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