By Kristin Bezio
originally posted in Playing at Leadership: Games, Gaming, & Leadership Studies
In the last twenty-four hours or so (less, really), there have been a lot of interesting responses to Crystal Dynamics’ trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, some positive, some negative, some confused. Here’s something of a recap.
IGN‘s “live” response, which was mostly positive, focuses on the idea that yes, Lara is human and that it’s a good thing that we’re acknowledging that what happened to her in Tomb Raider is not normal. Ashelia’s reaction at HellMode is similar, suggesting that a quasi-realistic picture of PTSD makes Lara “video games’ first dynamic and realistic heroine” who actually feels emotions (although I would like to note that Lara has already felt emotions in Tomb Raider, so they aren’t “new” to Rise). One DeviantART fan is also excited, looking forward to what happens, as “SOON AS THE BLUE HOOD DROPPED MESS GETTIN REAL SON!!!!!” Whatever that means, although I think I can sympathize (maybe?).
I’m not completely sure what to make of the tone in the Destructoid recap of the trailer, which is very short and possibly snarky, but also possibly just a factual recount made by an overworked journalist:
Lara Croft had a rough time on her last archaeological expedition. It’s no wonder that she would suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or experience some other negative psychological effects. During Microsoft’s E3 press conference this morning, we see her in a session with a therapist who is working to help her through the tough time.
I read some snark there, but that might be me being jaded, and is unintended by the writer, who also remarks that “old habits die hard, so she will still be performing death-defying jumps over enormous chasms soon enough.”
I am even less sure what the escapist‘s reaction is supposed to mean. Here it is in its entirety: “Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer shows that Lara has a new hobby after the last game.” Can one really consider therapy a “hobby”?
Patricia Hernandez’s response at Kotaku is similarly brief but less bizarre, and withholds taking a side in the “Rise of the Tomb Raider Trailer Debate,” simply remarking that the choice to show Lara in therapy is “Interesting!” I have the feeling that Hernandez is going to wait and see what happens with the game, which, really, is probably the best policy all around.
But there are also those of us who are skeptical. Ishaan at Siliconera says that Lara “looks rather disturbed,” and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Adam Smith suggests that the whole thing is ill-conceived, from title to trailer:
The title really is Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which I suppose is better than Raid Of The Tomb Riser, or High Rise Raider, in which Croft and some other posh sorts wage violent class warfare in a south London estate. In the actual sequel, Lara has been left so emotionally damaged by her experiences on the gusty island of the first game that she has to wear a hoodie. And see a therapist who reminds me of a non-specific Fox News anchor.
That doesn’t strike me as a positive response, although Smith does say that he enjoyed the most recent game and will likely enjoy this one, as he expects that “this probably isn’t a point and click adventure about rebuilding Lara’s shattered mind. She’s going to jog around exotic locations shooting arrows into peoples’ brainstems.”
Ultimately, although yesterday’s post did come across as a bit negative, I’m more in line, I think, with Hernandez than any of these other responses in that I’m waiting to see where Rise of the Tomb Raider ends up taking this therapy thread. I’d like to see something along the lines of what Ashelia suggests, a game that doesn’t dismiss the impact of PTSD while also enabling Lara to be an active agent in her own recovery. But… I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical that the therapist isn’t going to end up being a villain or a dithering idiot, which doesn’t do much for the idea that Lara is actually seeing a legitimate therapist and acknowledging that PDST is not something that makes a person weak.
I’m also skeptical that the emphasis on feelings and emotions isn’t going to become about the fact that Lara is female. As @applecidermage tweets,
when is master chief going to therapy
— ＥＰＩＣ ＳＩＤＥ-ＥＹＥ (@applecidermage) June 9, 2014
If this were to be Master Chief – or Shepard, or Marcus Fenix, or some other manly man – I’d have a lot more hope that the therapy angle was not going to be coded female. However, I’m afraid that the image is going to perpetuate the idea that women need therapy because they’re hysterical instead of showing therapy as a potentially valuable treatment, and it’s going to diminish Lara’s strength of character and reemphasize that therapy is not a “manly” thing to do. Which would be terrible.
I think PTSD is an issue generally worth exploring in games, since a lot of protagonists just seem to be unaffected sociopaths by comparison. Wei Shen, an under cover cop in the very violent Sleeping Dogs sandbox, would often wake from nightmares over what he had witnessed and even what he had done while caught up in the Triad criminal underworld. He also had a handler character in the game who expressed concern that he was getting too close with the characters he was living among and spying on, and wanted to pull him out before he got in too deep. The handler isn’t quite a therapist, and both characters were male, and if a similar narrative is to exist with Lara Croft it would undoubtedly have been better if her therapist was also a woman, or a social worker who was a ‘survivor’ herself.
What it amounts to is that I’m skeptical that the trailer shows a “realistic” treatment of PTSD at all – rather, it shows a caricature of a psychologist that throws back to the days of psychoanalysis who clearly doesn’t understand anything about the woman in front of him. It also doesn’t actually allow Lara any sort of agency in opposition to him – only in her “flashbacks.” I guess the issue is that because it *could* go in so many directions – both good and horribly bad – I’m really nervous that it’s going to go in the bad ones, rather than in something like what you describe here.