OPIN­IONS

Steve wants to make tombs more re­al­is­tic, and thus, less fun

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - START -

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist is one of those oc­cu­pa­tions that is ex­actly one per cent as in­ter­est­ing as films, tele­vi­sion and videogames make it out to be. It’s not In­di­ana Jones swip­ing the Holy Grail from a yawn­ing chasm as an an­cient tem­ple col­lapses around him. It’s Tony Robin­son in a damp field in York­shire, look­ing at a dirty old piece of brick that might have been used in a Ro­man toi­let. It’s not Lara Croft cartwheel­ing into an undis­cov­ered Egyp­tian tomb to shoot a di­nosaur mummy and solve a puz­zle. It’s metal de­tect­ing in Clac­ton-on-Sea and fill­ing a bin bag with rusted bot­tle caps that you think might be coins, be­fore de­camp­ing to a Wether­spoon for a room tem­per­a­ture ale and a cry.

Though they’ll never openly ad­mit it, ev­ery ar­chae­ol­ogy grad­u­ate of the last two decades has been cru­elly tricked into the dead-end pro­fes­sion by videogames. Sure, they’ll try to con­vince you oth­er­wise. They’ll claim to have al­ways had a gen­uine aca­demic in­ter­est in the tra­di­tions of the rul­ing Agh­labid dy­nasty of me­dieval Tu­nisia circa 800 BC, but deep down they re­ally thought they’d be swing­ing on vines and steal­ing gob­lets from Nazis, driv­ing a jeep up the side of a pyra­mid in a des­per­ate race against time to re­trieve a cursed totem, or at the very least not be­ing laughed at in the street for wear­ing a fe­dora.

Ev­ery day spent do­ing ac­tual ar­chae­ol­ogy is hell for dis­en­chanted ar­chae­ol­o­gists, whose lives now amount to lit­tle more than a series of crip­pling dis­ap­point­ments and un­ful­filled dreams of run­ning away from boul­ders. Many of them lose their minds and spi­ral into a de­pres­sive fugue state, go­ing around and around again on Mr Mon­key’s Ba­nana Ride at Thorpe Park, try­ing to un­cover Me­sopotamian arte­facts be­tween the poly­styrene palm trees and the life-size an­i­ma­tronic go­rilla.As with most of the world’s prob­lems, videogames are en­tirely to blame.

The prob­lem

Be­sides rooms filled with hov­er­ing coins that play cir­cus mu­sic as you run around col­lect­ing them, tombs are the most ex­cit­ing types of room in any game. It’s no won­der scores of im­pres­sion­able young boys and girls are lured into the field of ar­chae­ol­ogy, when tombs in games are so mis­lead­ingly en­thralling. Real-world tombs are dark, bor­ing, and very rarely con­tain spin­ning blade traps.

But find your­self in a Tomb Raider tomb and you know some real good stuff is about to go down. There’ll be flow­ing water, just beg­ging to be redi­rected along a nar­row ravine to turn a water wheel, which opens the mouth of a gi­ant stone face on the op­po­site wall to re­veal a pile of ma­chine gun am­mu­ni­tion. There’ll be a rid­dle, the so­lu­tion to which will in­volve plac­ing three crys­tal skulls on a weigh­ing scale to dunk a nearby Pharaoh into a pit of spi­ders.

I have a three-year-old MacBook that won’t start, but tombs will con­tain elab­o­rate con­trap­tions that still func­tion af­ter 3,000 years, built by an­cient civil­i­sa­tions in­tent on foil­ing any ad­ven­turer in­ca­pable of solv­ing the most rudi­men­tary slid­ing tile puz­zle.

The so­lu­tion

We could make tombs as bor­ing as their real-world coun­ter­parts, but even the most pedan­tic of ar­chae­ol­o­gists shouldn’t be de­nied the wild es­capism of­fered by Tomb Raider’s theme park style crypts. In­stead, play­ers should be se­verely warned that the tomb they’re about to ex­plore does not re­flect the te­dious re­al­ity of hav­ing a BSc in An­cient Lan­guages from Sh­effield Univer­sity.

Like those pic­tures of man­gled lungs you get on pack­ets of to­bacco, in-game tombs should all con­tain richly de­tailed tapestries of real-world ar­chae­ol­o­gists liv­ing in Bris­tol and writ­ing a the­sis no­body will ever read. An eerie cau­tion to any would-be Lara Crofts who might be tempted by the pro­fes­sion, and one that might save many, many young lives.

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