Vital statistics for a silicon chick

How can we explain the development of an iconic virtual body? by Ralph Day

Image by Ralph Day

My design-historical and historiographical research explores the development of the body of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video game franchise and its paratexts. Between her explosion onto the video game scene in 1996 and the major Tomb Raider reboot of 2013, the publishers of the franchise marketed Lara Croft as ‘cutting-edge cheesecake,’ in the words of critic Diane Carr: both as a digital pin-up – appearing, for example, on the cover of Loaded (2000) – and as a fully-fleshed glamour girl, in the form of live-action promotional models like Nell McAndrew and Rhona Mitra.

This submission for Sooner, or later intends both to “reassess her weapons” as an icon of digital glamour, and to dislocate and reframe the pleasures of her glossy ‘killer body.’ It re-equips the iconic vision of the ‘silicon chick,’ as she appeared on the cover of The Face in 1997, with weapon mods and exposed polygons in the style of a graphic fan-fiction, and offers unfamiliar, oblique views of her body with a collection of stills from in-game cut-scenes, as well as images of her design in development. Not only does this submission consider the polymorphous pleasures and subjectivities to be experienced by the video gamer, who sees himself/herself reflected in, and by, Lara’s shifting digital image, but it also withdraws Lara from the surface of a fictional pin-up image and proposes her as a phantom fantasy girl, a ghost in the machine rather than its syrupy, silicon surface.

Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.
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