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Play as classic Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider, and feel small hope for cultural progress

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If a picture is worth a thousand words then I suppose this screenshot from Rise of the Tomb Raider is worth a dissertation on real-time graphics technology. The image is a promotion for the latest version of the 2015 adventure game, this release pegged to the 20th anniversary of the Tomb Raider franchise. The special edition will include the retro, low-poly Lara Croft that appeared in the 1996 series debut as a playable character.

"Classic Lara Croft" will be one of five playable versions of the character plucked from previous entries in the series. The anniversary edition, scheduled for release on PS4 on October 11th, will also include all of Rise of the Tomb Raider's original downloadable content, additional outfits, weapons, an online co-op mode, and a new bit of story that works with PlayStation VR.

But back to that image. The leap in graphical fidelity is actually the least interesting thing about it. Some backstory on the character: Lara Croft was originally marketed as a sex symbol. Throughout the 1990s, she had an impossible Barbie silhouette, wore skintight clothes, and appeared in pin-up-inspired promotional material. The series hobbled through the 2000s, but the two most recent entries found creative momentum. These Tomb Raiders, written by Rhianna Pratchett, reimagined Lara Croft as a strong and independent young woman — though still with an expertise in casual murder.

There’s something about this image — the realistic man leering at this video game model — but Croft (even this crude version of her, made by men for teenage boys) is in power. She’s the one with the gun. Video game graphics have come a long way, but what’s compelling about Tomb Raider on its 20th anniversary isn’t the number of polygons. This screenshot is a reminder of how far the series has come, and how even trashy intentions can be mined and repurposed for good.

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