Letters to Lara
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Letters to Lara Sexist plaything or transitional object? How the personality of the player interacts with the personality of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Derek McMillan This dissertation may be made available to the general public for borrowing, photocopying or consultation without the prior consent of the author. Chapter 1 Key areas of concern The most prominent feature of video games is the enormous amount of pleasure which children in the secondary school age range get from them.. This is matched by an enormous amount of displeasure expressed by many parents and teachers(Sanger et al, 1997). In seeking to use video games in the classroom I personally encountered little hostility (none from pupils) but what hostility there was, was intense. For example one male university lecturer discussing the project reported in this dissertation on a usenet newsgroup that “any teacher worth his or her salt would be ashamed of promoting (Tomb Raider) to children.” I wish to deal with his comments on Tomb Raider more fully later. The implication was that teachers should not make use of video games in the classroom even when - as I had made clear - this was for research purposes and discussion and did not involve pupils playing games in school time. This is not an isolated view. Sherry Turkle (Turkle, 1984) suggests that the furore over video games is partly fuelled by technophobia - a desire on the part of adults to comment on the increasing intrusion of the computer into their lives. This is an intrusion which they feel powerless to resist. However, they are in a position to protest against the opening of video arcades in the high street, they are in a position to try to control their children‟s use of video games on the home computer. In the United States, the Funk study of seventh and eighth graders found that 65% of males and 57% of females played 1 to 6 hours of video games at home per week, and 38% of males and 16% of females played 1 to 2 hours of games per week at arcades. This study also found that, among five categories of video games, games that involved fantasy violence and sports games (many with violent themes) were most preferred by the students surveyed.(Funk, 1993, 521) This begs the question of what we are to define as violent which I address below. Parental concerns are expressed over a list of issues enumerated in the survey of research by Barrie Gunter (Gunter, 1998). These include concerns that games promote violence, waste time, may be addictive, reinforce male stereotypes and may even cause physical damage to children. Several researchers (Summarised by Cesarone, 1994) have drawn attention to the fact that exactly the same accusations were levelled at comics and at TV. Of course this does not mean that they are not legitimate concerns but it does suggest that fear of the new is a factor in the concerns expressed. I have concentrated on three related concerns that video games are violent that they are addictive that they reinforce patriarchal gender stereotypes I have used the term video games throughout. Tomb Raider is an example of a game which has crossed platforms and is available both for the PC and for the Playstation. Some of the research uses the term computer games loosely although the Playstation and N64 are clearly not computers. Video games and violence The development of a ratings system for video games was a result of the work of NCTV (The National Coalition on Television Violence) who co-operated with Nintendo and Sega and a compatible system was developed by ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publishers Association) for the European market. Many children I spoke to would not consider playing a game (or telling their friends they played a game) which did not have a 15-17 or 18+ rating as Tomb Raider III had. The effect of the rating system may have been counter-productive if the intention was to steer pupils away from violent games. On the contrary it enabled pupils to more easily identify which games had the most violence or explicit sex. The shift from the arcades to the home is also significant if we accept the view of Wavell (1995) and Neustatter (1992) that parents are providing TVs and computers for their children as a safe alternative to going out on the streets. The fear of real-life violence will therefore increase the amount of fantasy violence to which children are exposed. The very title, “The Effects of Video Games on Children - the Myth Unmasked” suggests (at least) two things. Firstly the research which is summarised in the book has concentrated on a passive view of the audience. It suggests children on whom the games can have “effects” without having an active role in interpreting the games and bending them to their own purposes. It is to see the audience in a more active role. Secondly it suggests that there is a myth in the popular consciousness about Video Games which needs to be „unmasked‟. Does this mean that parents are equally being seen as passive recipients of the „moral panic‟ generated by the media? The validity of the actual results can always be questioned in a number of ways - how valid was the sample; did the respondents tell the truth. However it may also be equally important to question the whole basis of the research as Sherry Turkle does (Turkle, 1995). The question is whether children being “affected” by video games or can they use their experience with computer worlds in constructing their personality through what Turkle refers to as „Bricolage‟ (using ready-made objects for construction)? (I go on to this in more detail in chapter 2) The extent of the use of video games („the extent of the problem‟ for some researchers) can be seen in the official statistics. In 1995 the Economic Intelligence Unit suggested that sales of 16-bit consoles had reached saturation point and the high prices of games consoles was pushing consumers towards the use of Personal Computers for games. The sales of computers to British households averaged 500 000 a year in 1991-1995, 39 percent of households had home computers in 1995 (quoted in Sanger et al, 1997, 5). In 1999 the projections suggest that 47% of UK households have personal computers, 66 percent of which have CD ROM drives The violence of video games was the subject of research by Ballard, Mary E. Wiest, J. Rose in relation to the highly popular video game Mortal Kombat (sic). The study examined differences in cardiovascular reactions and hostility following non-violent play and violent video game play. Subjects were 30 male college undergraduate students. Only male subjects were used because the researchers believed that “most video games are male oriented, males frequent video game arcades more often than females, and the gender gap in video game play widens with age until the undergraduate years.” Hostility and CV reactivity were examined after subjects' played either a non-violent game of billiards or a violent video game. They made use of two versions of Mortal Kombat, one of which was rated as being less violent Results indicated that subjects who played the video game had higher heart rate reactivity than those who played billiards. Subjects who played the more violent version showed greater systolic blood pressure reactivity than those who played the less violent version or billiards. Subjects who played the more violent version scored higher on the hostility measures than those who played the less violent one, who in turn scored higher than those who played billiards. The results suggest that the level of video game violence, not just the violence per se, should be of concern. (Ballard and Wiest, 1995 ) One significant feature of Mortal Kombat and similar games was that they placed less emphasis on shooting opponents from a distance and more on close-quarters fighting. This is closer to the kind of fighting which pupils actually engage in in real life and fears grew that they might imitate the moves in the games. However, the Ballard and Wiest study actually only shows that the games absorb the interest of players, that they are exciting and release a „virtual hostility‟ which may or may not be carried over into real life. If they continue to play the aggression will be channelled into the game, if they go out on the football field it is possible it might cause acts of aggression against other players. However, it is equally likely that the play would have a cathartic effect and in any case players would realise the moves were unrealistic on the football field. Irwin and Gross (1995) made a study, again concentrating on boys. The study looked at interpersonal aggression and aggression toward inanimate objects in a free-play setting where children played video games. Results indicated that subjects who played video games with aggressive content exhibited more object aggression during free-play and more interpersonal aggression during the frustrating situation than youngsters who played non-aggressive video games. Children are well aware that inanimate objects cannot feel pain and taking out feelings of aggression on them is a safety measure to which even adults resort. However, the issue of interpersonal aggression is another matter. Griffiths (unpublished paper quoted in Gunter, 1998, 101) makes the point that increased fantasy aggression supports the catharsis hypothesis. Children who play-fight after playing Streetfighter 2 may be discharging hostility through the vicarious experiences engendered by these games. In many cases what researchers have described as aggressive behaviour could be reclassified as fantasy aggression. Pupils frequently engage in false or even ironic aggression towards each other which does not lead to injuries. [However, as any teacher knows, these play fights can become all too real as soon as one of the participants is accidentally hurt.] The aspect of video games which is seen as the most conducive to violent effects on children is their interactive nature: the player is forced to engage in acts of violence not witness them. However, in the context of Griffiths‟ argument this would be a positive aspect in intensifying the cathartic effect. The NCTV (National Coalition on Television Violence)in the USA expressed concern that games rated as extremely violent increased from 53% in 1985 to 82% in 1988 and the violence is seen as a selling point with the survey indicating that 40 out of 47 top Nintendo titles had violent themes. The relevance of this American research is that the same titles are on sale in the UK. However, many popular video games released since (including the Tomb Raider trilogy) cannot be resolved by „brute force and ignorance‟ but also require the solving of problems. . In early computer games neither the entity controlled by the player “the hero” nor the villains had visible human characteristics. Neither the space invaders nor the firing platform; neither pacman nor the monsters he pursued (and was pursued by) encouraged close identification. It is nevertheless the case that the player could identify with pacman in the context of the game as „he‟ seemed a rounded and faintly humorous character in friendly yellow and that insofaras the villains had any definite shape it tended to be angular and they were often green to accentuate their alien character. A trend suggested by Herz is that whereas the heroes can become more human the villains tend to remain less so. This is most clearly the case in the games used by the military for training (and presumably for desensitisation to violence) which closely resemble the control systems used to kill Iraqis during the gulf war (Herz, 1997) This is by no means universal - in Streetfighter 2 for example, the players select from a gallery of male and female characters from various ethnic groups and then fight the other characters. In Streetfighter 2, there is no judgement of good and evil and the opponents are equally human or non-human. The same technology which could be used to make the opponents more human is in fact often used to make the violence more graphic. There is a case for saying that making the blood and gore more apparent overcomes one of the criticisms voiced by early critics (e.g. Provenzo, 1991, 58) that the violence of the games did not have realistic consequences. The way the pupils themselves react - do they turn away from the game in disgust or do they laugh and carry on - is central to this and I will deal with this issue later on. Even if the reaction is the latter, there is no evidence outside the military context that serious violence involving bloodshed can be linked with video gaming. The military context is so different from the everyday life of pupils that the number of other pressures which would need to be factored out prevents any meaningful comparison. Research separated by 11 years in Canada and Australia could find no correlation between the use of video arcades and delinquent behaviour (Ellis 1984 and Abbot et al 1995 - quoted in Gunter 1997). The only tentative connection derived from a finding among the older children was that they stayed out later at night and those who stayed out late were more likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour. This does not finger violent video games as the culprit and in any case even this tentative conclusion could not apply to children who are safely playing video games on the home computer. Of all the studies which have been conducted only one (Kestenbaum and Weinstein 1985) found that video games could have a calming effect on teenagers aged 11 to 14. However, this research made use of relatively non-violent Atari video games which do not involve the user in graphic bloodthirsty action. However, one very extensive study could find no link between amount of video game playing and measures of hostility and self-esteem. (Gibb et al, 1983) One factor in the link between fake violence in video games and aggressive behaviour in children can be found in the work of Anderson et al “Does the gun pull the trigger” which experimentally demonstrated a link between the mere presence of weapons and aggressive behaviour. However, again the “behaviour” demonstrated was a preference for aggressive words and the experiment did not deal with the issue of whether this spilt over into aggressive actions which a lay observer would call behaviour. (Anderson et al,1998) Another aspect of video game violence which does not require evidence of aggressive behaviour on the part of pupils is the question of whether violence in video games increases the pupil‟s perception of the world as a violent place. It would be logical, for example, if pupils tended to attribute hostile dispositions to others after playing violent video games then they would see the world as a more threatening place. Research was carried out with a group of 52 third- and fourth-grade children. Children who played either "Mortal Kombat II," or a relatively non-violent video game, "NBA Jam: TE," for 13 minutes. Following the video game play, children were read five stories in which a same-sex peer caused a clearly negative event to happen but the intent of the peer causing this negative event was ambiguous. After each story, children were asked a series of questions about the peer's intent, subsequent actions, and whether the peer should be punished and how much. Responses were coded in terms of amount of negative and violent content. Results indicated that children playing the violent video game responded more negatively on three of the six ambiguous provocation story questions than children playing the non- violent video game. The author concluded that “playing violent video games leads to the development of a short-term hostile attribution bias” (Kirsch, 1997). Of course this is very different from suggesting that violent video games may cause aggressive behaviour. A short-term hostile attribution bias may well cause children to tread carefully in this hostile environment to avoid provoking the dangerous individuals who surround them. It is also noticeable that this is about attributing dispositions to people in a story. The characters in the narrative of Mortal Kombat II do have hostile dispositions, children may well make a similar assumption about the characters in the next narrative they encounter as a result of the learning set acquired while playing the game. It may or may not be the case that they transfer this dispositional attribution into „real life‟. There is a common-sense assumption that the involvement of the player in the violence of the game intensifies the effect of the violence. However one study found little difference in the behaviour of pupils slightly younger than mine (10 year olds) when they were paired - one playing and one watching. Interestingly enough the same study measured the aggression of the children by such indicators as willingness to play with an aggressive toy - to switch from one fantasy aggression to another. Early research on arousal effects similarly failed to find any measurable increase in physiological arousal brought about by playing „aggressive‟ video games. (Winkel, Novak and Hopson 1984) However, later work by Calvert and Tan in 1994 did find physiological arousal effects in violent virtual reality games. (Calvert and Tan, 1994) The suggestion is that the increased realism of games will intensify their effects on players. Perhaps the most significant finding was Keller‟s finding in an extensive survey of Nintendo use. She that found that children do not think „violent‟ thoughts while playing, but think of strategy to win the game.(Keller, 1992) Are Video games addictive? The common-sense view of many parents and teachers that I have spoken to is that video games are „addictive‟ and that if their children were not playing video games they would be reading, engaged in healthy outdoor pursuits or doing homework. They would not for example watch the television, hang around in the streets or engage in rather more lethal „addictions‟ instead. The addiction of children to Saturday morning flicks, comics and TV were problems for parents in the past and it is often the case that parents are concerned about children liking things which the parent cannot associate with his or her own childhood. The term addiction is itself a value judgement, we seldom talk about addiction to reading books, finding out information or doing homework! The video game creates an enticing and increasingly „realistic‟ virtual world which enables pupils to escape from the problems of the real world. (Of course books do the same thing in a respectable way). It is also the case of course that the real world from which they are escaping is increasingly dominated by Information Technology systems‟ virtual worlds. The dust cover of “Life on the Screen” (Turkle, 1995) quotes the undergraduate who referred to real life as RL (as is common in online communities) and did not believe it should be given any special status. However the RL to which he refers is the window on his computer screen in which he is writing an essay and the virtual reality (VR) is another window in which he is playing a role in a Multi-User Domain. In his RL window he is alone, in his VR window he is surrounded by friends. Weizenbaum compared the compulsive hacker with the compulsive gambler. He suggested three reasons for the comparison. The first was the lack of instumentality of hacking - i.e. hackers were not concerned about the value of their results, having developed a system they will continually try to improve on it. The second was the extent to which they neglect other activities such as eating and sleeping and the third was the way their work with the computer is their sole topic of conversation. (Weizenbaum, 1975). Although Weizenbaum is often quoted in research on video games, in fact this finding undermines the view that video games are addictive. Hackers are certainly not interested in games and it is programming the computer itself which is the object of the compulsion. The growth of online communities may well mean that a „compulsion‟ to use the computer will be far less isolating than watching the television. The use of the computer has been „causally linked‟ with introversion. (Levy 1984) but more respectable activities like reading might have the same „pathology‟. Children who resort to the computer for solace might be responding to circumstances in their lives which they cannot control by seeking to master the world of the game. However, there is no evidence that this desire for control spills over into a desire for similar relationships with people. . (Thimbleby, Computers and Education 3, 401-402, 1979) Attempts to find whether certain children are more predisposed to video game addiction have not come up with any results. More obsessional or compulsive personalities do not necessarily gravitate towards video games. (Gibb et al, ,1983). Shotton‟s research in 1989 concentrated on computer „dependency‟ rather than addiction and found that (Shotton, 1989) many of the individuals identified as computer dependent in her survey had gained positive benefits from their use of computers. Their mastery of the computer world helped them to develop self- confidence and they had been better able to communicate with others on non- computer-related topics. In 1996, Griffiths surveyed 147 11-year-olds about their reasons for playing computer games. Most played for fun, for a challenge, and because their friends did. This contrasts with other kinds of addiction: people may well take drugs because of peer pressure, or even „for fun‟ but scarcely for “a challenge”. He concluded that „For most adolescents, computer game playing is a fairly absorbing and harmless activity, but for a few it poses problems when game playing consumes too much time.‟(Griffiths, 1996,87) The same author was involved in the Plymouth survey conducted with the police into criminal activity associated with gambling machines. They found that a small percentage (3.9%) of thefts had „some association‟ with gambling machines but the only link with video games was that the gambling machines were in the same building. A fairly tenuous „guilt by association‟ it has to be said. There was no evidence of gangs of video-game junkies stealing to feed their habit. (Griffiths, 1996) Do Video games reinforce male stereotypes? The TV advertisement for Zelda (a game for the Nintendo 64) shows a series of exciting fantasy combat scenes and then ends with the words in gothic script in blood red on a black background "Wilt thou get the girl ...” which then fades to “or play like one?" (ITV 12 12 98 and at other times).Setting aside the possible sideswipe at Tomb Raider, what are the implications of this advertising for the role of girls and video games? A study which I have already quoted differentiated the responses of girls and boys to playing and watching video games. They found that girls became “more aggressive” in terms of active fantasy play and preference for “violent toys” but the play of boys did not change. (Cooper and Mackie 1986 - quoted in Gunter, op cit, 1997) The suggestion is that aggressive play is „masculine” and that under the influence of violent video games, girls adopt more masculine play. In many of the latest games which are based on the model of Doom, the protagonist is an idealised self-image of the player. (Clearly this is changed by the interposition of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider). The game is seen from the player‟s point of view and all we see of the protagonist is his hands or feet or the weapon he is carrying. Interestingly the only one of my pupils who mentioned Zelda was a girl. This is consistent with the finding of Buchman et al that “fantasy violence was more preferred by girls than by boys, who preferred human and sports violence games.(Buchman et al, 1996, 29) Perhaps the intention of the Zelda advert was to emphasise that this was a game for real men and oppose the image of fantasy games as “girls‟ games” The Shotton survey cited above suggests that the linking of computers with Science and Maths in the past might be a factor in pupils seeing computers as „toys for the boys‟. (Shotton, 1989) Interestingly Funk and Buchman found that for girls, more time playing video or computer games was associated with lower self-esteem.( Funk and Buchman, 1996.) Are girls taking part in an activity which they see as „male‟ as a means of compensating for poor self-esteem? Littleton also found that the apparent gender stereotyping of video games had a disproportionate effect on girls Their sample was of Year 7 pupils. Girls in their survey in Milton Keynes did significantly better on a game which was ostensibly gender neutral than on a game which was male orientated with male characters. (Littleton, 1993) This has clear implications for the success of Tomb Raider but these implications run counter to the view of Lara Croft as simply a teenage male fantasy. Provenzo (1992) examined the top 10 Nintendo video games and pointed out that they were all based on a theme of an autonomous individual working alone against an evil force. The “world of video games has little sense of community and no team players.” (Provenzo, 1992) It is possible but unusual for two players to co-operate in a game. Usually if there are two players they are trying to kill each other in the context of the game. However, Leslie Miller‟s (1996) focus group listed characteristics which girls preferred in video games and found that co-operation rather than competition and the use of simulations were regarded as important. The girls in this group wanted to interact with other (male) characters in the game rather than shooting them. Tomb Raider side-steps these concerns by creating a female character who competes with male characters on their own terms ... and wins. The Sci-Fi backgrounds to many of the stories are also seen as a male preserve whereas the „sword and sorcery‟ backgrounds of the fantasy games might be seen as more feminine. The importance of lack of confidence and the apparent exclusion of girls from the virtual world of the video game is highlighted by Yeloushan‟s (1989) research into the barriers to girls pursuing careers in the sciences and technology. She sees the male- dominated world of the video games as a significant factor in a constellation of influences including the lack of female role models. Summary I have outlined the concerns expressed over video games. The evidence suggests that the violence of these games does not pose a clearly proven threat of spilling over into violence in real life. The evidence on addictiveness also suggests that this is not as great a problem as parents might have feared. 1.56 However, on the charge that video games are creating or attempting to create a masculine virtual world there seems to be a case to answer. This case exists irrespective of whether the games are successful in creating such a world or if the audience is capable of redefining that world in ways not predicted by the manufacturers. Games remain manipulative even if they are inefficiently manipulative. Therefore in the next chapter I will look at children and the projection of their personality into video games. Chapter 2 Computers and Personality The fact that my pupils and others cheerfully write to Lara Croft as if to a real person, can be attributed to various factors. Apart from any other considerations, as far as my pupils were concerned, a teacher told them to do it. However, the fact that pupils did it cheerfully and enthusiastically. suggests a relationship between the child and what Sherry Turkle refers to as an “object to think with”. I do not propose to suggest that pupils cannot tell the difference between Lara Croft and a real person. However, for them the stars of East Enders are not „real people‟ either. They differentiate between the people they meet in real life and the people they only see on the screen, whether it is TV or video game. When working with Logo programs, pupils have to look at life from the „point of view of the turtle”. For example, they need to be able to imaginatively conceptualise the idea of turning right in order to go left if the turtle is facing down the screen. I am interested in the extent to which pupils are doing the same thing in relation to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Far from talking about the “effects” of computer games on pupils, Sherry Turkle characterises the computer as a Rorschach. Not only do different pupils choose different games but more importantly they react to the same game in very different ways and use it for different purposes. The Rorschach concept suggests that the pupil is projecting meaning onto the game rather than being a passive recipient of other people‟s meanings. (Turkle, 1984,5) The attitudes and values which children are projecting on to the game may well be accounted for by the “effects” of other influences. Pupils are subject to peer or parental pressures and they are in receipt of messages from other media. Nevertheless pupils do seem to be seeking some kind of mastery of the game. It is the effect of this self-assertion by the pupil and the consequent relationship with the screen character of Lara Croft which concerns me Observing pupils using Logo, Sherry Turkle characterised two kinds of mastery. The “soft mastery” of the pupil who wants to develop an interactive relationship with the program and the „hard mastery‟ of the pupil who wants to impose his or her will on the program. Her research suggested that there were far more female “soft masters” and are more male “hard masters” but that the personality of the pupil expressed in their style of mastery was not solely dependent on gender (Turkle, 1984,103). She later developed this idea further. In Life on the Screen, she refers to the modernist approach of trying to get as close to the reality of the computer‟s machine language as possible and she contrasts this with the postmodern approach which is more comfortable with layering and simulation - effectively working in ignorance of the underlying mechanism. The example of the Macintosh computer which places a simulated desktop between the user and the operating system is used. The user is still involved in manipulating this environment but the modernist imperative “analyse and you will know” is absent. The system involves a much more exploratory attitude on the part of the user. The users learn to negotiate rather than analyse. The user does not have access to the „lower levels‟ of the system which are closer to the hardware and need not be aware of them.(Turkle 1995, 43) Computer programming is not as prevalent a use of computers as it was when computing was a specialised subject taught to a few pupils. For most pupils, programming takes the form of “customising options.” This could mean writing complex Excel macros which are close to the traditional concept of computer programming. It could also mean something as simple as changing the resolution of the Tomb Raider screen. Nevertheless, the modernist aesthetic which Sherry Turkle recognised can be seen in the popularity of „cheats‟ which seek to bend the program to the pupil‟s will. Initially assembly-code programmers produced cheats for games. By examining the source code of the game they could produce programs which could give the player infinite lives, invulnerability or skip to a new level by altering the contents of registers which contained the player‟s number of lives, level of stamina or level number in binary code. This programming typically took place outside the corporations which produced the games. Another kind of cheat is information, for example maps of the levels of the game. Notice how the very use of the word „map‟ suggests the description of a real space which the player is exploring. In the earlier text-only games the „map‟ would take the form of a set of directions for completing the level. The more recent development of cheats clearly required the collaboration of the manufacturers. Typically cheats now consist of lists of key presses required to achieve the advantages which the assembly language programmer only acquired with considerable skill. These lists are published openly in magazines, some of which are produced directly by the manufacturers of the games. In any case it is physically very difficult for hackers to probe and uncover the secrets of console games and the built-in cheats are the only opportunity for the player to achieve some sense of „hard mastery‟ over the game. On the other hand there are still cheats available on the Internet for PC games which are unlikely to have been created by the manufacturers. The nude raider patch is just an extreme example of such a cheat. It is presumably not sanctioned by Eidos (the manufacturers) and is widely excoriated by the fans of the game in the Internet usenet groups and on the nude-raider-free web sites. One year 9 pupil who contributed to the Letters to Lara project wrote: “Lara I know I will not have you as a girlfriend but on my computer I can control you. if you were my girlfriend I would know which buttons to press.” Under cover of jest, this pupil seems to be suggesting an attitude of hard mastery and apparently a rather worrying attitude towards girls in real life. The “knowing which buttons to press” metaphor suggests a highly manipulative attitude. He told me he had heard it from a TV program and thought it referred to erogenous zones (he didn‟t actually use the words). As far as I can tell, his relationships with other pupils are not characterised by attempts to manipulate or bully them. Notice also that he is hovering around the edges of treating Lara as a real person, “I will not have you as a girlfriend,” because she is famous and rich or because she does not really exist? If that is the case then the rather dangerous and manipulative image which his message suggests is modified.. I think it is accurate to say that although the pupil is being facetious, he is also using the figure of Lara Croft as a transitional object. He can clearly differentiate between how he can relate to this transitional object and how he can relate to his peers Transitional objects are, for example, objects to which small children can safely remain attached when they transfer their attention between concentration on the mother and encountering the outside world. (Winnicott, 1971) For older children the computer or games console can become a transitional object because it can be seen as “belonging simultaneously to the self and to the outside world” (Turkle, 1984, 218). The Wiggins survey found self-esteem scores were not significantly related to time spent in watching television, playing arcade or home video games, or in programming home computers. External locus of control seemed related to time spent in playing arcade games or in home computer programming. However, pupils who participated extensively in playing arcade games or in working with the home computer seemed more externally locused than did other subjects. (Wiggins, 1985) This finding is very interesting despite the fact that in video game terms it is very old. Of course a correlation does not prove a causal link. It may be the case that pupils who feel they are more externally locused are in fact using the video games to create a world in which they are more in control. In terms of transitional objects, it does not make sense to talk about regular video game players being externally locused. If the game is an extension of the self then the locus is not “external”. The concept of the transitional object is helpful in understanding the way children treat computers. The view of computers as „alive‟ or „conscious‟ is encouraged by TV science fiction in which the aggressive, quirky or irritable computers function as characters. An example of this attitude is seen when Weizenbaum (1984) found that people, including psychotherapists, treated his cybershrink ELIZA program as if it were far more intelligent than it really was. Another example of the anthropopathy of computers is that Nass et al found that people were even attached to individual computers to the extent that they would not complain to a computer about its performance but preferred to complain to another computer about it. They did not want to be rude to their „own‟ computer.(Nass, 1994) Erdman et al reported a growing tendency for people to trust the computer with the highly “human” task of psychotherapy. People were more likely to be candid with computers. The wide knowledge base to which a computer had reference and the changes in the perception of the role of psychotherapy made computers more likely candidates for this kind of work. (Erdman et al,1985) Cyber Pets The concept of cyber-pets captures one aspect of the computer as perceived by users. The cyber-pet is totally dependent on the user. This relationship might give the user a feeling of power which compensates for the powerlessness they may see in their situation as children in relation to adults. The cyber-pet stands in the same relation to the child as the child might stand to the adult in some relationships. In my seventh year class, there are a variety of attitudes towards cyberpets. Some revel in the responsibility which the child has for the welfare of the cyber-pet and the ostensible feelings of guilt and distress when one dies. These feelings are often denied by older, usually male pupils who profess to take pleasure in killing off cyber- pets or may express their mastery by telling younger children how to bring the cyber- pet back to life. Both attitudes may be expressed by the same child at different ages. Very few pupils will go on to develop the intense symbiotic relationship between the hacker and the computer described by Weizenbaum (Weizenbaum, 1984) but the cyberpet phenomenon puts the concept of computer "personality" in a different light. Human beings fear the computer as a controlling intelligence (a good deal of science fiction makes use of the 2001 concept of a computer turning on its creators) but nobody fears a smart pet. Likewise, despite her formidable arsenal, none of the children in the Letters to Lara project expressed fear of Lara Croft. The cyberpet phenomenon also highlights the companionship which children get from computers. The companionship which children get from pets is something which parents do not regard as threatening or dangerous. When children get a similar companionship from books, from the time-shifted presence of the author-as-friend, few parents regard this as dangerous. However, when children gain the same companionship from the computer, from the time-shifted presence of the programmer- as-friend, this is regarded as a step away from humanity. In addition there are many parents who might think Lara Croft is a highly unsuitable companion for their child. The relationship between the pupil and Lara Croft can be seen as much closer to the relationship with a cyber-pet than the relationship with a real life girl. Chapter 3 What is Tomb Raider? The Tomb Raider series is a series of video games with distinctive adventure plots which combine elements from traditional fantasy stories (such as the end-of-game guardian dragon) with the adventure style of Indiana Jones stories and Science Fiction (for example the Area 51 level). The path of the narrative is partly pre-ordained by the programmer but also partly conditioned by the decisions of the person playing the game and his or her developing skills. The traditional structure of an adventure game is maintained. The player has to solve problems, find treasures and fight off enemies and there are end-of-level guardians to be fought before the next level can be attained. The action takes place in a variety of exotic locations. For example, Tomb Raider III begins in India, moves to the South Pacific, to London, to Nevada (part of the action takes place in Area 51), and finally to Antarctica. One aspect of the game is the inventory. The player has a variety of objects which can be called up on the screen. They appear in a circle and they can be rotated, then the player selects the item. This was used in a recent Lucosade advertisement on British TV. The assumption was made that the audience would know this method of selection and the convention that although Lara was being attacked by wolves in the commercial, the wolves would wait while she selected from the inventory. The story is enhanced with animated video clips. I consider the one which introduced Tomb Raider III as worthy of detailed semiotic analysis. I have chosen this clip because it introduces the narrative to the reader and contains a number of intertextual links. It begins with a captioned picture of Los Alamos and a close up on a snake. The Tomb Raider title and the general theme of the story echoes the Indiana Jones trilogy. Snakes also figure as an important symbol of in the Indiana Jones story as a symbol of a fear which has to be overcome for the hero to complete his quest. Is it significant that it is also a phallic symbol and the text of this clip introduces a theme of „girl power.‟ Next the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion appears, followed by the sound. The atomic bomb is a „potent‟ symbol of patriarchal science‟s conquest of nature and at the same time of its destructive potential. It signifies the tough male world in which Lara has to assert her authority. The next shot is of the sun and a spinning disk coming towards the user. The shot of the sun has the lines radiating from it which would appear on a camera lens if this were a „real‟ film rather than an animation. The sun is a feminising life-giving symbol and it is echoed in the shape of the disc. The disc however has been contaminated by the atomic explosion and the reader can see the electrical discharges flowing across it in a way reminiscent of the effect with which pupils are familiar from Return of the Jedi which is used to signify both the power and the destructiveness of the emperor. The scene shifts, with another caption, to the Imperial Hotel in Calcutta. A very „blocky‟ angular Lara is reading her book “Adventurers - Lara Stamps Out Bigfoot.” The book is a hardback. The style of cover normally associated with children‟s books of the era of Indiana Jones although the story is set in the present day. The scene and the prop signify her wealth and success in this. She is an „adventurer‟ (The term adventuress seems inappropriate) a white anglo saxon in a third world country in a privileged setting. English people do not normally wear sunglasses and they were once associated with film stars who often wore them because of the bright lights under which they had to work for long periods. Lara‟s sunglasses are circular. This is now an archaic design which suggests the temporal ambiguity which pervades the narrative. They are a useful device for showing her face as well as what she is looking at simultaneously. In addition the sign signifies „holiday‟ - an escape from the daily round and „mystery‟ because they conceal part of the face and are associated with „dangerous people‟ such as screen gangsters. Larsen who is only seen reflected in Lara‟s sunglasses says, “What has a man got to do to get that kind of attention?” in a strong American accent which contrasts strongly with Lara‟s upper-class English accent. From the reflection in her sunglasses we can see Lara appraising him. She says “You‟re doing fine.” One reading of this exchange is that a real man can get the attention and approval of Lara despite his rudeness. Gemma Moss (Moss 1989, 97) suggests that we “bring to the text assumptions about gender which channel the way I read.” Reversing the roles would suggest a very different power relationship. If a girl came up to a male adventurer with the plea, “What has a woman got to do to get that kind of attention,” to which the man responds by looking her up and down and saying, “You‟re doing fine.” This second reading is underscored by what follows. It transpires that Larsen is there not on his own account but as an emissary (and bait?) for the Natler Corporation “makers of all things bright and beautiful.” He opens a lap top computer on which the face of Miss Jacqueline Natler appears. She tells Larsen to “seal it” and he obediently steps out of the picture. The lap top - the emblem of the „yuppie‟ in England - firmly locates the narrative in the present day. Ms Natler is a power-dresser with padded shoulders. In the context of the screen she resembles a newsreader, particularly as she proceeds to make use of visual aids. Her main function is to establish the character and importance of Lara. In the first place the powerful Natler corporation is trying to bribe Lara to undertake a dangerous mission. Lara rejects this out of hand, saying “I only play for sport.” This is an appeal to the cult of the gifted amateur. It would not do for Lara to be working for money. Lara‟s financial status is interesting. The introductory pamphlet with the PC version of the game makes it clear that she is from an aristocratic English family who have disowned her and that she makes money from the sale of books about her adventures, such as her encounter with Bigfoot. One of the purposes of the book in the opening title sequence is to suggest that this game is part of a continuing story. It is one of the things which encourages fan fiction which fills in the gaps in the story. Jacqueline Natler responds to Lara‟s rejection of her offer without any delay by offering her the adventure of seeking the unfound tomb of Qualopec and the artefact of awesome power which it contains. It is Lara‟s spirit of adventure which is appealed to with the graphics and description of the challenge of Peru. The description, “rocky crags, savage winds, sheer walls of ice” provokes the only response we hear from Lara. The response is hard to put down on paper as it is a sound which suggests yielding to temptation (hmm). She did not respond to Larsen with anything like the same enthusiasm. When Jacqueline Natler ends her appeal, You could start tomorrow, what are you doing tomorrow?” Lara raises her head and the picture focuses on her sunglasses and the eyes behind. The fact that she is looking upwards is the only suggestion of assent but the context makes anything more clear unnecessary. At this point the clip ends and the player is invited to start the game. Tomb Raider as Sport Lara is established as a person who seeks danger (and thus makes the narrative possible) and as a woman of power who can defy the giant corporations even when their top woman tries to tempt her with riches. The use of the word „sport‟ is illuminating because it provides another context in which British women appear in public as lightly clad as Lara usually is but where this is not perceived as dressing for a male audience. Lara is highly athletic but her agility depends on the user. In theory the user has to go through each level to reach the next, although there are cheats which will enable the user to skip a level when they cannot solve it and the other kind of cheat which gives the answers to the puzzles which the user is facing. These cheats are eschewed by some dedicated games players but written by other dedicated games players. If cheats are used to remove the puzzle elements there are further cheats which can enhance Lara‟s weapons and make the shoot-em-up element of the game easier. Lara uses pistols by default but there are a arange of other weapons available which cheats can access without the player 'earning' them. There is even a cheat of questionable utility which makes Lara explode. Thus it is possible to play the game as an exploration of exotic locations, as a labyrinth and a puzzle or as a straight shoot-em-up game. Lara has a variety of moves, the number of which increases with each new game. Here the symbiosis between the player and Lara-as-transitional-object is closest. Lara‟s agility can only be unlocked by a skilful player and the motivation to do this is high. Different levels will require different skills. For example in Tomb Raider 3 there is a level in which Lara is disarmed and has to escape from a military prison - she can only do so with the aid of a skill introduced specifically for this game. The identification of Lara with sport also plays another role. The image of the „computer nerd‟ is one which the video games industry in general and Playstation in particular are keen to ditch. The „Power of Playstation‟ series of advertisements all stress that only the toughest can survive in their virtual world, reality is for wimps. Virtual play replacing „real play‟ would suggest that the skills developed playing these games acquire as much cachet among pupils as skill in playing more traditional sports like cricket. And for parents there is the bonus that it is safe. Playing outside may be healthy but the streets are not perceived as healthy places to play. Different realities The game takes the user from the apparent reality of the hotel, lap-top computers and worldwide corporations into another reality in which battles with dragons and dinosaurs replace human interactions. The user enters a world where Lara Croft is essentially alone and pitted against a very hostile world. Many of the motifs of this world are taken from the Indiana Jones stories with which users are assumed to be familiar. In the written introduction Lara Croft is described as an archaeologist and expert on ancient civilisations. In fact her „knowledge‟ will come entirely from the user and the user‟s ability to pick up clues from the animations which come between levels and from the exploration of each level itself. There are many animal opponents starting with the wolves and bats in the first level of Tomb Raider. Her human opponents are foreign villains or hostile natives. In these respects this follows the Indiana Jones tradition as well. The confused chronology to which I have already referred also contributes to this. Stories which were acceptable to a white anglo-saxon male audience in the thirties are sneaked back under the guise of nostalgia. The story line is one which is worked out between the programmer and the user but there is no way to avoid killing the animals and the dastardly foreigners and win the game. However, a user who concentrates on killing to the exclusion of all else can only win by cheating. The Tomb Raider Phenomenon I was struck by the culture which has grown up around Tomb Raider on the Internet. One letter which I received on the Letters to Lara site highlighted some interesting dichotomies: Jill - 12/01/98 20:39:42 My URL:http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Hollow/9624 My Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Age: 18 Comments: Hey there Lara. Word up! I'm an 18 year old female who loves to play Tomb Raider. It's one awesome game and I love the weapons you wield. However, I'm frightened of guns in real life. What are your thoughts on them? I must admit, I don't like killin the animals, but hey, when it's coming after you, it's either you or them. If you need help taking care of those nude raiders sites, call on me. I wouldn't mind throwing a few punches their way myself. How rude of them! Tomb Raider II is my favorite of the games so far, even though I haven't played III yet. Hey, if you're ever willing to give away your house, I'll take it. Take care and have fun girl. :) First a word of caution: identity on the Internet is nebulous and there is a possibility that this “18 year old female” could be a 50 year old male. The phrase “I love the weapons you wield. However, I‟m frightened of guns in real life.” shows a clear separation from Lara Croft as transitional object and “Jill S in RL” She then echoes a frequent comment from my pupils in Letters to Lara about reluctance to kill the animals in the game. Lara is frequently attacked by tigers and lions, even monkeys and has to kill them. The player also learns to search the bodies of the slain for rewards. This letter does not give any indication of a player desensitised to violence does it? The nude raider sites are a particular bete noir of fans of Tomb Raider. Someone came up with the idea of doctoring screenshots from the game to remove Lara‟s clothes. There is even a downloadable „patch‟ which converts the game so that Lara is nude. Lara has been described as an adolescent boy‟s fantasy (Guardian Pass notes, 15 12 98) yet many of the fans of Tomb raider have been so incensed about the nude raider sites they have set up a “nude raider free” web ring and ban any sites with nude raider links or pictures from it. Like some of my female pupils, Jill identifies with and feel empowered by Lara‟s clearly dominant role in the game and adopts ostensibly aggressive postures, ”I wouldn't mind throwing a few punches their way myself” while keeping her distance from violence in real life. “Jill S in VR” would cheerfully throw punches but “Jill S in RL” is clearly recognised as a different person. There are a number of “nude raider free” sites which are devoted to fan fiction, much of it from ostensibly female writers. Fan fiction is not dissimilar from an activity with which all English teachers will be familiar. Pupils are asked to write alternative chapters to Great Expectations or conversations between Hamlet and Horatio. The difference being that few pupils would describe themselves as fans of Shakespeare or Dickens. [Another factor is that pupils rarely know who the authors of video games are. They may be fans of Lara Croft rather than of Richard Flower. This is partly because video games are usually thought of as the production of a team rather than an individual. Richard Flower is one of a team of 32 people credited with the production of Tomb Raider III ] Voyeurism Playing Tomb Raider has been compared with voyeurism. Using the kind of language to which they would object if it appeared in The Sun, The Guardian described her as “athletic, but breathtakingly full-frontal. If she were real she would fall over.” (Guardian Pass Notes December 1, 1998) Lara Croft figures largely in the publicity for the Tomb Raider trilogy. One picture in particular deliberately echoes the pose which Joanne Walley adopted in the publicity for Scandal. Lara Croft‟s head and bare shoulders are visible as she looks over the top of a black chair. Her elbows are on the top of the chair and positioned so that her breasts are not visible and the audience cannot see whether she is wearing any clothes. Her bare thighs can be seen either side of the chair, the lower part of her legs is cut out of the shot. She is not wearing the characteristic holsters and holster- ties and there is no gun in the shot In this picture her face is far less angular than in the other shots and by not showing all of her legs they are not seen as jointed like those of a marionette. The image of the attractive notorious alleged prostitute Christine Keeler is being evoked but to what purpose? Lara Croft does not resemble Christine Keeler, who in most versions of the story is depicted as a willing victim. In fact in the scene in Scandal from which the shot is taken, Christine Keeler is involved in an erotic show at a night-club. This is an activity very different from those Lara Croft undertakes in the game but there remains the fact that the game operates in such a way that Lara Croft is usually the central image on the screen and there are moves which most pupils can demonstrate which cause the game to focus on parts of her body, usually her breasts. The game could be run in high resolution by someone who wanted to run those particular moves. It would be a highly expensive way to purchase some soft pornography. The image of Lara Croft in the publicity is different from the image of Lara Croft in the game itself. It is more „human‟ and softer than her image in the game. This is emphasised by the fact that most pupils playing the game reduce the resolution on the picture so that the game will run faster. This increases the „blocky‟ marionette quality of Lara Croft and decreases her quality as a sex object. Nevertheless I think the role of Lara Croft in the publicity for the game is literally „ad-vertising‟ turning the potential user towards the game. The reason for purchase may well be quite different. In “Joystick Nation” Herz details the method by which the highly successful manufacturer Nintendo market their games in waves. The first wave is deliberately restricted so that a relative handful of users have the opportunity to play the game and tell their friends how good it is. Remembering how soon the game sold out in the first wave, the second-wave purchasers will eagerly watch for the re-appearance of the game and ensure a highly profitable outcome. (Herz, 1997). The success of this strategy indicates that for game players, pictures of Lara Croft might attract them to the game but it is the game play which is more likely to get them to actually buy it. In the same way, motor manufacturers were in the habit of paying girls to wear bikinis and lie on the bonnets of sports cars. This might have caused buyers to notice the car, the purchase was more likely to be on the basis of the power of the car. Eidos emphasise the use of Artificial Intelligence in the creation of the game which suggests that they recognised the importance of game play. The game is a puzzle and has fifteen levels which the programmers have tried to make as different as possible. Each game in the trilogy has more complex and different locations than the one before, showing a growth in the programmers‟ skill. For these reasons, I think the view that voyeurism is a key factor in the popularity of the game need to be modified. For my pupils, the voyeurism was there but superficial, there was much more interest in the gameplay. Chapter 4 Method Having identified from the research in this field that the key areas of concern were violence, addiction and sexism, I was interested in finding out from users of Tomb Raider how important these aspects were for them and what other factors might be important. I was mainly interested in the interface between the world of the game and the world of the child. I thought that a means of communicating between these two worlds was by getting pupils to write to Lara Croft. Letters to Lara The first and most important part of this study was the Letters to Lara project. I set up a web site with Geocities, which invited members of the public to write letters to Lara Croft. So that I would have an opportunity to follow up some of those who sent letters, I got a number of pupils at Sackville School in East Grinstead to send letters The best of these letters, selected by their English teacher, were published on the site. This activity is not far removed from a traditional English exercise of writing to a character in a novel. At the same time it is close to fan fiction which I have also encouraged pupils to write; fiction in which they take the imaginary world of the video game as a starting point and develop their own story in that world. The purpose of the web site was to provide motivation for pupils who would be writing for a real audience. They were writing for the global audience of the internet but they were also writing for their own friends who had computers and could access the site to see their work. The responses ranged from very brief comments about the game: “Hi Lara I don’t like Tomb Raider and I don’t play it on the Playstation – I play Vigilante 8 and Die Hard Trilogy.” A male pupil, who perhaps wanted to stress that he plays more violent and tough games than Tomb Raider, wrote this. There were also extensive letters from pupils writing about their personal responses to the game and to the perceived personality of Lara Croft. In particular I think that the Letters to Lara approach probably reduced the sexist remarks which boys tended to make to each other about Lara Croft. It forced them to go beyond their stereotypical responses because they were treating Lara as a “real person” – if we are prepared to use a rather postmodern definition of real. I also made use of interviews and Venn diagrams as well as newsgroup disucssions to find out the opinions of pupils and those involved in education but these are only quoted when they illuminate of clarify what appears in the letters. I have concentrated on the letters from pupils I knew personally because of the focus on the personality of the pupil. Venn Diagrams Pupils in my class constructed Venn diagrams which were the starting point for the discussion. I thought this was better than directly asking them how they thought their personal constructs were influenced by playing the game (however I phrased it) because the self is often the most difficult concept to put under the microscope. The diagrams were constructed in two ways. On one diagram they had used a computer to drag and drop adjectives and adjectival phrases about Lara Croft into the circles of the diagram. In another they had produced a Venn diagram by hand and put in their own adjectives and adjectival phrases which may or may not include the ones on the other diagram. The reason for using two diagrams was to ensure that all pupils had responded to a standard set of words and phrases. I also wanted to give them the chance to come up with aspects of the role of “Lara as transitional object” which I had missed. 1 Interviews I then followed this up by selecting 15 pupils (7 boys and 6 girls) who expressed an interest for interview. I also interviewed two pupils in their homes who did not think of me primarily as a teacher but as a friend of the family. The pupils were all from working or middle class backgrounds from a small market town in West Sussex. I am their teacher. I am very conscious of the fact that I am hearing what pupils want to say in front of a teacher and I made use of devices which I thought might distract them from trying to give me the right answers. For example, I conducted the interviews in the relative informality of lunch breaks or after school where we often discussed video games. As I wanted to find out what the pupils found important about the game, I did not always stick to the exactly the same questions. However I tried to include the following questions: Think of a part of Tomb Raider (I, II or III) which is violent. How would you describe it? What happens when Lara dies What do you do when Lara dies What do you do when you think Lara might die? How do you feel when Lara dies? What is a good ending? Does winning matter? If winning matters, why does it matter? Can you name another character from a game of whom Lara reminds you? If so in what way does she (or he) remind you? Can you name a character from whom she is totally different? In what way or ways does she (or he) differ? 1 Can you name another character from films or TV of whom Lara reminds you? If so in what way does she (or he) remind you? Can you name a character from whom she is totally different? In what way or ways does she (or he) differ? Can you answer the above four questions for a character in real life rather than games or TV? Is Lara good at solving problems? If so what kind of problems? When it comes to solving problems have you ever thought, “how would Lara solve this?” The purpose of the questions is to get closer to the relationship between the pupil‟s personality and the perceived personality of the transitional object. Question 1 directly addresses the issue of video violence which is part of the discourse whether I make it so or not. Buckingham (1995) noted that the discourse about violence in TV and its effects on “other people” became part of the discussion with pupils whether it was raised by interviewers or not. Questions 2 to 5 try to get close to the feelings of guilt which some players have expressed over „killing‟ Lara – feelings probably enhanced by the dying sigh which signals her death in the game. Questions 6 to 8 deal with the extent to which players might want to keep within the game rather than completing it to return to Real Life (which my pupils have started to abbreviate to RL, probably imitating me). Questions 9 to 17 (17 is a looping question) are designed to address how pupils treat real life, TV and video characters and how they differentiate them. It is based on the idea of personal constructs but far removed from the grids used for clinical analysis by Kelly (Kelly, 1955) because they seemed inappropriate to the school setting. 1 However, the concept of using the constructs taken from characters in Video games, in TV and in real life as a means of teasing out the perceived personality of Lara Croft was incorporated in this less formal and clinical questioning. The last three questions deal with the issue of cleverness which was flagged up as an interesting issue in the Venn diagrams. Problems Clearly this is not a statistically significant sample. The pupils are white and predominantly middle class and their views may not be typical of their age range. However, David Buckingham (Buckingham, 1996) referred to this kind of research as qualitative rather than quantitative – more concerned with the nature of the responses than the quantity of them. His research on Children‟s responses to television is more concerned with the why and how of those responses than the percentages of respondents. I have quantified the results of the Venn diagrams because I think the figures show trends among my pupils and that their responses can best be understood in the light of those trends. I considered that there were a number of problems with interviewing pupils. The main problem was the child‟s awareness of audience in the framing of comments. Pupils know that this was for a teacher and the majority of teachers are seen as disapproving of popular culture in general and video games in particular. It is also the case that the pupils were before their peers and this would influence the way that they commented on the game. My female colleague who conducted the Letters to Lara selections was not an enthusiast for video games whereas I am much more positive in my views. I have in 1 the past used video games (such as Lords of Midnight) with English classes both as a stimulus for collaborative creative writing and as a comprehension exercise using the game as the text. When quoting from children I have changed or omitted names, keeping the same gender. I have also corrected the spelling errors because I think these tend to make the writing harder to understand. I have normally left the grammar as in the original unless this makes it unintelligible. Although I did not conduct interviews with parents and teachers, inevitably the Letters to Lara project became a topic of conversation when my colleague produced wall displays about it for parents‟ evenings. All of the comments were positive and they saw it as a way of involving and motivating pupils in their learning about computers and the Internet. None of these (predominantly „middle England‟) parents thought it was disgusting or trivial. There was also an extensive debate on usenet groups such as uk.education.teachers about the project and I have made use of two quotations from that debate from people in education one of whom supported and one of whom opposed the Letters to Lara project. 1 Chapter 5 The six faces of Lara From the work of my pupils I have categorised six different personae of Lara Croft. I now wish to look at these personae, as reflected in the eyes of my pupils, in more depth. As you would expect these different views of Lara overlap somewhat and it is not always clear to which category a particular statement from a pupil should be assigned. An example of this overlap is what two girls wrote: “How did you learn all your moves? Did you teach yourself or did you have a teacher? It must have taken you a long time to learn all the moves, did you yourself make any moves up on your own? Is your house the same as the one on Tomb Raider? We think that the house on tomb raider is really cool. Do you like your job in tomb raider, do you think it is good, or could it be better? What would you change if you made another game? In your game, how old were you when you started acting a part in it? Were you quite young or did you start at an older age. Do you like having people controlling you?” Now this weaves in and out of reality in a playful way appropriate to a game. Sometimes Lara is a real person, sometimes the designer of the game; sometimes she is in control, sometimes other people control her like a puppet. I will refer both to the letters and to the descriptors in the Venn diagrams. I found the Venn diagrams a useful way of getting pupils to look at how they are similar to Lara and how they differ. I will also refer to the descriptors which are not shared but I consider the shared descriptors as most relevant to the construction of Lara as a transitional object - “neither self nor other” Lara #1 Lara within the game This appears to be the most straightforward persona addressed. Of the shared descriptors, the following would seem to be appropriate to her: Girls used adjectives such as: fit, adventurous, good at swimming, sporty, 1 Protects herself, confident and a cluster of ideas of agility and flexibility. Boys used phrases like: adventurous, agile athletic. Clever confident, fights, fit, good at puzzles, runner, likes a challenge, sensible, sporty, strong, violent, we protect ourselves. The concept of cleverness It is particularly interesting to find pupils have a positive image of cleverness and „ability to solve puzzles” in relation to the game. This is partly because, as David put it, “she is only as clever as we can make her.” In a school situation where serious concern has been expressed over pupils having a negative image of „swots‟ this positive image of the practical game-winning skills of solving puzzles is an indication of a positive educational benefit. This is not to say that the actual skills developed in the game are necessarily useful, but the positive identification with ‘cleverness’ can only have a beneficial effect on the child’s self-image. The self-perception hypothesis put forward by Bem (1970, 1972) suggests that in forming an image of ourselves we can act as an observer of our own behaviour and make the same kind of dispositional attributions we would make about someone else. The game is almost uniquely suited to this activity. By seeing Lara as „clever‟ and their own behaviour as „clever‟ the prejudice against cleverness is broken down spectacularly. In a normal class discussion some of the very same pupils would decline to join in or put up their hands. They report the reason that they do not do so is that they do not want to seem clever. They seek to avoid ridicule from other boys for their cleverness. (The phenomenon is more marked with boys but exists among girls as well), So the game provides one way of looking at that concept which breaks down that thinking. In an interview with Howard Rheingold, Sherry Turkle said, “People fantasize about escape into their virtual bodies only to be shocked by the degree to which their real bodies are present in their simulations.” (Rheingold 1998) Although Turkle refers to 1 Multi User Domains, the degree to which pupils can „customise‟ Lara Croft is one of the reasons for the convergence. Lara is only clever if the user is clever. This clearly associates Lara #1 with the concept of „transitional object‟ – she is both part of the external world (in this case the virtual world of the game) and a reflection of the cleverness of the child which is clearly part of the child‟s internal world. Sport and fitness There are (at least) two interesting aspects to the view of Lara as a sporty individual. Pupils do not clearly differentiate the physical skills of Lara from her skill with puzzles. In the world of VR the distinction is blurred. The skill of the player and the programmer are responsible for the physical prowess she displays. The use of Lara Croft in the Lucozade advertisements on TV and hoardings cashes in on this image. Similarly the current Playstation „reality is for wimps‟ advertising is keen to dispel the image of computer geeks with which video games are tarnished. It is intended to replace it with a tough or sporting image. Pupils believe they are developing sporting skills in the game although they are not ones their PE teacher is likely to acknowledge. Identifying Lara with sport is also useful to justify her clothing and competes with the image of Lara #5. A strong and confident sporting idol is not the same as a sex object manipulated by teenage boys. In addressing Lara #1 pupils are identifying with this positive image. It is not different in principle from those who express an interest in sport but actually spend their time sitting in an armchair watching it on television. The „virtual‟ healthy activity is used consciously or otherwise as a weapon against an adult world which condemns their unhealthy playing of video games and contrasts it with healthy exercise. Violence 1 Pupils address the issue of how violent the game is and their perception of the parental discourse around violent video games I have referred to above. “Acting in self- defence” is a mitigating legal plea. It is a term borrowed from the language of TV cop shows which pupils use to excuse the behaviour of the Lara #1 within the game. Lara is typically defending herself against wolves and animals which have similarly negative images from folklore. The justification of self-defence is written into the structure of the game. A player who adopts a non-violent approach could not complete the game. Likewise a player who adopted an approach of killing indiscriminately would fail. An example of this in the game is Level Twelve of Tomb Raider 2 “Barkhang Monastery” where the player who shoots one of the monks will fail to recruit them as allies and therefore fail. Most interestingly they address Lara #4 on this issue which I deal with below. Lara #2 Lara as a person with a life outside the game The most relevant shared descriptors here would seem to be: Boys Independent, likes a challenge (also relevant to Lara #1), sensible, confident, nice, individual, popular, friendly, happy, kind, English, Girls Confident, independent, nice, cool, likes to have fun, good, same taste in shorts (also relevant to Lara #5), 1 On the screen Lara is alone. The only person with whom she has any relationship is the comic butler she locks in the refrigerator. She has the independence and self- confidence to be alone. But of course she is not independent at all and all these pupils are well aware that she is controlled. They talk about her life outside the game and compare it with their own. When Andrea and Beth ask how much she gets paid and whether she gets paid and later how she got her job this is a clear attempt to subvert the „given‟ nature of Lara and place themselves in her shoes. They are presenting themselves as potential Lara Crofts and negotiating the salary. Both the first two letters ask where Lara buys her clothes. Her clothes can be seen as a gesture of rebellion. In fact my pupils also saw the way Lara dresses as a reason for referring to her as independent. Whereas Epstein and Johnson saw pupils‟ sexualized interpretations of school uniform as oppositional to the official culture of the school (Epstein and Johnson, 1998), my pupils see Lara‟s dress alongside her „non-feminine‟ violence as an expression of individuality. I have construed girls asking Lara whether she has a boyfriend differently from the same question asked by boys. It is not a tentative application for the post. The attempt to locate Lara in a family setting is more noticeable in the letters from girls which contain reference to her butler as her grandfather and questions about where her parents are. It is an interesting shift of modality. Pupils who might speculate about whether they would like to be pop stars put the same question to Lara, also asking if she would like a profession which has an image which is at a distance from her image, that of a nurse. These questions from Erica and Fiona are trying to position Lara by finding out her wishes. There is also an implication that she might like a less dangerous occupation. 1 Lara Croft is very different from my pupils. Many of the letters of the girls cope with this otherness by seeking to find common ground – family, clothes (including her „shades‟), desired occupations, boyfriends and pets. At the same time she is “the queen of GIRL POWER” (emphasis in original) for Laura and others. This suggests that girl power is a rejection of domination by adults as much as a rejection of domination by males. Playing computer games is clearly opposed to the role to which parents and teachers want them to conform. The symbol of the Lara Croft fan club is Lara showing her backside to the camera – this is not solely a gesture to male teenage fantasies it can also be read as quite literally „being cheeky.‟ Adam and Barry try to settle the issue of modality in an interesting way, “Do you like your job as a computer graphic model?” and “Are you anything like you‟re said to be by your model?” They seem determined to find a „real‟ Lara to write to. The Lara „behind‟ the one on the screen is also sought by other pupils, mainly boys. Francis and Edward wanted to know if she was going to be in the movie of Tomb Raider. I think this raises a lot of interesting questions. If the movie is not a feature cartoon, Lara will be played by a real actress. This real actress will be judged against the real Lara. Her realism will depend entirely on whether her appearance and personality on screen are consonant with those of a computer generated „individual‟. This is not the only example of boys trying to achieve mastery by seeking to delve and find the „real Lara.‟ There is also Lara #3 Lara #3 Lara as programmer Two girls referred to Lara being “involved in Playstation” as did one boy. In the letters Andrea and Beth wanted to know if Lara had „cheats for Tomb Raider‟ and whether she could send them. 1 Carol and Dee claimed to have played many of her games (there are only three – it is quite possible they confuse the terms „games‟ with „levels.‟). They asked if there would be a Tomb Raider 4 and I was interested to see that they were the pupils who complained to Lara that „your figure is unrealistic and your boobs are too big!” (The exclamation mark was in the original.) This suggests that Lara Croft has an enviable control over her appearance. In fact of course this is precisely the level of control players in multi-user domains have over the persona which they present to anyone else in the domain. As text-based domains give way to increasingly sophisticated graphic domains people will be able to communicate with the same level of control as Lara Croft and it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish between the „real people‟ and the „bots‟1. Chris and Dave praised Lara‟s games for their terrific graphics and “3D emotions.” At first I thought this was a typing error for “motions” but they confirmed that they were talking about the way the pictures although clearly cartoon-like nevertheless can stimulate the emotions of the player, they referred in particular to fear. They also asked if she was working on a sequel. Edward and Francis were alone in thinking Lara Croft was responsible for the Nude Raider cheat! I found this interesting because they could be seen to be trying to provoke or embarrass Lara with this suggestion. They also compared the different Tomb Raider games to the disadvantage of the first one because the graphics and the moves have improved considerably in the later games. Lara #4 Lara with a will of her own This aspect of Lara‟s personality is most important from the point of view of examining the relationship between the pupil and the computer. I have already drawn 1 Bots short for robots – programs which can simulate human players in MUDs. 1 attention to the ways in which popular culture humanises the computer. One example of this is the use of a female motherly figure in the adverts for AOL. Connie appears out of the computer and reassures parents of the safety of AOL, stopping little children from accessing pornographic sites and making sure that they do not spend too much online. This is at variance with the image of Lara Croft who is seen to side with the pupils against the adult world. When Andrea and Beth write to Lara protesting that she is cruel and inconsiderate to help wipe out endangered species there is a clear implication that she has a will of her own and can decide whether to kill animals or not. Other pupils regarded the issue of cruelty to animals as a big issue but the point of this kind of admonition is that the actions of the player are being projected onto the figure of Lara. She carries the gun, the player pulls the trigger. In this context I would like to cite Imogen and Jasmine: “Do you like killing little animals…we think it is very naughty…What was the biggest creature you have come across? Was the creature big, fierce and scary? What do you think of yourself? Are you big fierce and scary?!” This is then followed up with “Do you like other people controlling everything you do?” which seems to me to be the most telling example of the ambiguity to which I am referring. It seems logical that as they would resent control over their behaviour and they identify with Lara who does things which they would not do, the only possible explanation of her behaviour is that her actions are controlled by “others”. Lara #5 A sexualized Lara Paradoxically some of the most sexist remarks I have heard about Lara have come from people who are protesting the use of an alluring female to lure boys into buying the game!2 The accusation has an element of truth although there are a thousand unsuccessful games which make use of far more overtly erotic central figures. I ascribe this to the following factors: 1 Many of my pupils are still controlled by their parents in their choice of games and the more erotically charged games are unacceptable. The quality of the gameplay in these other games is inferior. Some of the boys spoke admiringly or salaciously about Lara Croft‟s figure, using language which might have been copied from the Guardian criticism of her unrealistic “full-frontal figure”. (Guardian Pass notes, 15 12 98) However alongside this were the criticisms of two year 7 girls: We are two seventh year girls writing to complain. Although the way you act in your Playstation games is fine, we and probably a lot of other people think that the way you dress, with those skimpy shorts and little tops is degrading and stereotypical to women. Most of the boys in our form think you're gorgeous, they don't seem to realise that you are just a fictional computer generated character. According to us they are pathetic hopeless idiots, with obviously nothing, better to do with their time than to watch you prance about on the computer screen. Realistically, if you did go around fighting villains and killing animals you would wear protective and camouflaging clothing, unlike what you wear, which is just to attract men to make them buy the game. We hope you will take off some time in your frenetically busy schedule to read this letter. The Lara of this letter is in one of the categories of transitional object. The pupils are quite happy to write to her, tell them about their views and ask her to write back, while incorporating the statement that she is just a fictional character. While saying she is just fictional they nevertheless think that she should dress differently. There is a very clear sense that Lara should not be dressing this way if it is just to attract men to buy the game. There is a perceived dichotomy between the attitude of mind displayed by the strong independent Lara and the clothing she wears. She is thought to be wearing these clothes for purposes which are contrary to the requirements of the game - which require protective or camouflage clothing. They appeal to her sense of realism and the needs of the game. They clearly see this as the best way to convince her not to wear those clothes. 2 See 3.37 above 1 It could be objected that the terminology is not that of a seventh year pupil and must have come from parents or teachers. It could equally be argued that the pupils who talked about “loving the way you wobble” were also quoting parents rather than giving their own views. It is also the case that the arguments appear to be of their own making, based on a knowledge of the game which their parents did not have. The girls who wrote the above extract addressed Lara directly on the issue of the way she dresses. This level of engagement which echoes classroom discussions about clothes is far less abstract than any teaching about sexist stereotypes. The teaching about such issues will now make more sense to the pupils because they have first understood it in a more “concrete operational” way. I am worried about the assertion that Lara‟s appearance makes her a deeply offensive sexist stereotype. It is not the case that physical appearance is going to make Lara Croft into any kind of stereotype. The stereotype is in the mind of the beholder. Teachers spend a good deal of time in PSE trying to teach pupils to look beyond their physical appearance. Lara may have been designed as a “teenage male phantasy” but in the hands of users she can be transformed into something else. It would be strange indeed if a „transitional object” did not have several different personae. Another response from two girls was as follows: What is it like knowing that you are the object of so many men's desire ? ... Why are you so perfect , you've got the looks, the figure, the boys. What have you got that other girls don't have , tell me , it's not fair ? Do you fancy any TV stars, singers or actors?... Do you have any close friends, or anyone else that your close to? ... We think that you are a very different to other women you don't, well, at least I hope that you don't like house work. You like an adventure. Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? (Lara‟s status as an object of desire was confirmed by the boy who said he kissed the screen whenever she came on!) 1 At first sight, “object of many men‟s desire” would seem to confirm the view that Lara is perceived as an adolescent fantasy. However, it does suggest that Lara has power. I find it interesting that they say “you‟ve got the looks, the figure, the boys.” when in fact Lara is always alone in her adventures. (This is partly because games where two characters have to be controlled have not been successful. Games have to be easy to begin playing, however hard they become later). However, the girls assume that Lara has a lot of boyfriends when apparently she has none. “Do you fancy any TV stars, singers or actors.” apparently positions Lara as sharing the concerns of the girls who discuss which stars they „fancy‟ in the understanding that they are forever out of reach. They then try to get out of her who her boyfriend is with the arch phrase: “any close friends, or anyone else you are close to.” They praise for (or express envy of) Lara‟s perceived difference. “Other women” apparently “like house work” whereas Lara likes adventure. This is partly an acknowledgement that Lara‟s wealth will free her from housework - she has a butler and presumably other domestic servants but it is also partly an indication that she will not be subservient to any male and enjoy doing his housework while he goes out to work. Lara #6 Lara as a potential friend/confidante When I refer to Lara Croft as a transitional object, I do not mean to imply that she will be the only transitional object in the lives of my pupils. I do intend to show through the Letters to Lara project that she was fulfilling the function of a transitional object if temporarily and partially. 1 I was very interested by the number of pupils who wanted to tell Lara about themselves. Apart from the older pupil who gave her his telephone number, a typical example would be: “Do you have any other kind of hobbies like swimming, or netball, hockey etc. Me and Tracey enjoy trampolining and drama, we'd like to one day learn moves like yours. I have a cat and Tracey has a cat and two rabbits. Do you have any pets? It must be strange if you have because half your job is to kill animals but not cats and rabbits, and we suppose that if you didn't kill them then they would kill you. Would you rather not have them animals in the game?” I find it interesting that these pupils, both of whom were girls, were establishing similarities and differences between themselves and Lara. From these comments they clearly see her as fit and sporting and they want to share their enthusiasm in this area but they also seem to want her to be fond of animals. This suggestion is that they want her to be more like them, more human or at least more humane and they want to get away from the negative image of violence against animals. To do this they offer the excuse of self-defence. There was one long letter to Lara which we did not put on the web site from a child whose father had left the family and gone to America and the child wanted to tell Lara all about him. This is an unusually high level of engagement but a large number of pupils did want to tell less distressing personal news to Lara. Many also compared their homes with Lara‟s mansion. A lot of comments were made about how old her butler was, “Is he your granddad?” A remark which suggests the social distance between these children and Lara‟s apparent social class as it would be unusual for the aristocracy to employ grandparents as domestic staff. Summary – Boys and girls I was looking for differences in the responses of boys and girls. They exist and could be summarised as follows: Boys were: 1 More interested in the game and in Lara‟s image A minority were ready to make sexist remarks but these were often made self- consciously and then withdrawn or ameliorated. Made fewer references to personal feelings of a less salacious kind Made fewer references to human qualities in Lara. Emphasised her fighting abilities Girls were: On average less interested in the game and in Lara‟s image Concerned to ridicule the boys for their attraction to Lara. Tended to relate more personal details to Lara and talk to her as a friend. Treated Lara as a human being they wanted to get to know In general produced more elaborate and detailed work. However the most important finding was the similarity of the responses. Boys and girls in this Year 7 class were saying very similar things about Lara and about the game. Pupils could find something in common with Lara quite easily irrespective of gender. However, there is more than one process at work here. For example one pupil who, by most standards, would be described as rich declined to identify herself as such It is also the case that pupils who are “under attack” from parents or peers said that they interpreted the term literally and therefore did not apply it to themselves. The central character from whose point of view the action of a video game is viewed is often an idealised (more powerful, armed, skilful) projection of the self. The identification is made by viewing everything through the protagonist‟s eyes. However, because Lara is seen on the screen her identification with the audience has to be made more explicit. My pupils overwhelmingly saw themselves identified with Lara as young, independent and clever. A smaller but significant number also identified with her because they saw themselves as fit, fashionable and in control. 1 These intersections are very interesting. In interviews pupils recognised that Lara was both young and older than they were. Her independence from adult control was attributed to her age and the background story which made her an orphan heiress. Very few had read the background story but had heard it from other pupils. The text of the video game does not exist in isolation and draws meaning from what other pupils say about it. 1 Chapter 6 Conclusions I set out with the intention of exploring the relationship between the personality of the child and the personality of Lara Croft. For me the most striking thing about the letters and the interviews was the overwhelming and sustained enthusiasm of the pupils for this project. Enthusiasm for the game, admiration for Lara Croft and the novelty of having their pleasure “legitimated” by the school seemed to be major factors in this enthusiasm. Of the three issues identified as concerns: violence, addiction and reinforcement of gender stereotypes, the last issue came first with pupils. This is probably dictated by the choice of game. The Tomb Raider trilogy consists of games in which the violence is mainly defensively directed against attacking animals rather the protagonist seeking out human targets. Pupils were unlikely to spontaneously raise the issue of addiction to the game beyond saying how much they liked it. Lara Croft is a controversially sexualised figure and dominates the publicity for the game. None of the parents raised the issue of addiction to video games, if they were concerned it was with „addiction‟ to TV and video. When I asked my class what their favourite passtime really was, “Hanging out with friends” came top with no serious rival. This might be linked to playing a video game with a friend who had a playstation or a PC. It might equally be linked to a new CD or a video or more frequently with nothing in particular (or perhaps nothing they thought it good to discuss with a teacher). They gave every impression that being with their friends was more important than whatever activity they were involved in. An example of the public discourse surrounding the game is the joke on „Have I got News for You‟ (05 06 99) in the context of a discussion on literacy, “The good news is that 90% of 11 year olds will reach level 4. The bad news is that it is level 4 of Tomb Raider.” Books are contrasted with video games. The games are seen as a 1 problem which suggests why much of the research is psychological analysis of the sexism and violence. Books are a privileged medium both in the curriculum and in public discourse. The sexism and violence in books are an issue but the overwhelming image is of their educational value. There is little perception that pupils need to be able to „read‟ these texts. Pupils are well aware of this discourse and will use video games as a badge of rebellion against authority, seeing books as a conformist medium. Sexism Although perceived as an adolescent male fantasy, Lara can be reinterpreted by pupils as an exponent of „girl power‟. Her clothes may be skimpy but this is perceived as an expression of her independence and desire to wear what she wants. She is seen to engage in „masculine‟ activities and not to need a boyfriend to help her out of difficulties. Violence The violence against animals is a major concern of pupils but there is evidence that the „personality‟ involved in violent acts in the game does not affect the „personality‟ in real life situations. There is a lot of concern expressed for the responsibility of the player to keep Lara alive and pupils stressed the fact that when playing Lara they act in self defence. Lara as a mirror There is some evidence that pupils perceive their own action through Lara in the game and this facilitates their dispositional attribution. In other words seeing themselves on the screen reflected through Lara makes it easier for them to make judgements about themselves. 1 In some cases, for example in relation to their self-perception of cleverness, this is at variance with their ostensible declared self-perception. Personality A lot of Sherry Turkle‟s research (Turkle, 1995) related to the degree of reality of the scenes which users create in multi-user domains. She made reference to the account of “a rape in cyberspace” which opened up the debate about the relationship between events in RL and the pseudo-events in cyberspace. The nature of those events is not essentially changed if the user is interacting with other humans or intelligent agents indistinguishable from humans. None of my pupils thinks there is a little Lara in the machine. However, their personalities can be seen to interact at different levels with the „personalities‟ provided by the artificial intelligence incorporated into the gameplay. In effect they are playing games with other humans at one remove via the intelligent agents created by those humans. The concept of cleverness It is particularly interesting to find pupils have a positive image of cleverness in relation to the game. This is partly because, as David put it, “she is only as clever as we can make her.” In a school situation where serious concern has been expressed over pupils having a negative image of „swots‟ this positive image of the practical game-winning skills of solving puzzles is an indication of a positive educational benefit. This is not to say that the actual skills developed in the game are necessarily 1 useful, but the positive identification with „cleverness‟ can only have a benficial effect on the child‟s self-image. The self-perception hypothesis put forward by Bem (1970, 1972) suggests that in forming an image of ourselves we can act as an observer of our own behaviour and make the same kind of dispositional attributions we would make about someone else. The game is almost uniquely suited to this activity. By seeing Lara as „clever‟ and their own behaviour as „clever‟ the prejudice against cleverness is broken down spectacularly. In a normal class discussion some of the very same pupils would decline to join in or put up their hands. They report the reason that they do not do so is that they do not want to seem clever. So the game provides one way of looking at that concept which breaks down that thinking. In an interview with Howard Rheingold, Sherry Turkle said “People fantasize about escape into their virtual bodies only to be shocked by the degree to which their real bodies are present in their simulations.” (Rheingold 1998) Although Turkle refers to Multi User Domains, the degree to which pupils can „customise‟ Lara Croft is one of the reasons for the convergence. Lara is only clever if the user is clever. I would also point out that the perception of Lara as clever by teenage girls and boys militates against the view of Lara as simply a sex object to be manipulated by teenage boys. In fact my pupils also saw the way Lara dresses as a reason for referring to her as independent. Whereas Epstein and Johnson saw pupils‟ sexualised interpretations of school uniform as oppositional to the official culture of the school (Epstein and Johnson,1998), my pupils see Lara‟s dress alongside her „non-feminine‟ violence as an expression of individuality. Comparisons were made by my pupils between Lara and the Spice Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as individuals who were clearly in conflict with authority. 1 None of this means that Lara (or the Spice Girls or Buffy) is not a male fantasy object but it does suggest that it is possible for my pupils to use her as an „object to think with‟ in exploring their attitudes towards aspects of their own personality. From the point of view of Eidos - a capitalist concern in a patriarchal society - the profits continue to roll in however pupils are using Tomb Raider, whether they are reading in oppositional messages or taking things at face value. The issue of control was also interesting. The „rape in cyberspace‟ was carried out using the equivalent of the „puppet‟ command which enables one user to make another ostensibly issue messages or perform actions. It is difficult to convey to those who don‟t get involved in MUDs just how unnerving this is! The control of Lara Croft is nothing like as complete although one wonders about a game which allows boys to kill Lara off by drowning her in her own swimming pool. At the end of Tomb Raider 2, Lara returns to her home and goes into the shower room. She says to the user, “Don‟t you think you‟ve seen enough?” and then blasts him with a shotgun. Lara retakes control at this point and the phallic symbol (or at any rate symbol of power) of the gun is turned on the user. It is clear to me that the nude-raider sites are a reaction against her independence and an attempt to impose a different stereotype on her. There was a rumour circulated in usenet that anyone who played TR2 all the way through without losing a life (a virtually impossible task) would get to see Lara naked and would not be shot at in the final scene. There are no figures available of how many adolescents tried to achieve this but the joke was on them. Pupils identify with Lara‟s fitness, although she is clearly much more agile than any of my pupils. As an avatar in a fantasy world she can perform moves which are very useful in the game and no small amount of skill on the part of the player is needed to learn how to elicit those moves. They can thus vicariously engage in sporting activities beyond their real life abilities but which do depend on their skill in the game.. There is skill involved but it is not athletic skill. 1 This is an important antidote to the perceived image of the game player as a „geek in glasses‟ and has been emphasised in the current TV advertising for Playstation which stresses how tough players have to be. Lara as transitional object The view of the personality as a unitary entity is hard to sustain in circumstances where pupils see themselves as different when inside the game and in real life. They are not under the illusion that Lara is real but rather that she represents an idealised projection of one of their personalities into an exciting world. Lara can be seen to represent a kind of transitional object for these pupils, enabling them to move forward in their exploration of gender roles and their role as children in relation to (and in conflict with) adults.