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A Homage to Winston: How Lara Croft’s Butler Brought My Sister and I Closer Together

We usually think of him in a fond way, treating him like he’s a family member we don’t get to see too often.

tumblr_inline_ndwblvp5sr1rwngbp“Lock the butler in the freezer! Quick! Press the button!”

My older sister would urge as Winston, the butler NPC (non-playable character) from Tomb Raider II, tried to slowly leave the walk-in freezer. I deftly guided Lara Croft, the game’s protagonist, to the square button located on the wall outside the freezer and pressed it with as much gusto as possible. I was the gamer of the family and I knew my way around a controller. Whether it was a bulky Nintendo 64 controller or a sleek Playstation controller, it was my instrument and I was well trained. I considered it a respectable position to be in because it meant that my sister, who was older and wiser, knew I could achieve something she could not. She relied on me to expertly control Lara with some level of gracefulness because, in the older Tomb Raider games, the buxom protagonist couldn’t pivot well or turn around fast enough. She was extraordinarily skilled at running in a straight line, but it was always a struggle to get her to round a corner.

My sister is now a mother of two and we still laugh about our shared experience with the butler. Though she doesn’t currently play games, I still consider her a gamer because she had a memorable experience that she can still grasp onto. We usually think of him in a fond way, treating him like he’s a family member we don’t get to see too often. With his hunched posture and silver tea tray, it was hard not to love (or obsess over) a charming character like him. The butler in the freezer evolved into a strange game for fans of the series. I used to read about it on message boards and forums, giggling at the universality and absurdity of it. My sister and I only played the training level, which took place at Lara’s grandiose mansion. Though we now laugh at the butler and all his antics, thinking of him like an additional relative or a lovable grandfather, we were somewhat terrified of him then.

We would squeal with delight (sometimes horror) when the butler would follow us into one of Lara’s lavishly decorated rooms or through her enormous courtyard. I remember we used to take immense pleasure in scaring ourselves when we heard the rattling of saucers on his tea tray in the distance. Whenever my sister got too spooked, she would quickly pass the controller to me. I was considered the more experienced gamer and, given my mastery over the controls, was able to expertly run Lara out of the room if we were caught in a sticky situation. After outlining our complex plan (it really wasn’t that complex), we trapped the deeply confused butler in Lara’s oversized freezer. He would produce noises of confusion as he glitched out and attempted to walk through the closed freezer door. It may seem a cruel act to lock an old man in a freezer, but we always let him out.

Strangely enough, I only played the mansion level in Tomb Raider II. The mansion was nothing more than a training level, but I had a ton of fun swimming in her in-ground pool and figuring out the elaborate hedge maze. I mean, who has a hedge maze in their backyard? I never played much of the main game because I didn’t enjoy shooting down tigers and bears. I was a sensitive kid and would get upset whenever I was forced to slaughter an animal, even if it was just a virtual one. I refused to be haunted by the yelping sounds of a dying or wounded animal. Instead, I preferred to be haunted by the chilling sounds of Winston’s rattling tea tray. It’s weird, I know. The main game itself was also uncomfortably silent, a feature that unnerved me. I much preferred tormenting Winston and reigning chaos on her glorious mansion. Though the rattling of his tea tray used to scare me, it was a more welcome sound than the pressing silence in the main game.

Winston was a harmless NPC and yet we acted like he was the grim reaper. He reminds me of Slender Man because he consistently follows Lara around the training level map. Unless he’s shut up in the freezer, the butler will always trail after Lara and offer her a pot of succulent tea. He moves at a painfully slow pace, but if Lara lingers in one spot long enough, he’ll appear somewhere nearby, and that’s a bit unsettling. My sister and I liked being scared and, though he would stalk us, we knew he wasn’t really a genuine threat. Unlike the main game, which was more linear in terms of game play and plot, we deviated from the fixed plot and managed to create our own story in the training level.

It’s interesting that my sister and I bonded over a pixelated butler. It may seem a strange thing to bond over because he’s fictional, but his presence is meaningful to us. Though we took delight in running away from him and trapping him in the freezer, we loved him because he became something more than the game experience. He’s a stich in the fabric of our childhoods and that’s certainly special.

Ashley Barry writes for several pop culture websites. Her freelance work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gadgette, The Mary Sue, Luna Luna Magazine, FemHype, Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bitch Flicks, and Paste Magazine. She also runs a YouTube channel called Hyrule Hyrulia. Her channel features interviews with Ashly Burch, Patrick Klepek, Nina Freeman, and more.

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