Sony's feminist raider poised for computer conquest

Lara Croft may look like your average gun-totin', Barbie-shaped tomb-exploring British-written computer hero, but she could have two significant effects on the world as teenage computer freaks know it.

First, this heroine from the computer game Tomb Raider, available for the Sony Playstation games console, could give Sony pole position over Nintendo and Sega, the two companies usually thought of as dominant in video games.

Second, she could overturn a decade of video games in which the central action figure has always been male - just like the vast majority of their players.

Ms Croft, of indeterminate age, was created by a team at Derby-based Core Design. In Tomb Raider, she is never off the screen, in her role as an explorer searching for an ancient artefact called the Scion in the undiscovered Tomb of Qalopec in the Peruvian mountains.

The highly detailed three-dimensional experience of the game has helped the pounds 200 Sony Playstation, released last year, rocket towards the top of the sales charts. Sony claims that this year it has sold more than pounds 600m worth of hard and software for the machine, and a total of 10 million of the consoles, 2.4 million of those in Europe.

Tomb Raider, which is sold separately, costs pounds 45, but the rave reviews it has received in games magazines has boosted Sony's fortunes. The success of Tomb Raider will also hit Nintendo, which had hoped for a worldwide launch of its next generation of machine, the Nintendo 64, last summer, but instead was only able to launch it in the United States and Japan. A European launch is scheduled for next March, though Nintendo admits that Tomb Raider - which one review described as "an exceptional experience that you will never forget" - will probably not be available for the Nintendo 64.

Instead, it will offer an older, familiar character - the moustachioed New York Italian plumber, Mario, whose latest adventures form one of only four games that will be available for the Nintendo 64, compared with 200 for the Playstation.

But will games-players who have experienced Tomb Raider be willing to go back to a hero who is clearly overweight and middle-aged, after the pneumatic, cave-diving Ms Croft?

"We might be the witnesses of a new generation of action games with women as main characters," said Frederick Claude, in an early review. As some might say - a giant step for Sony, a tiny step for feminism.