Paige FTW: A History of Violence

Shadow of the Tomb Raider, due Sept. 14 for PS4, Xbox One and PC, promises to conclude Lara Croft’s origin reboot and show her final transformation into the titular raider of tombs.

Developer Eidos Montreal also promises that Lara will reckon with the impressive body count she’s racked up since the series began.

Cognitive dissonance is a problem most games have, by nature. Sure, we have the occasional Spec Ops: The Line, which asks players to contend with their bloody paths to victory (as I discussed last month), but most games feature good guys who kill hundreds of people and never bat an eye. Nathan Drake’s biggest problem is that he gets bored staying home with Elena, not that he’s also killed about 2,000 random treasure mercenaries by now.

The justification is usually that, well, these people were coming out to kill Lara and Nate without mercy, so obviously they can’t show any in return. And why lose sleep over that? You made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.

But if it were so easy, then why are there a million tiny ways developers try to justify your wholesale murder? Zombies are an easy way (the people are already lost). Keeping things strictly in a military context also helps (blame the corrupt government). Monsters and aliens are another staple (they aren’t human, so who cares?).

On some level, everyone knows the manslaughter is wrong. Otherwise, these excuses wouldn’t exist. This is the one medium you make a choice to pull the trigger, every time.

That’s why games are increasingly becoming more thoughtful, more sophisticated meditations on violence, moving away from pure escapism.

So yes, it’s good to see another big-name developer wanting to take on this conundrum head on. It’s implied in Rise of the Tomb Raider that the kind, sensitive Lara does feel guilty about the violence she’s engaged in. I would like to see that thread find a worthy conclusion.