Putting Lara Croft in Therapy is the Right Choice for Rise of the Tomb Raider
One of the most tantalizing trailers unveiled during the first day of E3 2014 was undoubtedly Rise of the Tomb Raider, the highly anticipated sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot of one of gaming’s most iconic heroines. In what I felt to be a brilliant teaser, we see young Lara Croft in something of a state of recovery after her traumatic experience on Yamatai, where she endured capture, numerous attempts on her life, and the horror of taking lives. After all that, it’s only logical we’d see Lara in a therapist’s office, right?
Apparently not, according to many spectators. While Crystal Dynamics has sought to deliver a rational and strong alternative to the archetypal hero of the gaming world, it is apparently a somewhat common consensus that illustrating Lara as broken and unstable depicts her as weak. Because, you know, surviving numerous near-death experiences and spirits trying to possess her friend is an everyday occurrence. In an industry where protagonists routinely kill without remorse and come back for more (Nathan Drake, anyone?), it seems having a more realistic hero who can’t quite handle committing such horrors is viewed as a weakness. Never do we consider that maybe racking up an unbelievable kill count is not something to be glorified, even for the digital hero, but something that fractures a person’s mind.
When you get down to it, therapy is an obvious step for Lara Croft to take. At the beginning of Tomb Raider, she’s a 20-something novice archaeologist who has probably scarcely been in a scuffle and has certainly never taken a life. After spending her whole life in the normal world, in a matter of hours she’s shipwrecked, stranded, captured and nearly killed, forced to murder in self-defense, betrayed, and subjected to the ploys of an ancient spirit trying to steal the body of her only remaining friend.
The thing our society (not specific to the gaming community) seems to forget all too often is that the human mind can only endure so much. Even more, not all minds can endure equal amounts. Some people handle rejection better than others. Some people have a slight chemical imbalance in their brain that causes major mood shifts and clinical depression. We don’t even have to tread those waters in poor Lara’s case; she’s a girl who was thrown into a guerrilla war and came out with what we can presume is some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Grown men who were shipped off to Vietnam came back with the same problems.
I can’t help but wonder if this is such a big issue because Lara Croft is a woman. Here we have the symbol of female heroism in the gaming world shown as having mental issues requiring professional treatment. Is the outrage because people want to see such a high-profile heroine as virtually invincible? It really surprises me because, from the get-go, Crystal Dynamics has stressed that Lara is meant to be a real person, an average woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances that result in her transformation into the tomb raider we’ve grown to love.
It is logical that this change isn’t immediate. Even at the end of Tomb Raider Lara seems a bit traumatized. Returning to the real world, not knowing what to do with herself or how to cope with everything she’s seen and done, therapy would be a natural step to recovery. The real tragedy of our society is that seeking help for mental illness is often perceived as weak, as if invisible wounds are any less real than physical ones.
When I saw the trailer at Microsoft’s press conference, my first reaction was satisfaction that they took such a realistic approach to Lara’s character. She’s a wreck, she can’t return to her normal life. From the hoodie concealing her face to the descriptions of her abnormal behavior, it all felt so right. Being a hero (or heroine) isn’t about being invincible or impervious to emotional pain. The best heroes are those who are imperfect, who struggle like everyone else and fall prey to the everyday problems of normal people. It says nothing negative about her character; it shows that she hasn’t given up, that she’s still fighting, even if it is an internal battle.
Yes, we will see Lara raid tombs and take more lives and embark on extravagant adventures. But first we’ll see her as she really would be: a lost, lonely woman desperately trying to find a grasp on a reality she no longer feels a part of. It is likely that very struggle that will lead her to leave her normal life behind and rise as the tomb raider we know so well.