HISPANICS IN GAMES – 24 Years On, There Is No Justice for Laura Cruz
In 2006, I started working at a Canadian pawn shop. Having emigrated a couple of years before, I was eager to blend in. After a few months of working there, the company offered to have some business cards made for me. My name is Marcos, but I asked them to set it up as Mark. I went with that for a day or two, until a friend of mine talked me out of this stupid idea. While looking to appeal to a wider audience, I had lost my essence, my heritage, what made me unique. I tell you this because that is exactly what happened to Laura Cruz, except she had no choice in the matter. Created by Toby Gard and Guy Miller in the mid-90s, and inspired by Neneh Cherry (herself a WOC), she was not even born, before The Big Wigs chose to erase her, as well as her heritage. 24 years ago, Tomb Raider released to critical and commercial acclaim on the Playstation. It could have been a triumphant and historic moment for WOC in video games. instead, we got an overly-sexualized caricature of a British gravedigger, unrealistic proportions and all. Sadly, it’s been almost a quarter of a century, and still, there is no justice for Laura Cruz.
The Story of Laura Cruz
In case you don’t know about this fiasco, I’ll give you a quick refresher. Basically, Toby Gard wanted to name the main character in Tomb Raider Laura Cruz. The whole idea was to shift the narrative around women in video games, away from “generally caucasian love interest”. She was going to be this WOC powerhouse, a lethal combination of amazing heritage and incredible brains. But sadly, over time, the people working on the game thought that the name wasn’t “British enough”. They turned her into Lara Croft instead, and added insult to injury by making her travel around caves scantily clad in quasi-BDSM gear.
Now, I’m no prude, and I actually quite like the direction the series has taken since Crystal Dynamics rebooted the series in 2013. I also think Alicia Vikander did the role a great justice in the 2018 film incarnation. But the truth is that Lara Croft remains stubbornly caucasian, born to British royalty. And that’s fine, too: I’m not here to shame anyone for being white or celebrating positive representation of heritage. But I do think that whitewashing is never good. And Laura Cruz was washed in many shades of white, with no remediation in sight.
What the Heck Is Whitewashing Anyway?
Allow me to let my friends at Merriam-Webster take the lead on the specifics of the definition: “to alter (something) in a way that favors, features, or caters to white people: such as
- to portray (the past) in a way that increases the prominence, relevance, or impact of white people and minimizes or misrepresents that of nonwhite people
- to alter (an original story) by casting a white performer in a role based on a nonwhite person or fictional character”.
Now, call me paranoid, but the fact that her identity, background and heritage were changed to appeal to a caucasian audience sounds a lot like whitewashing to me. And this isn’t a Laura Cruz issue. It’s not even a video games industry issue. This is a worldwide entertainment industry fiasco. As recently as a couple of years ago, Jenny Han was turned away again and again when trying to get her film made. Why? Because To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before features an Asian-American lead. And the film companies wanted to whitewash it. Happens all the time.
Let it Go, Dude! It’s Been Over Two Decades!
Exactly! That’s my point! There is no way to change history. I know that. But what initiatives have Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics taken to ensure representation moving forward? Zilch. And I looked. Hard. It would be so easy to create something like a Coding Summer Camp for children of color, in name of Lara Croft. Or anything else that encourages representation and diversity in gaming. The only major initiative by SE was in 2018, in which they sponsored the Diversity Champion category at the Game Dev Heroes awards. That’s it.
Surely, in the past 24 years, we have progressed to the point of recognizing the importance of diversity and representation in the gaming industry? I cannot help but think that such an initiative would be welcome by the audience at large. But alas, it’s not meant to be just yet.
I will continue to write these articles, though, and you can be sure, sure as rain, that I will not let you forget about what Laura Cruz could have been.