15 March 2018

[Note: So... this article. This was actually the last piece that I wrote before I closed the website down. I never published it though. I don't quite remember if it was the same day or the day after, but I remember feeling quite passionate about getting it out there at the time. Rereading it, I don't know if I feel quite the same way as I did then, but I agree with the general intention. I think two years away from the site has impacted that. At the time, I remember struggling a lot with maintaining the site and with a lot of the comments that was targeted at me or friends or people I admired. At some point during those seven years, the website stopped being a hobby I did for fun, and started being something that I felt tethered to. I think the general message of the article still remains; that fandom should be open and inviting, and that we as a community should forever try our best to remain inclusive and welcoming as possible. Our views may differ but what unites us is our shared passion.]

A few months ago, Guns and Grapple celebrated its seventh anniversary online. It's not the longest running Tomb Raider fansite, not even close, but it's been around for a while! It got me thinking about how the community atmosphere has changed since I joined, and to what extent owning a site has impacted how I experience my interest in the series.

Before Guns and Grapple, I didn't have that much presence in the Tomb Raider community. The fandom was already extensive with dozens of fansites and forums, many proudly associating themselves with the companies involved in development, either through competition sponsors or messages of recognition. There were no official fansites, at least not under that name, but there was something similar. Cosplay was already a huge element of our online presence, but the newly launched Tomb Raider Cosplay gave many a new safe haven to visit. Around that time there was one large topic of interest which, to a lesser extent, exists today; the choice between Core Design or Crystal Dynamics for the title of best developer. The community was split into those who joined the fandom before Legend and those who had joined after. I started around this time, testing the waters on a quieter Tomb Raider fan forum, seeing if the community for the series that I loved and grew up with would be as welcoming as I imagined.
The Tomb Raider Community is talented and ambitious, it's extensive and supportive with an almost tangible electric excitement in the air whenever there's something new. But we're also proud; the series has a long history and for those who were there at the beginning or notable milestones, it's like a badge. We talk fondly of the classic titles and how they captured our imagination and we hold the classic Lara to almost godlike status. We're proud of our heritage and protective over the series we adore, while at the same time being already accepted in the group

The Tomb Raider Community represents the best of online communities, but at times, it can be uninviting.

I know that those reading this article probably won't be the ones that enforce it, but I'm also sure that you could possibly identify with the issue in some way through your treks across the fandom. The majority of fans are passionate but the minority, the ones who believes in rules and specific behaviour, are sometimes the loudest.

It feels as though we're so focused on old beliefs of what it means to be part of the Tomb Raider community, that we harm as we preserve it.

Surely a Tomb Raider fan, is a fan of Tomb Raider? It was at the start! Its definition feels distorted now, it's not good enough to just like the series anymore. It feels as though you had to have played the classic Core Design titles and you must have done that before 2006, before Crystal Dynamics began developing the series. You would have also needed to strongly argue the idea that the classic Lara is the best Lara. In regards to the latest game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, it feels as though you're not a true Croft fan if you own an XBOX One or XBOX 360 because you're apparently supporting timed console exclusives. I've seen people post negative comments on spotlighted cosplay features because the cosplayer had the audacity to create an outfit from the Reboot... Since when did we decide that just enjoying a series you're a fan of makes you less of a fan?
As a fansite owner, seeing these kind of arguments on a daily basis is a huge hit to motivation and getting tangled in them results in a mixture of frustration and anxiety. I don't want to argue about Lara's hairstyles or whether Core Design is better than Crystal. In truth, I honestly don't care about those topics. Whether Lara wears her hair in a ponytail or a braid is superficial decision which doesn't change the game for me. The only people it should matter to are, understandably, cosplayers because their hobby focuses on recreating every detail of Lara's look. As for developer preference, liking Crystal Dynamics does not decrease my love and respect that I have for Core Design. It doesn't have to be an either or question. And why should it?

On a daily basis there's threads and comments about the console wars. The argument that if you were a TR fan you would get an XBOX One is just as stupid as the argument that if you were a TR fan you would you would buy a Playstation out of protest for the Microsoft decision. Plus console wars are just... not a very interesting topic. Your choice in console is down to personal preference. I'm really fortunate to have a new generation console, I'm involved in, and have fansites for, multiple gaming communities where my favourite developers create games for the XBOX One. So for me, that console was the one I wanted, but that choice doesn't define me. I don't see myself as an XBOX fan and, honestly, online communities are just better when more people have a chance to join in on an adventure and engage with other fans about their experiences.

The console topic received a lot of attention these past few years due to the aforementioned Microsoft deal where ROTTR was available on XBOX three months before the PC version, and one year before Playstation. Personally, I disagree with the decision and thought the announcement should have been handled more delicately; even if it worked out okay for the companies involved, it was a massive blow for the community. However the reasons why fansites don't feature constant coverage of the debate is that there is none. It was devastating to the community, no one is denying that, no fansite is trying to pretend otherwise, but that's... just it. It's an undeveloping story. The idea that some sites or individuals or groups or pages, are perceived as more genuine because they bring it up on a far more regular basis is insane. Especially, if they discuss the revealed XBOX sales as hard hitting evidence, as I've seen on numerous sites and forums. I have a great amount of respect for those discussing it and I think it is important to recognise those numbers especially as its going to and is already paving the way for the franchise's future... but I don't think it's the hard hitting evidence it's being perceived to be. This isn't breaking news, it's clarification; when the deal was announced we knew what kind of effect it would have on sales.

As a new fan starting out around this time, it must be so weird. They've joined at the precise moment the community is fragmented and where tensions are running high. Placed upon that, we have so many convoluted rules that makes sense to us (in a weird distorted way) but which no new fan of the series would be expected to understand. Someone who played "Rise of the Tomb Raider" months ago on the XBOX One probably doesn't know that mentioning exactly that, was a touchy subject in the community, or that being genuinely excited for the series feels like a taboo subject in some places. It also feels as though there's unreasonable judgement for those who joined recently, compared to those fans who played the classics.
Our attitude towards Survival Instinct is representative of that. Since it's announcement, there's been numerous threads in protest of the feature. These re-ermerged with "Rise of the Tomb Raider". Some fans believe that it strips away the adventure and exploration of the game, that true fans of the series would never use it. "This feature should be out of the title", "it destroys challenge", "it ruins the experience", "it almost breaks the game." To put it bluntly: if you are complaining about the Survival Instinct feature, there's a pretty huge chance that the feature was not designed for you in mind. The feature can be turned off via the option menu, with individual settings for "Survival Instinct Glows" and "Survival Instinct Beacons". From that point you can progress without temptation of the button.

However Survival Instinct is designed for gamers who need a hint every now and then, for those who don't know much about the new additions to the game, or even for gamers who haven't had that much experience with a "Tomb Raider" title before. A little hand holding with the game's grittier parts means that some people could win and enjoy that game and be one of us. The nerve! It feels like we don't like that, because us fans who have been brought up on the classic games proved their admittance apparently with the Labours of Hercules. The part we don't want to admit is that we proved our admittance with the Labours of Hercules with help of cheat codes and Stella's Tomb Raider Walkthroughs.

I like Survival Instinct! I want more fans in this community and I know I'm not alone with that thought. I want more fan art and silly comics. I want to hear news of a new fan film or fansite. I like the excitement people have when they realise that the game they just played holds a special meaning for them. More than anything, I want for this community to continue to flourish and be more accepting of new players.

I've spoken a lot about the negativity within the community, so before the end, I want to talk about those sites and individuals which continue to try to make this community a better place.

The Archaeology of Tomb Raider, LaraHCroft, The Cosplay Mom, Codename Croft, Jessie Croft, Jenn Croft, NathPlays, Jack of Tomb Raider Forums, Marco of Allgames: Tomb Raider and Maxime of Tombeau Croft, and many many more. Thank you to all those who make the community better every day. In addition to that I want to mention Meagan, Robin and Katie who juggles the challenges of community management. 

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