More on Tomb Raider

Today’s just a brief post to throw out a few additional thoughts about Tomb Raider.

First, here’s a link to an article that Rachael shared with me about the concept of Mary Sues in fiction.  Go read it.  It’ll be good for you.

Alright, so you know how in my first post on Tomb Raider I had some complaints about the way Lara has to earn her badass card in comparison to her male analogue, Nathan Drake?  Yeah, that article on Mary Sues does a pretty good job of clarifying what was bothering me about the situation.

Both Tomb Raider and Uncharted are action adventure games with strong emphasis on narrative.  They differ slightly in tone, but it’s pretty apparent that they both have their roots in the pulp adventure tradition that the Indiana Jones franchise captured so well.  Nonetheless, the two series take different tonal approaches with the presentation of their protagonists, and it was bothering me that Lara gets slammed with all this narrative dissonance between what the player sees her do in the game and what the story tells us about her.

Part of that is because Tomb Raider is a gritty reboot of a series that’s been around for nearly two decades now, and it was losing relevance to the current conversation going on in big budget games (and for all the flaws that I’ve highlighted in the game, I think it’s tremendous to have a triple-A title come out with a nonsexualized female protagonist and a relatively diverse cast of characters).  The reboot was necessary to update the feel of the franchise, and telling an origin story for Lara was perhaps seen as a necessary move to establish a hard break with the earlier games that featured her as a shallowly characterized sex object.  Unfortunately, the direction that the narrative takes still has some major problems.

Consider for a second the first Uncharted game.  We don’t spend any time learning about how Drake has come to be the lovable scoundrel that we meet.  He’s just a guy on an adventure.  Origins were eschewed until the third game in the franchise, because the audience, while probably interested in Drake’s backstory, was assumed not to need it in order to find Drake relatable and believable as a protagonist.

And yet, if you break down the way Drake’s treated by the narrative, you can pretty easily conclude that he’s a Mary Sue.

I think that’s what the developers of Tomb Raider were trying to avoid when they wrote Lara’s origin story.  She’s an action hero, but we don’t want people to think that she’s a Mary Sue.  God forbid a woman be the focus of a wish fulfillment fantasy.  I think that’s where all the emphasis on Lara’s suffering is coming from.  The developers wanted to show her really earning her hero status, which is okay in one narrative sense, but it undermines the fact that the story is part of a game in a genre that is built on wish fulfillment.  If Tomb Raider were a series reboot that also shifted the game genre to survival horror then that narrative of immense suffering might have been more appropriate and less open to criticism.  As it is, it’s just an action game that wants to use the ‘survivor’ label to seem more serious (never mind the fact that calling Lara a ‘survivor’ is highly gendered itself; again, her story is comparable to the arc of any of the Uncharted games, but Drake’s presented as an ‘adventurer’ despite the many close calls he has).

Now, I promise I’ll write about something different next time.  Unless I have more thoughts about this game.


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