We're changing it up this week with a video! Don't worry if you don't have headphones, I'm still doing an article below; the video is just supplementary. I haven't made a video in a long time, so excuse me if I stutter or seem drunk, and forgive the length. (Further comments in the comments.)

We anecdotally proved last time that you can learn simple skills like fishing from a game. But let's face it: this trope, and the great fear of mom coalitions everywhere, is about combat. So in this edition, we're looking at a somewhat recent game and an ancient form of combat that's been making a huge comeback in media: Tomb Raider's archery.

I Know Mortal Kombat: The Straight and Arrow PathS

Unlike last week, this game does not feature motion controls, so learning from this game is only possible if you're a visual learner. That severely hampers our hypothesis, but careful analysis of video evidence (read: I sat my butt on a couch and watched a bunch of dumb movies) shows that most extreme gamers are visual learners anyways, so let's roll with it.

There is a marked difference in using certain bows. Modern compound bows are very easy to draw, feature optics and specialized arrow rests, and often fire with mechanical string releases. The kind of archery necessary for being trapped on an island is more along the lines of traditional archery, so we should focus on the first two bows Lara uses. Since the first is just made of sticks taped together, I decided the second would be more fun.

I Know Mortal Kombat: The Straight and Arrow PathS

The second bow is an ornately carved horse bow, about 4 feet long and not quite as recurved as most short bows. It's a fairly typical example of what Japanese mounted archers would use, so my personal Korean horse bow should do a good job of emulating it. My arrows, however, are modern carbon fiber shafts with steel field points, aluminum inserts, plastic nocks and vinyl fletches, as opposed to the dowel rod/iron broadhead/turkey fletching of the game's arrows. Honestly, that just means I might suck a bit less.

I Know Mortal Kombat: The Straight and Arrow PathS

Let's look at how she actually draws and fires the bow. She rests the arrow on top of her hand, pulls the string with her index finger above the arrow and middle finger below it (with both loosely curled) and draws the nock of the arrow back to her cheek, all while standing almost completely sideways to the target. And if you watched my video first, the above screen shows that she does do the finger trick I accidentally happened upon. Release appears to be as simple as just letting go. Now, we the players have a reticle to aim with, but Lara obviously wouldn't and I didn't when I began firing. Aiming horizontally is easy enough, just line the arrow up and you're done. But aiming vertically is a challenge. Unfortunately, nothing in the game suggests how to do that. That's our first nail in the coffin.

I Know Mortal Kombat: The Straight and Arrow PathS

The second nail in the coffin is the fact that, despite having it lined up perfectly on the horizontal, my first shot flew way left and embedded in my fence. I have no idea why it did that, and nothing in the game suggests a solution. In fact, of my four shots, two went far left (lining up nicely) and the other two hit at the top and bottom of my target slightly to the right. It's completely inexplicable going solely by the game, and if my target was a human with a gun instead of a rather pacifistic bag of play sand, I'd be dead because of that errant shot.

Adding in the difficulties of using a shoulder quiver for the first time and the lack of instructions for stringing a bow, and the verdict is a solid maybe. Can you pick up a bow and instantly be an expert with it after playing a round of Tomb Raider? No. But you can use Tomb Raider's presentation of archery as some basic guidelines to learn the sport or potentially save yourself in a survival situation where you have time to go through the trial and error of figuring out why you can't hit anything on the first try.

Some archery PSAs:

  • If you're a short person like myself, do not get a European longbow. Get some form of a recurve, such as the various modern takedowns or the Hungarian/Scythian/Korean horse bows. They're much shorter than the 6 ft longbows and will make it easier to learn traditional archery.
  • If you can string a bow, you can fire a bow. While arm strength is useful, more important is core strength. Just like with punching in karate, you should turn your body as you draw, using your abs to increase how far you can pull. My bow's a 55 pounder, and despite being a total lard bucket right now I can draw it back far enough to send arrows through wood, and I'm not even following my own advice that well. A tiny bit goes a long ways.
  • Never ever release a bow without an arrow knocked. You'll snap the bow. Always slowly guide it back to rest. You can see the bow jump out of my hands in the video and nearly wreck things before I catch it and guide it back properly. That was stupid on my part.
  • The reason I keep missing to the left despite right handed is actually because each time I release, I allow the bow to torque in my hand. If I think about it, I can correct it, but it's not yet second nature which is what allowed me to look like a beginner in the above video.
  • If you have trouble firing handguns because you shake too much, take up archery. It will strengthen all of the same muscles used in holding a gun steady and make you a much better shot. Same for anything that requires holding something unsupported for several minutes at a time.