'Shadow of the Tomb Raider' Tries, but Fails, to Tackle Its Own Colonialism


The problem of colonialism and cultural appropriation were unsolvable issues for this genre. You might as well try to add realism to Batman, all you end up with is a cruel rich man beating up the poor and marginalized. So I think that entire approach was never going to work, but even then, it could have worked better it sounds if they had managed to get Lara Croft right in this reboot, which they never did.

A lot of what they did with Lara Croft in 2012 is just take away the bawdy winking charm she had before and leave her as basically a blank slate. She didn’t need to be all that much in the first game because she was essentially just the Final Girl of a horror movie, she’s sympathetic just because of her circumstances. You don’t need a nuanced character study for that kind of story. But in the sequels she has more agency and needs some kind of arc greater than “I was scared but now I fight back”. They never actually accomplished that.

What you have this strange oddly hollow character that the contractions of the story even more intense. Instead of sexually explicit she’s pretty much non-sexual, while still being a perfectly proportioned idealized figure with porcelain Final Fantasy skin. It’s all the more jarring when that overly clean face is thrown into gritty South American jungles. Her character too just isn’t built for the story they’re telling. She doesn’t have the depth to have contradictions.

It’s like trying to fit Wonder Woman into Heart of Darkness, it doesn’t work.


I understand this would require a new reboot of the series because they’ve gone pretty far down the characterization rabbit hole at this point, but what about a Lara Croft that uses her family money to fund and participate in archeological expeditions to help native people recover their own history and artifacts? I know adventure tourism and capitalist philanthropy are an entirely different, separate issue, but it feels to me like a Tomb Raider game where you’re helping to build out a new Inca museum in Peru would be rad. Lara could still have her wild adventures, but she’s using her privilege for good and not stealing from native people.


He probably thought it was self evident and was surprised when it flew over so many heads. This is a game where you play a rich, white douchebag. The game obviously knows this. He gains “special powers” from absurd “tribal” tattoos. He murders and skins endangered species for minor convenience upgrades. When he rescues his captured girlfriend he whoops and hollers and has a fun time blowing up the pursuers like a maniac. He’s not actually the savior of anything. I personally watched the locals recapture an outpost in the game without my intervention at all. He’s manipulated by the locals and simply pointed at their enemies like a weapon. The actual villain of the game turns out to be a rich white guy. In the end if you are dumb enough to choose to stay thinking you are the savior and leader of these people. you are killed.

It’s not difficult to see the satire, a lot of people just never think to process that possibility. It was my instant reading of the game. I didn’t need to read an interview from the developer. It’s a reflection of how the sophistication of mainstream games criticism has failed to keep up with the ambition of game developers.


I’m with @dogsarecool on this one. Especially in light of the murky politics of Far Cry 5.


More like that just abut every single big budget action game made when Far Cry 3 came out was fundamentally the same as Far Cry 3 if not read as satire, that and the mechanics aren’t subversive but instead push the ultra-violent colonial field trip fantasy, a lot of the “ridiculous” things in the dialog were just normal things people accepted at face value in stuff like Tomb Raider and God of War.

It’s bad satire because it doesn’t make its message clear at all unless you’ve actively been reading it as a satire. In a world where Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto were the biggest games in town, one a sincere vile pile of xenophobic propaganda and the other equally terrible satire that often just revels in the excesses of misogyny and racism as much as it tries to make fun of it, absolutely nothing about Far Cry 3 reads as satire to your average player. It’s just kind of like those games.

The vast majority of Far Cry 3 is just running around and doing wacky violent nonsense. That’s what most people remember from the game. Those moments aren’t satire. They want you to enjoy it. Sure, the idea may have been for the subversion later to hit harder, but most people don’t even finish games that large. It’s just a bad satire that often just becomes the things it satirizes, not unlike Married With Children or Duke Nukem.


Just listening to the review and discussion, the exact same response to my memories of indiana jones was going through my head. This belongs in a museum does not have the same connotations for me as it did when I first watched Raiders.

My question would be: are there examples of games that tackle the issue of colonialism successfully?


Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry comes to mind, as it is focused on fomenting a slave rebellion against European colonists. It also helps to have a person from a marginalized background as the main character.

Now that I think about it, the second a piece of media tries to tell a story about colonialism through white (or white presenting) eyes, it has pretty much already failed. Because, to me, the white perspective itself is a perpetuation of colonialism. So Tomb Raider has failed from the jump, no matter how many metal rods they stab Lara with.


IIRC - didn’t the “It Belongs In A Museum” line come from Last Crusade, when Indy was trying to retrieve an artifact from a private collector?


You might be right about that. I remember that line being kind of Indy’s mission statement, but now that you mention it he says it in that scene on the boat in Last Crusade?


Yep - I was looking for a clip of that line for a video this weekend (calling for donations to the Video Game History Foundation), so I’ve watched the scene very recently.


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Freedom Cry is a weird one, because on the one hand you spend a large part of that story freeing slaves and stirring up revolution, but on the other hand freed slaves are then essentially used as a currency to purchase upgrades and other things with, which kinda undermines the entire message of the whole thing.


For a AAA game, Assassin’s Creed Origins does a decent job at that.


It’s been a minute since I played it, but couldn’t the upgrade system be read as your insurgency growing more powerful, thereby allowing you to access better skills and resources? I could be wrong on that account, however.


Could be interpreted that way! Bit of a reach for me personally, but to be honest I just err on the side of caution when dealing with the type of commentary Ubisoft usually offers up. Not to derail things, but if you’re at all interested there’s actually a decent video about Freedom Cry here specifically, where the author says that turning freeing slaves into a game mechanic solely for personal gain and trivial upgrades becomes disenfranchising and dehumanizing, and it never bothers to dig into the slave trade and the specifics how it was supported for centuries, content instead to just treat slaves as another open world collectible on your map screen. It’s an interesting watch that’s at least somewhat relevant to the topic in this thread.


Satire needs more groundwork than just being the thing you’re satirizing. The reaction to Far Cry 3 was because it’s another in a long line of games sending white heroes to go save/destroy exotic locales. While it did make the protagonist exceptionally douchey, they didn’t follow through with painting him as a villain as opposed to just a badly written character. I don’t think it fair to call it knee jerk or slandering the devs when the only difference between reading the game as a critique of colonialist murder fantasies or an (unintentional) celebration of them is someone saying “Oh no it’s a joke we swear.”


I don’t think the two necessarily have to be mutually exclusive either. Starship Troopers is an extremely heavy handed satire, but was also taken literally at the time it came out which eventually also meant it fed into some really disgusting parts of society. Even though the satire of a piece of art still stands it can still have a largely negative impact on it’s audience, in fact I’d argue that satire usually does.


This is why I have a problem with satire as a whole. It often unintentionally feeds into and supports the broken systems it lampoons (see South Park, which definitely had a hand in the pervasiveness of “intellectual centrism” and the continued normalization of antisemitic and ableist jokes) which essentially gives both the toxic aspects of society ammunition and also acts as a bulwark against critique of the creators (“It’s just a joke” “oh well we didn’t mean it like that”).

I still engage with an enjoy satirical works (look, I really do like Starship Troopers) but there are always missteps, as there are in all media. It’s just that when your media is focused on satirically depicting society, those missteps can have a harmful effects that are often the opposite of the creators original intention.

EDIT: As people have posted below, the satire discussion is more appropriate for a different thread and so I feel bad leaving my post on that and not a comment on Dia’s writing or her and Rob’s discussion.

Sorry my words aren’t going to be as substantive, articulate or as on topic as some others, but I just wanted to voice how awesome it is that Dia’s writing continues to appear on Waypoint, and her work has encouraged a lot of personal introspection and critical thought regarding colonialism and my role as a product of Canadian colonialist efforts. So, thanks!


I can definitely understand that perspective for sure. Ultimately, as much as intent matters, so do consequences regardless of said intent. That the irreverence of South Park gave birth to an entire generation of empathetically stunted men, was hardly part of Parker and Stone’s ambitions, but it is absolutely their reality. The fact that they haven’t been able to properly address this and evolve is ultimately their biggest artistic and satirical failure in my opinion.

I find myself looking back on the Wachowskis a lot when I think of sincerity and pure intentions marred by the general reception and legacy of the actual work. The Matrix being a story about genuinely trying to learn how to love yourself despite how you feel the world views you gets judo’d into providing aesthetics and terminology for men’s rights activists and the like. Contrary to Parker and Stone I do think the Wachowskis have actually tried to make up for that later in their career, granted with mixed results, but they at the very least seem to be aware of the legacy they’ve left behind and seem to be invested in trying to course correct, so to speak.


Books can be (and probably have been) written about the different interpretations of FIght Club which wasn’t exactly subtle about its message.