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Some spoilers for plot points in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Butch:

I am a dedicated blogmate. I am. Despite not really being able to breathe, and having a fever, and having, you know, children, I played!

Let’s see….got the box, lost the box, Jonah got the box, Jonah lost the box.

Now I’m sliding down a hill. I didn’t finish the sliding. I just hit a wall of tired. I was getting worse at it. When I missed the first jump four times in a row, figured I’d come back when I wasn’t exhausted.

This game has a balance problem. And a pacing problem.

Didn’t we, a while ago, talk about how, for a very long time, nothing happened? Mostly cruising around doing tombs, picking up relics, chillin’? And now, when I really, REALLY wanted and NEEDED (more on that in a second) a break it vortexed me into yet more intense, linear, fighty plot. I WANT the game to chill. And it’s not. Or it might after I finish the sliding, but it didn’t and it should have.

Because I needed a break. Not just me, personally. Lara, and, to some extent, the game.

Remember for a while there I was saying “This is silly. The game has given me all these skills, then has failed to give me a chance to learn them, get used to them, enjoy them?” Well, by the end of the oil field, I was finally getting good! I was using special arrows, I was using that deal where you can string dudes up in the trees, I was using corpse bombs, it was fun! That last part with all the trees and shit? That was a great level! It came together! It was what the game should have been all along!

So you’re thinking “Then, Butch, what’s the problem?”

The problem: Because there really wasn’t any real chance to chill and wander before I got vortexed into all this box stuff, I didn’t have a chance to restock my stocks. Let’s face it: You pretty much needed to get creative in the oil fields. The game wanted you to. It sure would be NICE to have gotten creative in these fighty levels, too, especially in that bit with the big cross that glowed in survival instincts (what was with that? I even tried messing with it after the fight. Couldn’t figure it out).

But I couldn’t because I am out of EVERYTHING. I used it all in the oil fields. By the time I got to the second stage, I couldn’t do corpse bombs, lure arrows, fear arrows, nothing. Not even special bullets for the rifle. It was all right back to nothing but bow to the head and gun if you get seen. All the tricks I was just getting into….gone. All because of the pacing of the game, and for the very strange decision to put in all sorts of loot that you didn’t need and no loot that you did need.

So many missed opportunities. Combat should have been a lot more fun in this game. It WAS fun when it all came together. But it wasn’t together all that much.

I also have themes to talk about, and I want to revisit our extreme callback on “is this game sexist,” but I need coffee. And Advil.

Feminina:

The glowing cross? You mean in the cemetery where you were killing all those guys? I figured that just meant you could jump onto it, which I did. I don’t know why we specifically needed to be told that, but kind of like how the vines and branches glow when you can climb into trees? Otherwise, you’re right, it seemed odd.

I did run out of stuff to make corpse bombs. That’s about as creative as I ever got, though, so I didn’t notice the lack of much else. I don’t think I used lure arrows once.

So, uh…your problem is you actually used the fun tools they gave you, instead of just shooting and sneaking (and making corpse bombs) the entire game because you never remembered the cool tools from one battle to the next.

Fear arrows were fun. I used those once, right after I got them. Then the next time I tried, I couldn’t (I swear I had them and it just wouldn’t let me use them, like “nope, those are cheating in this fight”) and after that I just forgot about them entirely.

Which is not much of an argument against your contention that combat isn’t very well balanced here.

Butch:

Yeah, that cross. I was certain there was a thing. Like, make it fall on dudes cuz themes or something. Guess not.

More like when I finally DID remember a cool tool, it became irrelevant. Got there all “Ok….hit that guy with a lure, then once everyone is close hit that guy with fear. So glad I practiced this. This is going to be awesome. Ok….and….wait, what? WHAT? Fuck.”

Re: arrows…Ok, this is embarrassing, but at least I figured it out.

So with any weapon, all we had to do to switch between special ammo was to select it multiple times. Push up for bow, push up again to cycle through ammo. That’s it. Not that it was cheating, but that we were too dense to realize how to choose what it was we wanted to do.

Once I figured THAT out, combat got a lot more interesting.

I figured that out very recently. Then ran out of stuff that would have made combat interesting.

How to switch between smoke and shrapnel grenades once I’m holding a can remains a mystery.

We’re just stupid. The game should know that.

Anyhoo….might as well move on to deeper stuff, as we’re too stupid to figure out game mechanics until it’s too late.

So last night, once again, I saw a man yelling at a woman about what’s important. Remember that Jonah conversation a long time ago? Sure you do. This conversation with Dominguez seemed a lot like that, and it was just as unsettling.

MAN: I see the big picture! I have vast goals that benefit the world!
WOMAN: But….but….DADDY!
MAN: You are being selfish! This is my life’s work!
WOMAN: (And this is a direct quote): You don’t know what that means to A NINE YEAR OLD GIRL (emphasis added).

So not only do we, once again, have the man thinking of the big picture, planning, being all practical and the woman being selfish and emotional, we have the woman tacitly comparing herself to a nine year old girl. She doesn’t say “You don’t know what this means TO ME,” she says “To a nine year old girl.” And, as she still is fighting this fight, she’s fighting the fight of a nine year old girl. A childish fight. Which, when added to all of everything else, seems to, once again, reinforce the idea that the menfolk are the ones thinking and planning and stuff and the woman is just a whiny, selfish, childish daddy’s girl.

This disquiets me.

And, thing is, I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t think the writers were all “Let’s make Lara Croft, like, really childish and whiny,” but they did. And I’m not sure that we would have seen this with a male hero.

Feminina:

Oh, I knew HOW to select special arrows, I just usually didn’t remember. Guns, I honestly never even thought to use the special ammo, so who knows if I knew how or not. I vaguely knew I had something, but whatever. And grenades, no, I have no idea how to do that. I think maybe it depended on the specific type of container you picked up? Like, only bottles could become molotov cocktails? I pretty much never made any grenades, because I could never figure out anything about them.

So, yeah, we’re stupid. And yes, games should know this!

As for the troubling scene…hm. I see what you’re saying.

But also note that the big manly plans the dude has are EVIL. Yeah, he claims he wants to benefit the world, but do we believe that? And even if we believe that’s his goal, are we down with him just killing people over it? (Or convincing them to kill themselves, and we STILL don’t know exactly how he did manage to convince Lara’s father to kill himself there, do we?) So having logical rational manly plans is not entirely a positive thing here.

And yes, Lara is presenting the emotional side of the argument, but also the non-evil side. Also the HUMAN side, and we talked previously about how she was potentially missing things because she’s too busy focusing on big exploration and plans and ignoring the humans in front of her. Like her father.

But yeah, it’s a stereotype that the man is planning evilly and the woman is emoting humanely, because men are so logical they lose track of humanity and women are the gentler, more nurturing sex who are concerned with children, etc. I can see that.

Butch:

Well, wait. Yes, evil…I guess. Certainly “bad guy.” But he does make an interesting point about protecting his people (something we’ve done in countless other video games). To Paititi, white dudes kinda are like the wild hunt or the reapers, right? Things from far away coming to basically wipe their world off the map. Usually, we FIGHT things from far away that want to wipe our world off the map. So you could say it’s all in your perspective.

As for “killing people over it,” he also points out that Lara has killed a WHOLE lot of people. She challenges him all “But you’ll kill people!” (fair) and he retorts “and how many lives have you taken to further your goals?” (Kevin nods sagely.)

So if that kinda sorta balances the whole “good/evil,” “negative/positive” “Human/inhumane” scales, then all we’re left with is the “rational/emotional” scale. And, as the game explicitly tried to level the “good/evil” scale, we have to put the fact that we’re left with “rational/emotional” as all we’ve got on the game.

Feminina:

Fair. Good point about Paititi and the Wild Hunt, I like that. (There’s an interesting bit in one of the Paititi sidequests that kind of applies to this, where she chooses to save someone who’s going to be sacrificed, and everyone involved in the planned sacrifice seems very sincere and well-meaning so you kind of wonder whether or not interfering is even the right thing to do…like when you rescue Hakan, but without the ‘he’s a political prisoner’ aspect.) Cultural relativism. Interesting questions.

Another couple of questions that could be asked, though:

First…are we meant to assume that Amaru is completely untroubled by emotion, that his plans are totally about logic and what he has rationally determined through careful study is the objectively best course? Probably not. He seems pretty passionate about his goals, really.

Second…even if he’s not motivated by emotions at all, and it’s true that all we’re left with as a difference between the two of them is who’s rational/emotional, why do we assume ‘rational’ is the better one to be? Is that maybe OUR bias, as much as the game’s, thinking the thing that’s stereotypically associated with manliness is better?

Don’t get me wrong, I personally do value logic and reason quite a bit. But Lara IS the protagonist, and Amaru/Dominguez isn’t. Maybe the game is saying “all other things being equal (because they are), go with your heart. Do the thing you can live with yourself for doing. Try not to hurt children.”

We can debate whether or not we agree with that as an organizing principle, but there’s some support for it in the game. As you note, there’s not actually a whole lot to distinguish between Lara and Amaru in terms of murder and destruction…but arguably there is in their behavior with regard to children (which may stand in for their concern for people in general).

Examples: as you also note, Lara specifically cites the damage done to her as a child. Besides that, she saves Hakan because his daughter asks her to (she doesn’t want children hurt by losing their parents), she goes out of her way to help that kid with his dice, she saves that other kid who was sentenced to death for stealing herbs to help his mother (more child-parent stuff), she helps the kids in the Mission with their treasure hunt, etc. Lara cares about children, in general, and we have no evidence that Amaru does. He’s actually responsible, directly or indirectly, for a number of the threats to children that we’ve seen.

And yes: of course she cares more about children! She’s a woman! She probably just wants to settle down and raise them, as she stereotypically should! But I think a male character–paste Nathan Drake into this game–could have showed this same level of care for children, helping them in the same ways, and it wouldn’t have seemed weird: I think it can be saying something about her as a character besides the fact that she’s female.

Even leaving the children aside…it’s true, Amaru’s not bad because he wants to save Paititi. Saving Paititi is a sympathetic goal, and could be a laudable one if he didn’t practice quite so much human sacrifice and world-destruction while trying to carry it out. He’s bad not because of what he wants, but because he’s willing to go too far to get it.

Maybe the theme here is that, like Lara’s father (according to that accusation by her mother), Amaru has lost touch with the people around him. While trying to save Paititi, he a) turns it over to Trinity, which doesn’t actually care about it and b) terrorizes its citizens by sacrificing a bunch of them. Is that really saving it? Is he really caring about the PEOPLE here, or is he too focused on some idealized Paititi in his own head?

Maybe the difference between Amaru and Lara isn’t strictly rational/emotional (we previously debated whether Lara, too, could have been accused of bring too caught up in big plans and not caring enough about people), it’s whether or not you’re capable of ever valuing people over plans.

And maybe to do that, you have to let your emotions come through sometimes: you have to let yourself think about how other people are going to experience the results of what you’re doing, and maybe that starts with remembering what it was like to experience the painful aftermath of what someone else did to you.

Butch:

Very interesting questions about culture. And I’m glad the game went there. It’s one of the better things this game did.

And, well, yes. Amaru is worked up. But saving your people and whole way of life from complete destruction can rile one’s emotions. He even points out that he’s worried about thousands of lives, and she’s only worried about one.

Go with your heart is great when it doesn’t lead to killing a lot of dudes and ending a civilization. Like, the ending in Gone Home? When they run off together? Not the best rational choice, but still. Happy ending, because they followed their hearts without killing a thousand dudes and ending a civilization.

Again, what’s too far? We’ve destroyed plenty of civilizations who wanted to “end our world.” Reapers, Wild Hunt, all sorts of stuff. The general rule of games is “once they fuck with you, or your people, kill ’em all.” We’re good with that. So why can’t Amaru be?

And, interesting you put that in past tense, the “did to you.” Lara is, at some level, trying to fix the past. Amaru is trying to prevent the future. I’m not sure if that makes Lara more sympathetic or not.

Yes, Paititi had some bad shit happen to it cuz of white people, but that was long, long ago. As far as we know, Amaru hasn’t had any acute personal tragedy like Lara had. Right? Or did I miss something?

Feminina:

Wait, what do you mean, he’s concerned with thousands of lives and she’s only concerned with one? Amaru is trying to save Paititi, but Lara is trying to save THE ENTIRE WORLD. Right?

Whether or not WE believe it, she (and he!) genuinely believes that this box can remake the world, which means basically destroying it as it is. I think. Which means a fair number of people would die. Pretty sure. My impression has been that that’s kind of what Lara’s about on this whole quest, and that’s where I’m coming from in saying that Amaru is going too far in his attempt to save Paititi.

If you can only save your village by destroying everything else in the world, I’m going to say that’s going too far. Not to be a heartlessly logical, manly sort, concerned with plans and numbers over people, but that’s kind of my take.

And again, yes, Lara is trying to fix the past in that she’s trying to do something her father couldn’t, or to get right something that he got wrong, but she’s ALSO trying to prevent the future in which the entire world is destroyed and remade.

Butch:

Ok, before we go on here, you’re finished, right? I’m assuming you are.

So this has been troubling me…..

“Remake” the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it? Let’s think about the world a little.

******

Ok, let’s stop, cuz that’s depressing. Wouldn’t it be nice to remake a bunch of that? Amaru has never said “destroy.” He’s never said “Death to the infidel” or anything. Remaking some shit might just be ok. He has never said “After this, all that will be left is Paititi!” He just thinks that if he remakes some shit, maybe people will leave Paititi alone, tolerate it, not try to, you know, give it smallpox.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Unless you know shit I don’t.

Feminina:

True, ‘remade’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘destroyed,’ and no, there’s never a point at which anyone says “oh, and by the way, when we pull off this box trick, everyone is going to DIE!!!!!”

And yes, I’m finished, so I can say this with confidence.

But Lara certainly seems to believe that ‘remade’ means destroyed, and all those cataclysms don’t exactly suggest that whatever happens is going to be harmless. Still, to some extent it’s true I’m just going with what Lara appears to believe in assuming that ‘remade’ means catastrophe.

However, we have to also consider what else we know about the box.

First, Unuratu said she needed to be the one to hold/control the box at the critical moment, because she had worked to be strong enough to resist its temptation. This implies that something bad will happen (presumably to the existing world) if someone takes advantage of the box’s ability to remake the world.

Also, Amaru isn’t acting on his own: Trinity is deeply involved in this project, and I don’t believe Trinity gives half a damn about saving Paititi as such. If I recall correctly, Trinity as an organization wants to do this because the world will be remade “free of sin.”

And as you said, think about all the sin in the world. Yeah, there’s a lot of it I could do without! All that stuff with people being destructive and horrible to each other in so many ways, would things be so bad without that? Maybe Lara just doesn’t want to change her own murdering ways!

But then think about all the things that I don’t believe are sins but that have been categorized as such by other people. Whose definition of sin are we using? Presumably Trinity’s, and they’re…weird folk.

And how do we achieve this world free of sin? By magically making everyone genuinely good (according to someone’s definition), or by brutally repressing/wiping out everyone who isn’t? And even if it’s the first, are people who have been magically changed to be good actually the same people they were, or all they all brainwashed robots?

So you’re absolutely right, we don’t really KNOW that remaking the world would be a disaster, but I think it’s the logical decision–ironically, considering where we started with this–to say that it’s not worth taking that chance based on one dude’s hunch. Because he can’t know, any more than she can, what the actual results will be: presumably no one in the current world has ever done this before, so he’s going purely on what he FEELS to be true and not on any evidence he can possibly have collected.

So yes: I’ve come around to saying that Lara is (emotionally) making the rational choice by trying to shut down Amaru’s (logically argued) ‘gut feeling’ that this box thing is a good idea.

Everything is topsy turvy! What’s bad is good and bad again!

Just…try not to hurt children. That’s your moral principle for the day.

Butch:

Figured you were done. I’m trying, dude! I’m going as fast as I can!

I figure I have, what, about a week? Get through whatever it is I’m doing, go back to the mission to poke around, then the endgame, right? That’s about it?

Is the endgame really annoying? You know how I feel about endgames.

True…Trinity’s ideal doesn’t sound like a world I want to live in….

They are weird folk. That they are. Very much.

I will not hurt children. Even middle children who hurt their younger brothers because they didn’t want to play foos ball. Four minutes after they wake up.

If I can get through that, I deserve to be the one who opens the fucking box.

Feminina:

No rush. Go back, poke around in the Mission…uh…do some stuff…a bit more poking around…and then the endgame.

Which is not bad at all. I was actually only just beginning to be kind of annoyed with the final fight, and then it was over. I died…I don’t know, three or four times, but not a ridiculous number of times. It was good. Some decent action, some combat, not brutally difficult for the sake of being difficult.

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