The Catharsis Of Shooting 600 Men In The Head
In ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’
Considering all that was going on in October 2016, you could be forgiven for overlooking that the best video game of all time was released for PlayStation 4 right around the time James Comey and Jason Chaffetz were in the throes of playing a particularly hysterical game of telephone with American democracy. In point of fact, Square Enix released Rise of the Tomb Raider — a sequel to their 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise — on most systems in 2015, but I have a PlayStation 4. As far as I’m concerned, Rise of the Tomb Raider was specifically timed to kick down the doors of my post-election depression and no one can tell me otherwise.
I happened to be getting married in mid-November 2016 — still officially Obama’s America, I told everyone in shouting distance — so I didn’t actually play Rise of the Tomb Raider until I had a week off of work between Christmas 2016 and New Year’s 2017. In the interest of full disclosure, my post-election depression was really just an extension of my regular everyday depression, which surfaces at least once a year despite my regular and enthusiastic use of SSRIs. At the best of times, that mostly looks like sleeping 14 hours a night, waking up to eat, work, complain, gain about 15 pounds, and go back to bed. Having a week off of work in the middle of winter, with no routine to force me into some semblance of participating in civilization, following the election of a morally bankrupt authoritarian wannabe whose biggest check is his own stupidity? Not super great timing. Despite the fact that I had done almost nothing after our wedding except sleep, I told myself, and my husband, that I was going to use my off-week to reorganize our Scary Closet and “get some writing done.” Because my husband knows me well and is not as invested as I am in participating in my self-delusion, he bought me Rise of the Tomb Raider.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a video game expert. I hit the wrong buttons with startling frequency — your suspicions are sound, Men of the Internet! My husband brought the PlayStation 4 into my life when we moved in together and he and I played the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot whenever there was nothing good on Netflix, initially passing the controller back and forth before eventually playing separate games at our own pace and comparing strategies. Once, while watching me play, my husband remarked that I shot a lot of people in the head. In this iteration of Tomb Raider, shooting people in the head results in an XP boost that can eventually gain you enough points to upgrade your weapons, skills, and outfits. Mostly I just liked shooting people in the head because it killed them faster than shooting them in other extremities.
All this to say, when I got my hands on Rise of the Tomb Raider, I knew the drill. Lara Croft makes her way through unforgiving terrain, on the hunt for a mythical and likely supernatural artifact, racing against time and battling a paramilitary organization that wants to use the artifact for their own nefarious purposes. She raids tombs. Allies are made. Rabbits are skinned and new, warmer outfits are created. In the 30 or so hours one spends playing the game, somewhere in the ballpark of 600 bad guys are fought, and if I’m the one playing, they’re mostly shot in the head. But this time around, I realized that shooting my enemies in the head and racking up those sweet XPs is not only efficient; shooting 600 men in the head is deeply satisfying.
I should probably state for the record and for James Comey that it’s not like I’m a violent person. I found Imperator Furiosa as inspirational as anyone else, but faced with the opportunity to fire an actual shotgun I’d probably fuck it up and the recoil would break my collarbone. I’m sleep-on-the-couch-and-eat-8,000-calories-a-day-because-I’m-sad fragile. I’m not much of a threat. And that’s why, every morning of my holiday break, I’d wake up when my husband left for work with the best intentions of drinking coffee and going to the gym and tackling the Scary Closet, and instead find myself back on the couch, being Lara Croft. Lara Croft probably weighs about 98 pounds, not counting her tactical gear, which is robust and climate-appropriate. Lara Croft has PTSD because she had to kill a few hundred people in 2013, and furthermore is so haunted by the murder of her father that she organizes a mission to Syria to find the artifact on which he staked his reputation, but does she ever let feelings slow her down? She does not. Feelings only make Lara climb more mountains, raid more tombs, and collect more guns. At one point, Lara Croft kills a bear with poisoned arrows she made out of mushrooms. I’m fiercely devoted to Lexapro, but I would imagine killing a bear and then crafting a fucking tailored outfit out of its skin probably does wonders for the ol’ neurochemicals.
Here is something that isn’t at all surprising: Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider were both written by a woman! Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of Terry Pratchett, speaker to my soul. Rhianna Pratchett took a character that was mostly popularized by Angelina Jolie’s breasts and turned her into a depressed 29-year-old’s personal hero! (I’m not sure what part of Alicia Vikander’s anatomy will spur interest in the upcoming film based on Rise of the Tomb Raider, but if there’s one thing for which Hollywood can be counted upon, it’s faithfully and tastefully recreating my feminist cultural icons.) It’s tempting to search for a deeper point here concerning reinventing characters — Our Reboots, Ourselves — but that isn’t, in fact, what happened to me. I did not reinvent myself via Lara Croft. I was depressed in December 2016, and I’ll be depressed again. It doesn’t matter what color tank top Lara Croft is wearing. The Scary Closet stayed Scary. But depression is a disease treated by small victories. For 30 hours, I climbed mountains, I skinned bears, I analyzed artifacts, and I racked up headshots. When it was over, I took a shower. Lara Croft can do anything. I can put on real pants.