To understand my reverence for the original Tomb Raider, one would likely only need to explore my DVD and music collection. I’m a weird cat. I like psychological horror, silent films, and just about anything dealing in surrealism, but I also have an odd attraction to saccharine pop music, disposable riffs from the nu-metal era, and chintzy cult works. I adore mysteries and well-crafted narratives brimming with hidden detail, but just as often find myself ignoring vapid characterization in lieu of visual splendor. If I could use one word to describe my taste, it would be discordant. I love contrast. I love watching things that shouldn’t fit together interacting to make something new. I like to look at things that don’t quite seem to fit in their own worlds.
For most people, when they look at the old aesthetic of Playstation games, they see a relic of a mercifully bygone era, a necessary step that the industry had to take to get where we are now, but better left behind. I mean, there’s a reason that so many games still aim to recapture the look and feel of classics from the 8 and 16 bit era, but you very rarely ever see love letters to the blocky, faceless deformities that we all controlled during the formative years of 3D. But there’s something to be said about creating under a set of restrictions. After all, necessity breeds invention. The sheer art of making a cohesive world out of broken pieces is something that’s always fascinated me about game development; knowing where to hide the seams, even if there is nothing but an empty void behind that wall.
Yet, when I revisit Tomb Raider, there’s more to it than that. Don’t get me wrong, I come for the eventual catharsis of realizing that there was a switch behind that goddamn waterfall the whole time, but it wasn’t until years after beating it the first time that I realized why I’d stayed, devoting so many sleepless nights to conquering what ever was put in front of Lara.
It’s because she is an incredibly lonely person.
Now, I’m sure that there’s a captivating college thesis to be written about the link between depression and shooting a T-Rex while doing backflips in hotpants, acknowledging that I’m probably not eloquent enough to write it, but after spending so much time with the character, it’s hard to ignore the subtext.
Lara Croft is an insanely rich, beautiful woman with no friends. She has a huge mansion with nothing in it. She constantly puts herself in mortal danger simply because her life feels empty and meaningless without it. While the new rebooted series is certainly making strides towards more of a narrative focus, it’s an aspect of the character that I now find myself missing. Those games are undeniably very good on their own merits, but they scratch a different itch. When people talk about how they took tombs out of Tomb Raider, they’re not just referring to a gameplay mechanic that they wanted more of, they’re talking about the isolation that came with that, one that Lara used to surround herself with by choice because she found it hard to relate to anyone else. She went from an eccentric thrill seeker to a victim-cum-hero. As someone that hasn’t yet played Rise of the Tomb Raider, I’m hoping to perhaps once again see glimpses of the former.
Even acknowledging that that subtext may be wholly unintentional, it says something about the kinds of stories that can be told in games that are difficult to find in any other medium. You can only come to these conclusions after spending hours with this character, often in cramped, suffocating spaces, where the only other company is silence. Ignoring the way she’s been marketed, or even the quality of some of her later games, this out-of-shape 30-something dude can find a way to relate to Lara Croft.
It’s cool, Lara. I hate water too.