by Kristin Bezio
(originally posted on Playing at Leadership: Games, Gaming, & Leadership Studies)
Following today’s announcement of the development of Rise of the Tomb Raider – the sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider (2013) reboot – I am… hopeful but skeptical. While I loved Tomb Raider for a wide variety of reasons, the whole premise of today’s E3 trailer (released by Microsoft, which suggests an Xbox One release, although it was not specified as such) seems to retract a lot of what I actually liked about the new Lara Croft.
First of all, the trailer is structured as a visit payed by Lara to an older, white male psychologist, whose patronizing dismissal of Lara’s experiences (contained in flashbacks to running, shooting, falling, and running from a large bear) as generalized “trauma” is disturbingly paternalistic, both in the “you poor girl, daddy will protect you” sense and the “trauma is something we can fix” senses, neither of which bodes well for the new game’s ability to continue some of the more feminist “I may be terrified and female, but I can still kick your ass and outthink you at the same time” attitude that Lara had in the 2013 reboot.
The Lara – under a hood and ostensibly unidentifiable to the viewer just yet, grows increasingly agitated by the psychologist (as do I) as the trailer progresses, cracking her scraped knuckles and tapping an iconically booted foot. The psychologist discusses how it would be good for her to go outside, to “take walks,” etc. He says that many people lock themselves up as a result of trauma, but that there is “another type of person.”
“Do you know what happens to them, Ms. Croft?”
“They become who they were meant to be,” her voice answers, in a flashback, rather than in the office, and the trailer ends with Lara holding a torch in the midst of a vast cavern.
Okay, so she’s certainly claiming agency at the end in asserting her identity as “who [she was] meant to be” rather than as a passive victim afraid to leave the house, but the fact remains that she’s still seeing a psychologist about the experience of trauma – which runs almost completely counter to the image of Lara cultivated both in the original series and in the reboot. Although real people certainly often need professional help with their lives, Lara Croft is not a real people, and the placement of the trailer in a psychologist’s office increases the air of victimization (which is so often read as weakness) surrounding her.
Perhaps this was meant as a way to make her more real, more (as my students would say) “relatable” to the real people who play the game. I hope so. But I’m afraid that it in fact augurs a new vision of Lara in which her strength is stripped down (much like Metroid: The Other M did to Samus Aran) or even stripped away in order to present her as a damsel in need of assistance, rather than a woman who staunchly refuses to be damselled no matter what happens to her.
That’s certainly what Polygon seems to think, given the following tweet:
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s trailer presents a hurting, human lead character http://t.co/HtDI8ogGkz
— Polygon (@Polygon) June 9, 2014
I really hope that my trepidation regarding Rise of the Tomb Raider (to be released late 2015) is unfounded and that perhaps they’ve even brought writer Rhiannon Pratchett back to continue crafting the Lara she started. I hope that this is more of what I loved about Tomb Raider (2013), and not a shift back to the staid misogyny of older games in which women can’t kick ass, take names, and talk intellectual circles around their opponents and companions. I hope it does more of what it promised in 2013, rather than less. I’m willing to hope, I’m just not going to hold my breath.
Oh, and one more thing. He calls her “Ms. Croft.” She’s an archaeologist. She has a goddamn Ph.D. and found the historical remains of a city that most people didn’t believe existed (Yamatai). She deserves the “doctor” that goes with her name. Use it.
Ok holy shitballs, I just googled her, and Rhianna Pratchett is the daughter of Terry Pratchett, who is possibly the greatest fantasy/humour writer ever. Looking at her resumé, she seems to be poised to surpass him.
I thought the trailer was hilarious, as I assumed the paternalistic shrink was a deliberate play on stuffy men like that talking down to women like Lara. Every ridiculous piece of pop-psych advice he gives her is smashcut to her previous (I assume?) exploits. Yes, she HAS been taking walks in nature. Yes, she IS taking care of herself. Yes, she has certainly been exploring new horizons. No, you are not being helpful, you condescending arse.
I thought it highlighted her superhuman-ness. Even with all her money, the best shrink she can buy can’t understand her. It’s like Superman trying to find a personal trainer. If she needs help, she certainly isn’t getting it from him. Her body language also implies that she isn’t exactly happy about his idiotic platitudes.
I don’t think there is something inherently wrong in showing Lara as having human reactions or being affected by her experiences. If she is reduced to a fainting-on-chaiselounges damsel, then yes, we have a problem. Although it seems unnecessary to do this to such an action-oriented protagonist. Tomb Raider has never been about examining the human psyche.
As with all media, one has to ask: even if this is something that realistically could happen to the protagonist, is it important to show this? I’m sure Lara has been constipated, but we have yet to see a trailer featuring her gastroenterologist. So, considering this… Ok, I’m changing my opinion mid-rant. You are right.
Yes, Rhianna Pratchett comes from some serious writing genes. And she’s also awesome all by herself.
So my biggest issue with the trailer is actually that I don’t know what it’s trying to do – it could be brilliant, it could be awful, and while I really hope it’s the former, I’m terribly afraid – after The Other M disaster – that it’s going to be the latter.
Here’s a bit more on why I reacted negatively, as well as a recount of other reactions across the internets: http://blog.richmond.edu/playing-at-leadership/2014/06/10/rise-of-the-tomb-raider-follow-up/