Hello everyone, it has been a while! Sorry about that, things have been super busy. Today I want to share work a New York Gallatin University Student, Geneva, I had the outmost pleasure in providing advice and feedback on. It was such a pleasure to work with Geneva and they did an outstanding job! This post if quite long, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey of adding to the educational value of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, without taking away the entertainment factor.
Hello fellow video game-volcanologists! For those of you who have been following Dr. Scarlett’s volcano video game reviews, it comes at no surprise to say that our video game realm is overflowing with misinformed and inaccurate representations of volcanoes. If you, like I, have read many of Jazmin’s and Ed’s video game reviews, we can all agree that with a little more effort on the part of video game developers than perhaps gamers worldwide would be a little more informed about the workings and handlings of volcanoes and their eruptions. Whether education be the intended purpose or not, video games have the power to be educational resources while still maintaining its entertainment factor. That is why I sought out to test whether entertainment-intended video games hold the ability to be scientifically accurate—in terms of volcanoes—while not taking away from its entertainment factor. In fact, I aimed to add fun. I did what I like to call a video game redesign where I choose one video game with a volcano that is part of the storyline to analyze, work with, and alter in a way that makes the volcano factual.
With Dr. Scarlett’s help I chose Shadow of the Tomb Raider because: 1) the volcano is influential to the storyline and 2) the storyline and the volcano were made to be realistic (for example, there were no fictional creatures in the storyline who decided that the volcano was the best place to live). If you would like more background information on the game itself or what Jazmin noted about the game, you can refer to her post on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
In any case, to approach this project, I examined what a volcano would look like and be like if it were realistically placed in the part of the world that fictional Paititi takes place (although the volcanic eruption takes place in the Church of San Juan in the game, it is noted that the Church is close to Paititi). Although Paititi is a fictional location in the game, it has legendary significance by being a lost Inca city that supposedly lies East of the Andes and within the rainforests of Southwest Peru (Dobson 2016). Inca traditions mention a city near the area of Cuzco, deep in the jungle (Dobson 2016). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the volcano within The Shadow of the Tomb Raider is located somewhere in or around the city of Cuzco. To begin constructing the characteristics of the volcano within the game, information on four real-life nearby volcanoes were collected to analyze their behaviors and rock composition.
Sabancaya is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, and dacite composition and mainly consisted of Plinian eruptions with andesitic and dacitic lava flows (Degg and Chester 2005). Chachani is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, dacite, and rhyolite composition with a high summit and hydrothermal activity (Degg and Chester 2005). Coropuna is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, and dacite composition that is covered by ice with the potential to produce lahars, as well as lava flows that generally descend the NE, SE, and W flanks and canyons (Degg and Chester 2005). El Misti is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, dacite, and rhyolite composition, tephra-fall deposits, numerous pyroclastic flows, volcanic ash extending up to 20 km downwind, and dominated by volcano-tectonic earthquakes (Degg and Chester 2005). By accumulating basic knowledge of such nearby volcanoes, there is a better understanding of what is typical for volcanoes in this region. By following the common characteristics of Peru’s nearby volcanoes, it was made clear that the volcano by Paititi would most likely be composed of andesite and basaltic andesite rock composition and be a stratovolcano. This would result in explosive eruptions with a large eruptive column and strong pyroclastic flows (USGS 2015). It is important to note that pyroclastic flows typically travel 10-15 km, but can reach up to 100 km (UMass n.d.). There
would also likely be valleys and canyons running along the side of the volcano and into the nearby rainforest, acting as possible pathways for pyroclastic flows and lahars.
Next, it is also important to also seismic activity in this region of Peru when constructing a fictional volcano. Seismicity varies in the regions of Peru. The country is part of the ‘Circum-Pacific Ring of Fire’ that is known for its high levels of seismic activity and volcanic activity that accounts for around 76% of the global annual seismic energy release (Degg and Chester 2005). Still, areas East of the Andes are part of the tectonically stable Brazilian shield (Degg and Chester 2005). The central segment of Peru was most active during the historical period while coastal cities are now the ones severely exposed to earthquakes (Degg and Chester 2005). All of the Peruvian active volcanoes lie in what is called the ‘Central Volcano Zone’ that is high in seismic activity and, of course, high volcanic activity (Degg and Chester 2005). Many of the coastal, southern cities, for example Arequipa, are at risk of both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (Degg and Chester 2005). Cuzco and the area around it is not in the active volcanic zone, however, the area can reach medium-high seismic activity (Degg and Chester 2005). The highest magnitude can be 7.9, based on fig. 1. Fig. 2 illustrates that seismic intensity can reach strong levels, similar to the intensity of the sixteen active volcanoes in Peru’s southwestern region (Degg and Chester 2005). All of this is to say that earthquakes, especially in association with volcanic activity, are likely to occur. In regards to the volcano around the town of Paititi, earthquakes may serve as a useful precursor indicating that the volcano may erupt.
Another geographic consideration when constructing a fictional volcano in Peru is climate. Heavy precipitation can increase the likelihood of rain-induced lahars. Although for the most part the temperature in Cuzco is spring-like, there are heavy rain periods between the months of November to March—rainy days mostly occur in the December and January months—where there are around 15 to 23 rainy days during these months (World Weather n.d.). The average amount of annual precipitation is 736.0 mm and the average amount of rainy days is 102.0 (Weather and Climate). All of this is to say that there can be high precipitation levels in Cuzco. Therefore, rain-induced lahars are likely to occur on this volcano, especially between the months of November to March.
Now that a general overview of what a fictional volcano in the region of Peru has been made, I began to think about the placement of the volcano in relation to the Church of San Juan. In the game we notice that the volcano looms over the village and not much is given besides that. Therefore, based on my personal interpretation of the game, I created a hazard map to illustrate a possible design of what this volcano could possibly look like in relation to the Church of San Juan and in Peru, and the possible locations pyroclastic flows and lahars would reach (see fig. 3). The hazard map was made based on information pulled from the video game itself, including wind direction and waterways, and scientific understanding of volcanoes in Peru, pyroclastic flows, and lahars.
Before getting into the changes I made to the game, it is also important to think about the impact the volcano has on the village where the Church of San Juan is located. This is significant. Volcanic knowledge can be limited and evacuations may not be taken seriously. Residents may feel tied to their lands and refuse to leave, others may be fearful at the first possible precursors for an eruption and leave immediately. Either way, there are always mixed reactions to the possibility of an eruption and recognizing those diverse perspectives is important.
In the case of Paititi’s volcano in The Shadow of the Tomb Raider, this exact community impact would be experienced.
Finally to get into the redesign idea I had in mind.
In the current version of The Shadow of the Tomb Raider the volcano is presented in a very realistic way; however, based on the factual volcanic characteristics that have been laid out so far, from the geography of the volcano to common community impact, added hazards, information, and activities in the game would make Paititi’s volcano more accurate and entertaining:
First, in the game, there are no precursors to indicate an impending eruption. So, in the redesign, three volcanic precursor earthquakes are added. Two occur before the main characters, Lara and Jonah, arrive at the Church of San Juan to insinuate that there is dialogue around a possible eruption within the townspeople. The dialogue is made by a radio broadcaster as a side comment but is meant to tell Lara and Jonah, and the users, about possible volcanic precursors. The third occurs during one of the climactic scenes in the game where Lara hands over the ancient artifact that the entire game is spent in search for. It is added to initiate a dramatic “chase” scene and the splitting up of the two main characters, while also to serve as an indication that the eruption is soon to happen. It serves to build the storyline, add suspense to the looming eruption, and add realistic volcanic behavior.
Second, in the game, there is no dialogue about the volcano or about a possible eruption among the townspeople. Business is being carried out as usual. Although it is possible that no one would suspect a future eruption to occur, especially since there seems to be no precursors, it seems unlikely that Lara would not warn individuals living within the town of a possible eruption given that she knows a volcanic eruption is the fourth and final cataclysm event. Therefore, with the addition of the volcanic precursor earthquakes, a conversation is added between Lara and two townspeople about the volcano. The conversation shows two different perspectives about how an eruption could be perceived in the town. One gentleman expresses his reluctance to leave because of his tie to his land while another gentleman is getting ready to leave immediately. The conversation also aims to reveal another visible precursor for an eruption: rockslides. This is all to show the tension and discussion that can occur when the possibility of an eruption hangs in the air. The conversation also aims to hint towards the location of protective equipment that individuals should wear if there would be an eruption. This is to insinuate that the characters are going to have to look for such protective equipment before the eruption—adding a small activity to the game—and to demonstrate the danger in volcanic ash and the health necessity for protective equipment. In addition to this specific dialogue, one other piece of dialogue is added when Lara, Jonah, and a friend are arriving at the Church of San Juan. A short comment is made by a radio broadcaster who talks about the two precursor earthquakes. It is meant to demonstrate awareness that the earthquakes may be associated with the volcano without true scientific understanding. Essentially, it is there to show slight uncertainty and confusion about a possible eruption in town, while also showing that people are aware of what is going on but that the general public is remaining calm.
Third, as previously mentioned, an activity is added to the game. This is for Lara and Jonah to find protective masks ahead of the eruption so that they could be protected from volcanic ash. Once again, this is meant to demonstrate the danger of volcanic ash and the importance of protective equipment. The original gameplay has Jonah punch a gunman and run off with the ancient artifact that they have finally found to ensure that the villain, Dominguez, does not use it. Jonah and Lara then split up. Instead of punching the gunman to escape, a volcanic earthquake is added to distract everyone so that Jonah can retrieve back the artifact and run away, leaving Lara to realize that the eruption is very close and that they will need masks. Lara must then find the equipment at the location that is given to her earlier in the game. This adds suspense and “build-up” as Lara must find the masks, fight gunmen, and find Jonah all before the eruption. Later in the game, Lara tells Jonah to put on his mask because the ash is starting to fall. They both wear their masks till the eruption ends.
Fourth, in the original gameplay, the eruption is downplayed. As the biggest cataclysm that is to occur in the storyline, the eruption is anti-climatic because it is only felt, not seen, so it is difficult to tell that the eruption actually occurred. Many users commented on their confusion with the volcanic eruption—they were unsure when or whether the volcano had truly erupted. In addition, during the eruption, the original gameplay shows a small lava fountain with no pyroclastic flows, despite the likelihood of a huge lava fountain and pyroclastic flows based on the eruption size, volcano shape, and composition. It can be reasonable to assume that the volcanic eruption is the largest that the area of Cuzco has ever experienced because of how much fear and importance the game places on it as being the last of the big four cataclysms. For entertainment purposes, this also makes sense. Therefore, to include stronger emphasis on the volcano and its eruption, a large eruption is included that shocks the town and can be seen by the user playing the game. A large ash column—similar to the original gameplay—rises up, the lava foundation is large, and the wind is made clear to be in the direction of the Church of San Juan—indicating that the ash column is to make its way over in their direction (the original game does a good job demonstrating wind direction). As Lara is looking up at the eruption, a pyroclastic flow is added. It runs down the side of the volcano, just north of Lara, indicating that it will not hit the Church of San Juan directly, but that it is close. Although it is not meant to head in the direction of the town, it is meant to show another danger associated with volcanic eruptions. This addition is meant to illustrate a more realistic representation of the likelihood of pyroclastic flows. Overall, the additions made to the game are made to indicate that this is the most dangerous event. All the precursors, dialogue, and activities are added to build up anticipation and suspense for the eruption.
Fifth, in the game there is already a lahar, however, the game makes the lahar move through city streets, not valleys. Also, the game does not give any reason as to why there is a lahar. Although one of the challenges that Lara and Jonah must overcome right before they go to Paititi shows it to be raining, there is no indication as to how much time passes between that event and them heading to Paititi. Therefore, rain is added from the moment Lara and Jonah arrive at the Church of San Juan to indicate that the mudflow is rain-induced after the eruption. This seems plausible because in the beginning of the game, Lara and Jonah are attending a Día de Muertos celebration in Mexico, which is in the month of November. The rest of the game takes place days and weeks after the initial scene, which is exactly when Peru experiences it’s rainiest season. Moreover, another additional activity is added where Lara is forced into a river valley when chasing down the falling helicopter of Dominguez. When Lara falls into the valley, a mudflow comes after her, implying that the lahar followed the pathway of the valley and will continue to do so. Lara is forced to climb her way out as she has to try and balance between different-sized rocks and debris and not fall into the moving lahar. Not only is this intended to make the location and production of the mudflow realistic, but it is meant to add an additional activity that the user must maneuver Lara through to stay alive. It adds to the thrill, excitement,
and complexity of the game.
Lastly, the sixth addition to the game is disaster recovery efforts. In this additional dialogue segment—after Jonah picks up Lara after escaping the lahar—Lara and Jonah have a conversation about the consequences and impact the volcano left on the town, including the domestic animals and the people. It is intended to demonstrate what happens when there is no disaster preparedness for volcanic eruptions and the suffering that follows. Dialogue regarding possible recovery efforts for the people is also included to show the user possible action steps people and leaders can take after a disaster occurs that will bring relief to the people affected. All in all, it is meant to wrap up the volcano’s appearance in the video game, show the importance of recovery efforts, Lara’s accountability for her actions, her compassion, and foreshadow her future plans after defeating Dominguez, and show realistic recovery efforts that occur after an eruption—eruptions take time to recover from and leave nothing the same.
To properly convey the changes I aimed to make, I created a script that depicts the dialogue and physical changes I made to the game and how it would fit within the original storyline. This script can be found here those of you who would like to check it out. It also includes illustrations to show some of the changes I made.
And that is about it! The six features added to The Shadow of the Tomb Raider are meant to make volcano representation in the game more realistic while not attempting to take away any of the entertainment factors. In fact, I attempted to increase the entertainment quality by adding more hazards to navigate. Although educational games are impactful tools when trying to educate in an exciting way, video games meant for entertainment, or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games—such as The Shadow of the Tomb Raider—reach a larger audience and have the ability to also be a teaching tool (McGowan and Scarlett 2021). Mcgowan and Scarlett (2021) state that “one of the major negative sides to using COTS games as a form of tangential learning is that they can often contain inaccurate features that would misinform players and lead to erroneous learning.” If implemented correctly, the opposite may be true. That is what I hope to have done.
Let me know what you think about this idea! I am always open to suggestions in my design.
To close, I would like to give a big thank you to Dr. Jazmin Scarlett for giving me the platform to share my work on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider! I wish you all the very best in your video game endeavors!
All the best, Geneva
- “Climate and Average Monthly Weather in Cusco (Cusco), Peru.” n.d. World Weather & Climate Information. https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine, Cusco, Peru.
- Dobson, Jim. 2016. “How the Discovery Of Paititi, The Lost City Of Gold, May Change Peru Forever.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine.
- E. G. McGowan, and J. P. Scarlett. 2021. “Volcanoes in Video Games: The Portrayal of Volcanoes in Commercial off-the-Shelf (COTS) Video Games and Their Learning Potential.” Geoscience Communication 4 (February): 11–31. doi:10.5194/gc-4-11-2021.
- Degg Martin R., and Chester David K. 2005. “Seismic and Volcanic Hazards in Peru: Changing Attitudes to Disaster Mitigation.” The Geographical Journal 171 (2): 125–45. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.nyu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.3451364&site=eds-live.
- “Pyroclastic Flows and Surges.” n.d. University of Massachusetts.
- “Volcano Hazards Program Glossary – Andesite.” 2015. USGS.