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The Knowledge of Good and Evil in Tomb Raider

2013 was the year of new console launches. It was also my second year of community college studies. No, college was not a survival-horror story even if it did provide many challenges, but that’s certainly what Tomb Raider was—my first experience with the series that I didn’t play until the following year. It wasn’t a game for coping with school; rather, I got interested in the premise. After I finished the third game earlier this year, it dawned on me that we can relate to Lara’s journey throughout her trilogy of games, which I will be reflecting on as a whole, starting with the soft reboot about Lara’s lost innocence and risky choices.

Because she has hardly anyone to call family, Lara instead thrives on archaeology and preserving culture. She chooses to use her many gifts to make risky decisions to stop bad guys from getting their hands on powerful artifacts, showing us how we need to use our own for the betterment of people around us. Tomb Raider is about stepping into a fallen world, then learning from it to know and fight off evil to help and save others.

Lara begins taking on the mantle of a survivor, fighter, and leader, but she didn’t ask for her innocence to be taken away.

The game stars two university women with a film crew, a mentor, and a fisherman, all looking for a mythical island called Yamatai to film a documentary. On their way, a severe storm breaks their ship and shoves it into jagged sea stacks. Lara somehow survives and washes up on Yamatai. She soon discovers it’s a harsh, unforgiving island, and she has no idea what happened to her friends. She’s booksmart and innocent, but doing what it takes to survive? Never. Or at least, that’s what she would have said beforehand.

She hobbles up trails of a ragged mountain, falls onto rusted rebar that stabs her side, and then is nearly crushed by an avalanche caused by an explosion. Eventually, she’s forced to shoot a man who assaults her. It’s here Lara begins taking on the mantle of a survivor, fighter, and leader, but she didn’t ask for her innocence to be taken away.

You would think finding her friends and escaping would be all that matters, but no, Lara’s knowledge of history and archaeology spark her curiosity along the way. Uncovering the history of the island is key to her battle, and she believes she is the one who knows how to solve problems the best way. Pinhole logic develops out of pride for her knowledge. “I’m close to something. I’m sure of it. I just don’t know if the others will listen,” she tells her best friend Samantha before the ship breaks apart in the introduction. At one point, her instincts tell her to force a helicopter pilot to land, who was trying to rescue her and the others, but her decision causes the death of her mentor figure, Roth, at the hands of their enemy.

Even though she allows her friend Jonah to aid her, finding cultural artifacts and putting down enemies threatens to become more than a means to an end. She wants to fight and discover things for herself, and while that proves useful, she rejects ideas and plans outside her thinking. Jonah even tells her that she should combine her instincts with her friends’ ideas to get off the island together. “I know you think your instincts are a weakness, but they’re a strength. Trust them. We need you, Lara.”

She stepped into an evil place and knew what evil was. While it exposed her flaws, it also helped her learn how to overcome them and save others—to be a light in a dark place.

Those instincts work to understand events quickly, for helping her find resources, and vulnerabilities in nature and with enemies. Lara starts to think she is making their situation worse because of her decisions. What she comes to realize is they do not have to exist in a vacuum. Gifts are meant to be shared. When she does this, her on-the-spot planning and reactions grow stronger for survival.

In the opening act of Genesis, Adam and Eve start out innocent. As all great stories go, something happens and the characters fall, but God still loved them more than they understood, even though they squandered the gifts He created for them. Lara squanders her own as well when she thinks she knows better while trying to save her friends, and in battling her enemies, her prowess is exposed along with her pride. She has to survive because there is no going back. Adam and Eve fully knew they were breaking the one command God gave. In doing so, it exposed their lack of trust. They lost that fight easily, but God didn’t want to get rid of them. He wanted them to flourish. Just like Lara’s friends.

Lara Croft loses many of her friends along the way, and while she doesn’t succumb to evil, evil permanently impacted her. Her pride and knowledge get in the way more than once, even if they help her survive. To move on from all that will take willpower beyond what she knows. She stepped into an evil place and knew what evil was. While it exposed her flaws, it also helped her learn how to overcome them and save others—to be a light in a dark place, much like any follower of Jesus who must learn about evil and use their gifts to prevent worse things from happening. The same goes for Lara in her future adventures. We see her passion get riskier in Rise of The Tomb Raider, where the stakes are raised and become more personal.

Matthew Birdzell is a fiction writer and games writer. He holds a BS in English and a minor in Fiction Writing from Portland State University, and currently lives in Happy Valley, Oregon. Single-player and co-op story games are his favorites to play, including Horizon Zero Dawn, Life is Strange, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Halo. He is currently writing his first novel. You can see his writing portfolio, including samples of his game writing, at https://mattbirdzell.journoportfolio.com/.

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