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Spoilers for a sidequest and some plot points in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Feminina:

OK, the week is winding down and we’re already thinking of moving on (next up: join us for Red Dead Redemption 2!), but I want to throw in a few final thoughts on SotTR.

Specifically, there was this kind of interesting sidequest, if you wandered around Paititi in the Serpent Guard green feathers and mask enough. You run into a little girl who says her dad is a Serpent Guard and he’s just the greatest and she wants to be like him, so she’s trying to read a series of murals or monoliths or whatever around the village.

Lara obviously offers to help, so you go around and find all these things and translate them, and it’s about the gods working together or some such, and then you head back to share your news, and find that the girl is gone. Instead, there’s a woman there (I don’t believe it’s the girl’s mother, I think the mother is dead and this was a neighbor) who says that her father came and got her and is going to sacrifice her, and you should go save her!

So you go to the sacrifice site, still in the green feathers and all, and the father welcomes you warmly as one of them. The girl also welcomes you, and you say something like “they’re going to kill you!” and she says “yes, but that’s just how it is, it’s a great honor” or something. She doesn’t seem much bothered, but you say “run when I tell you” and she agrees. I guess because you’re dressed as a Serpent Guard and are in a position of authority.

Then the father starts a pre-sacrifice prayer, which is quite interesting, because he talks very sincerely and lovingly about how brave and smart his daughter is, and what a worthy sacrifice she’ll be. They’re just about to give her some drug to keep her calm or whatever when you yell “run” and the girl takes off and then you have to fight a bunch of Serpent Guards.

When they’re all dead, you go back to where you first met the girl, and she’s fine but wonders why you interrupted the ceremony, and you say something like “you have an even better destiny than to be a sacrifice!”

And she thinks that’s great and can’t wait to tell her dad, who, of course, you recently killed. And Lara says more or less “well…uh…your dad…the thing about that is…” and the other woman jumps in with “he has to work far away for a while, but you can stay with me and I’ll take care of you.”

Happy ending!

But a sort of weirdly ambiguous one. I mean, it’s not that I think–or think the game is arguing–that we should have let her be sacrificed because cultural relativism, who are we to judge, etc. I’m OK with making the call that human sacrifice, even if it serves a purpose within a particular society or culture, is something to be opposed. We should find ways to organize our society and culture that do not require ritualized murder! (When I run for office, it will be on this controversial platform.)

But I found this story very interesting, especially when compared to the superficially similar one where we rescued Hakan.

That one was very straightforward: sacrifice bad, basically just a way to appease/terrify the mob while eliminating political rivals, and saving the guy is what his only surviving family, his young daughter, wants.

Here, the sacrifice was more sincerely intended: both the father and the young daughter are in agreement that it’s necessary and an honor. This sacrifice was genuinely believed to be important to the gods, while I think with Hakan the sense was that the gods were pretty much just the convenient cover story.

And yet, it’s the same group–the Serpent Guards and the cult of Kukulkan–behind both of them.

I guess it makes sense narratively if we assume human sacrifice was always part of this culture, and then Trinity came along and took over and exploited that for their own ends. But again, while I don’t think the game was saying human sacrifice is A-OK if that’s your tradition, you do you!–it was interesting that they did include some complicating information that presents it as not entirely a self-serving evil. These aren’t all monsters: caring people can mean well when they sacrifice someone.

It’s obviously not universally favored within Paititian society, since that woman encourages you to stop the sacrifice and covers up the fact that you had to kill the girl’s father to do it, but it’s not entirely the work of outsiders either.

Hm.

Butch:

Ah, man! That does sound like a good quest! Bummed I missed it. Not bummed enough to actually DO it, but still.

That does add a nice level of complexity to things. It also puts into context why a) Unuratu was ok with the idea of being sacrificed herself and b) would have added some depth to the ending that I didn’t get because I didn’t do that quest. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, without that quest, why Unuratu would be cool with a practice that, as you say, seemed to be political with a religious cover story.

Though, in reading your description, my reaction was “Damn, game, ANOTHER cop out?” It sure sounds like that would have been far punchier had it not had a “happy ending.” Shit, Lara killed a girl’s father and, thus, changed the girl’s destiny rather unilaterally. She, basically, became Amaru. “I believe this, so I will kill your dad and change your destiny because I’m so right.” That’s cool! That’s some serious shit! But did they make Lara confront that? Did they make the player explicitly confront that? No. They gave everyone a convenient out by having an NPC step in and defuse shit, much like they plopped Abby in there to defuse romance.

I really have no idea why this game seemed to want to put a muzzle on anything that could really have some emotional punch. I get that it’s an adventure game, not some heavy handed narrative fest. It ain’t Gone Home. It ain’t even Mafia 3 in what it’s trying to be. But damn, if you’re going to go down the “I will impose my beliefs on you by killing your dad and changing your destiny,” which the writers must have known, even intended to reflect Lara’s own story, follow through on the thing. Why go there at all if you’re not going to follow through?

It’s almost like this game got changed in a later draft. I kinda felt the whole way that, once, early in its development, they really were going for heavy themes of colonialism, religion, family, maybe even romance, all this shit that would have been good, and someone, two thirds of the way through the process said “Dudes, no. We can’t go there on all this. It’s a TR game, people just want to raid tombs, let’s sanitize it.” Because you’re describing a quest that was done, and good, and themey, and had this extra NPC tacked on who’s sole purpose was to sanitize things.

Granted, I didn’t play this quest, but it sounds like the woman there wasn’t in it to ADD themes and complexities and have the player all “Maybe sacrifice in this culture is complex.” It sounds like she was there to whitewash themes and make it so Lara and player didn’t have to look in a mirror.

Feminina:

I know, right? There was a lot there! As you say, the parallels with Lara’s own life: someone else deciding what was best, removing her father from her life, choosing her destiny for her…who are we to make that call?

And if we do have that right, if “I saved her from being sacrificed to a god I don’t believe in” is an acceptable reason (which…it is?) then don’t we also have to acknowledge that there may have also been compelling reasons for the choices that other people made that ruined Lara’s childhood?

And if people can sincerely and lovingly make these unthinkable-to-us decisions for themselves and their families, then we have to accept that they have what seem to them to be very good reasons for it, probably just as good as our reasons are to us.

It’s also interesting if we want to take it back to our discussion of the ending, and of how Lara had to ‘sacrifice’ a world where her family was alive and together. She sacrificed possibility in order to save the world she already knew. How much different is that from what this father was prepared to do, with his daughter’s cooperation?

And it seems very different indeed from what nameless cult priests were prepared to do with the rebellious Hakan, not with his daughter’s approval, but they, too, were safeguarding the world as it was: controlled by the cult, with dissent firmly squashed (and, again, changing a girl’s destiny by making the decision that her father’s life was not as important as some other ideal).

A lot of really interesting parallels, and as you say, in the end they didn’t do that much with them.

Butch:

They didn’t. Which really sums this game up. It had a lot going for it. It ALMOST did some really awesome themey things, but just when the themey finish line was in sight, it gave up. This quest sounds like something that could have been really, really great had they just trusted it, and trusted the player to be able to handle the emotional punch.

I don’t get it. Other linear adventurey games in the past haven’t shied away. Haven’t these developers played UC4?

It’s a shame, really. This should have been a much better game.

Feminina:

Yeah…it wasn’t bad. I enjoyed it. I did. The puzzles were fun, the challenges were mostly a good level of challenge without being too frustrating (giant spinny robots aside). There was some lovely scenery and some interesting people. It was fun.

It wasn’t a lot more than that, though.

Maybe they just wanted to end the trilogy on a safe, “let’s go with what we know and have a little of everything people like without pushing any boundaries” game, and now they’ll start a new trilogy full of weirdness and crushing emotional decisions and stuff.

We shall see.

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