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As many of my female peers are doing at the moment, I’m reading a book by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. The first chapter asks: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
My answer? I’d write this blog.
Hello. My name is Meagan Marie, and I’m a person. I’ve decided I’m going to…
It’s absolutely horrid that treatment like this still goes on today.Source: meagan-marie
Dear Lara, Thanks for Everything: My Love Letter to Lara Croft
(Click photos for captions)
This is perhaps one of the most challenging blogs I’ve ever penned. Not the most, but close. I started drafting it in my head nearly two years ago, as I methodically packed my possessions in preparation for a journey I could never have anticipated. Even then I knew that this would be an experience of a lifetime.
I find no shame in admitting that I’m hyper-emotional right now, caught in the eye of a storm at one of the most intense and exciting junctures of my career. The full weight of this experience continues to build as March 5 crawls closer and closer.
So if you’re up for a story, let me share exactly what this moment means. Yes, it’s a bit long. But that’s because it’s been fifteen years in the making.
Love at First Sight
I’ve always adored games. As kids my brothers and I would duke it out in Mario Kart, rage-quit TMNT, and cheat through Track & Field on a daily basis. Games were fun. Entertaining. A way to pass the time. When I first set my eyes on Tomb Raider, however, everything changed. I experienced a paradigm shift. At twelve years old I was too young to appreciate how Tomb Raider transformed the industry. That didn’t matter, because for the first time I saw myself represented in a video game.
It may seem odd that someone so young would identify with a gun-toting, aristocrat archeologist, but Lara captivated me. True, we didn’t have much in common other than our gender, but that smallest echo was enough. I realized from a young age that I wanted to work in the world of video games. Standing tall and capable in a sea of men, Lara made me feel like I could do the same. I aspired to be like her, to exemplify her strength, intelligence, athleticism, beauty, and adventurous nature. Lara didn’t take no for an answer, and neither would I. To me she was more than just a character. She embodied an idea, and I’d argue that ideas are the most powerful force in the world. The journey to where I am today wasn’t short nor easy. That being said, Lara continued to inspire me year after year, and I can say with full certainty that she helped shape me into the woman I am today.
Here’s a notable example: I found a love for illustration when attempting to pay tribute to Lara’s adventures on pencil and paper. I’d whip up a sketch, scan it, and submit it to fansites across the net just so I could see my name featured alongside hers. Or I’d find a way to manipulate official assets in Microsoft paint, the end result a horribly cobbled together desktop background. It was my first foray into graphic design, which would then later feed back into my career choice.
Lara also introduced me to the world of comics. I’d often frequent hobby shops with my brothers to pick up booster packs for our favorite card games, but never once gave more than a cursory glance to the shelves of monthlies. Until the day when I saw my hero front and center by the register. Lara had infiltrated the world of comics, and I gladly followed suit. By proxy I fell in love with anything Michael Turner touched, as in my opinion, he illustrated Lara to perfection. Years later I’d go on to meet him, ironically dressed as Lara, at my very first SDCC. I cried. I’m still embarrassed about it, but he was incredibly sweet and humble. Eventually my taste in comics began to diversify. The world Lara introduced me to blossomed into an appreciation and passion for the comic industry as a whole. I can’t imagine not having Sandman or Preacher or Locke & Key in my life now.
Fast forward a handful of years after my induction into comics, and a shrine of Tomb Raider clippings blanketed one corner of my room, greatly supplemented by recent images of Angelina Jolie donning Lara’s double drop leg holsters. I casually revisited past Tomb Raider games while waiting for a new installment. Tomb Raider merchandise littered my room at this point, as my parents allowed me to become a treasure hunter in my own right. I’d use my report card earnings to seek out rare Tomb Raider goodies on eBay. Nothing motivated me to land top marks in school like the promise of a new action figure or variant comic cover. Autographed, if possible.
Then one day I decided I wanted to embody Lara Croft. Not in spirit, but to actually step into her shoes. Raiding my mom’s closet I came up with a workout jumper that could, if squinted at properly, resemble Lara’s TRII Sola wetsuit. I set the self-timer on a disposable camera, posed, and immortalize my fandom in a photo that now has me rolling whenever I look at it. A year or so later I dressed up again, tasking my babysitting charges with snapping shots as I pretended to scale their chandelier. While I had no clue what cosplay was at the time, Lara again planted the seeds of what would blossom into an incredibly fulfilling hobby and a massive part of my adult identity.
Jump ahead to high school. I continued to sketch and doodle Lara in class, but didn’t know many gamers to share my passion with. While my love of Lara took a backseat to studies, she continued to inspire me to work hard and challenge myself in all I did. My sophomore year a community Rugby team was organized. Practice was held offsite, as it was too much of a liability to be officially recognized by the school. My male friends told me in a matter-of-fact tone that I wasn’t tough enough to play. I bunched my fists together and immediately marched over to the signup sheet. I knew if Lara could do it, I could too. And Lara could do almost anything.
I tried out. I made the team. I played strong side flanker for three years and loved every minute of it. I was even asked to join the women’s state team after graduating, but passed because of my restrictive university schedule. To this day I’m immensely proud for taking that risk, and for proving (mostly to myself) what I’m capable of.
A Dream Job
All through college I worked my butt off with the express aim of landing my dream job at Game Informer. I studied Graphic Design and Journalism, wanting to doubly prepare myself for a job at the magazine. Again I found myself swimming upstream in a field dominated by men, and Lara continued to be my silent beacon. I applied to Game Informer my second year in school. They (thankfully) turned me down and ask me to try again after graduating. I graduated. A day later I submitted my application for the second time. After a month or so of emails back and forth, informational interviews, and many voicemails, I got the gig. I landed my dream job at 22. I lived my passion every day from that point forward, as I saw my time at Game Informer as a continued education. I constantly challenged myself as a writer and as a professional.
A few incredible years passed, and in addition to my gig at Game Informer, I became fully entrenched in the world of cosplay. I had several Lara costumes under my belt at that point, although I can’t brag much about the quality of my early efforts. I was also gaining more and more responsibility at work, including my first cover story – Portal 2. It was shortly after that I started to hear rumblings of a new take on Tomb Raider. I was quite vocal about being the best person to write the story, should we all agree to pick up the cover. I didn’t need credentials. The massive shrine on my desk was evidence enough.
The staff came to a consensus on Tomb Raider. It was far too big of a story to pass by, and I was to take the helm. I remember being totally and completely petrified, not only because of the massive responsibility of debuting a new game to the world, but because this Tomb Raider seemed so… different. As a lifelong fan I was concerned about what would be presented to me. Was this my Lara? Was she still the woman who inspired me to be who I am today?
Even back then, in late 2010, I could see that she was. After a trip or two to Crystal Dynamics, several lengthy interviews, and an extended gameplay demonstration, I wrote the ten-page world-exclusive cover story. I agonized over the article for days and days before eventually setting it free, despite my near-paralyzing fear that my work hadn’t done Lara’s new adventure justice.
The issue hit newsstands and the buzz was intense. I was exceptionally proud that I had been a part of such a huge moment in gaming. And then I got the call. Would I be willing to pick up and move my entire life across the country in the name of Tomb Raider? Without question.
At 22 I secured my dream job. At 25 I landed the job I never could have dreamed of. I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Tomb Raider team, and through fans worldwide, help shape the woman who helped shape me. To return the favor. Talk about humbling.
Coming Full Circle
And so now I sit here, 27 years old, on the eve of something massive. I’ve committed the past two years of my life to little other than Lara, and I have the incredible fortune of believing in a vision so wholeheartedly that passion filled my tank whenever it ran on fumes.
That’s not all that filled my tank, though. You did too. Through you, the community, I was able to have a say in Lara’s future. As one fan to another I acted as your ambassador. In doing such I’ve become a globetrotter, much like Lara. That being said, I never once felt like a stranger when walking into a room full of fans, even if we didn’t speak the same language. The kinship was tangible.
It hasn’t all been easy, however. While rewarding, the past two years have also been massively testing. Being a one-woman (until last week!) community & social show for a global brand means constant long nights and weekends, and a near-invisible divide between work and play. I’ve regularly dealt with ire and harassment, and even a credible death threat at one point complete with FBI investigation. There is also the unfortunate reality that when you care so much about something, hostile comments sometimes have the ability to pierce an otherwise thick skin.
That being said, through the exhaustion and occasional hardship, this experience has been worth every second. On a personal & professional level, I am so much richer than when I first started at Crystal Dynamics. I’ve grown an incredible amount the past two years. Without question, the highlight is genuine friendships I’ve made in the Tomb Raider community. I look back at late-night tapas in Madrid, rainy tours through Moscow, Parisian meals outside the Louvre, ice cream runs in London, language lessons in Milan, archery training in New York, and dozens of other memories, and I am filled with an overwhelming rush of joy.
Launch is just around the corner, and I’ve never been this invested in something. To give everything you have to a project because you believe so strongly in it. To care so much about the years and years of work contributed by immensely talented teams of people. To hope with all your heart that others care as much about the end result as you do. It is sobering. And amazing. And terrifying.
And now to bring this full circle. Why did 12-year-old Meagan fall in love with Lara Croft? Because on a basic level I saw my future in her. As a youth she encouraged me to work harder and be stronger. As a professional she motivated me to be visible and vocal. To show young women what an incredible industry this is to work in. She reminded me to always set a good example; just in case I was to become a beacon for someone the way she had been for me.
And this is the part where I swell with pride, and my eyes well up again. Our new vision for Lara Croft inspires me to the same degree that Core Design did back in 1996. She’s every inch the heroine I fell in love with at the age of twelve. She’s smart, articulate, resourceful, ambitious, adventurous, athletic, loyal, and just a tad cheeky. But she’s not flawless, and that’s the very best part.
Lara Croft now has flaws. She shows fear. She doubts herself. This reality inspires me even more today than it did when I was young. Lara Croft imparts a truth in me; that I can rise to the occasion and achieve great things because of my flaws and humanity, rather than despite them. Lara Croft is no longer perfect. Neither am I. Neither is our game. But just like Lara herself, I believe we’ve created something exceptional in Tomb Raider.
A famous explorer once said, the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. Thank you to Crystal Dynamics, and thank you to the Tomb Raider community, for letting me be a part of creating something extraordinary.
This is a wonderful read that captures the essence of how a video game role model can change your life. As child Lara was always my inspiration in her intelligence, her cunning wit and her strength. I always told myself if Lara could do it, there is no reason I shouldn’t try. Because of her I won gold medals in state academic competitions for my speeches on how she influenced me. It’s because of Tomb Raider that I was exposed to ancient cultures that would eventually lead me to pursue a career as a historian, a teacher, and an anthropologist (of which archaeology is a branch of). This upcoming reboot already has me believing in my own perseverance.
And thank you Meagan for all your painstaking work these past two years! I wish you luck in your future endeavors. :) And I apologize for the overly rabid fans you had to deal with. The tomb raider community is one with diverse ideas that we may not always agree on but its hard to deny the fact that we are bound by how Lara has shaped us. :)