Friday, April 10, 2015

Interactive Friction: Tomb Raider (2013): Episode 12: Pully in My Pocket

In this episode, we fight a video game boss battle. Also, a bad guy has a katana.

Since the subject came up in the episode, I think it'd be fun to talk a little bit about katanas. As I said, katanas aren't nearly as effective as fiction seems to think that they are. They're actually pretty bad compared to most other swords. (Disclaimer: I'm not a historian, or even a weapons expert. This is just knowledge gleamed from the internet and my own independent research.)

The myth of the katana originates, of course, from Japan. In that country, katanas were seen as status symbols. Forged from fairly low-grade iron, it took the work of a very skilled blacksmith to make a katana that would be viable in a combat situation. As a result, owning one meant that you were a person of well-enough repute to either afford one or have a wealthy noble pay to have one made. Either way, it marked you as a member of the upper-class.

But this is not the only reason the weapon achieved such a mythical status. In order to properly use a katana without subjecting it to the kind of undue wear and tear that could easily damage it, one needed to be highly trained in its use. No ordinary schmuck could wield a katana for long. Even a master-crafted one would need to well-maintained to sustain viability as a combat tool. For this reason, being trusted with a katana meant that you were not only a member of the upper-class, but also skilled enough to wield such a weapon. In a isolated country, such as Japan back in those times, this meant a great deal. When they eventually began trading with the west, it was only natural for such myths be traded as well.

Western swords are different. Not to say that the process of making a weapon is easy. If you look online, you'll see that there is a lot of work in making a sword. But because the materials available in western regions were better, it is easier by comparison for a blacksmith of any skill level to make a weapon that can do its job. Anyone could become an apprentice smith and gradually pick up the art. This comparatively lower barrier of entry meant that we didn't see swords as inherently mythical.

And because these weapons were easier to make, they were also easier to maintain. Again, it is mcuh easier to learn how to wield a western sword without damaging it than an eastern sword. Even should damage incur, it was not too difficult to pay a smith to replace the sword. Weapons in the west only became legendary because of what their wielders did with them, not because of any inherent properties or training of the wielders themselves. That's why even though western swords tended to be better weapons, Japanese swords are the ones seen as superior in fiction. Not a useful fact, but an interesting one.

Anyway, we were playing Tomb Raider.

I really appreciate the scene in the ship, where we call back to the intro of the game. It is a good way to bring into focus just how much Lara has had to change without overly saying it. The symbolism is perhaps a little too overt, but it is nonetheless a nice touch.

And Alex, how can we forget about Alex. We said as much in the last episode, but it feels weird for him to exist in this game, because Lara completely negates his character arc. They both start out as average people from an average life, but while Lara grows up and teaches herself how to survive in this situation, Alex becomes a victim. He tried to help, but fails to do anything more than get himself killed.

I suppose it is a nice touch that the woman isn't the victim in this game, but it just doesn't work for me. The other strange aspect is that his only contribution to the plot is to give Lara a secret admirer. In most stories, Alex would be the damsel-in-distress, the woman that the main male protagonist would be trying to save. In Tomb Raider, it's the reverse. Despite being the exact same thing, it feels so patronizing here, especially since we already have a damsel-in-distress (ie, Sam).

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