In typical think-piece fashion, Guardian writer Anna Turner has claimed that the classic Uncharted and Tomb Raider series are a form of cultural imperialism, taking other culture’s artifacts for their own gain. What they seem to forget, however, is that Uncharted and Tomb Raider are Video Games and do not actually represent real life. For example, in the article, Turner says:
Nathan Drake is […] a man with a soft spot for grand and exotic statues. In the first Uncharted game, players are asked to help him locate a solid gold Inca statue connected to the El Dorado folktale. While Drake demonstrates that he is knowledgeable about Southern American cultures, many of his actions throughout the game indicate difficulties translating this knowledge into respect. Nathan Drake is a strange sort of archaeologist – one who has very few qualms about letting loose a rocket-propelled grenade inside an ancient temple.
Only problem with this though, is Nathan Drake is not an archaeologist. In the game, he is usually portrayed as someone who is in it for fortune and (partially) info on what happened to his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. This is different from Lara Croft, who is an archaeologist looking usually portrayed as looking for ancient treasures and civilizations to be preserved (although it rarely works out this way).
A recurring mechanic in both the Uncharted and Tomb Raider titles involves finding and collecting the “treasures” hidden around each location. These artifacts are not the primary focus of the game narrative and their religious, social and cultural significance is rarely given a second thought after they’re acquired. Their only function is to trigger your collector instinct, to get you to take a closer look at the environments. They are culture as collectible trading cards.
Treasures are available to collect in the Uncharted series because they give the player some more context about the environment they’re in, and the culture that’s been left behind. The Tomb Raider reboot has a similar mechanic, However, in both of these games, there is no reason to get these treasures besides to go for a 100% completion rating, or to expand your knowledge of the game’s world.
Considering the fact that these “treasures” can take the form of anything from ancient relics to valuable jewels, Drake’s sticky fingered approach to archaeology is something of an ethical quandary. The word “loot” is widely used in video games to mean any collectible item, but few of us stop and consider its connotations. Looting is an activity most frequently associated with riots, war and the aftermath of invasion, and in Drake’s colonial kleptomania, the full semantic force of the word can be felt. Developer Naughty Dog actually plays with this ambiguity.
Again, Drake is not an archaeologist. Also, the term loot is used in video games because most of the time it is received after a form of combat in-game. When I play Phantasy Star Online 2, I don’t get a 13-star weapon because I found it. I have to defeat specific enemies and get a rare drop containing the weapon. Similarly in Uncharted and Tomb Raider, you must go out of your way and go the extra mile to actually collect treasures.
The writer continues their rant on cultural imperialism throughout the entire article, praising the new Tomb Raider reboot for following the more “politicised interests of this generation” (because putting politics in games can never go wrong!) for making tomb raiding optional.
In the end, the article is simply wrong. Drake isn’t an archaeologist, he’s not attempting to steal culture, and in the end, it’s just a game. If you take a game like Uncharted seriously, you’re the one at fault.