She's tough, she's sexy _ and she's not real

Published March 9, 1998|Updated Sept. 12, 2005

Her name is Lara Croft, and she seems to be everywhere.

Her image is popping up in magazines, on television and computer screens, even on pinup posters like the one in PC Games magazine, which shows her reclining in a bikini, a handgun resting suggestively on her hip.

There's talk about a movie offer, a modeling contract and perhaps even a marketing deal that might some day have her hawking clothes and soft drinks.

And she's not even real. Lara is a digitized female image from one of the hottest-selling video games of the year, Tomb Raider 2, which is published by Eidos Interactive, based in London.

But that has not stopped Lara _ whose tanned, voluptuous cyberframe is the equivalent of 34-24-34 _ from becoming a popular female icon. She is a far cry from Betty Boop, and she is no Barbie doll. She is more like a female Indiana Jones, but pumped up, vertically and horizontally, in the fashion of the 1990s.

Her fans say she is gritty, sexy, sassy, smart and, well, virtually real. And that's exactly what her British creators were hoping for.

"It's really a strange phenomenon because people talk about her as if she's a real person," said Cindy Church, a spokeswoman for Eidos. "A lot of people who play video games fantasize about her."

Unsure of just how to portray the silicon icon, Ms. Church went on, "She's not overly sexual," then paused. "Okay, she is physically sexual, but she has a personality behind her."

Because of those attributes, Eidos executives are being flooded with gifts and presents for the silicon princess. There are flowers, Christmas gifts, even vows from young boys and men. "People all over the world have sent in their pictures," said Tricia Gray at the Eidos office in San Francisco. "She's had dozens of marriage proposals and all these cheesy letters."

Indeed, in Britain, only the bubbly Spice Girls are said to be more popular. And in the United States, her Indiana Jones-like video exploits are being sold in large quantities to game players who are well into their 30s.

Lara's first game, Tomb Raider, was released in November 1996 and sold about 3.5-million copies worldwide. Tomb Raider 2, which came out last November, has sold several million, according to Eidos.

As a result, just about every game and computer magazine wants to reprint Lara's sexy image. There are even entire World Wide Web sites devoted to her, including sites that pose the digital Lara in the nude.

"The most obvious reason Lara Croft is so popular is that 99.5 percent of the gaming population is young men," says Steve Klett, editor of PC Games magazine, which had Lara grace its cover recently. "And it doesn't hurt that she's so outrageously proportioned."

Indeed, the craze surrounding Lara (there is also an online newspaper dedicated to chronicling her life) might be yet another sign that technological advances in human imagery are creating lifelike portraits that further blur the line between reality and fantasy.

Devoted fans, who see a three-dimensional image and hear a real British voice projecting out of their computer speakers, have dubbed Lara a "cyberbabe" and the "silicon chick."

And to bolster such realism, Lara has her own biography and a rebellious past. Born into an aristocratic family in Wimbledon, England, Lara Croft _ whose given age is 29 _ grew up in a world of private tutors, boarding schools and a Swiss finishing school.

But on a skiing trip to the Himalayas, her plane crashed. Lara, who was the sole survivor, soon realized that she could not stand the "suffocating atmosphere of the upper-class British society" and preferred a new adventurous life. Thus she began searching for ancient artifacts and fighting villains and a zoo of animals, like tigers and wolves.

But her creators say that Lara future is not about slaying dragons but winning eyeballs. "The digital Lara is going to sign a modeling contract with a big agency," Ms. Church boasts. "She'll become a supermodel, like Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista."

Even her creators think she's real.

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