As I continued playing through Rise of the Tomb Raider, elements of the game’s narrative and mise en scene just started jumping out at me as being particularly apropos for the current state of the world. Even though I was barely a half-hour into gameplay, I had already sent an over-excited email to some very nice editors who agreed to allow me to change my proposed book chapter on Tomb Raider (2013) to one on Rise—this As-I-Play post on TLF explains what it was about the game that made me say “I have to write about this.”
It’s rare that I pick up anything–book or game or play–and feel a compulsion to write about it. This game did that to me. I have to write about it in a way that is a combination of ethical imperative and cultural mandate. This game enters into current socio-political discussions so clearly–without wielding the spiked symbolism bat that plagues many Irrational titles–that it may as well have dumped a bucket of ideological icewater over my head without saying a thing.
And that’s one of the big differences between well-handled cultural criticism and less mature criticism: it needs to be clear, but at the same time one does not wish to feel that the work in question has condescended. Irrational games (BioShock, BioShock Infinite) feel–to me, anyway–as though they are condescending to me. (By the way, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them–I do!) Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as obvious as Infinite, but I don’t feel as though I’ve been condescended to. I feel as though they took an important modern concern and spread it out on the table with clear labels WITHOUT adding a flashing neon sign on top of it and then explaining, in a slow voice, just what they’re trying to say. They don’t need to.
This As-I-Play is where I fell in love with RIse of the Tomb Raider, mostly because it proves a point I’ve been arguing for years: nothing–no book, no movie, no tv show, no videogame–is made without reflecting on its cultural context. Nothing is “just entertainment.” And this game shows us why.