Like many people, I think Susan Arendt blows 90% of the commentary on this game right out of the water. What she says is not a reactionary evaluation, or an inflamed knee-jerk reaction. I like that a lot.
Reading what Susan wrote helped me iron out my thinking on the Tomb Raider reboot. While we aren’t saying the same things, you won’t be able to understand my points until you understand hers. Further, in the discussions populated everywhere else people seem hyperfocused/stuck on the implication of rape/sexual violence. While it’s an important point to address, the rape issue stands out so much that everyone else has talked it to death, so I think you have to see what else is there or you’re just scratching the surface.
Before going further in order to keep up:
You should be familiar with Susan’s article: Escapist Magazine Op-Ed: Get Back Up (Trigger Warning: Reference to Sexual Assualt)
You should be familiar with the Trailer. (Trigger Warning: Themes of Sexual Assault)
Three things about Tomb Raider so far stand out for me:
1. Lara is being hardened. Like in a kiln. Many fiction authors use a formula to get you to care about their characters and it goes like this: Make a character, then do terrible awful things to them so that your audience will know their virtues and strengths because of how they handle them. Once they see their mettle, the audience will love your character and follow them with a song in their heart, quiver at every pain they endure, and cry for their losses. We have never had anything bad happen to Lara Croft, she’s been in control, overachieving, and multi-talented since inception.
2. Gaming is a difficult way to communicate internal narratives, unlike books you can’t read her thoughts on the page. The way Crystal Dynamics seem to have chosen to communicate Lara’s thoughts/feelings is through her responses. You can tell she’s scared, or in pain, because she cries out.
3. It is not clear that her “narrative” is meritorious. I am always skeptical of attempts to show vulnerability in women’s stories because we live in a world that tells very limited women’s stories and in general people don’t think outside of a few stereotypes when it comes to women. So in order to appeal to a mass audience either you have to address those stereotypes and turn them on their head (without the right finesse you either do the story injustice or alienate your audience), or emulate those stereotypes as puppetry for the masses. I sincerely hope it will be the latter that is produced, but this isn’t my first rodeo.
Overall, with these thoughts in mind, I’m not really looking forward to this game. I don’t think it’s necessary to torture a character this much for us to see how hardcore they are, I think showing someone’s strength is done better in careful moments rather than blitzing them profusely. Instead, I see the suspension of disbelief challenged here. Based on what I’ve seen, Lara Croft is not going to be hardened like the developer intends, realistically she’ll be crippled by PTSD from all this overstimulation and would require years of hardcore therapy. I mean, therapy IRL can make a person terrifically hardcore, but I can’t see that being converted into a game. I’d believe this story a lot more if it weren’t being presented in such an over-the-top extreme way.
This originated as a comment on escapistmagazine.com but ended up a little longer than I expected, so I took all this text and replicated it on my own blog because for some reason there are people who read me who don’t click links. Thanks again to Susan for continuing to write great op-eds even though right now it’s kinda dangerous to write game opinions while being female.