Achievement Whore

Two days ago I finished the freshly rebooted Tomb Raider. Two hours ago I watched Adam Sessler’s review of God of War: Ascension. Four minutes after that I remembered that four days previously I had taken similar issue with one of Tomb Raider’s achievements, only to forget about it five minutes later. Beginning five seconds ago, here are my thoughts on that issue. 

‘Clever Girl’. That’s what it’s called. You get it for, “Purchasing all skills in one category”. I am nothing if not a great consumer. Still, the name: ironic jab? Jurassic Park reference? Possibly. Probably. In either case, when the little guy popped up it left me mildly perturbed, and the reason for that is thus.

Just… come on guys. For anyone who is yet to play Tomb Raider – which, according to my review, you probably should do, maybe – it’s important to understand that its creators have a clear reverence for the character they’re recreating. Yes, it’s the sort of reverence that initially proves itself by beating the ever-loving fuck out of Lara before exclaiming, “look how much she can take!”, but it is reverence nonetheless. Which is what makes such a patronising little pop-up so peculiar. I hesitate to use the words ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynistic’, not because those don’t exist in games or gaming or the gaming industry – as the man-children that inhabit every single gaming site ever will eternally claim – but because ‘Clever Girl’ is such a trivial thing. There’s no malice behind it and it’s not relevant enough to the game proper to consider it some form of ingrained, subconscious sexism either. Indeed, I leapt to the defence of both the game and its developers when the whole ‘sexism’ furor kicked off, when there really was no controversy. And I think that’s why it’s so disappointing, and so jarring, to see them even lean slightly towards that type of attitude now, especially when it’s in such great contention with the rest of the game.

On the one hand, you might point out that the achievement is, quite obviously, intended for us, the players; it has nothing to do with Lara at all. But on the other, that’s not really true. We might be playing her, but we’re also quite literally divorced from her. We’re not playing her in the same way we play Gordon Freeman, because we’re expected to fully assume Gordon’s role. The man’s a cup-holder. Lara is a person, fully-characterised and independent, not in action but motive, of the player. So the achievement really is aimed at Lara as well, which makes the question of ‘Why?’ all the more pressing. When a game is as sober, some might even say humourless, as Tomb Raider is with regards to its leading-lady, there’s little sense in trying to inject any through bloody achievement pop-ups of all things. It’s difficult to take your oh-so-serious treatment of Lara seriously if you then look like you’re mocking your own seriousness, and seem as if you really can’t resist some form of gender-based dig.

‘Clever Girl’ is, as I’ve said, a really very minor misstep presented in a really very trivial manner. The problem, ultimately, is that its effect is several times more distracting and disappointing than it should be because of that very fact. Silly boys.

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