From Lara Croft to Tomb Raider: Growing a hero through voice

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Almost every book on writing mentions Aristotle or refers to ideas in his Poetics. They mention such ideas as every story must have a beginning, middle, and end, and every event should contribute to the greater whole. The most important rule they mention, however, is that a good story should explore what it means to be human in all of its complexity. Exploring the humanity of Lara Croft is long overdue. Finally, Crystal Dynamics is turning the legend into a real girl, but I hope they also successfully grow her character.

Crystal Dynamics' gameplay footage at E3 2011 showed a vulnerable and frightened Lara Croft. She escapes from a cocoon using a torch, falls onto a spike that really hurts the hell out of her, and dashes for the exit. A cave crumbles around her, and natives try to pull her back inside. But she barely escapes to a rocky coast filled with wrecked ships from various points in history. Nice opening!

None of this is special, though. How Croft escapes the cave is no different from any other Tomb Raider game. Because of her physicality, I don't see any signs that she's vulnerable and weak aside from the wound in her side. What really conveys a different side of her this time is her voice.


Imagine the older, legendary Lara Croft in the same situation: She would grunt and groan or not say anything at all as she made her escape. If a native grabbed her ankle, Croft would shoot him in the head and continue. But viewers of this new game know that young Lara is weak and frightened because she screams. She has nervous squeals and constantly tells herself, "I have to get out of here!" Because of her voice, the dynamics of the game change: Now we get the sense that Croft is in danger, and she might not make it out. It's amazing what a difference this makes. While I hold to "actions say more than words," I also believe that how a voice sounds say more than words. If I say, "I love you" under clenched teeth or with a bad attitude, that says a lot about the subtext (I really don't love you, or I do love you, but you really annoy me sometimes).

Crystal Dynamics has been selling this new Lara Croft well: The photos of her bloody, tortured body and the mending of her broken bones depict a Croft gamers have never seen before. If this game wants to have a great story, Lara needs to do what all humans do: grow. After all, gamers know that she will become a legend. The gameplay seems to point in this direction: Croft must develop physical abilities and obtain new equipment to explore the island.

While the cutscenes may show an evolving Lara Croft throughout the story, what will we see in the actual gameplay? I don't want Croft to learn new abilities, survive new dangers, talk like she knows what's what in cutscenes; I think she needs to still squirm like a little girl and continuously say, "I need to get out of here!" I hope how she sounds develops in the story and in the game. It's easy to train her body into the legend Croft is now, but make her sound also transform into the strong and confident character we all know she will become.

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