I am, for lack of a better term, afraid.
What I am afraid of will seem silly to most. You might even laugh at me a little bit, or roll your eyes and scroll on to something else. And that’s OK–I don’t necessarily expect anyone to understand. But the thoughts I am about to express here have been on loop in my head for a few days now, and I’m tired of them. So hopefully by putting them down somewhere, I can work through my feelings and move on.
So what is it that has me so tied up in knots?
Yup, there it is. A video game. A video game has my gut clenching in fear and my heart skipping in anger. To some this will seem like the epitome of “first world problems”. To others, it will probably seem like I’ve finally turned a corner somewhere and have lost my mind. But it’s the truth.
As some of you may know, there is a Tomb Raider reboot in the works. Well, it’s not really “in the works” anymore–it’s here, in all its gritty glory, ready for us to consume it. It survived its brief fling with controversy, and is now ready to burst onto the scene, hopefully to adulation and applause.
And I know there are a lot of people who are excited for the reboot. They can’t wait to see Lara’s new “origins” and to help guide her through the grueling experience which supposedly will turn her into who we already know she will be. Maybe they played the old games, and maybe they didn’t. Maybe they read the comics, and maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. I’ve been studiously avoiding these people because I don’t want to feel like I’m receiving a punch to the gut every time I talk to them.
Tomb Raider: Chronicles was the first shooter I ever played. Along with Baldur’s Gate and Final Fantasy X, it was part of the trifecta of games which, in one way or another, changed my life. After playing it, Tomb Raider became my world for awhile. I found copies of all the other games on eBay and played through them all. (Except for the very first one, which didn’t work well on the computer I was using and the old graphics hurt my eyes.) I started getting into the comics as best I could, which admittedly wasn’t very well since I was young and had very little money.
When Angel of Darkness was first advertised, I wearied my parents no end with constant chatter about the graphics, the new game engine, the dark and gritty storyline. My dad bought a PS2 copy for me the night of its release as a surprise. I still remember him going out, supposedly to get me a treat from Taco Bell, and then after handing me my nachos slipping forth a second plastic bag with a casual “Oh, by the way, we also picked up this…”
Sadly, Darkness was riddled with infuriating control issues and I never made it past the “dungeon” underneath the streets of Paris. (Though not for lack of trying.) I was pretty heartbroken, but I soothed myself with the knowledge that all of the game reviewers hated it, so I hadn’t actually missed anything. The story was bad, they said. The controls were bad. The graphics were bad. Everything was bad!
And it was at this point that I was suddenly introduced to the concept that Tomb Raider, as a whole, was broken.
It’s a theme which has been repeated, ad infinitum, on pretty much every gaming review site for years now. Tomb Raider “needs something new”. It doesn’t stand up to other games of the genre. There’s too much fanservice. There’s not enough fanservice. It needs a fresh perspective. It needs a reboot.
And because I was young, I nodded and accepted their judgement. They were, after all, much older and much smarter than I was. But in my heart of hearts, I disagreed with them. How could anything that I loved so much be broken? Lara was my idol. I dressed up as her for Halloween–twice. I quoted lines from the game whenever I could. (In fact, I still live by young Lara’s words in Chronicles–”I make my own luck!”) I became interested in Egyptology and archaeology almost exclusively because of the series. Eventually I just wrote off their opinions as those of jaded adults–not for me. I would stick with Lara until the end.
Then, Crystal Dynamics came along and gave the series the reboot that everyone was constantly clamoring for. And it was awesome. I still remember visiting the Tomb Raider website every single day for months, downloading desktop wallpapers and squirming excitedly in my chair whenever there was news. And even though I couldn’t pick it up right when it was released, when I finally got my hands on Tomb Raider: Legend, I was practically vibrating with excitement. In fact, Legend remains one of my favorite games, to this day, simply because of how much fun it was. The graphics were beautiful, the environments were amazing, the jump-and-climb-and-pull-a-lever puzzles were done just right, and the story was emotional and moving. Anniversary was also popular, but I felt like it fell off the radar quite a bit, for some reason which I still haven’t figured out.
But it still wasn’t enough!, cried the reviewers. The series was still stale and broken. When will it be more like other games in the genre? When would it move past those silly, boring lever puzzles? When would Lara stop trying to be like all these other better and more successful male characters? And how fast can the fans craft and install a nude mod?
It was at this point that I lost faith in game reviewers as a whole. There were other things which contributed to it besides Tomb Raider, but the fact that something I loved so dearly could be so easily dismissed was definitely a factor.
Then Underworld came along, promising to wrap up the story of Legend and complete Lara’s journey. With a high-impact intro that was like a shock to the heart for fans like me, beautiful graphics, and refined controls, Underworld promised to be more of the fun and adventure which had been provided to us in Legend. Unfortunately–for me, at least–the turns the story took infuriated me no end. The sheer emotional potential that they started out with was brutally crushed by the time the game ended, and that plus the EXTREMELY frustrating jungle temple level caused me to ragequit the game. Hard.
And, if I’m honest, the main reason for my anger is that the writers who worked on that game unceremoniously and uncaringly broke my heart.
Even with my policy of avoiding any and all game reviews, the raucous cries of “This series is broken!” still seeped through occasionally. Nothing would ever be good enough, it seemed. So I let Tomb Raider go for awhile, figuring it would be dead for awhile. No one seemed to enjoy it anymore anyway, except of course those who viewed Lara as wank-bait and played the games simply for the ass-shots and to hear her grunt and groan constantly.
So when news of a new Tomb Raider game broke, I was both surprised and excited. Then when I saw the character design was no longer Double-D breasts and mini-shorts, I got even more excited. And what’s this? Square Enix was involved!? Holy shit, where do I sign up?
Oh, but wait. They just used the R-word.
I feel like I’ve been surrounded by reboots lately. The past two years in particular. Everything I’m interested in that, to most people, would fall under the “geek” sphere seems to be getting reboots. Hell, even reboots are getting reboots. It’s insanity. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing or why, but I’m sick of it. And to hear that Tomb Raider was the latest to receive this treatment made me sick to my stomach. But OK, I said to myself–I’ll give them a chance. Maybe this is what the series needs, anyway. Maybe this will finally shut up all those people who have been insisting the series is broken since Day One.
Then, clips of the game were showed. It wasn’t a game, really–it was a torture simulator. How dirty and broken can we make Lara? How much pain can we inflict on her? There didn’t seem to be any real story here, just a lot of broken bones and bleeding cuts. Gone was the precocious, sharply intelligent little girl spelunking through ancient ruins with her mentor, Werner. Gone was the burning, almost obsessive interest in archaeology and uncovering ancient secrets, no matter what the cost. Now all that was left was a spoiled, pampered teenage white girl who gets thrown into a Bad Situation and must cope with OMGSURVIVAL–which of course is a foreign concept to her–and is supposedly “reborn”. Oh, and let’s not forget that part of this “rebirth” is being threatened sexually. ’cause that’s what I want to see my childhood heroine go through.
I suppose it’s possible that I’m just being nostalgic for something positive which happened in my childhood. They do say that the meaning of the word nostalgia translates roughly to “the pain of remembering”. A lot of times, it does feel like pain. And for awhile, I figured that was just what it was–me being an old stick in the mud, looking back on my past when I felt comfortable and saying “Gosh, it’s just not like it was in the old days.”
But you know, I don’t think that’s really it. After all, it’s not the memories of growing up with this series that are painful–it’s everyone else’s bullshit that got layered on top of it. It’s not memories of a fun, exciting game that upset me–it’s every time I see clips of this new reboot, or adverts, or even the tiniest bit of discussion. It’s not running and gunning through Russian submarines or the arctic that hurts–it’s hearing the people around me cry “This series is broken!” as they play their formulaic Uncharted games without even the slightest hesitation.
It feels like I’m being punched in the gut, every single time.
Because when I see this stuff, I am forced to face a cold reality. I am forced to face the fact that, to these people, Tomb Raider is just a series which has some popularity and sex appeal attached to it, which makes it marketable. To them, it’s just another way to make money. Another feather to put in their cap. They don’t care about me, or my feelings. They never have. The fact that they even managed to affect me at all was probably just sheer luck.
Because to them… it’s just another video game.