Elegant Tramps: The Bodies of Lara Croft and Rubi Malone
The complicated reactions that gamers have to Lara and Rubi might suggest that their representations are, well, at least somewhat complicated.
I deeply admire the audacity of the title of Bethesda's Wet. “Wet” refers to the protagonist, Rubi Malone's, occupation as assassin (skilled at such “wetwork”) and also implies a less than subtle bit of sexual innuendo. Given Wet's overt exploitation cinema influences, the ability to work that genre of film's two dominant interests, violence and sex, into just one three letter word is pretty clever.
A couple of weeks ago, L.B. Jeffries wrote about “Miconceptions About the Female Avatar” elsewhere in Moving Pixels. Jeffries used a study, “Hypersexualized Females in Digital Games: Do Men Want Them, Do Women Want to Be Them?” as the basis for his discussion of how women may react positively to “hypersexualized” female avatars in games. As defined by the study, hypersexuality is represented in games that tend to exaggerate the sexual characteristics of female characters. Specifically, the 34D-24-35 measurements of Lara Croft were cited as the “embodiment” of this kind of hypersexual representation.
In that regard, I find that both Lara and Rubi, who have each provoked both positive and negative responses regarding what they look like, are interesting, since what they wear marks them and might alter perceptions concerning how they should be interpreted in addition to interpretations that might arise from their exaggerated silhouettes.
To begin by examining the appearance of the first lady of video games, Lara's most essential representational marker in addition to her body is probably her voice, and even more specifically, her accent. For Americans in particular, I think that the British accent evokes an irrational correlation with sophistication and culture. Lara “sounds” elegant to the American ear, since she speaks the King's English in what is perceived to be a traditionally aristocratic way (of course, Lady Lara Croft is also quite literally aristocratic). This element of Lara extends from aural cues to her own visual representation. Hair pulled back in a pony tail or braids might signal casualness or even childishness, but when severely drawn back (as Lara's most often is), it also signals sophistication and elegance. Up-dos suggest formality and seriousness of purpose. Such elegance does also extend to her wardrobe.
In other words, Lara might be understood as sexy as a result of her possessing hypersexual curves, but she really doesn't look like someone that you would pick up at a dive bar. Her clothing marks her otherwise and adds an additional layer that communicates a message beyond her availability (indeed, it may suggest a lack thereof). She looks expensive, not cheap.
Wet's Rubi Malone also has additional messages layered onto (or possibly over) her possibly hypersexualized body as well (I am unaware of whether Rubi's measurements have been publicized, but she appears to be slightly less busty than Lara). Despite being a protagonist who is modeled on female characters from a cinematic style oriented towards fairly overt sexual representation (in addition to probably Lara Croft whose stance in game is quite similar as are many of her jumping animations), Rubi's foul (foul, not sexy, unless you consider lines like, “Hey, fucktard” and “Fuck you, door” to be sexy) mouth and rock and roll clothing style suggest a degree of toughness that again speaks more a message of a lack of availability than of a woman of questionable moral character (you know, the whole “I'm not bad” business that Ms. Rabbit is complaining about).
Rubi is not elegant like Lara. As noted, her mouth suggests otherwise. So too, do her tattoos, a marker most traditionally associated with the lower or working classes or counter cultures, not high culture. Her tattoos are interesting, though, like the economic and social classes that they have historically been associated with (sailors, criminals, and the like), they mark her as “tough.” Contemporarily, tattoos have become a fashionable accessory, however, sometimes (especially for women) they additionally suggest a sexual quality as the lower back tattoo's description in the vernacular, the “tramp stamp”, attests to. While Rubi shows a slight amount of midriff and lower back, her tattoos remain in less sexualized locations on her body. Her arm is tatted; she is not, however, “tramp stamped” as these markings do not appear in the vicinity of more sexualized areas of the body, like the bare lower back.
I am not attempting to suggest that Lara and Rubi are not representations of women that are not sexualized or not in part subject to the gaze of their viewers (though the question of whether avatars are watched becomes complicated in a medium in which what you watch is something that you are also “being” -- that is a subject for another lengthier discussion, though) and likely in part intended to be objects of desire for their viewers. But what I am suggesting is that the sexualized body is complicated by clothing and other markers that may alter and refine the message being sent in such representations. Lara is both sexy and elegant (or expensive) and Rubi is both sexy and tough. Both characters have at least two layers (and, okay, it might only be two, but I think that that is one more than many avatars both male and female often get in their visual representations) and that those layers may modify one another in significant ways that alter how players (both male and female) might respond to them either positively or negatively. Fundamentally, I don't think either character's appearance reduces them to a woman who can be seen as “merely sexy.”
My wife says she likes Rubi because (not in spite of) the fact that she isn't exactly pretty. What makes her “not exactly” pretty might be that other element that can be read on her body. Rubi's clothing might be communicating a message more loudly than her body. She might be sexy, but on first glance, she looked pretty damned tough to me. The complicated reactions that gamers have to Lara and Rubi might suggest that their representations are, well, at least somewhat complicated.