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Guest Blog: SmashLara!

Mar 3, 2024

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The below is a guest blog from community member SmashLara, who shares his personal journey of Tomb Raider fandom. Enjoy!

April, 2011. A coat of rain from a summer storm painted the cracked, uneven paving of a Manchester side street. The sun emerged, with its light reflecting from every surface, glowing under the pink evening sky. At 10-years-old, I was on one of my many early adventures, with my friend serving as a trusty companion (and his older cousin acting as a supervisor only a few feet away). We were seeking out our own kind of treasure, overcoming challenging transport networks and the colourful characters of the city to get there. My inventory was not stacked with medipacks or flares, but instead an MP3 player, some old copper coins, and my day rider bus ticket. The Christmas before, I had received my very first laptop as a gift from my grandfather. Unleashed onto the world wide web years before I probably should have been, I had started to engage with my interests in ways I had never done previously. At a time where you’re only recently sentient, but too young to have any freedom or major development breakthroughs, this early access led me to make the most out of my childhood obsessions. 

I loved skateboarding, so I started reading Thrasher online. I loved listening to Limp Bizkit and P.O.D., so I started downloading their music online. I loved (and still love) video games, so that brought me to reading IGN and watching countless ScrewAttack videos… online. My relationship with gaming was completely transformed by the internet, more than any of my other interests. Previously, my tastes were contained to whatever game was released adorning the logo of my favourite cartoon or that year’s big summer blockbuster. As someone who’s first game completion belongs to Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue, discovering deeper and more meaningful games (no offence to Hello Kitty) helped me recognise the importance of gaming as a medium and an art form. I know it didn’t take the internet for some of you to construct a healthier gaming diet, but some of us needed that guidance. The “gamer” branding was also becoming more of a culturally significant self-identifier, and as someone who never fit in on the school yard, it felt like being part of a growing remote community. Even the act of knowing what games would be hitting store shelves months to a year before they did was a personal revelation. 

Unified Lara Croft Statue in Camden, London, UK

On that walk through the side streets of Manchester, we happened upon a beautiful visage of an ancient, seldom-explored collector’s shop. This was not my first time at this location, there had been a considerable number of scouting missions beforehand. In fact, it was somewhat a regular spot. The relics we were in search of were not golden idols, but actually old wrestling figures that I had seen online. My friend’s cousin knew the owners, a couple of local wrestlers who ran the shop to fund their passions. Their matches, filmed amateurly in local community centres and nightclubs, played on an old CRT television sitting on the front desk that would flicker constantly. The muffled noise of the recording was usually flushed out by heavy metal music from a neighbouring speaker. Predominantly being a wrestling memorabilia shop, they had recently expanded into all types of nerdy wares to drive business: retro gaming consoles, horror collectibles, anime figures, trading cards, the works. Sadly, it did not seem to be the kick in the pants the shop desperately needed, still smelling of the old sweat it always had. Disappointed by my lack of success in finding the WWF Draft series Ivory figure, I began flicking through the stack of video games on clearance as my friend’s cousin chatted with the owners. That’s when I discovered a true archaeological find. A copy of Tomb Raider: Underworld that looked as if it had barely survived a shredder. 

During my upbringing, it felt like everyone in England knew who Lara Croft was. The films with Angelina Jolie were always being shown on any given TV channel, I myself played the original Tomb Raider on a hand-me-down PlayStation One – and like many, did not advance past the Croft Manor tutorial level, instead opting to role-play as her and just chill out. As I began to expand my gaming knowledge, Tomb Raider made regular appearances in the content I consumed, being spoken of highly as an important action-adventure game. Intrigue began. Lara’s character set the series apart from anything else I could see in my periphery. The genre felt very accessible as a newbie, and as an outdoors-y child, offered a much bigger bounty of discovery than what could be found in the nearby cloughs and forests. In the spirit of those questionable “I’m a gamer, not because I don’t have a life, but because I choose to have many” t-shirts that used to be all the rage, discovering ancient tombs felt appealing to someone who could only ever find abandoned tents and other random garbage. The eeriness and wonder were irresistible. 

With the grimy case of Underworld in my hands, I felt ready to make a plunge. This thing had been used as a drink coaster, a doorstopper, and was probably taped to a crash test dummy at some point too – and yet the asking price was still £3. Unsure of whether it would even play in my Xbox 360, I took the gamble with my pocket money, and set off on an incredible journey. The entirety of Coastal Thailand is a gaming memory I will never forget. From her boat sat cliffside, Lara ventures forth and is greeted by a beautiful temple surrounded by green moss and leaves, with sounds of a beautiful chorus echoing throughout. From there, a gripping story unfolds with an incredible performance from Keeley Hawes – a household name in the UK – where Lara is pushed to her physical and emotional limits. From that moment on, I was a Tomb Raider fan. 

SmashLara website pages

Searching through fan sites and taking to social media, I was struck by the immense dedication of the community. There was an abundance of fan art, stories, and cosplay, as well as years of franchise history that had been lovingly preserved and passed down through generations. I was particularly awe struck by the contributions made by Stellalune and Katie Fleming, and the two were so kind to me in our interactions, acting as kind guides to a very naïve young person when they really did not have to. Katie’s work also led me to self-teach myself graphic design – as her and other fan’s appearances in the GameTap Tomb Raider documentary led me to consider what my own contributions could look like. I have let them both know how much they have inspired me. Like a lot. Probably too much. And yet, I still don’t think they will ever know how much of an impact they had. As my obsession with Tomb Raider deepened, the “Turning Point” trailer for the 2013 reboot was released. As a young person, I really wanted to see Lara’s early days, the graphical enhancements over Underworld were earth-shattering. I had never been more excited for a new game release. The excitement took over my very limited young life, and so I opened up a shoddy attempt at a fan blog through Weebly with the hopes to write my own articles on the game. The big dream: to become an Official Tomb Raider Fansite. My long-term goal was to become an important figure in the Tomb Raider community like Stella and Katie, even if I didn’t possess the skills or knowledge (or a grasp of Year 7 English) to do so. 

#TR25 pin pack showcasing various pins and a medallion

As I had recently started high school, I had struggled to make friends. I found myself to be a social pariah when I had become known school-wide for spearheading my own extra-curricular groups within just a few weeks. I was seen as outspoken, and not particularly cool. But I have always been this way. As early as primary school, I was organising my own concerts, quizzes and talent shows for my class. I was the only boy in the school choir, one of two in the school dance troupe (I was a local champion). I politicked my way into getting the lead role in every school play. So, when a classmate (who was not my biggest fan) used the netbooks to scroll through my social media and my Tomb Raider blog, within minutes it was sent to every computer screen, and was the subject of wide ridicule. My spirit was so crushed, I shut down my blog that very day, and kissed my dreams of being a Tomb Raider content creator goodbye. When the reboot finally released, I sat playing it on my bed in tears, eating a bag of Maltesers gifted to me by a teacher for a year presentation I made (I still couldn’t help myself in some aspects), with my limited-edition Xbox 360 controller that I sold most of my game collection to afford – except that copy of Underworld, they wouldn’t trade that one in. 

Lara’s drive inspired me to continue on. She was one against the hundreds. I might have been too young to play it, but if it were not for that game, I probably would have lost part of myself – the curious, go-getting side that has informed my life to this day. The bullying only got worse over the years (trust me, I have stories), but I persisted. As time went by, I drifted away from my favourite series, not wanting to publicly associate with the franchise out of a fear of it being used against me – but the messaging remained, and that game will always be special to me. After high school and going on to sixth form, things really changed. I was no longer an outcast – if anything, I became quite popular and well liked. My constant side quests, like running and hosting shows on the college TV channel, became endearing and respectable. I was given the confidence to run for Student Council President, and resume active posting on social media again. The mega swot was back and taking over. 

CRFT MNR news covers by SmashLara

I didn’t think about creating Tomb Raider content again until 2018. In fact, I created what would become SmashLara on a whim before meeting my friends for dinner. Convinced that it wouldn’t last longer than a few weeks, my posts started to take off. My design work was not what it is today; I am still a work-in-progress. I had no idea how to make engaging content and made many errors that haunt me even now. But I am very proud of what I have built so far. Whether it is making the CRFT MNR newsletter or my infamous fleets (if you know, you know), or that biscuit video that people still watch – I’m pleased to see that I did eventually make the lasting impact I set out to all those years ago. I was able to cover the recent remaster collection and visit Tomb Raider: The LIVE Experience right before it opened in Camden (CFRT MNR readers will remember that funny story). And never in a million years did I expect to meet so many incredible people. As of this writing, I am awaiting the arrival of a friend I met through SmashLara, that is coming all the way from Mexico to the UK to meet me. If only if I could go back and tell the younger me that this was all possible. Above all else is the people that tell me that they were inspired to make content because of SmashLara. I have seen my influence and it makes me so proud, not only of myself, but of the next generation of Tomb Raider content creators. 

As of late 2022, I consider myself to be a semi-retired Tomb Raider creator. Being back to cover the remasters was incredible experience, and I’m forever indebted to Vanessa from Crystal Dynamics for making it happen for me. Covering a game before its launch was one last checkbox to fill in. I have sorely missed the enjoyment of posting and interacting with everyone, so maybe I don’t need to keep that big of a distance in the future. SmashLara was mostly active during the wilderness years, but as a new adventure awaits, I’m excited to discover the future of Tomb Raider with the rest of you. After all, I can always find new goals to fulfil. 

I want to thank all of you for your continued love and support over the years, it truly means the world. 

 You can follow SmashLara! on X (Twitter)

Is there a Tomb Raider topic you’re eager to share? DM us on social to express your interest in authoring a future guest blog! 

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