Today’s interviewee is Tara C, a virtual reality enthusiast who calls herself The Gaming Archaeologist. So what does she have to say about archaeology and Tomb Raider?
Hi! I’m Tara, a 23-year-old New Zealander now living in the UK. I am currently studying towards a MSc in Archaeological Information Systems specifically looking at the crossover between game engines, game design and archaeological applications. I originally studied computer science, philosophy and anthropology in New Zealand and have a passion for all things gaming, archaeology and equine.
When and how did you learn about the Tomb Raider series?
First played it at a friend’s house when I was 9 and have been hooked since then!
Do you run a Tomb Raider fansite or blog? If so, what would you say was your biggest achievement to date?
I don’t run a Tomb Raider fansite or blog, but I have just started writing about gaming in archaeology and have plans to do some analysis and reviews of the Tomb Raider franchise at some point in the future
How has Tomb Raider changed your life?
Lara’s gutsy attitude has always been one that I have aspired to. As someone who is naturally very shy, it was really valuable to have a female role model who could do anything, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. In a sense, Lara taught me that you could do whatever you want if you fought for it.
Were you interested in archaeology before discovering Tomb Raider? Have the Tomb Raider games and films inspired you to learn more about ancient history?
In short, no. I had very limited interest in archaeology prior to, or during, my original playthroughs of the Tomb Raider series (up until the reboot anyway) as it wasn’t until much later in my life that I started to gain a real appreciation or passion for archaeology and ancient history.
At the time when I was first playing the Tomb Raider games I was invested into the technicalities, mechanics and excitement – the archaeology was almost inconsequential to my enjoyment of the games. Even now when I play through, I find the most enjoyment in the mechanics, characters and overall plot rather than any explicit archaeological references.
What are your thoughts on Lara’s image? Is she simply the product of a sexist gaming industry or can she be seen as a positive role model?
I both love and hate her image. I think Lara as a character is overwhelmingly a positive role model – she has a ton of depth and an inspiring amount of gusto (occasional dubious treatment of archaeological remains and murderous tendencies aside). However, her hyper-sexualised pre-reboot physical appearance seems unnecessary and sensational. At times (promotional material especially) she is reduced to an object of sexual desire which in my opinion borders on detracting from her overall strength and depth of character.
What’s your favourite Tomb Raider game?
Another unorthodox opinion: Tomb Raider 2013. Putting the gratuitous violence and plot holes aside for a second, it’s the first game in a couple of years that has really made me think about the portrayal of archaeology and females in gaming media. For sure, the endless fighting, repetitive side quests and somewhat disjointed narrative detracted from the experience, but overall the game had a profound impact on me. In many ways TR 2013 portents what could be possible with these representations, even if it did it by substituting in some questionable and unnecessary mechanics. So when I think about ‘favourite’ in terms of impact, TR 2013 would unquestionably take it for me. However, from a purely entertainment point of view, the original TR has a lot of nostalgia and was incredibly fun so it would have to be my tied-favourite.
And your least favourite game?
TR 3. Arbitrarily tricky. I disliked the unintuitive movement system and trappy mechanics which required consistent failure before you could finally progress. The frustration faced by the unclear pathing and constant repetition of the same section really detracted from the rest of the experience for me.
Classic, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld or Reboot Lara?
Classic and Legend-Anniversary-Underworld Lara’s have serious nostalgia value. But Reboot Lara has a much more relatable image: she wears and uses field gear that you see in archaeological work, she has weaknesses, she has struggles and she has development, which overall make her much more relatable character in many ways. There is a lot of contention over her reboot portrayal but I felt much more like an active participant in her story rather than a button-pushing observer.
Do you have any favourite Tomb Raider moments or quotes?
I particularly enjoyed when the assassin in TR3 got knocked off the bell tower ledge and as Lara watches him fall she simply says “Happy retirement”. Classic Lara humour.
What about least favourite moments? Is there anything you dislike about the games/films/comics?
The shoe-horning of endless combat waves into TR 2013. It was unnecessary, it became boring and it detracted horribly from what had the potential to be a really interesting and engaging experience. Other least favourite moments include the arbitrary destruction of archaeological material to gain XP or for fun.
If you could change one thing about the Tomb Raider franchise, what would you change?
The treatment of archaeological remains as exotic, intrinsically tied to the supernatural or isolated gems of curiosity, that just by looking at out of context can tell us an exact history. This kind of representation may be true to an 1800s view of the world but I find it difficult to care about the archaeology beyond the superficial excitement, or worse the tangible value ascribed (monetary or XP) under this kind of presentation. Perpetuating these kinds of attitudes towards archaeological remains somewhat misrepresents the archaeological discipline and perpetuates damaging tropes, so if I could change anything, it would be to start integrating a more holistic presentation of archaeology into the game environment in a way that still allows for the action, adventure and excitement that we all know and love.
Which places would you like to see Lara explore in future games?
Not so fussed about place but I would love to see her delve into some more diverse temporal periods. I have a real soft spot for the underdogs of archaeological representation, so I would love to see Lara dive into some Mesolithic and Neolithic archaeology.
Finally, if you could join Lara on one of her adventures, where would you go?
Anywhere! I’m sure it would be an amazing time no matter what temporal or physical location we were kicking around in.
A huge thanks to Tara for taking part in our series of fan interviews. You can follow her on Twitter under the username @gamingarchaeo or check out her blog, The Gaming Archaeologist, to learn more about her research on virtual reality, game design, archaeological information systems, and the treatment of archaeology in video games and public media.
You can find an archive of all our fan interviews over here.
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