Action movies aren’t the only places with plot holes.
X-ray vision and similar superhuman visual tricks have become a video game design staple. As the worlds in mainstream games grow more detailed and complex, it can be helpful to let a player see through walls or to highlight objects of interest—used properly, x-ray vision not only enlivens an environment but also makes it more manageable. The one sticking point is that nobody in the history of the world has possessed x-ray vision. So when hapless writers are forced to explain the extraordinary eyes of otherwise human characters, it figures that the resulting narrative justifications are often a stretch. These stretches pop up even in games that take themselves somewhat seriously, like last year’s Tomb Raider reboot. This origin story casts the hero, Lara Croft, as a greenhorn who grows into an adventurer when her expedition faces deathly peril. Fittingly, she starts out weak—except for her extremely helpful “survival instinct.” Engaging this “instinct” grays out the background and lights up important objects on the screen, essentially serving as a “here’s how to solve this puzzle, you idiot” ability. Sure, you could argue that this is one way to dramatize Lara’s heightened focus in a life-or-death situation. Still, such outsized talent undermines Lara’s “zero to hero” arc, and by offering players such a handy parlor trick, Tomb Raider stunts the growth of our own survival instinct, as well.