On Death and Tomb Raiding

death and tombraider

I recently read this article on Polygon about the violent/gory death scenes in Tomb Raider and how they’re unnecessary. Some comments even tipped into suggesting it’s torture porn and/or uncouth because of Lara’s gender.

First of all, Lara Croft does not need your protection.

I’ve wanted to talk about her death scenes for some time now, because they have been so impactful on my playthrough experience. Truthfully, I had no idea these scenes were so controversial because they’re so meaningful to me.

I think these scenes serve as a grim reminder of Lara’s own mortality. In the vast majority of video games, the death of your character is inconsequential. You just reload and start from the last checkpoint. While that’s also true in Tomb Raider, watching my horrible death FEELS more like a consequence. It matters. And yes, a few seconds later you do restart from the last checkpoint, but those few seconds are a time of mourning and reflection. It’s not just about shock value. It’s a moment to replay what went wrong.

I’d also like to add that in Lara’s character, I am viciously, violently murdering people – from slitting throats underwater to stringing them up in a tree with an arrow. There’s even a scene in a side quest where Lara murders a little girl’s father immediately after telling the girl to run back to her mother. Presumably, the girl is within earshot of her father’s death if not totally able to witness the whole thing.

So why, in this world of gratuitous violence, should Lara be exempt? At the very least, her death scenes seem pretty reasonable to me. And at most, they really enhance my experience by helping me get further into her character, understand the extend of her risks and appreciate the limitations of her athleticism.

How do you feel about graphic character deaths in games?

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider might be the best game of the year. I preordered it after Day 1 of E3, and since it arrived Friday afternoon I haven’t been able to put it down. My PS4 has seen more action in the last 5 days than it has all year.

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Lara is more real than she’s ever been. She’s always been a badass to me, but watching her struggle with her physical limitations and express real emotion, I couldn’t be more impressed. In this game, she’s grappling with her accountability and guilt after taking a dagger that triggers a Mayan apocalypse. Those feelings seem to be a driving force in every side quest she undertakes to aid and preserve South American indigenous cultures. She pushes through her discomfort and fears, which is more than I can say. I’ve had to take breaks because I’ve been too scared to go on for a bit! Also, the way she expresses her frustration and sheer wonder makes me feel like she’s an extension of the player.

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My usual play style tends to be run-in-guns-blazing, but that’s not working for me here. Shadow of the Tomb Raider almost forces me to be strategic. In one particularly challenging scene, Lara needs to get by eight Trinity associates. Running in when there were even half left still killed me and over. But I stayed patient, practiced new tactics and picked them off one by one as soon as they wandered out of each others sight lines. Between BRUTAL stealth kills and tossing flammable objects to distract enemies, I was able to corral the remaining few into ideal position for annihilation.

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Overall, it’s been way more exciting to camo myself in mud and sneak up behind enemies to silently slit their throats and drag them into the brush. Or hide on a tree branch, shoot them with a roped arrow and string them up in the tree. Or tread water near the edge of a dock until the target gets close, pop out of the water and drag him under to slash or drown him.

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The horror level in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is much higher than I anticipated. It took me 2 nights of playing to get through the tomb with these horrifying ancient zombie(?) creatures led by the queen pictured above. That photo STILL gives me anxiety. It was dark. They were fast. The sounds they made were a blood curdling mix between a hiss and a scream. At one point, one pops out to attack me and I screamed in real life. By the end, I was shaking but I felt so satisfied that I completed it.

And then I couldn’t sleep because I was traumatized.

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I don’t play a lot of games like Far Cry or Uncharted, or actually ANY games where you kill human enemies, so the level of violence in this game was actually pretty shocking at first. But it’s so insane that I kind of love it. At one point, I dragged three enemies – one by one – into the brush with me after silently slitting their throats so no one could help them. The (probably) hundreds of deaths I put Lara through are so graphic they feel personal and the things that happen to her almost balance the horrific things she does to her enemies.

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I don’t want to go too deep and spoil the absolute pleasure of this game for anyone. There’s enough surprise, wonder and adventure for anyone to enjoy this game, whether you’re a Tomb Raider fan or not. GET IT!

How much do you love Lara Croft and/or Tomb Raider? Drop your favorite Tomb Raider moments in the comments.