In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, the playable character is a young, white, British, incredibly able-bodied, Lara Croft. In the opening scenes of the game, Lara is already characterized as a helpless victim, nearly drowning without the help of her male counter part. In the flashback sequence, Lara, though the crew members end up agreeing to her proposition, has to argue with a grown, white man who uses his academic titles to appeal to ethos. This expedition is based in archeology and adventure — both of which reek of western expansion, and because Lara is British, British colonialism. When we get to the island, Lara is immediately captured by the assumed inhabitants of the island and is left hanging helpless in a cave. The cave, the skulls and the rest of the intentionally “tribal” markings and decor mark a non-western culture. In addition, the purpose of this expedition was to discover Yamatai which has historical roots in Japan confirming the Western panic this game produces through the characterization of the island. On this island, Croft is forced to fend for herself by hunting, building a fire, fighting off multiple men, and also fighting off a sexual assailant. Because Croft is a white British woman who is being attacked by a group of men who are coded as foreign (speaking another language), white victimhood is exacerbated by the non-western setting and assumed “savage” culture. Similar to the ideas further fleshed out in Soraya Murray’s piece on Spec Ops in Gaming Representation, Tomb Raider, through both its characterization of Lara as a victim and the characterization of the island itself as a non-western setting, allows American and British players to see the West as “developed” and “morally good” in opposition to the island that is a place where violence against white women can coexist and is even a product of “underdeveloped tribes”.
I wondered if there could ever be a game in which the depiction of America or other colonizing “western” countries was posited in a similar way (illuminating our own problems with sexual violence, misogyny, prisons, policing, surveillance, etc) and what kind of reactions that type of game would garner from the gaming community. Could there ever be a successful self-reflective game that would expose the harmful power structures operating within “western” contexts? To that I point to two fairly recent titles, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. In contrast with Laura Croft, this Uncharted title focuses on two women of color, Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazier, a treasure hunter and ex-militant mercenary leader who embark on an adventure that while is centered on their own “self glory” offers the backdrop of cultural discourse, and what it means to excavate an item with exponential cultural significance and power. As a bi-racial character, Chloe Frazier experiences what one might consider several existential crises as she questions her own intentions and identity as an Indian woman raised in a westernized space and how that effects her intentions and choices throughout the narrative.