I had two loves during the era of the original PlayStation. Two women entered my life and I will always remember both fondly: first, the one I married, and then, the one who is still with me today—Lara Croft. But in Lara's defense, she was there first.
The first time I read about Lara Croft, she might as well have been transgendered. I distinctly remember reading a preview about a game where you played as a tomb raiding male protagonist; a little more Indiana Jones than Catherine Zeta-Jones. He even carried a whip like Mr. Jones. The next time I read something about Ms. Croft was when I flipped through a magazine at a Walden Books. It was as if the magazine was showing two games at the same time, but most people would say I fell in love with the wrong one.
The first screenshot I noticed as I flipped through the pages showed Lara high above large pool of water, a pool you knew without a shadow of a doubt she was going to have to cliff-dive off of, diving headfirst from where she stood. The other screenshots showed her traversing along edges, leaping over gorges, and shooting wolves and tigers in their pretty endangered faces.
Sure, Lara was made up of only a few hundred polygons. Sure, her boobs looked spikier than Madonna's favorite bra. I could go on and on, and yet, there was something endearing about her despite the graphical limits of the time. And while everyone was going crazy over a fat 3D plumber with a porno mustache in a colorful world, I wanted to get dirty, raiding tombs with Lara. And when they talked about how Tomb Raider's roots were in games like Prince of Persia, I was sold. The traps; the climbing; the running and leaping; I loved Prince of Persia for the SNES, it was one of my favorite games for that console. And being able to do all those things in 3D, I could not wait.
On October 25th, 1996, Tomb Raider finally hit store shelves. When I went to my local Walmart, it was there, staring back at me. It was the day before payday and I couldn't wait to get paid. I was so hyped for the game. That night, my friend Johnny came in to see me at work. He could see how excited I was; he knew I had been waiting forever to play it.
After he left, I went back to checking people out at the video store. It was just a normal, mundane and busy Friday night. A few hours later, Johnny and his wife came back into the video store and handed me a Walmart bag. Inside, sealed in its jewel CD case glory was a brand new copy of Tomb Raider. He told me I could pay him back the next day. I was so excited—I may have even hugged him. At the same time, his kindness made the rest of my night almost unbearable. How could I continue working when Lara was calling to me from beneath the cellophane wrapper?
“Come play with me,” she said, softly.
I went to my friend's house after work— we played Vampire: The Masquerade every Friday night. When I got there, I asked my friend if I could play his PlayStation for a bit before we got started. He did not object, of course. That night, I played through the first half of the first chapter of Tomb Raider. I can still remember fighting off the wolves, getting into the caves and hearing the bats swoop out to attack me; I remember missing my first jump and falling to my death. I remember everything because me and my friend were not looking at a mere video game, we were witnessing history in the making. We watched as a new character was born, a character that would become a video game icon—movies, comics, posters, etc; all these things would come from one game, one game that would soon become a long-living franchise. Sure, she has had some missteps along the way, but look at her now; we are on the heels of a new origin for Lara, breathing new life into a familiar character. And just like her, I am a little scared of how it will turn out, but she and I will find out together.