Playing Whiteness in Crisis in The Last of Us and Tomb Raider

Soraya Murray


This paper examines the white normative figure under duress, through videogames that present a crisis in American narratives of progress: The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013), set in a melancholic post-apocalyptic U.S.; and Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2013), a reboot of the now-classic Lara Croft narrative that recasts the heroine as desperate and far from invincible. Using key concepts from critical whiteness studies, popular panics around the demographic shifts in the U.S. away from a white majority, and Richard Dyer’s theorizations, I show how “making whiteness strange” can decouple it from the normative, and rescue it from unattainable ideals and self-annihilating tendencies. Running the gauntlet between representing universal humanity and traumatized victimhood, whiteness in games takes a beating within a fraught post-9/11 and post-Obama moment of national transition. Through critical analysis of identity politics around whiteness in video games, larger cultural stakes are revealed.


white, whiteness, last of us, Tomb Raider, Dyer, intersectional, culture, cultural studies

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Published by the Digital Games Research Association.