Original Article

Sex Roles

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 141-148

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Lara Phenomenon: Powerful Female Characters in Video Games

  • Jeroen JanszAffiliated withThe Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam Email author 
  • , Raynel G. MartisAffiliated withFaculty of Social and Economic Studies, University of the Netherlands Antilles


The content of games is an understudied area in social scientific research about video games. The purpose of the present study is to contribute to the understanding of the portrayal of gender and race in games. Previous research on game content has revealed that stereotypical masculine characters dominate video games and that those characters are generally White. Nowadays, quite a few video games have women in leading parts; Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft is the prototypical example. In our study we investigated the so-called ‘Lara phenomenon,’ that is, the appearance of a competent female character in a dominant position. We also studied the portrayal of men and the race of both male and female characters. We did a content analysis on the introductory films of 12 contemporary video games. Our results show that female characters appeared as often in leading parts as male characters did. They were portrayed with a sexualized emphasis on female features. Most game characters belonged to the dominant White race, the heroes exclusively so.


Video games Gender Race Stereotypes