Depictions of Women in STEM: Lara Croft

April 02, 2019

Written by: Alicen Ricard

This month we are celebrating International Women’s Day and we decided to switch things up a little bit and do a character from a video game instead of a movie or TV show. Video games haven’t always had great representation of women, but one video game tried to change that. Lara Croft was essentially the female Indiana Jones, which was huge. While Lara may not obviously be a woman in STEM, having her be the protagonist of a popular video game was a huge step in the right direction for women’s representation in video games.

Source: Pop Culture Uncovered

Lara Croft is an archaeologist in the popular game Tomb Raider. She was inspired by Swedish singer-songwriter, Neneh Cherry and British comic book character Tank Girl. She was created by Toby Gard to try to fight stereotypes of typical women in video games. Her portrayal as a woman in video games is sort of controversial. She’s been viewed as everything from a positive force in changing the way women are seen in video games to a horrible role model for girls. Some see her as a sex symbol whereas others see her as empowering for women. Her appearance has greatly changed over the years. As computer game graphics have improved, she has also started wearing fewer clothes, including tiny shorts and a bare mid-drift. However, the most recent version wears much more modern clothing, showing a shift in the expectations of how women are represented in video games.    

Source: Reddit

The games and movies depict Croft as an archeologist but it’s not clear if she’s had any formal training and she seems to be self-taught. She mostly searches for objects that may or may not have mystical power, much like Indiana Jones. In more recent games she's been depicted as a young college student, studying archaeology. Just like her depiction of a woman in video games has mixed reactions, so does her depiction of a woman in archeology. Just like Indiana Jones, many believe what she does isn’t actually archeology but grave robbing instead. Others think that the career has been sexualized and glamorized by the Tomb Raider franchise. However, it has inspired women to go into archaeology, which is a win. 


The former Obama Administration's White House fact sheet lists 3 goals for fictional representation of women in STEM. We are noticing a trend in the movies and television shows we have reviewed - they meet some of the following goals better than others.

1.  Include diverse STEM role models (past and present): Other than Lara, almost all of the people in STEM fields in the game are white men. The game does not meet this goal.

2. Highlight the breadth of STEM careers and social impacts: There are different STEM fields in the game, though it does focus mainly on archaeology, including tech careers and hacking. It does meet this goal.

3.  Debunk STEM stigmas and misconceptions: Tomb Raider does play up the stereotype of the Adventurer archaeologist so it does not meet this goal.


Let us know if you've been inspired by a woman in STEM in a video game on Twitter or Facebook.