Why Tomb Raider Was a Success

The early Tomb Raider games were one of the break out successes in the video game industry, but the reasons for its success tend to be oversimplified or ignored. Herein, I will argue that above all else the sublime environments and imagery of the game was the primary reason for its success.

The Sublime

The sublime is the feeling we get when we view something that we know to be finite, but that which we are unable to sense as so. The most common examples are looking at mountains or the ocean, or standing in a field alone. It is a pleasurable feeling of anxiety, a slight tingly feeling, caused by a combination of the rational safety we have in knowing that the sight before as has limits and the anxiety of observing something so monumentally larger and more powerful than us.

Invoking the Sublime

The primary reason for the Tomb Raider series’ success was its ability to invoke the sublime through amazing sights. Some argue that Lara Croft’s sexual imagery was a large reason for commercial success but that was in fact only part of it. The Tomb Raider series juxtaposed the female body, through Lara Croft, against sublime imagery of ancient ruins and the great pyramids of Egypt or extremely large creatures. For example, the following screenshot shows Lara Croft juxtaposed against a kraken-like giant octopus.

Lara Croft Near Kraken

This image has two things working for it. Firstly, Lara Croft’s inherent beauty attracts the human eye, specifically male, to the scene to observe. Secondly, her figure is used as in the same way that currency is to establish scale. Note that in this particular scene Lara is first juxtaposed against the Kraken, and then we get a closer look through her camera.

The Kraken of Tomb Raider Underworld

This concept is further exploited through geographical locations, particularly famous landmarks such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt. This was specifically used in the fourth game of the series, and was a great way of making impressive imagery with the low graphical capabilities of the Playsation. Afterall, simple geometrically objects are easier to render and a Pyramid is basically a simple square-based triangular prism.

Lara Croft Stands before the Great Pyramid

This atmosphere made the games extremely appealing to audiences, combined with the mixture of combat, exploration and puzzle-based gameplay. It is less Lara Croft’s appeal as a sexual figure and more the appeal of beautiful, stunning imagery combined with the image of the female body that draws the immediate attention of viewers.

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