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Some spoilers for the beginning of Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Butch:

Ok, just crashed the plane, I’m in Peru.

Damn, man. When Indiana Jones took the statue, all that happened was that a big assed rock rolled after him. Child’s play! Tsunamis or get the fuck out.

Here we go again with mixed feelings about a game. On one hand, that was really good. Looked good, good tension, good variety of things to do (jump, climb, fight, swim, get swept away, that sort of thing). Absolutely harrowing when it’s dawning on her (and you) that YOU did all this nastiness (the kid who fell as you’re saying “Hang on! I’m coming!” was both upsetting and a hell of a good twist on what happens in video games). Great stuff.

My beef? WAY too many deaths, and all in a specific part. That whole “Run! Jump! Now SWING! Now Jump!” part, I died over and over, and in rapid succession. It TOTALLY broke the mood. Which isn’t good.

And I think I have a legit beef here. Sometimes, a problem like this is because I just suck at a particular level. Can’t blame the game for that. But here, the key point was swinging on a light. I had not had to swing on a light before. It did not occur to me that I COULD swing on a light. I kept trying to jump to a ledge (you know, what I HAD been doing all through the game) and missing because the game expected me to do something I HAD NOT DONE YET. And it wasn’t exactly a time when you could just toodle around hitting survival instincts.

That kinda sucked. ESPECIALLY as the tension in the rest of the thing was so good.

In a broader sense, I noticed something that I think we’re going to revisit a lot here: the rather pesky sense that there’s some sexism going on here.

I’m all for the dark, troubled hero. I’m all for the idea that the “hero” isn’t really being heroic. Just played a game about that. I’m all for a hero that has an obsession that may well ruin them and all around them. Fine.

But we just saw a woman dark, troubled hero SCOLDED by a man. “Calm down! YOU did this! You and your emotions!” Batman never got scolded. Lincoln only got scolded in a soft spoken, priestly way. Lara? All emotional, being shouted down by a big, strong man.

Not entirely sure I was cool with that scene. And I wonder if we’ll see more like it.

Feminina:

Hmm…I think you have a legitimate gripe for sure, in that you’re right, we hadn’t swung from a light before that point, and they didn’t really tell us how to do it then. So it was kind of a trial by fire.

I mean, by water, I guess. Tsunami and all.

Weirdly, I didn’t have any trouble with that bit, but I’m not sure why not. Saw light, remembered swinging from things in previous games, swung from light, no problem. I only died once, when I fell off the side of that building.

So it seems like they were really counting, at that point, on players recognizing elements from previous games (and/or similar games we’ve played before) without being prompted, and doing it QUICKLY. Which, based on our diverse experiences, works sometimes, but not always. And even though it worked for me, I completely agree that it’s not really reasonable to assume that it will…it’s definitely not one of those things that you feel kind of silly once you figure it out, because it was actually totally obvious.

To take a true example, there’s a point a bit later on where you’re on a ledge somewhere and trying to figure out how to get somewhere else. And it took me a stupidly long time to get off that ledge, because it turns out you have to ‘scramble’ up the wall (hit X and X again). I’d forgotten about scrambling, had tried just jumping with X and when that didn’t work, moved on. And that WAS on me, because the game did, in fact, tell me how to scramble prior to that moment. It was reasonable to assume that I could remember what the game told me 20 minutes earlier. (And in fact I eventually did, though as I said, not for a stupidly long time.)

But your issue is different, since the game DIDN’T tell us how to swing from things before. It’s not a matter of thinking back to things we’ve been told, it’s a matter of thinking back to things in other games that, conceivably, we never even played. What if this is our first video game?! (Probably we should have the difficulty level on ‘easy.’ Maybe then the light just reaches out and grabs YOU.)

I guess it comes down to, how much prior information is it fair to expect the player to come in with?

They kind of assume we know how to move around with the joysticks. We know how to look around. We know or quickly learn how to jump. Is it reasonable to assume we also know how to jump-and-swing?

And that’s an interesting point, about possible sexism in that cutscene. Especially because I really didn’t read it that way (which doesn’t mean it’s not true). I read it as a kind of interesting inversion of tropes, where Jonah, the big strong man, is getting more emotional about the horror of this human tragedy (“I’m going to stay here and help these people!”), than Lara, the small woman, who is more focused on the mission (“we’ve got to stop Trinity!”) — though she’s definitely very emotional in her argument.

Because “traditionally” we’d expect to see a woman bewailing the fate of these poor people, and a man being focused on getting things done, right? And in that case we’d kind of have the woman being responsible for putting a human face on the situation, and contrast that with what we’d see as the man’s stoic and manly determination, and we’d think “yeah, but is he losing touch with the things that really matter here” or whatever.

And I thought it was interesting that they switched that around.

Also, he didn’t actually say “you did this,” did he? He said something like “you DON’T KNOW that you did this–everything’s not always about you.” So it’s not that he’s blaming her for something she’s done, more that he’s challenging her assumption that what happened had anything to do with her…which is also interesting for a game to do, since we’re used to assuming that, in fact, everything that happens IS about the hero.

Obviously! He/she (though usually he) is the hero!

And it made me think “wow, he’s got a point there, why would I automatically believe the weirdo cultist when he says I’ve triggered the end of the world? Isn’t that the kind of thing I’d maybe want more evidence for?” (Though I suppose there’s no time for that–we can’t take the chance!)

But you’re absolutely right in that as it works out, this does mean we get a large man kind of scolding a small woman for being self-centered and (implicitly) not caring enough about the real people in front of her, which reads like a very gendered criticism given that being self-centered and not caring about people is much more acceptable in men. (Though this does echo pretty directly in a later scene…we’ll talk.)

Good discussion points! We’ll keep an eye on this.

Butch:

Legit or not, I’m gonna gripe.

And yeah, you can’t really assume that. Even though this is game three in the series, you can’t assume that people remembered or even played the first two.

As to “how much information can you expect the player to come in with,” I would say “none.” Really. Because even though games are similar, they differ enough that a game should teach you the mechanics each time. Even Fallout changed the jump button.

At the very least, be consistent. If you have already had multiple tutorials, even tutorials that repeat, and button prompts for every box etc. etc., then it’s reasonable for the player to think “There will be obvious tutorials, for the game is obvious.” Then, when there isn’t one, the game has broken its own rules, in a way.

If you’re going to have a game like The Unfinished Swan, where the controls are simple and it matters to the story that you find things out yourself, fine. But if you’re going to tutor, do it. Each time.

And their discussion…OK…Except it wasn’t steely determination, at least not in the traditional male sense. It came across as selfish obsession, not “We’ve got to do this” but “I WANT to do this really, really badly,” and that’s different from the traditional “respect the hero for he is focused on great mission” trope. Lara not wanting to stay was selfish as hell, not based on any grand important thing that silly emotions would interrupt.  

As for evidence, Well…there was that tsunami, right? How much convincing do you need there, Femmy?

And it was the manner of scolding. Sure, we see this trope in reverse, but rarely do you have this big muscular woman screaming at the top of her lungs at a man half her size. Jonah is the big dude who’s basically yelling “Shut up you selfish bitch” at the top of his lungs at a woman half his size. Had the genders been reversed, Jonie would have been in tears saying “Larry, please…we must do SOMETHING…whimper….” and that’s certainly not what happened here. And I’m not sure I’m cool with that.

Feminina:

I think maybe you’re being a little harsh on poor Lara here, with that “selfish obsession, I want to do this really, really badly.”

I mean, she’s practically in tears and talking about saving the world in this scene. Which is selfish since she lives in the world, sure but also…it’s kind of helpful to other people too?

I think Jonah’s argument (and it was very likely a valid one) was that she didn’t have to go RIGHT NOW, they could stay and help these people first, but I felt like in her own mind, she was genuinely panicking and afraid that there was no time, that they DID have to go immediately.

“What do you mean make these people safe? No one will be safe if Trinity gets what they want!!!!” is a fair argument if you genuinely feel that time is of the essence. If we save these people now but the entire world blows up tomorrow because we didn’t leave right away, have we really won?

Apparently time WASN’T actually of the essence, because later we’re on a plane and the world hasn’t ended yet, so again, I think it was valid for Jonah to say “that can wait,” but I didn’t read Lara’s need to go immediately as “these people don’t matter, only my desire to win matters,” I read it as “these people don’t matter as much as the ENTIRE WORLD matters.”

Which is the kind of tough priorities-setting decision that heroes (strong, manly heroes) may sometimes be called upon to make (though actually not all that often in games, because players tend not to like totally crushing moral choices).

As for how much convincing I need…I dunno, man. I pick up an old knife and there’s a tsunami? In what LOGICAL world would I assume there was a connection between those things? Tsunamis happen. Usually not because people pick up knives (as far as we know).

I mean, yes, I accept that story is story, and in the story of the game it IS all about her, so yeah, clearly the weirdo cultist was telling the simple truth when he said the coming disaster was all her fault because old knife, but…if that actually happened, you wouldn’t maybe wonder if there was some potential for a misleading interpretation on his part? Maybe it was going to happen anyway and he’s taking advantage of the moment to mess with her, or steer her off in some direction for his own purposes?

So I just kind of enjoyed Jonah as the unappreciated voice of momentary reason saying “not everything is about you, sometimes disasters just happen.”

Though not this time. Obviously.

Butch:

Well, she’s being helpful if you actually accept that the world is at risk. As you say, that’s a tall order. Now what IS at risk is her father’s life’s work. And she DID mention that. That’s far more selfish, really.

Or “these people don’t matter as much as the name of the Crofts matters.” It’s easy to see all sorts of reasons and justifications to do what it is you want. Maybe Lara doesn’t want to believe that her real goal is “get the thingy that daddy couldn’t get,” so she makes up these nutsy plots. They’re kind of nutsy.

Tsunami aside….

Yeah. Granted that was a hell of a coincidence. That it was.

But then, we’ve seen some weird shit in these games. Right? Or is it all Lara nutsiness?

Feminina:

It’s true, if what she’s really concerned with is the Croft family name, that’s very selfish. And it’s true, she does mention “after everything my father worked for, I gave it right to them” or something, so yes, she is thinking about that.

But we have to really make a judgment about her character to say that her mention of her father’s work is a bigger motivation than her concerns about the fate of the entire world, which she also mentions, repeatedly.

And whether or not we think those concerns are justified (or would be justified in a logical world, which is a whole other story), I think it’s a leap not necessarily supported by the text to say “she’s lying/overdramatizing her worries about the world, her REAL worry is the Croft legacy.”

Just taking the scene itself, there are, if I recall, several ideas, including: I’ve ruined my father’s work; this disaster is my fault; there will be a bunch more disasters; Trinity is going to ‘remake’ the world; what’s the point of saving these people if we don’t save the world; I have to stop Trinity.

I would say there’s at least equal emphasis on non-Croft-related matters, myself, unless we assume that every concern with Trinity is at heart a concern with the Croft legacy. Which I guess we could, though again, maybe a bit of a stretch since she’s conceivably allowed to just be interested in them because they’re an ancient weird cult. (Which is, in itself, moderately interesting.)

But we’ll see how things develop. I do wonder if they’re going to do more with the whole “is this really a threat to the world?” question.

Because it certainly seems like a pretty big situation, and Lara (and Nathan Drake) have usually been more about treasure-hunting than about saving the world. On the other hand, we’ve seen hints of the supernatural before in this series…those undead warriors in the most recent one, and the serpent queen or whatever she was who almost took over Lara’s friend’s body in the first one…those certainly SEEMED like they might really have been something.

So maybe we really do have to save the world from a supernatural force in this one.

Butch:

We shall see. I hope they have it make some sort of sense in context.

Remember, also, that Lord Croft was ALSO considered to be rather bonkers. Wasn’t he, like, fired from a professorship for having all these weird obsessions that people thought were nuts? I seem to remember that part of Lara’s quest isn’t just to complete his work, but to restore his name. What if he was nuts all along?

We have seen glimpses of the supernatural, that we have. But, to tie it to uncharted, we saw a brief bit of that, too. Granted, you were in labor, but those yeti things in two?

So things like this shrug off weirdness all the time.

Feminina:

I remember the yeti things! I think they were explained by the fact that those people consumed/were exposed to the sap of that mystical tree all the time.

So…they weren’t really yeti, they were just people, but the TREE was genuinely weird.

And yes, Lord Croft was certainly deemed insane by his colleagues. And Lara’s trying to prove he was right…but maybe he really was insane! Maybe it’s hereditary!

Butch:

Well, or he was insane and she just hasn’t figured it out or accepted it yet.

“No way dad was insane…he was too smart…too dedicated…”

[Later]

“Wow. He was nuts all along. Damn.”

That was a weird tree. That is was.

Good remembering, considering you were otherwise occupied.

Feminina:

Well, I didn’t finish the game while I was in labor. I took a break midway through the yeti fight, if I recall correctly, and came back to it later.

True, true…maybe there will be a moment of resolution where she finally finds out he was completely bonkers. “But…this means…he made up everything! Out of whole cloth! Trinity is just some dudes he hired to flesh out his own fantastic creation!”

[Throws down climbing axe, goes to grab a beer and play video games.]

Butch:

In other news, I just baked BOTH an apple cake and an apple pie.

Just thought I’d share.

My activities. I’m not in a position to share the cake and pie.

Feminina:

Damn you for mentioning cake and pie you cruelly refuse to share!

Now I want cake and/or pie.

Who am I kidding–it’s not and/or, it’s definitely AND.

I have no similarly delicious news.

Butch:

It’s that stage of fall when you’ve picked apples and you realize that you’ve picked too many apples so you bake.

And I’m having company tomorrow.

So it’s like fitness, too!!!

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