Marie Schleiner “An Underworld Game Patch Router to Female Monsters, Frag Queens and Bobs whose first name is Betty” http://www.opensorcery.net/mutation/

1 Does Lara Croft wear fake polygons? Gender Analysis of the "3rd Person shooter/adventure game with female heroine" and Gender Role Subversion in the Game Patch. Anne-Marie Schleiner http://www.opensorcery.net/lara2.html

2 Robert Nideffer. Tomb Raider Patches. http://dimension.ucsd.edu/~mazearcheology/nideffer.html

3 A development in Lara's history is the so-called Nude Raider patch. This patch was created externally and was never housed on the Eidos or Core websites. The patch, when added to an existing Tomb Raider game, caused Lara to appear naked. Contrary to rumour, there is no nude code in any console version of the game. In April 2004, it was falsely alleged that an insider from Eidos reported to a Tomb Raider electronic mailing list that Eidos had begun suing gamers using the Nude Raider patches. Eidos sent cease and desist letters to the owners of nuderaider.com who were hosting the Nude Raider patch, enforcing their copyright of Tomb Raider. Sites depicting nude images of Lara Croft have been sent cease and desist notices and shut down, and Eidos Interactive was awarded the rights to the domain name nuderaider.com. As of December 2010, the nuderaider domain is registered to Netcorp of Glendale, California and points to a generic adult-themed search engine page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Raider_(1996_video_game)#Nude_Raider

1 Does Lara Croft wear fake polygons? Gender Analysis of the "3rd Person shooter/adventure game with female heroine" and Gender Role Subversion in the Game Patch. Anne-Marie Schleiner http://www.opensorcery.net/lara2.html

2 Robert Nideffer. Tomb Raider Patches. http://dimension.ucsd.edu/~mazearcheology/nideffer.html

3 A development in Lara's history is the so-called Nude Raider patch. This patch was created externally and was never housed on the Eidos or Core websites. The patch, when added to an existing Tomb Raider game, caused Lara to appear naked. Contrary to rumour, there is no nude code in any console version of the game. In April 2004, it was falsely alleged that an insider from Eidos reported to a Tomb Raider electronic mailing list that Eidos had begun suing gamers using the Nude Raider patches. Eidos sent cease and desist letters to the owners of nuderaider.com who were hosting the Nude Raider patch, enforcing their copyright of Tomb Raider. Sites depicting nude images of Lara Croft have been sent cease and desist notices and shut down, and Eidos Interactive was awarded the rights to the domain name nuderaider.com. As of December 2010, the nuderaider domain is registered to Netcorp of Glendale, California and points to a generic adult-themed search engine page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Raider_(1996_video_game)#Nude_Raider