The Last of Us (2013)

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“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.”
-Antoine François Prévost d’Exiles, Manon Lescaut

 

 

What are the differences between video games and movies? As time goes on and technology advances, the differences have become increasingly minimal. Can we expect games that are 100% cutscenes with quick time events in another 10 years or so? In what sense would they still be video games and not interactive movies? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

By 2013, video games had embraced their evolution toward becoming more “adult”. Like any true maturing entity, gaming generally derided the cartoonish whimsy of the retro era and adopted hard-boiled anti-heroes, gritty realism, language, sex, and violence. The former became old hat while the latter became mainstream. The Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 delivered experiences which could appeal to mature audiences without flinching. Of course, there was the Wii, as well, busily outselling both on the grounds of its (in hindsight) gimmicky motion controls and party games, but the Wii’s simple fun didn’t define what games had could resemble now. Not really.

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The industry had reached a point where games could begin to tell stories in cinematic fashion. We could sit back, set our controllers down, and watch full-fledged cutscenes which play out like movies, lasting for minutes on end. With the advent of voice acting, casting real actors, face mapping and motion capture, creative direction, orchestral sound design, and talented screenwriting, the possibility arose of creating games which could engage players the same way that films engage audiences. The gap between film (a universally accepted art form) and video games (in 2013 still perceived by the general populace as “kidstuffs”) had shrunk. A big part of that shrinkage belongs to the contribution of the game under my microscope today.

2013 saw the release of The Last of Us by Naughty Dog, a game which was definitively “adult” in the gaming sense of the term (that’s important, more on that later). The Last of Us was universally acclaimed by critics and gamers alike. It quickly became one of the best selling games of the seventh generation of consoles, selling over eight million copies in just over a year and some change. It helped sell Sony’s PlayStation 3, which got off to a rocky start, on the basis of profound exclusives. Undoubtedly, one of the strongest games of its generation, decorated with “Game of the Year” awards, The Last of Us is a bleak, depressing, extreme, and personal journey predicated on obstinate survival, the persistence of hope, and the loss of innocence.

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I vividly recall that nearly every gamer I knew was playing this game at some point that year. I owned a PS3 but it wasn’t a title that I jumped at. There are a few reasons for that which will become apparent as I go on but primarily it’s because I don’t jump at rated M titles, especially “zombie apocalypse” games. I’m not of the persuasion that simply because something is more “adult” that it magically has better storytelling or presentation than something which isn’t marketed on the basis of being “mature”. On the contrary, I’m more than leery when the term “adult” is thrown around because that can often mean shock value, splatter films, torture porn, or just actual porn.

But I do own one of my friends an apology. Mr. Miller (the jr.), I am sorry I made fun of you for “jumping on the bandwagon to play yet another zombie game”. Had I been assured of The Last of Us’ quality as distinct from its genre, I probably would’ve come on board sooner. I can only say that I look at it this way, by way of consolation: at least I had the chance to avoid the hype.

Hype, possibly more so than even nostalgia, is a creator not of rose-colored glasses but of blindfolds.

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Nothing capsizes personal impressions more than being bombarded with volley after volley of faceless opinions saying exactly the same thing, generally positive or negative in the extreme. When positive, that’s hype. The only way to stand against it is to wait until hype dissipates like a vapor and discover for yourself what remains: maybe a smoldering crater, maybe a polished gemstone. That’s why retro-centrism is such a recurring theme in my writing on this blog. Reviewing the classics gives me a chance to stand apart from the hype of ten, twenty, thirty years ago, even before I was born, to examine things with eyes unclouded. Thankfully, I had the pleasure of doing just that with The Last of Us, as I played the original game for the first time four years after its initial release.

With narrative at the forefront of its concerns, The Last of Us follows the journey of Joel and Ellie, detailing the bond that they form over the course of a year. Story is a massive part of the appeal of The Last of Us, so here is the premise. This game has been out for a few years but just in case, here’s a SPOILERS warning. I’d suggest going in as dark as possible because you want to be surprised by this game’s presentation and not have anything ruined for you.

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The story begins in 2013 with Joel and his daughter Sarah living in Austin, Texas. An infectious outbreak occurs causing ordinary civilians to turn insane and violent. Joel and Sarah together with Joel’s brother Tommy attempt to flee the city as the infection spreads. Narrowly escaping, Tommy remains behind so that Joel and Sarah can get beyond the city limits. A soldier runs into them and receives orders to shoot unidentified, at the risk of infection. Tommy arrives and kills the soldier but not before Sarah is gunned down. Joel’s daughter dies in his arms. The tender father in Joel dies as well. This scene defines the game and frames it with intense sadness.

Cut like a knife to twenty years later. The world is in upheaval with vast stretches of ruined cities and suburbs infested with the infected. The Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis infection and its origin, curiously, are never expounded upon. There are only hints from newspaper headlines in the background. This is a nice touch since this sort of thing is usually belabored in the zombie genre. There is enough information in the game to showcase the idea that humans were infected by a Cordyceps-like fungus. Cordyceps is a real world parasitic fungi which grows inside hosts (insects) and slowly displaces their tissue.

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As horrific as it sounds, imagine that happening to people. The fungus in The Last of Us grows inside the brain, affecting behavior and turning the infected into carnivorous monsters. The newly infected are known as Runners, yes, running zombies. The more advanced infections lead to a group of infected known as Clickers. These hosts have been so infected that the fungus has begun to eat away at their faces, rendering them blind. They produce a clicking noise as a kind of echolocation (which makes little sense based on the gameplay) and they must listen in order to find their prey. Bloaters are humans with such advanced infections that fungal plates have begun to protrude from their bodies, making them highly invulnerable. The final stage of the infection seems to be where the fungus replaces all of the host’s tissue. The fungus then releases spores into the air which are obviously not good to breathe.

Quarantines have been set up in this post-apocalyptic world and they’re run like military-states with martial law and food rations. Other human survivors are called Hunters, who prey on other people for food and possessions. Everything is scarcer now. Another group, a rebel cause called the Fireflies, stands against the quarantine police and focuses on searching for a cure. Not a fun time to be alive but fortunately, everything in The Last of Us is out to kill everything else. That’s not hyperbole. Between the quarantine police gunning down anyone possibly infected, the Fireflies acting like urban-terrorists, the hunters acting like head hunters, and nearly everyone murdering each other without impunity or allegiance, it’s remarkable (if not unrealistic) that anyone is alive at all!

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Joel is now an older man and a smuggler, a calloused scumbag and hitman living in the Boston quarantine zone. He and his partner Tess receive a job from the leader of the Fireflies to smuggle a young girl out of the city in exchange for a weapons cache that was stolen from them. The girl’s name is Ellie and Joel and Tess soon discover how special she is. She was bitten but the infection didn’t spread. She’s immune and perhaps she’s the key to finding a cure. Joel finds it hard to trust in anything anymore but when Tess finds herself infected, she sacrifices herself so that Joel and Ellie can escape. The hard-edged old man and the young girl who has never known the world as it used to be spend over a year together over the course of Logan The Last of Us, their bond growing as they learn to protect and rely on each other.

The Last of Us plays out as a series of cutscenes interspersed by encounters with the infected or hostile humans. It’s very much a showmanship kind of a game and one that must be watched as much as it is played. It tells its story in cinematic fashion and this is undoubtedly a part of what made it (and makes it) instantly appealing. It’s quality of acting and sense of its own weight are both top notch.

Even as games like The Last of Us (perhaps not a pioneer but an exemplar) closed the gap between film and game, one thing remained. Only one thing stood between the presentation of cinema and the presentation of video games and that’s interactivity, that pesky, persistent mechanism that (sometimes) gets in the way of games becoming as cinematic as their creators evidently want them to be.

In The Last of Us, this wrestle between cinema and interactivity leads to some very interesting and uncomfortable moments. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out what I mean.

 

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The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals: 10/10
First, let’s talk about one of the many impressive elements in The Last of Us. It’s no exaggeration when I say that this is one of the most visually breathtaking games that I’ve ever played, and I’m not even referring to the later remaster. The original isn’t a current gen game anymore but it clearly used the PlayStation 3’s power for all it was worth. Heck, it looks better than some games I’ve played on the PlayStation 4! Certainly that’s nowhere clearer than in the department of facial animation. Compare the detail, flexibility and emotive capabilities of the PS3 faces in The Last of Us with games that came after it.

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I just have to ask how? How did Naughty Dog achieve so much and later developers with better, more powerful technology achieve so little (broadly speaking)? I can only attribute this to Naughty Dog’s attention to detail and perfectionism in this case, in which they seemed to spare no expense. Treating the game as if it was being directed for the silver screen seems to be at least partially what led to such a triumph. Motion captured actors and face mapping created some of the best animated video game characters I’ve ever seen, indeed the best which I’ll expect to see for years to come.

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The face is the single most expressive part of our bodies. We can gesture with our hands and create subtle body language to convey our emotions but consider that with a single movement of a tiny muscle we can demonstrate the difference between interest and disgust. Facial cues silently enrich our languages through speech illustration (raising the eyebrows when inquisitive) and cognitive pauses (pursing the lips when depicting thought). Some of these things we even do without thinking. A raised eyebrow, a curled lip, narrowed eyelids, a wrinkled nose, a furrowed brow, baring the teeth can (not all at once) express an array of emotions with very little effort. I think this is what so few video games with terrible facial animations get: the smallness and impact of facial expression. If they want to showcase realistic human emotion then they can’t treat their characters like Kabuki theater! Simple as that.

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I’ve talked quite a bit about the impressive characterizations thanks to the facial animations but there’s much more to The Last of Us’ visuals, namely the settings that the characters find themselves in. They can move a strand of hair off their forehead or wipe sweat from their brow but they do those things in masterfully crafted, highly detailed environments that look as if they have the realistic disarray of random chaos. Not once did I detect any kind of copy-and-paste going on in the backgrounds and settings. Every area, without seeming bizarrely diverse, looked different from the last, just like real life.

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No HUD or complicated UI crowds the graphics, so all you get to take in are the characters filling the screen with the shattered remains of this terrible world around them, illuminated with a superb sense of the importance of lighting, soft and diffused, not just direct. One of the great things about The Last of Us is that it’s a survival horror game which is actually well-lit.

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 Audio: 10/10
As natural as the facial animations are, the voice acting is even more so. There’s not a character in this game that devoid of personality, the kind of personality that only comes from actors delving into their characters. Clearly, they approached the project with the same determination and self-seriousness as actors would for a film with the same tone. So much is riding on emotions in The Last of Us so having the best possible voice acting must have been an essential concern. I knew at once that this game was going to feature some of the best voice acting in the gaming industry.

Beyond that, the score by Gustavo Santaolalla is a work of genius and not just because of its content but also because of its placement within the game’s presentation. “All Gone” (above) is representative of the sensation of the entire score. Silence is a big part of this game’s pacing, so when it uses music it does so with purpose. Apparently, Santaolalla, an Argentinian composer, was renown for his minimalism and he brought that approach to this game. Other compositions were created by Anthony Caruso, Andrew Buresh, and Jonathan Mayer.

The result is music that sounds like witchcraft and woods. It’s empty, hollow, trembling, steely, and abrasive but undeniably enchanting. It’s rustic and folkish without seeming unsophisticated or hipster-level pretentious. It echoes tribal rhythms for the hunters. It masks its darkest moments in brooding, reverberating shadows.

There’s a recurring motif throughout the score which represents the bulk of the soundtrack’s themes, and the music itself never seems to stray to far from it. It’s limited and it perhaps couldn’t work in a game of lesser quality and with lesser focus, but because The Last of Us essentially maintains a relentlessly depressing mood for virtually the entire game, right up to the end, the approach of crafting a limited score was the best choice. It’s as if it is the natural sounds of this ruined world.

 Gameplay: 9/10
The Last of Us occupies the survival horror niche, quite obviously. Between the cutscenes, dialogue, and exploratory areas, Joel and Ellie have to survive encounters with quarantine zone police, merciless hunters, and the infected. While the game never puts true and constant emphasis on horror, the survival aspect is present in full-force, even in the few scant boss fights which the story makes room for.

The gameplay centers around stealth, though there are several encounters where you’ll have no choice but to plow through your enemies and leave their bodies in your wake. Joel is not a sharpshooter and I felt that there was a realistic degree of sloppiness to his marksmanship. Firing weapons too often is where it gets tough because there are only so many supplies to be found as you make your way through each area. You’ll undoubtedly feel like you have to conserve every item, every strip of binding, and make every bullet count.

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Joel can craft items out of supplies he gathers and is able to make first aid kits, explosives, shivs, and Molotov cocktails among other things. A lot of his items can be deadly but they’re best reserved for emergencies. Resource management will demand that you rely on stealth where ever possible to sneak up behind enemies and take them out silently, just like Batman. Unlike Batman, though, Joel cannot rappel up the sides of buildings or glide away to escape, so players must be smart and strategic about the lay of the land and enemy patrols.

I really enjoyed the sound physics in this game. Enemy AI (ally AI, too) is ramped up pretty high in The Last of Us and part of that is their ability to hear your movements and attacks and disrupt their normal patterns to corner and flank you. The limited assortment of enemies isn’t too big a deal considering they made them so smart and sensitive to your presence. Hunters armed with guns and Clickers, who can kill you instantly, are particularly dangerous and require extreme care to navigate around and combat. Fortunately, Joel can crawl slowly and listen for the footfalls of his opponents, lighting up their silhouettes through walls and other obstacles. This was absolutely crucial to me beating the game. Though later enemies will lie in wait for you, rendering Joel’s Listen Mode worthless, I can’t imagine what it’d be like to play through the whole game on harder modes without this ability to hear.

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Almost all of Joel’s weapons are also found through the areas he and Ellie pass through: a shotgun, a bow (my favorite), even a flamethrower. Your bow and arrow is not as loud as a gun going off, so you can be sure I spammed some deadly arrows to the knee to take out enemies from a distance while being stealthy. Using these weapons at the right time is again a demand of resource management but I love how fluid the gameplay is with allowing you to reload your weapons on the move.

The structure of the game has enough in it to avoid feeling like a series of encounters interrupted by cutscenes, though there were times when yet another encounter felt somewhat wearying. What else could there be, though? At least the exploratory portions of rendered areas were great. I was surprised at the size of some of these areas, like the hotel early on in the game.

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Workbenches allow Joel to use spare parts to upgrade weapon recoil, firing rate, clip capacity and so on.

What are some things I didn’t care for? Not much, in terms of gameplay. This was a game I actually had that feeling that I couldn’t wait to get back to it. Even after it’s over, I kind of miss just playing through some of the encounters. I don’t know if I’d suffer through the depressing story just for that again, but there’s a relic of a multiplayer mode and some DLC to scratch that itch, provided it’s itchy enough to warrant scratchy.

Anyhow, things I didn’t care for. It’s no secret that I detest quick time events. I rolled my eyes as soon as I saw that first button-mashing command during the intro of the game. I have to mash a button to kick a window open. Really? What is the purpose of these? Immersion? It’s quite the opposite for me since I don’t think tapping a plastic button is anywhere close to being analogous to breaking out of a choke-hold or lifting up a warehouse door. I’m just tired of these and they seem to be more and more over-used as time goes on. There were a few moments when they helped my body flood with adrenaline but those moments were few and far between.

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Tap X to cancel out immersion!

These quick time events are really distracting but non-detracting complaints, so something which I actualy took issue with was the lack of save points or checkpoints. The game is constantly auto-saving and if you screw up you can manually restart the encounter, taking you back just a few minutes in time. Even though some areas were challenging, this hand-holding feature turned a few tense minutes into exercises in repetition. Maybe the game could’ve been made less hard but more anxious if you had to actually reach a next area in order to save, preferably manually, to ensure survival. As it stands, there were so many auto-saves I felt immortal and no threat could make me feel otherwise.

I understand that the focus was on the storytelling and not getting stuck and therefore delaying the next scene would be crucial but this is one aspect in which the inherent quirks of gameplay clashed with the needs of narrative. It’s not such a big deal, from a story standpoint, to have so much handed to you with auto-saves since that moves things along more nicely but from a gameplay perspective I think playing could’ve felt more intense and more progress could’ve been at stake if you were forced to survive for any real length of time before being able to save.

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To tidy up this Gameplay section, here are a few last things I enjoyed. No plodding tutorials, and hints were not intrusive. Swell! Thank God Ellie wasn’t talking the whole time to tell me what I should do to get to the next area. Holy roly poly, if she had told met to press triangle to climb a ladder every time… I’d have lost it. Temptation seen and avoided so high five to you, Naughty Dog.

I’d also like to see more of that L3 focus feature employed in future games. In this game, you could hit the input and turn to face whatever it is the other characters were talking about. A lot of games I play have NPCs following me around but when they mention something like “Hey, Noct! Check this out!” and I turn to look at literally dozens of interesting and intentionally placed objects, it’s somewhat frustrating. More L3 focus feature!

story Narrative: 7/10
In case you are still reading this and you haven’t played The Last of Us, I highly suggest that you skip ahead by hitting Ctrl+f and searching Cast to bypass the SPOILERS in the Narrative and Themes sections.

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Still here? Good.

It’s no secret that The Last of Us is propelled by heart stabbing emotion, beginning with Sarah’s death at the start of the game. The story is structured around the passing of seasons and the ends of Fall and Winter were of particular impact. Come to think of it, so was the end of Summer. So just about every section of the game ends with this brutal, jarring cut-to-black before the story picks up later in the year. As a narrative technique, it’s used brilliantly to move the characters ahead without having to be slowed down, and it suspends our disbelief over the pace of Joel and Ellie’s developing bond.

When I think about it, The Last of Us is less a game about a journey than it is a game centered around “scenes”. Thinking back, the most memorable moments where the cinematic scenes in the game:  being chased through alleys by the hunters’ tank, running into the infected for the first time, losing Tess, watching Henry commit suicide, taking down the sniper, escaping through Bill’s town, running into Tommy again, seeing Joel fade and thinking he’s dying in the Fall, wading through the blizzard in Winter, fighting off David in the burning restaurant, carrying Ellie down the corridors of the Fireflies’ hospital. Scenes like these punctuate and define this game, and they’re all dialed up to the max in terms of their energy and intensity.

I fully expect that a lot of The Last of Us’ moments are going to stay with me for a long time. However (and this is a big “however”), while the story of The Last of Us is often touted as one of its stand out features, if not its greatest feature, it is with this assertion that I simply must disagree. Not only did I have no profound emotional response to the game, i.e. I didn’t cry, but there were also several things in the gameplay and the presentation which took me out of the experience enough to prevent me from enjoying parts of the game and truly feeling immersed, immersed enough to take it all in in real time, divert the brain and hit the heartstrings.

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To my mind, this is somewhat of a disappointment. Given, I didn’t expect I would bawl or break into a sob over this game. I’m unconsciously put on high alert, I guess, whenever I consistently read people saying about a movie or game or book “I cried the whole time!” or “Oh the feels!” I blame that for a part of my lack of response to the (sometimes) overwrought sadness of this game, but on top of that there’s the fact that I cry often for movies but cry very much less often for games.

I shed tears at various times in my life during Homeward BoundToy Story 3Where the Wild Things AreDaylightThe Dark Knight RisesBatteries Not Included, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestThe Elephant ManThe Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the RingTitanicTo Kill a MockingbirdSchindler’s ListGrave of the FirefliesThe Wind RisesUp, Final Fantasy VII and XKingdom Hearts, and Les Miserables (the book) just to name a few examples of my emotional robustness for all those who doubt I have no heart.

Allow me to quote an excellent blogger who shares my opinion on one of the moments that’s supposed to hit home with emotions but didn’t for us:

“So passionate were the voice actors that they reportedly broke down in tears during certain takes. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the prologue. Troy Baker’s delivery as Joel helped sell the character’s deep emotional trauma, and it could very well be the most convincing death scene in any game I’ve ever played.

“The writing isn’t without its flaws, however, and the story’s first misstep occurs within that scene. Powerful though Sarah’s death scene may have been, Mr. Druckmann was in too much of a hurry to kill that character off. Consequently, we know nothing about Sarah outside of a few hints. If he wanted the death to have a real impact, he should have established why we should care about these characters before allowing the situation to spiral out of control. That way, we’re more likely to feel something when bad things happen to them. This problem could easily have been fixed by extending the prologue to develop both Joel and Sarah as characters. The developers could have then peppered this section with action sequences, culminating in a tragic scene at the end where Joel was unable to save Sarah from a surprise attack or from being infected by the deadly fungus. Instead, the significance of her death lies in the fact that she was the protagonist’s daughter and a minor to boot. It’s a heartrending, poignant, yet wholly unearned moment.”

-Red Metal, extralifereviews.com

I concur with this assessment. Sarah’s death actually left me confused, believe it or not. Going in as blind as I did with this game, I actually assumed Sarah was the same girl on the cover art, maybe with her hair dyed a different color. It’s not like I studied the cover of the game, or anything, but her death happened so quickly and under such chaotic circumstances that a character I thought would be significant turned out to be only significant as a catalyst for her father.

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The story masks over its underlying predictability by keeping the dialogue curt, playing on the audience’s easy assumptions, such as Tess saying “I get it” to Joel when we all know he’s thinking of Sarah after smuggling out Ellie. These moments are examples where the writing does excel and the game only seldom expounds rather than allows its characters to act out their stories. I appreciate that because there’s always a degree of predictability in this genre, but I felt The Last of Us circumnavigated a lot of that.

I originally suspected that Joel was going to get infected and then Ellie would be asked to execute him, or something like that which would test their bond and Ellie loving him enough to put him out of his misery rather than let him change blah blah blah blah blah of course none of that actually happened.

The ending that did happen, however, was completely less than I expected considering how many people remarked to me “Oh [deity of my choice], that ending!” So of course I expected some heart-rending loss or some tragic heroism. Instead, I got the word “Okay” and lie-detector music (thanks, Honest Game Trailers for that zinger).

I didn’t cry. What’s the payoff? Where’s the triumph? I felt like I missed something. I scoured the internet during the credits because I wondered if maybe there was a second ending that had to be unlocked or something. The game doesn’t even end in sadness. It ends on distrust, a sad thing but not sad in the sense of moving one to tears. Sad in the sense of smallness or pettiness, and this all comes back to what the game does in throwing away Joel’s character, the man we played as for most of the game’s duration who is ultimately just thrown away. Rather than sacrificing himself nobly somehow, as I expected, Joel ends up just being sacrificed. But to what? The sake of a sequel? A low view of the goodness of humanity? The refusal to put anything at all wholesome in any character in this game?

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“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature” is the quote that opened this article but it is untrue in the context of The Last of Us. Applied to Joel it’s a downright misstatement because he never becomes Ellie’s father, not even close. I’m going to go beyond saying Joel is just a “flawed character”, nor is he some kind of “protective father figure” at the end of the game. He’s worse than any of that.

It’s almost as if he becomes Ellie’s kidnapper, like David, only his is a prison at the end of the game is made of lies and not iron bars. Also, like David, he only cares about what she represents, not just a female body but a daughter figure. A stand-in. She might as well be an object because the narrative from Joel’s perspective completely objectifies her in this way and considering everything they went through it’s completely disgusting, the last middle-finger to the player in a game with a fetish for the F-word, at times suspiciously attempting to seem more “adult” than actual adults.

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Joel doesn’t have the heart of a father by the end of the game, so essentially his story arc ends in that house in autumn when he said to Ellie: “I’m not your dad. And you sure as hell aren’t my daughter.” The game ends right there for him. Sure, he eventually went so far as to save her life and give up everything else, even a cure for humanity, to protect her but he never treated her like his own daughter: an autonomous being with personal intellect to be respected and encouraged in her independence.

Said Neil Druckmann, creative director for the game:

“We knew we wanted this arc where we started with someone whose life has been horrible for the past 20 years. He’s pretty much dead. He’s a very different person from the father you saw in the beginning of the story. He has very little humanity left him. The more time he spent with Ellie, she would pull these aspects back out of him.”

I understand that and I see that this is where the game was indeed headed. You’d guess that this is where the game was headed. This is Joel’s story and the reason why we started to like his character and the softening of his heart that allowed him to become a true protector for Ellie, who herself is a great video game character.

Druckmann:

“The reverse of that, for Ellie, would be a coming of age story. last-us-interview-neil-druckmann The more time she spends with a survivor, the more she takes on those qualities herself. All this worked toward a climactic moment where their roles would flip, both in story and in gameplay. The 14-year-old girl becomes the hero. She’s the one saving him and essentially bringing him back to life. That was our earliest intention for those characters and their arcs.

Ultimately, at least for Joel, it became this idea of exploring how far a father is willing to go to save his kid. Each step of the way is a greater sacrifice. At first, he’s willing to put his life on the line. That’s almost the easiest thing for him, where he’s at. But then he’s willing to put his friends on the line. Finally it comes to putting his soul on the line, when he’s willing to damn the rest of humanity. When he has that final lie with Ellie, he’s willing to put his relationship with Ellie on the line in order to save her.”

Save her from what? Greatness? Destiny? Salvation for humanity? Certainly not from living a lie and wasting her existence in a game that constantly tries to remind you that “everything happens for a reason.”

He said “it became this idea of exploring how far a father is willing to go to save his kid” but I’ve got to ask, did Druckmann even have a father? Was he an abusive one? Where did he get this concept that Joel is treating Ellie like his own daughter, because who would do the horrific things he did for Ellie for their own children? I would kill if I had to to protect my sons but I wouldn’t maliciously torture someone for them, and make no mistake, there is a massive difference between survival instincts and sadism. Joel represents the latter and he never escapes it. Don’t be taken in by his Southern accented charms or his affection for physical abuse.

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I’m a father and I know several fathers, and I know that fathers don’t blatantly lie to control and manipulate their own children to selfishly preserve them in a glass box, completely ignoring their own wishes and mutilating anyone that could ever take them away to do good in the world. It dawned on me that Joel would almost be the equivalent of a father slaughtering members of the military to prevent his daughter from enlisting in the armed forces (or even knowing about enlisting) for a dangerous war, and in that case there may be no widespread analogy to him in the real world at all! Consider that he protected her merely for himself. That’s not love, love which fatherhood is predicated on. Love is selfless. Joel’s actions are entirely selfish, they have been since Sarah’s death, and they never stop being selfish even by the conclusion of the game. This whole sweeping epic of a game and nothing changes in Joel.

Now the obvious rebuttal to this is: “Yes of course Joel is a hypocrite. Nobody ever said he was the ‘good guy’.” That’s true. Usually defenders have said to me that the hyperviolence and the depressing setting and the hypocritical character(s) are part of art that’s making a statement, which is important for art to do. Yeah, that’s fine but what’s this important statement that The Last of Us makes? That human beings suck? It doesn’t take art to convince anyone of that.

The rebuttal continues: “Joel’s character is flawed which gives us insight into human nature. Hypocrites are just the way we are. We are selfish.” I agree with this as well but my point of contention is that the existence of an occasional flawed father in real life certainly doesn’t necessitate Joel being an immoral monster, apparently irredeemably so as far as this one game is concerned. Real world dead beat dads (or serial killers) may provide the possibility for a character like Joel’s to exist in a story like this but they don’t automatically prescribe that he have incomplete character development, which to my mind is not the mark of competent writing or of a particularly stable or even healthy view of human society and family life.

Characters must grow and mature and develop over the course of stories. We all know this. This is why Ellie is such a better character, but clearly the story is not about her. I almost could wish it was because she starts off as a distrusting little girl with a mouth and turns into this pillar of strength, a savior and truly selfless protector, notably without sacrificing her femininity or turning into some over-macho action hero. We see that coming-of-age arc that Druckmann mentioned when she goes from teenager to responsible adult with her own dependent: Joel after his injury. Ellie is one of the gaming industry’s great female heroines.

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Fundamentally, we understand the difference between characters that go from point A to point B and characters which don’t move at all, which remain unchanged, and in The Last of Us there’s the perfect and unfortunate example of both. We call those cardboard cut outs.

In Joel’s case, what’s the most interesting thing about him? That he’s from Texas? That his daughter died tragically at a young age? That he became a smuggler? That he’s willing to commit any atrocity to get what he wants? All of the information we get about Joel in the game merely informs us that he was once a sympathetic victim who became an unrelenting and selfish psychopath, and that information never evolves. That’s it. He never changes. The most significant thing about Joel is he lost his daughter twenty years ago but he apparently learned nothing from that loss in terms of development or heck, the sanctity of life because at the end of the game you the player are forced to be in Joel’s body when you make him gun down an unarmed surgeon who only wanted to find a cure for humanity, and that’s one of the most sickening things that a game has ever made me do.

That “shock value” act doesn’t make the game great merely by its presence nor does it make Joel great as a character for being forced to do it. This is a moment in the game in which its existence as a game interposed interactivity between myself the player and the cinematic experience to completely remove me from being immersed, because I didn’t want Joel to kill the surgeon since I didn’t see or agree with his point of view but unlike in a film where I could’ve watched a character like him commit the crime on their own, I actually had to make him commit the despicable act against my own will (unless I chose not to finish the game). The interactivity itself broke immersion and removed any empathy I had for the character. Though Joel ran down that pediatric hallway, bearing an unconscious Ellie in his arms and tenderly cooing “baby girl” to her, I’d already stepped away from his character entirely.

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Essentially Joel’s no different than the faceless grunt who gunned down the innocent Sarah at the start of the game, and Joel’s loss becomes a catalyst only for bitterness and selfishness and nothing else. What makes this even more disgusting is that it does nothing to honor the bond between Joel and Ellie that the game spent hours creating.

To have come so far with Joel and to have seen him go nowhere is truly repellent without being pitiable. He’s not like characters who don’t learn anything from their journeys and end up in tragedies, because his journey just ends with a whimper. And the fact that the game forces its interactivity upon you and makes you the player complicit in his murder, failure, and lack of character development is what makes the ending anything but profound. It makes it flat. I mean, at least I didn’t have to “tap X to lie to Ellie’s face” but it is only sad that a father lost his daughter and is projecting upon a girl who is not his “baby girl” no matter how many times he says it to himself, and that’s it. Nothing comes of it. It makes the whole journey worth nothing and amount to nothing. It makes Joel less human. It makes this story that is about him (of course it’s about him!) go nowhere. Why cherish this character at all? Why say he’s a great character in gaming? Because he tortures prisoners? Because he kills unarmed people? Because he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants? This makes him detestable and hateful, not worthy of remembrance. The role reversal of making the protagonist a villain isn’t enough of a gimmick to warrant the game getting perfect scores.

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Rather than a full-fledged character, Joel’s reduced to patently obvious marketing for the inevitable sequel for a game this successful, a fourth-wall-breaking billboard of a human being. His actions become slaves to universe building, that haunting promise of a future cash cow necessitated by this game’s profits and demanded in advance by its creators, apparently. Will we eventually see Joel pay for his lie to Ellie with her distrust toward him? Probably, but actually I’m expecting they’ll just kill off his character because at this point his death will probably mean a lot more than his life has.

Fitting that the game ends with Ellie saying the word “Okay”, since that’s exactly what I thought of its conclusion.

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In a game that’s supposed to feature a realistic and adult world, there’s very little real and adult about the end of Joel’s journey. This is all barring the sequel of course, but should we force ourselves to become accustomed to sequels tidying up after their predecessors? I got into so much of the game’s story in this incredibly dark world but Joel’s character was a big disappointment at the end. If a game is going to take itself this seriously then it should be able to withstand serious criticism.

message Themes: 9/10
While portions of the narrative were enough to put me on the fence about how I felt about the game in general, I did think there were some very complex themes, complexity being a mark of content being “adult” rather than just throw swear words around all the time.

Loss of innocence is tremendous in Last of Us. “There’ll come a day when kids can just be kids again” one character muses. One of the scenes I’ll always remember is when young Sam cannot take the toy robot with him, Henry reminding him that there’s no room for something like that in his life with so much riding on practicality and survival. That’s moving. Even children are pushed into a life of extreme frugality, and though Ellie shows a kind gesture to Sam by giving him the toy, which she smuggled, in a later scene, Sam is infected and he turns the next morning to attack her.

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Note that this is the only infected child in the whole game, at least any prominent one. I think that’s no mistake. Loss of innocence is a part of the game but so is this concept of purity. Ellie is young and she shows a swath of purity in her selflessness later on in Winter. The purity of Sarah’s memory and death is a motivator for Joel’s callousness. There are few children in the game. In one scene (that was hard to stomach and I had to turn the system off for the night), bodies of children are discovered lying under a blanket with the words scrawled on the floor beside an adult’s body: “They didn’t suffer”, meaning they were killed before they could be infected.

Next, I’m convinced that the creators at Naughty Dog have a bleak view of humanity, if their work is of any testament. The game has a very bleak outlook on human nature with little in the way of goodness: the story is told of people standing up against the hunter factions in the beginning and being killed for doing so by a mob; Joel is reluctant to care for Ellie at first and even refuses to stop for a family with a child when the first infections occur. One of the notes by “Ish” talks about having faith in humanity, that we’re still capable of good but even by the end of the game this isn’t something that the creators appear to believe in, to the point of being ludicrous. How would anyone still be alive twenty years after the outbreak if there’s so much frivolity about killing in the world of The Last of Us? Everyone kills each other so easily and without a moment’s hesitation that it starts to fly in the face of humanity surviving at all, or at least questioning why they should survive at all. Without any sanctity of human life, then why go on living other than for reasons of pure selfishness? And that’s Joel’s entire character right there but it’s a depraved perspective.

Only a few sparks of hope in the purity of children prevents the entire story from being overwhelmingly bleak, though it’s borderline. While the “Us and Them” mentality pervades the game, perhaps influencing the title, there are symbols of innocent joy to be found. Late in the game, Ellie spots giraffes with delight and she pauses to idly watch them before Joel, the adult, breaks away to begin their journey again, Ellie following. When she does, the last giraffe disappears into the distance. Her delight and any semblance of the idleness of childhood disappears with them.

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There is I’m sure a lot more to talk about in terms of themes in The Last of Us, but we’re approaching encyclopedic scale with this review. It’s over 9000. Words. Besides, there are far better researched and more talented writers out there with a firmer handle on these themes whose work your should hunt down.

I was interested by the recurring imagery of the color wheels in drawings, toys and paintings around houses, and also the chess sets I kept running into. I could guess that maybe the color wheels were hints at Ellie’s orientation but that’s only a guess.

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cast Cast: 10/10
This is one of the best acted games of all time. I’m sure it’s a combination of high quality direction and actors, as well as access to technology in order to capture and convey these performances in video game format. This may not be something that would change the world in cinema but in gaming the work of these actors was revolutionary. The actors didn’t just “do voices”. They came in for motion capture performances and you can tell the difference between voice actors reading a script in a sound booth compared to the energy of actors seeing other actors’ faces and moving around to portray their parts.

Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, who contributed ideas for their characters as well as their performances of them, are stand out examples of the possibilities that can be reached with gaming actors. I knew Baker most recently as the Joker in Arkham Origins and Snow in Final Fantasy XIII, but he transformed for this role and sounded completely different from any other I was familiar with. Both Baker and Johnson gave completely believable performances. I actually started to worry that they made an actual 14-year-old cuss as much as Ellie did, but Johnson was an adult.

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There’s not a single other character in the game that had that hokey feeling of putting on a stereotypical voice symptomatic of video game voice acting. I think of that fetch-quest dude in Galdin Quay in FFXV with the most ridiculous east coast accent ever and I’m so thankful that none of that ham-fistery made it into The Last of Us. Taking the acting seriously paid off.

unique Uniqueness: 8/10
There’s a lot of fatigue in the entertainment world. Over the past few years we’ve seen trends turning creative ideas into dead horses to beat. Remember when everything was about penguins? Penguin fatigue. How about pirate fatigue? FPS fatigue? We’re even seeing mounting superhero film fatigue. One of my personal anti-favorites is zombie fatigue: for a while it seemed like everything was going to turn out to be about zombies. It was enough to make rotting corpses off-putting. I know, what a shock.

I’ve just about checked out of every zombie apocalypse story there is, and while I shrugged off The Last of Us upon its release and subsequent ironically zombie-like devotion by the masses, I’m glad I finally came around and had the chance to experience this game. What an experience it is. The characters and world have an impact and intensity that’s unforgettable.

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pgrade My Personal Grade: 8/10
All that said, the question remains whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I didn’t hate it but I don’t love it, either. That’s because I can’t say, especially as a parent now, that I “enjoyed” or was entertained by the awful things in this game like children being executed or a minor almost being raped. Those thoughts are intolerable to me in the magnitude of their injustice.

The immediate response to this is the one which likely popped into your head just now, especially if you’re one who had an emotional response to this game and are quick to defend that very personal experience, validating your perspective. “Art is meant to show us life and that means even the worst parts about humanity”. That response is valid and true, let me be clear in saying so. Art takes a variety of forms and covers any subject imaginable, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy or have to enjoy every art form or every subject covered. Some subjects are just too extreme either in content or presentation to appeal to me: the torture porn film genre, slasher horror stories, and quite a variety of rated M video games.

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Of course real life horrors really do happen and terrible deaths really do occur, tragically, but clearly that doesn’t necessitate that I must enjoy or be entertained by their portrayal in media as a statement of reality, nor does it prove that The Last of Us must exist. I can’t be entertained by some of its content, in fact.

This has nothing to do with the question of whether the extreme examples mentioned above are art or not but everything to do with the reception of the perceiver, which is me in this case since this is my article and I played this game. My perception of The Last of Us is that it is a forcefully told story, a work of art in its skillful craftsmanship and presentation, with some of the greatest voice acting and facial animations I’ve ever seen but with some flaws in character development and immersion, possessing an emotional sharpness pervading the entire experience that will surprise, shock, and haunt (but maybe not bring you to tears).

Am I excited for the sequel? I’m interested in seeing what happens to these characters. I’d be interested to find out if Joel changes at all or if they just kill him off, but I’m not excited at the prospect of diving into the violence and filth of humanity again. And, please, my philosophy specifically for gaming doesn’t have anything to do with my not wanting to see the world as it is, or wishing everything was sugar and saccharine, so please don’t accuse me of that. Mine is not some kind of escapism.

There’s this overarching mentality in modern gaming that I’m speaking against: the story is not better simply because its characters swear constantly or because it depicts near sexual assault. Think of this as equating to the kinds of films that always win Best Picture without fail because of their tenor and tone. Looking back, I wonder why so many people assured me that the ending was this fount of emotion, why this game was resoundingly the greatest there could ever be…

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Citizen Kane? Really?

Merely throwing the worst things in real life into a video game and calling it art doesn’t solely make a game great, right? There were some moments in The Last of Us when I felt like this was the case, when the developers were trying to impress me with shocking content, just like kids ironically pretending to be mature. Was there nobody present on the development team who could say the words “Dial it back just a smidge, Mack”? Take out even half of the most extreme situations and scenes in the game and it would still be demonstrably “adult”. Further, it would have a mark of adult storytelling, namely nuance.

Fortunately, there’s enough excellence in The Last of Us to make the unsettling stuff worth wading through but I refuse to say The Last of Us is great because it showed that games can be “adult”. That’s not what made this game amazing. Not only were there other games before it that did show that games could be adult via complexity or subtlety (something foreign to Last of Us) but those games were able to do so without appealing to the most graphic content possible, which in this game is used to such frequent effect that watching the protagonist get his face torn off by a Clicker for the hundredth time or brutalizing another stranger becomes desensitizing rather than shocking, especially in cutscenes.

The Last of Us is disturbing. This is where I get off the train because I come to video games uniquely to have fun, more so than in coming to film or literature. As a family man, I also approach gaming with the vision of its sociability and sharing in its experiences with my wife and children, but this is clearly not a game I’d show to my kids. Psh I probably wouldn’t even show it to my wife. I love her too much to be this depressed. My gaming philosophy is why I gravitate toward the games I choose. Best of all, you can’t argue against my philosophy because it’s my personal preference. It’s why I love that “magical” feeling some games achieve in their simplicity, style, and beauty. But there’s little beautiful about The Last of Us (moments but only a few) and while seriousness in gaming is nothing I take issue with, I’m sure I don’t want to fill my life with disturbing things and thoughts.

Should you play The Last of Us? Definitely, if you can stomach it’s intensities and you don’t mind the possibility of having no emotional reaction to an immensely popular game that makes you feel somewhat isolated. It’s one of the most potent games I’ve ever experienced, a game which is very much unlike other gaming experiences I’ve had before the 2010’s. I can appreciate it for what it is but it’s too unsavory, too unlovely to champion. You will likely never forget it, just as I expect that I won’t, but even then this is not something that I plan on going through again, playing new game plus, grabbing all the goodies, or popping every trophy. I know several people who swear by it, but this is a story that I’ve taken in once and once is plenty.

That’s no slight to the game itself. The Last of Us is just that powerful, a fact which cannot be denied.

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Aggregated Score: 9.0

 

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83 thoughts on “The Last of Us (2013)

  1. Finally getting to read this because I’ve watched the game, and you can thank Cheap Boss Attack for reminding me in my last Game State post!

    I’m actually glad to read a review by someone who’s a father, because that perspective is important. I utterly agree with your idea that Ellie wasn’t a person to any of the factions/people she came across. She was a job initially to Tess and Joel, a potential cure to the Firedlies, even Marlene who was sort of her surrogate mother, a meal and worse to the cannibals and David respectively, and finally a surrogate Sarah for Joel. This well developed young woman was pretty much an object to everyone, which is a fantastic irony.

    I was one of the people moved to tears by Sarah’s death. In less than 20 minutes TLOU showed the strength of their relationship, and I believe playing a bit as Sarah solidified it. I’m also highly empathetic, so listening to Joel’s absolute anguish at her death is making me tear up a bit now at the memory. I also have heard similar grief in real life for a different reason, but that memory was a big part of my emotional response.

    As for the end, my initial thought matched yours. How selfish can you be? Then I let it marinate, and while certainly selfish, it was completely understandable. Ellie became a surrogate Sarah for him, and Joel would rather see the world burn than go through that kind of pain again. He saved her because he couldn’t save Sarah, and it didn’t matter of her savrifice could save the world; he wasn’t willing to let that happen. Selfish? Yes. Understandable? Yes. Acceptable? Up for debate.

    I also think Ellie knew he was lying. She could’ve woken up after being revived and talked to about what would happen and consented. The drugs could’ve made her temporarily forget and/or have fuzzy memories, but it’s also possible she was only asking Joel at the end to see what he would say, knowing the truth and knowing he was lying, but knowing why he lied and accepting it. I think another theme of the game is acceptance. Accepting a situation for what it is. The world is short 60% its population, and that’s just accepted. Ironically of course Joel doesn’t ever accept Sarah’s death and instead accepts Ellie as a replacement, and Ellie accepts this from him. Her accepting her own objectification is pretty damn messes up, but everyone objectified her. She was never just Ellie. She was something someone could use.

    Whew…okay! I’ve rambled enough 😊 Again thanks for your fatherly perspective. I’ll definitely cite your review when I do mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my this is the game that keeps on giving! Haha thanks for taking the time to come all the way back here after getting through the game. I appreciate it. I’ve had some pretty intense conversations with this one and I’d welcome you to check out some of these other comment threads if you want to see a plethora of perspectives. For me, it’s the ending that tore down the whole high quality experience. I’ve rehashed my position so many times, I’m sure I don’t need to belabor it again. I agree Joel was selfish (I’d go so far as to say “abusive”, which is even more disgusting). I also agree that given he was consumed by that tragedy that it was understandable he became a kidnapper, essentially (I understand the understandability), but I absolutely and vehemently deny that his actions were acceptable. I don’t see any difference between him and David. They both wanted Ellie for purely self-centered reasons and stripped her of her autonomy as a human being, objectified her: David for her sex and Joel for her as a stand-in daughter. That to me is irredeemably ugly. I was shocked that Druckmann claimed this was about Joel being a father. It certainly wasn’t. I doubt you’d want your own husband to objectify your child like Joel did if you were to have children (I can’t recall if you do or not, so forgive me on that note). Everyone objectified her, yes, but Joel came the closest to setting her free right up until the end.

      I also thought that Ellie detected the lie, too, so high five we both picked up on that. Her “okay” was pretty flimsy. I was promised a fount of tears at the end, and I got an ugly scene that reeked of sequelitis. But hey, I can praise nearly everything else in the game beside the characters! 😀 I know I’m in the minority here, but that’s the beauty of our blogosphere. It’s a place where we can come and express ourselves and sometimes have some massive discussions. Again, check out the other comments. There are some pretty dramatic conversations that went down!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m curious why you think he was as bad as David. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say he was a kidnapper given what he was “kidnapping” her from, and true, while Joel WAS using her as a stand in for Sarah, he wasn’t using her as a sexual fetish or to cannibalize, so I can’t seem him being as bad as David. While Joel’s reasons were selfish, his usage of her was as his daughter and not as a sexual object or meal, so I can’t put them on the same level since there are layers to us. This is not to say what Joel did was right, but I can’t place him on the same plain as a rapist. If David were just a cannibal then there’s some wiggle room there, though it’s still anathema since Joel’s selfish actions kept Ellie alive (granted for a selfish purpose, but still alive), but it was heavily implied he was a hebephile (I think is the word), and I could argue that many a parent would do selfish things in order to keep their children alive. While I wholly believe Joel did it only for his sake (so he wouldn’t have to go through what he did with Sarah) and killed a lot of people who were either innocent or trying to protect their interests, I can name quite a few parents who would do the same thing.

        I didn’t cry at the end either. I honestly thought Ellie was going to be accidentally killed/shot by the Fireflies in a juxtaposition to Sarah’s deliberate murder, and it would be the situation repeating again for Joel. I knew the cure would kill her, of that I had no doubt, but I didn’t expect that ending, so while my initial feeling was absolute annoyance because of Joel’s behavior, I was kind of glad my expectations were shattered.

        Controversial games cause controversial opinions! I’m going to go check out the other comments now. I saw there were a bunch, but I was at work when I was reading/responding to this 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Both men were using her for selfish reasons is the comparison I make. Of course rape is worse than lying to keep someone to yourself but it didn’t take Ellie’s choices into account any more than in the situation with David. Many a parent does selfish things to keep their children alive if those things are selfLESS, if they’re putting their child’s needs above their own. That’s what it means to be a parent, in my opinion. It’s a lot of selflessness. Joel never showed that. I can think of many parents who would kill for their children too, myself included, but Joel didn’t just kill. He tortured. Sadistically. In several scenes. And on top of that if there’s implicit hebephilia that’s even more disgusting.

          In no way whatsoever was Joel a father figure by the end of the game. At all. He demonstrated zero selflessness for Ellie, because ask yourself: did he fight off all those Fireflies to save Ellie for herself or to save Ellie for himself? I think we know the answer, and it’s not both. He didn’t save her to free her. He saved her to imprison her with his lie. I think you’ve really got to argue down a rabbit hole to defend his character, but even if you did, that’s not really the issue for me with Joel. Again I get his reasonings and I get that he’s selfish, but the point I attempted to make was he’s a static character for it. Like the blogger I cited, we both expect he’ll be disposed of in the sequel. Who knows. Maybe won’t happen. But we’d both love to see either redemption or tragedy, or something done with his character arc, rather than “man loses daughter and begins to objectivity teenage girl for his own psychosis…. and that’s it.” The way that TLoU doesn’t develop its main character is one of my primary (and few) complaints about it, the other being the immersion disruption which I’ll address in your other comment 🙂

          Haha I approached this game as one which I perceived to be universally adored! I had no idea it could be so controversial, so my own opinions took me by surprise and I’m glad to have found an array of other opinions on it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You think there was an implied hebephilia with Joel as well as David? I really didn’t pick that up. I didn’t get any sexual/rapey vibes from Joel at all.

            In terms of character development, I think there was, but not in the direction that was expected, but the narrative didn’t go in the way I expected either. Joel went from someone who was unfeeling and emotionless, just going through the emotions of life, to someone who could love again…even if it was a dysfunctional kind of love and directed more towards the idea of what he’d lost. Despite his obvious mental issues, I do believe he loved Ellie, even if he did love her as a replacement for his dead daughter. While it’s not the Heel Face Turn that many games give an anithero/villain protagonist (and I don’t see him as the latter in the setting of the game, given for the most part he does what needs to be done for survival), he’s still not the same person emotionally that he was at the (true) start of the game. And I say this because had he been, Joel would’ve had no problems leaving Ellie with the Fireflies to be dissected in hopes of a cure for different, selfish reasons. It would’ve been a selfishness of material gain that would’ve gotten Ellie killed instead of selfishness of emotional greed, which kept her alive.

            I guess I really don’t see her being imprisoned, at least no more than anyone else, because there are so many signs through their ending interactions that she knew, and as I mentioned in my other comment, I really feel like that was callback to when Tess said something without saying. I personally thought it was subtle and brilliant.

            It seems like the biggest hangup has to do with the intention, and it’s why one of the questions I think TLOU asks is “Is it better to do a bad thing for a good reason or to do a good thing for a bad reason?”

            I had no idea the controversy I was wading into when I watched this game, but I have a penchant for sympathetic villainous characters, so this is like a feast for my brain 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh man these comments are gonna bleed me dry hahaha just kidding! So I would say, borrowing the language of your second paragraph, that Joel went from someone who was unfeeling and emotionless, to someone who remained unfeeling and emotionless. The only thing he felt that was a constant was grief for his daughter, not love for Ellie, not to allow her personhood. He never changes beyond “the dude who loses his daughter” because he just as selfishly murders to get what he wants at the start of the game as he does at the end. Dysfunctional is putting it lightly. He never stops thinking beyond himself, from start to finish, because he rescues Ellie for himself not for herself. Of course he’s not the same person from before his daughter died, but I think he’s the same person when we first see him in the post-apocalypse as he is before the credits roll. It’s not even tragic so much as it’s just off-putting, and not representative of humanity (see other comment reply)!

              I’m not sure I understand what you mean by material gain?

              With my assertion of her being imprisoned, think of Ellie’s possible choices given the information she had by the end of the game. Joel PURPOSEFULLY limited her choices by withholding information through deception. That’d be like if you’re husband convinced you to never leave the house because there are monsters outside. He’s lying but he’s not actually physically preventing you from leaving the house at the same time. You make the prison based on the choices allowed you based on the information you have. Ellie’s prison was exactly that, a prison that Joel very meticulously constructed to ensure that Ellie wouldn’t leave him either by dying or by distrusting him (consider he could’ve told her he took her from the Fireflies, rather than telling her she wasn’t needed for the cure, and let her decide from there, but it’s clear Joel could never let Ellie go and won’t let anything take her away; I shudder to think of her future suitors!!!).

              I agree that Ellie knew and saw through the lie. My take on what that could do to their relationship I’ve already mentioned.

              As far as that question, I’d say there are different possibilities depending on the kinds of bad acts and good reasons in question, but murdering and torturing innocent people is about as bad of acts as you could possibly get, and conversely, deceiving someone to stay by your side because of what they represent TO YOU while doing your best to prevent them from making choices to the otherwise is a horrible reason! I can see why Joel did what he did but I can’t see that it’s acceptable in any universe. The assertion that TLOU is art… the assertion that it says something about human nature… the assertion that Joel’s loss was truly terrible… none of these main reasons I keep hearing do anything to lessen and render acceptable the absolutely “badness” of Joel’s actions and the absolute “not goodness” of his reasons. I like sympathetic villainous characters myself, but I cannot and refuse to sympathize or empathize with Joel. The more I think about it the more detestable that thought is.

              I can understand and support defending TLOU itself as a game of high quality, but I will never defend Joel’s actions or find them acceptable, no matter how many times I have this conversation!

              Whew! 😀

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              • With material gain I meant the initial agreement of payment for delivering Ellie.

                I just can’t agree that he was unfeeling and emotionless. I don’t think the emotions he had at the end of the game for Ellie were healthy for *him,* because he was using her as a replacement, and they weren’t healthy for her in terms of…well not letting her fulfill a suicide mission that might or might not have saved humanity, which took away her ability to choose to die. I don’t think he would treat her as any different from his daughter, because that’s what she became to him. When Sarah died or more accurately was murdered and died in his arms, Joel’s emotional life just stopped, which was symbolized by the broken watch he continued to wear (cleverly pointed out to be broken by Ellie).

                I see his actions as a man who was once consumed by grief who would’ve done anything to see/speak to his daughter again for even a minute and found an acceptable surrogate. While she wasn’t Sarah, I do believe his feelings for her were real and comparable to his dead child. He did horrible things in order to save the life of the only person in that destroyed world he cared about. I can’t see complete wrong in an action that saves someone’s life when that person is the most important one to you regardless of the reasons why they are. It doesn’t excuse the terrible things he did, and maybe the way the end is viewed says more about the nature of the person in their opinion.

                I understand what the depths of despair can drive you do where if the choice were presented, you might want to choose the option that’s better for everyone, but because you’ve experienced inexplicable and unimaginable grief, you fear what option it will drive you to. It frightens me to think about it, and it’s highly likely I am being narcissistic in relating to characters like this, because I always think “But for the grace go I.”

                I empathize with Joel, because I’m super empathetic, and it’s just the way brain works. I could see myself in that position where once again I’m in a situation where I could lose what matters to me, and having the foresight and memory of how that felt before, I’d do anything to stop that. I honestly think if Ellie had died, he would’ve killed himself. So yes, the world would potentially be saved or they’d possibly be closer to finding a cure, but I think Naughty Dog was going for a different message. I might have been a subtle “the world is better off without humanity calling the shots,” and given what we’re currently doing in it and and to it, I can’t deny that’s true. Humans as a species might not thrive, but in our decline, others would. It’s misanthropic and morbid, but I like how it subverts the “save humanity at any cost” trope. This is also probably why I love FFVII so much, because there’s a similar mien (though obviously we know humans survived because of the film sequel), and it’s the utter antithesis of what’s typically expected.

                I feel as though our differing points of view to differing life experiences color the lens though which we view this game 😉

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  2. Your review certainly lived up to the hype I had for it! 🙂 You did a great job expressing your thoughts. You already know how I feel about this game from our Discord discussion. So yes, I did have an emotional response to the final scene because of a personal connection I saw. I was very depressed after I played this game and I immediately started playing a cheerful Mario game, haha. I’m not sure if I’m ready to go back into this disturbing world for a sequel yet.

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    • Whew! It’s been a heckuva time trying to respond to some of these thoughtful and lengthy comments here, so I’m sorry it took me a bit to get to yours! Thanks so much for reading this marathon of an article. I’m glad that people were patient enough to take in my points while also feeling the need to express theirs politely and courteously. I just love this WordPress community! If depression, or more accurately being disturbed, is an emotion then I guess you could say that I did have an emotional response to that ending after all. But it certainly was one which drove me away from the game and its characters, specifically Joel, and not towards appreciating it more. I’m playing through Oceanhorn now, so thank God the gaming industry is big enough to support games of all kinds. I’m also going to give the sequel some time, but also for reasons regarding hype.

      What do you think about this story being a movie instead of a game? Do you think that would’ve changed my perspective (if you could make that assessment), or do you think it could’ve made it work differently? How did you feel about the game giving you (as Joel) no other alternative other than to kill the surgeon, doom humanity, lie to Ellie in order to rescue her?

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      • WordPress is the one place on the internet with civil people, haha. You’ve got quite a lot of great discussions going here. I’d say depression, or being disturbed, counts as an emotional response.

        Speaking from my perspective, if the Last of Us was just a movie instead of a game, I would not have had the same emotional responses. I spent hours trudging through this depressing world and interacting with the horrors as Joel (even if he’s dead inside, he’s still someone). If I was just shown the events in a 2 hour-ish movie, I would not have felt the same connection to the world. I’m appalled by what I made Joel do during that last scene. The outcome is the same no matter what the player does, but my emotional response to the situation had me on edge. In my mind I was like: “We have to save Ellie!”, and just like Joel, that’s all that mattered to me. Looking back with a clear mind, I think Joel’s decision was purely selfish, I hate what he did to Marlene (nothing can justify that to me), and I consider him a cold hearted murderer now. I also think Ellie would have wanted to sacrifice herself to save humanity. I’m interested to see what happens in the sequel. It will be a long time after it’s out before I play it though.

        I do really like the idea of a Last of Us musical. The video you shared on Discord was amazing 🙂

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        • The Last of Us on Broadway, that’d be very interesting indeed. I also think that the whole thing he did to Marlene, who was entrusted with protecting Ellie by Ellie’s mother, made Joel essentially a kidnapper as well for lying and slaughtering to take Ellie out of Marlene’s care when Marlene had entrusted Joel to care for Ellie temporarily. She was not his daughter. Ah anyway, this game! Haha so many strong opinions. I do so love our WordPress community and I’ll forever point to the comments on this post as being exemplary of the kind of civil discussion our world needs. Thanks for being a part of that yourself!

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      • I’m so glad you reminded me of the film perspective…I think it would have been a WHOLLY different experience had it been a movie. Athena has talked about this on her page, the idea of characters as either avatars of the player or…well I forget the word when the character has their own personality, but you’re controlling them. Anyway, the fact that you’re playing Joel at that end moment, means you are forced to do the things he has to do in order to save Ellie, and for the people who utterly disagree with his actions, that can definitely seem like a violation of their own principles. It’s when the immersive quality of games becomes more invasive, because you’re being forced to do something you utterly disagree with. Had this been a movie, I think you might have taken it better, because you’d be watching a him do it, not being forced along for the ride. Your point of view might be more easily swayed were this the case.

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        • And ah yes the cinema vs interactive media perspective is one that dawned on me through conversation as I was writing this review. Because you are the character you’re playing in a video game, there’s a level of complicity and empathy that gamers normally have with their characters. I resent the Last of Us for not giving me the option to determine Joel’s actions when I’d been given that luxury for the entire game right up until that surgery room. Shooting an unarmed surgeon and then even having the opportunity to murder two unarmed nurses made me sick and I almost quit the game right there. I may have if I didn’t have this to write about it. I attempted to make that point which you’re asserting here that had this been a movie, I might’ve taken it better. I do agree.

          I would ask: Do you agree with Joel murdering the unarmed surgeon (rather than just knocking him out) plus the Firefly leader lady before taking Ellie? Is that really what you would’ve done? Without conversation? Damning humanity? Lying to Ellie’s face on the risk of her resenting you later? Throwing away all that relationship you’d built with her? Turning her into less a human being in the flower of her youth and growth into an adult? I can’t get behind that personally. I don’t believe that’s what parents do, unless we’re talking about abusive ones that never let their kids leave the house, have any friends, make any decisions for themselves, and are kept in a false reality built on deception. Usually those are the villains, not exemplary characters lauded for their portrayals. It certainly doesn’t match up with Druckmann’s claim about Joel being a father..

          It’s my opinion that TLoU would’ve made a better movie or TV series. Rather than the immersion becoming invasive for me, it dropped altogether. At that point, I no longer inhabited these characters or this world. I was just reading the script, essentially, and it was jarring enough to cause me to resent that aspect of a fairly off-putting game as it is.

          Again, I think TLoU is one of the highest quality games I’ve ever played, but these few storytelling elements were Achilles’ heels for my experience with it. Joel will for me forever be a terrible character not just because of what he did but because of what he was said to have represented and because of what little the game does with him.

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          • After I finished watching the game, I listened to the LPers discussion on it and watched a few more discussion/analyses/reviews, and apparently there’s a way for you to just incapacitate the surgeon without killing him and also spare the nurses. The LPer I watched didn’t do that (and he was perfectly okay with the actions he/Joel took; I’ll spare you the details on them…I thought they were extreme), but it was interesting to note.

            As for Marlene…I did gasp at the part, but his reasons for it were because she would’ve come after Ellie again as long as she was alive. Not saying this as a justification, but as a reason.

            I don’t know what I would’ve done, but from the way I interpreted it, I don’t think Joel destroyed his relationship with Ellie, because I think knowing about Sarah by that point she understood. I’d have to go back and find it, but when she said, “Okay,” to him at the end, it reminded me of when Tess acknowledged the Sarah situation without ever saying a word about it. It was when they’d decided to take Ellie further, and she made sure Joel was okay with it, because she knew.

            I think where the game invites contention is the idea of the father who would do anything to protect his child, and while I do agree that Ellie was a surrogate Sarah and therefore objectified, she was still a surrogate for another *person*, and not say an assault victim or a meal in David’s and the cannibals’ cases. While she existed as a replacement for the irreplaceable, Joel did still see her as a separate entity from Sarah since he said that he thought she and his deceased daughter would’ve been good friends.

            While dooming humanity though, I can’t agree that Joel was turning her into something less than human…that’s what the Fireflies were seeking in order to *save* humanity. While Joel might have stolen her ability to choose whether she’d be okay with that, afterwards, back at Tommy’s, she would have a life and a potential future in a community that was thriving despite how terrible the world outside was. The decision he took away from her (if indeed she even had been able to make such a decision, though I do believe she regained consciousness long enough to do so, but that’s up for debate) was whether or not she was going to die, and there are probably no parents in the world who haven’t made that choice for their children at some point. Obviously Ellie’s circumstances were extenuating, and no matter what the choice, it would’ve been a heavy price.

            After thinking about it more, I figured out what I think the game was seeking to express thematically. By the power of copy and paste:

            To Joel, the means do not justify the end. TLOU is ultimately about survival, acceptance, and accepting what you must do to survive, and this theme runs throughout the game for all characters: smugglers, hunters, cannibals, infected, even the cordyceps itself. It’s a very primal narrative that strips away humanity, because even the human characters aren’t the type of humanity we’re used to seeing, but they are they type of humanity we’d become in this world.

            I think this bothers people, because it shows that what makes us “human” is arbitrary and can be broken in more ways than one either directly due to the fungus or in response to it. What separates us from the bestial can be blurred. We like to think we’re more. That we’d retain our veneer of civility even in the most dire of straits, and anything that suggests otherwise whether we know it consciously or not, mustn’t be true (I’d like to believe I’d never eat an insect, because just the thought skeeves me out, but if I were hungry enough…). To connect or even empathize with Joel is to see the monster that could live within any of us, and in many ways we like to think we can resist what the world shapes us into being.

            There’s a quote from “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Grief does not change you…it reveals you,” and I think this is one of the places it applies in the extreme. Grief coupled with an utter break down of what we know as society is horrifying.

            I made a comparison to SOMA, but I don’t know if you’ve played that, and I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t.

            I won’t even need to write a new review of TLOU is we keep this conversation up!

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            • Really? So that’s the first I heard about there being a non-lethal way to incapacitate the surgeon. Do you recall what it was? I experimented with several options and even tried leaving the room. I really felt that was a pivotal moment in my ultimate take on the game but if I could’ve progressed like I’d wanted to that would’ve changed that aspect. What do you mean by you thought they were extreme?

              With Marlene, you can tell Joel’s reason/excuse was flimsy. He was too emotional at that point to be reasonable. Is it really reasonable that Joel and Ellie couldn’t cover their tracks in a country as ruined as the US at that time? It’d be extremely easy to disappear, especially considering the Fireflies didn’t have unlimited resources. His excuse again is understandable given his desperation but it’s a pretty lame excuse for murdering a woman who was lowering her gun and asked to talk. Dude’s a monster.

              You think Ellie and Joel’s relationship will be fine after his lie? If she found out the things he did that he’s covering up? It’s not just a lie, it’s a lie that covers up torture and murder.

              I disagree and say that Ellie was objectified in this case because she was having her free will taken away from her via Joel’s deceptions. Like a hidden cage. Her personhood is gone by the end of the game, as far as I’m concerned. I thought Joel was really unhinged and was projecting Sarah on to Ellie when he cooed “baby girl” while running through the hospital, and then I thought of his “good friends” statement as the ravings of a madman. Well, not that intensely, but someone who was clearly delusional. If Joel would brutalize anyone who got between him and Ellie, what hope could their possibly be for her future? A father can’t imprison their child forever, ignoring their rise to adulthood and freedom. THAT’s what I mean as less than human. He was treating her more poorly than a father treats their own child. That’s where I felt Joel crossed the line into a psychopath, and Ellie wasn’t his anyways. She hadn’t relinquished her will to him in entirety and he violated her autonomy by taking it through deception. Their relationship wasn’t ruined by the end of the game but I think it will (or should) be. I don’t think that Ellie could ever live a safe or satisfied life after that haunting moment, given her reaction.

              Ultimately, I’m not sure how much personal interpretation, mood, perspectives on parenting and morality play in our diverging views. I agree that TLOU is about survival and acceptance, but I think there may be a difference between all of us on the basis of what behavior and actions we find acceptable. Survival at ALL costs isn’t something I can live with, and I doubt you could either, since that could include genocide, racism, arrogance, torture, brutality, and a lack of empathy, to name a few things. This is why I think that the kind of humanity in TLOU which is so ugly is actually not the kind of humanity that I think we’d become. Actually, when you look at humanity under hardships throughout the world and throughout history, horrible conditions actually can make us better, not worse: Hurricane Harvey comes to mind with the heroic images of people helping OTHERS, working themselves literally to exhaustion, putting their own lives and interests aside, not everyone becoming ruthless criminals. That’s why I mentioned that I think the developers of TLOU have a terribly skewed perspective on humanity, one devoid of goodness, which starts well before the world goes to pot when Joel and Tommy refuse to stop for a family with children. This kind of hard-edged immorality is part and parcel to grimdark storytelling but I don’t think it’s accurate of humanity at all. Yes, humans are evil but they’re also good. They show that all the time. TLOU only shows half of what we are and I know for a fact when I look at real heroism during tragedy, such as EMTs responding during the Charlottesville incident, that we’re much more than animals. I think that the people who selflessly give of themselves every day prove that, but selflessness is something that’s non-existent in the limited humanity of TLOU. I’m not talking civility (which sure we’d drop), I’m talking humanity, and TLOU goes way past both.

              I also find it pretty silly that devs from one of the wealthiest countries on Earth are the sort of people who make these grimdark stories about “real human nature” when they probably haven’t suffered anything like the extremes that 3rd world countries face or residents of other nations where they’re persecuted for their faiths or killed by their own government or starving or in civil war. It’s kind of pretentious at that point to say “humans are really just animals when put under terrible circumstances” when you begin to question what terrible circumstances these folks have actually been in compared to what people are actually going through in poorer countries. It really makes all that deep-talk fall flat to say that deep down humans are just selfish, awful animals when there’s much more to their endurance and their flourishing than that.

              Haha so I appreciate the psychoanalysis but I frankly disagree. Joel is not a father. Joel is less than human. Joel shows only an ugly aspect of what a human can become when they’re insane with grief and refuse (yes refuse) to rise out of it. Joel may have real world counterparts, but they’re the kind of people who drive cars into crowds and suck the life out of everyone else they know. All of humanity isn’t THAT selfish hahaha how could we even begin to be here as we are right now? If anything, Joel is the animal. TLOU makes no incredible statement on humanity, which I’ve heard again and again as proof of its greatness. TLOU starts out with a horrible, distrusting, paranoid perception of your fellow man and camps there. That’s not profound and it ignores actual human experience in diversity. Because yes indeed grief reveals you. Adversity uncovers who people really are underneath and only if you’re willing to set aside every selfless act and every kind soul who has ever lived will you say that deep down we’re all Joel.

              I have not played SOMA and I’m good for a while on games attempted to turn everything into a dust and ashes perspective of the world. Humanity is much more optimistic, selfless, and “human” toward its own evils, even as we’ve seen in recent days. TLOU doesn’t even begin to touch on that.

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              • According to the discussion video, you could shoot the surgeon in the knee and the nurses would run away. Several people on it agreed, but as I was saying the LPer I watched was VERY much against Ellie being harvested to cure CBI, so he used some of the most lethal weapons in Joel’s arsenal to nullify the issue.

                It’s hard to imagine there being lots of settlements, plus since Tommy used to be a part of them, she more than likely knows where he lives, and that’s where she’d go first to locate them. It was horrible and difficult to watch, but I understood his reasoning.

                Ellie has seen him do those kinds of things and worse to defend her. She herself has killed not just infected, but non-infected. I think that was the reason for Bill’s “It’s the normal people I don’t trust.” It was to show that while the infected will kill you, they’re far more at the mercy of the impulses than the “normal” people, though in reality, we’re at the mercy of them, too, though we do have some impulse control that’s probably weakened in a world where you need to act/react or end up dead.

                Humans are animals, and I’m not saying that from a contentious or cynical point of view (though I am cynical). We’re animals with a well developed pre-frontal cortex and an evolutionary history that’s shaped us into civilizations, and narratives like this are supposed to show what would happen if civilization were stripped away. While natural disasters do tend to bring out the best and the worst in people, I don’t think they’re a good parallel for this, because while Hurricane Harvey is awful, it’s not a situation that’s going to endure. When the rains stop and the clean up happens, thing will go back to normal/civilized. TLOU is showing what happens if things *never* go back to the normalcy we used to. If the lights never come back on. If the pandemic never ceases. If 60% of the population is wiped out, and there’s no hope of recovery. Resources become scarce, and we already know from looking at developing nations that that leads to war, which is arguably a completely breakdown of civilization. I see TLOU as a constant, never ending, worldwide war zone.

                There are some people who can rise above grief and tragedy and some who can’t. I don’t really think there’s a choice involved there, and in light of what the world turned into, why would he? Had CBI not swept over humanity, granted Sarah never would have died, but had she perished through some other accident, with civilization in place there are resources (therapy, medication, etc.). Eventually, that pain becomes something you just get used to. I’ve always detested the “Everything happens for a reason” ironically haha since that’s the line David says. I don’t believe that, and I absolutely hated it every time it was said to me. I much prefer the “Some things can’t be explained, they can only be carried.” I can never go along with the idea that people won’t rise above their grief when they can’t. Grief is a natural part of loss, but when it goes on for too long, it becomes a pathology, and we can both agree that Joel was mentally ill and dangerously so, but he was also shaped by the environment was thrust into, and I can’t look at any character or situation outside of that.

                I’d definitely avoid SOMA then. It’s a different kind of dust and ashes (and existentially more horrifying), but if you’re looking for a more optimistic game, that is not the direction you want to go. I’m going three for three with morbidity and am now watching BioShock.

                Our views on humanity greatly differ lol. I think we have the potential to do great things, but we treat this world, the creatures on it, and each other as disposable, ignore empirical evidence in favor of our uninformed/ill-informed opinions, and bask in ignorance and cognitive dissonance. Maybe I just spend too much time reading the news, but I’ve found whenever I adopted an optimistic attitude in the past or even one of hopefulness, it was brutally shattered, and it’s far more painful to fall from a greater height than it is to hover near the ground expecting disappointing. Ironically, I’m rarely disappointed in my expectation, so I’ve learned to not get *too* excited about things, because so far reality is never as good as what I can imagine. I’ve found it’s better to be cynical and pessimistic with the chance of a pleasant surprise rather than the opposite. TLOU seems to cater to that mindset.

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                • Hey so I’ll just try to consolidate this conversation down to one comment thread, for the sake of my sanity haha!

                  Commenting on a few things you said in your other comment: “I can’t see complete wrong in an action that saves someone’s life when that person is the most important one to you regardless of the reasons why they are.” One problem here is that Joel invented additional scenarios that he was saving Ellie’s life from in order to justify killing an innocent woman who was laying down her gun to talk. He said she’d come after him and while that’s likely it’s not an assured fact nor is it likely that the Fireflies could ever find Ellie again if he hid her in that wasted country, a HUGE country, certainly with more than just Tommy’s to run to. Point is, he used a hypothetical action in the future to justify murder, which I’m sorry I just cannot get behind. That borders thought-crime territory and Joel was certainly unhinged enough to go there. Again, I would kill for my children, but killing someone on a hypothetical situation? Add to that sadistic torture after getting the info you needed (cabin in the Winter)? Add to that lying to my child’s face to prevent them from making their own decision, even if that’s something as noble as giving their lives for others? Joel is a wreck of a human being, and I can’t defend his actions, no matter how much they stemmed from understandably insane grief. So I’ll meet you at your statement “It doesn’t excuse the terrible things he did…”

                  Haha it’s not that I have no empathy, which is the least accusative statement I’ve taken regarding my impressions of this game. I have been told I have no heart haha! I’m empathic toward characters that deserve empathy. Joel doesn’t, in my eyes. He suffered intensely, yes, but he refused to make that suffering meaningful to himself, to Ellie, and to the memory of his own daughter. What would Sarah think if she knew what her father did?

                  “I could see myself in that position where once again I’m in a situation where I could lose what matters to me, and having the foresight and memory of how that felt before, I’d do anything to stop that.” Okay so this is a horrible hypothetical question to lay on you but if someone you loved most in life died (your husband, parent, etc.) and later you let that grief consume you and you only loved one other person again, but that person risked losing their life to do something great, you’re telling me right here that you would go well out of your way to sadistically torture individuals and in some cases innocents before killing them, and after you save this person you love that you would tell them that none of that ever happened and there was no choice to be made or conversation to be had? Because I think that’s reprehensible. That’s Joel, but I think that plenty of people would have the fortitude of humanity, virtue, faith, principles, beliefs, ANYthing to fall back on to prevent them from making such actions come to pass. I don’t find that Joel’s situation was and is identifiable at all!

                  And in FFVII at least there was heroism! People believed in good enough to save things and not for themselves but for the sake of the Planet and others. The only saving that goes on in TLOU is Joel keeping his hoard of Ellie for himself against saving everything else. I’m reminded of Tess’s self-sacrifice when I talk about the omission of heroism in TLOU, but then I recall that she was dying anyway before she even thought of self-sacrifice. TLOU is just a game about selfish people, and I submit once again that that is not humanity. And here’s where the difference lies. I don’t know how much you’ve personally suffered in your lifetime, as you don’t know how much I have either. But I think the difference does come down as you wisely pointed out to differing life experiences and probably the difference between pessimism and optimism.

                  A game like TLOU is nothing but extreme pessimism. It is a grim, hopeless, laughably violent, depressing, ugly take on humanity. I think that it misses the mark of “maturity” (as I mentioned in my review) because there’s no subtlety to it, no balance. It is all just murder, rape, stealing, distrust, and selfishness. But humanity isn’t like that and believe me when I say that I think there are truths both to pessimism AND to optimism! You have to at least concede that. Wherever we’ve seen horrible evil we’ve also seen transcendent good. TLOU takes none of that into consideration. None of it. It depicts a humanity which in less than a lifetime because entirely self-destructive and selfish? That takes absolutely none of the balance of real life into account. Like so many things in life, it seems that the extreme views are just halves of the real picture: pure pessimism is just short-sightedness but then so is pure optimism. In real life, there are people who are selfish, and even murderers and sadists like Joel, but c’mon! That’s not everyone! Hahaha do you think you husband and your parents and your best friends are like that?

                  You said, “I think we have the potential to do great things, but we treat this world, the creatures on it, and each other as disposable, ignore empirical evidence in favor of our uninformed/ill-informed opinions, and bask in ignorance and cognitive dissonance. Maybe I just spend too much time reading the news, but I’ve found whenever I adopted an optimistic attitude in the past or even one of hopefulness, it was brutally shattered, and it’s far more painful to fall from a greater height than it is to hover near the ground expecting disappointing.”

                  Find me a major disaster or horrible oppression or terrible situation in history and I’m sure you can find the heroes (they may be few), the heroes who stood up against evil and who gave of themselves for others they didn’t even know. You can find that in the holocaust, in the fight to end slavery, in WWII, in the wars of the Middle East… and as I pointed out, the recent disaster in Houston where the body count continues to rise and people are price gouging drinking water up to $99! Yeah of course there are people taking advantage, looting, maybe even murdering others for selfish reasons, but look at the many stories of real people and their “humanitarian” efforts. Why even call it “humanitarian” if deep down we’re just selfish animals? I’m very concerned for following what’s happening in the hurricane since my brother lives down there. In the past several days I’ve seen lines of people stretching down the block waiting not for food or clothing or shelter for themselves but to give of themselves to volunteer. Today I saw a picture of people forming a human chain to save a driver that was trapped and being swept away, risking their own lives. Yesterday, I read about the first officer who had to give his life when he responded to a call for help and never came back. I understand the point that the hurricane won’t last forever, because people rebuild. Who was rebuilding in TLOU? Everyone kept just tearing down. And certainly there have been extremely prolonged miseries in human history.

                  “TLOU is showing what happens if things *never* go back to the normalcy we used to.” I’m sorry… how long does TLOU last? At what point realistically would humane behavior completely died? Heck War for the Planet of the Apes showed a similar world lasting much longer in which human life continued to show sparks of empathy! Imagine terrible situations lasting centuries, which we have endured as a species and thrived through. TLOU only makes it a point to seem as if there’s no recovery because its devs are unabashed and unrealistic cynics, and in a few decades it thinks that humanity will fall to pieces…

                  “I can never go along with the idea that people won’t rise above their grief when they can’t. Grief is a natural part of loss, but when it goes on for too long, it becomes a pathology…” Prove to me that this occurs in every incident of intense familial loss. I can find you an inspiring story of recovery every time. And that is what TLOU misses, not just in Joel but in everyone in its entire world. It warped humanity so far down the rabbit hole of cynicism that it presents a humanity that’s totally unreal.

                  You will have to demean and sweep aside each of these and thousands more examples to say what TLOU says about humanity. It doesn’t even come close to providing an accurate picture of who we are and the argument I keep hearing about it having this profound statement about human nature is intense in its execution but it’s nowhere near comprehensive. At least have a complete view of humanity. We all wrestle with our vices but you’re going to have to dismiss entirely the heroism of EMTs that responded to injuries of people apolitically during what happened in Charlottesville, the fire fighters who will march into a burning building to rescue a trapped child, the people who give of themselves into exhaustion for the sake of others. TLOU doesn’t even begin to touch on the human aspect of charity, because don’t forget charitable people, saints, organizations and movements have existed throughout some of the worst times in human history because of that very aspect that you’re attributing to yourself: empathy. You can’t have it both ways now. Either you have empathy and so do others to make them care about others’ needs over there own, or nobody has empathy, neither you or I, like TLOU would probably have us believe. So which is it? Are you the only one with empathy or does humanity possess it and the ability to be “humane”. You can’t grant yourself the virtue if nobody else has it, and I can show you examples from now until my dying day of humans empathically giving of themselves to others…

                  TLOU is a great game, it just doesn’t have humans in it.

                  I think you did an excellent job of summarizing our perspectives in this conversation! The reason I don’t hold to cynicism is because I don’t think it’s realistic. Same reason I don’t hold to pure optimism. Maybe you do spend too much time reading the news because the news is intensely cynical. It’s funny because religious nuts used to be characterized by doom and gloomsday speech, but now that’s everyday journalism haha! I’d recommend biographies and plenty of the small personal stories that come out of our race. I assure you that TLOU isn’t the final word on human nature. There is great evil but there is also a lot of good to be found if you can get past the sensationalism and the worldviews that bury it.

                  “…so I’ve learned to not get *too* excited about things, because so far reality is never as good as what I can imagine. I’ve found it’s better to be cynical and pessimistic with the chance of a pleasant surprise rather than the opposite. TLOU seems to cater to that mindset.” Is that enjoyable? I’m just sad for you. I’m not saying that in any mean-spirited way, I just think there are clear bits of empirical evidence (which you like) to show that reality can actually be better than you imagine, if you’ll take the time to set aside uninformed/ill-informed opinions to look for it! Is life not wonderful or good at all? Is there nobody that you trust deep down? I’ve suffered in life too. I’ve experienced loss as well. I’m not saying this from an ivory tower. Would that there were more games that showed the wonderful joys of life! I wish I could just invite you and your husband over for the weekend to hang out and be uplifted and together we can research all of the stories of empathetic individuals who died for other people. No greater love. Ah… love. We’re human and we have such a profound and deep capacity for love. What love is there in TLOU beyond Sarah’s death? Man, this game… it’s so unnecessarily a pessimistic drag. Pessimism can be helpful, but not I think when it misleads to portraying humanity as inhumane in its entirety in a terrible situation but not one as prolonged as many our history has already seen. Heck… TLOU isn’t even as long as the 20th century and look at all the horrors we endured there: two world wars, civil wars across the world, starvation, superstition, racism… Yet here we are and people are still building, still moving, still believing in something better, still helping “the Other”.

                  I might’ve lost my place in that somewhere or another but I hope I can express that I’m writing as a friend to you. You’re not the first person to tell me that you’ve engaged with TLOU on the basis of cynicism or pessimism. There are ugly things in life but there are a lot of beautiful things, too, if you look for them. I sincerely wish for you to find as many of them as you can someday.

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                • I view TLOU through the lens of “what if.” While of course it’s a pessimistic and cynical view of the zombie apocalypse situation, I look at the actions of all the characters in it and view it through how that world is portrayed. So, the things people do in TLOU might not jive with what they’d do in I Am Legend, because that zombie apocalypse was portrayed in a different way, but I have to take into account the setting of the game, and that’s where my justification for Joel’s actions come from. In that world, in that circumstance, in that emotional state/mental disorder/grief what have you, his actions make sense. Tweak one little thing or change the setting, and it throws it off. It’s like when I was answering the 30 Day Video Game Challenge question about favorite/best artistic style. I can’t answer what’s the best, because it all depends on the game/setting. I wouldn’t have Kirby with the same setting as Castlevania or Metroid, because that would change the whole mien of the game (or if I did do it, it would be for that very reason0. The setting of TLOU *is* crapsack, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian; probably one of the most dystopian settings I’ve ever seen. Environment shapes those who dwell within it, so that environment and those characters made perfect sense, but only to that kind of environment.

                  One thing I noticed was that nobody ever grieved; they just reacted. We never see the grief process, and it’s possible that this was one of the devs points: that grieving is necessary and that bottling up your emotions is devastating and destructive. Maybe it’s because I’m more prone to engage with sadder and darker stories, but I feel there’s more to garner from them.

                  “One problem here is that Joel invented additional scenarios that he was saving Ellie’s life from in order to justify killing an innocent woman who was laying down her gun to talk.” This goes back to the environmental point I made in the above paragraph, but I stand by my statement of if Marlene was willing to kill the child who essentially became her adopted daughter in order to save mankind, it’s not farfetched or out of the realm of possibility that she would try to track them down. Your point about Joel hiding elsewhere instead of Tommy’s if he’d let Marlene live is fair, but he’s thinking of the safest place for them, and who’s to say that Marlene wouldn’t go there and do something in order to extract information out of them. This is why I constantly go back to the “doing terrible things for a good reason” with “good” obviously being relative.

                  “Add to that sadistic torture after getting the info you needed (cabin in the Winter)?” I’m drawing a bit of a blank on this one. If it was the cabin in the winter, it involved the cannibals and knowing what they’ve done and would’ve done. I guess because I’ve written torture scenes before with protagonist characters doing it to those who’ve done far worse, and while I obviously don’t believe in torture in real life, there are some new stories I hear where people hurt/abuse children where I think about things I’d love to do though I’d have to do a lot to quash my empathy, because if I see even a movie with it (or even just a sharp steeple thank you Wegmans, ugh), I can literally feel it.

                  “Haha it’s not that I have no empathy, which is the least accusative statement I’ve taken regarding my impressions of this game. I have been told I have no heart haha!” I apologize if I implied that you have no empathy. That wasn’t my intention, and I definitely don’t think you have no heart lol. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be as revolted by Joel’s actions. One of the “downsides” to studying psychology and having an understanding of how people can get to that point is once you understand the *how,* you understand the *why,* and your mind starts making the “what if” situation. It’s why I find it hard to remain mad at people even when I know they deserve it (and that’s led to emotional abuse because of the “forgive and forget.” You don’t owe anyone forgiveness, and it’s a form of gaslighting and manipulation to insist upon that), because I know that nothing happens in a vacuum, and there are myriad factors at play in human behavior where the amount of free will we think we have might be much less than we’d hope for.

                  “Okay so this is a horrible hypothetical question to lay on you but if someone you loved most in life died (your husband, parent, etc.) and later you let that grief consume you and you only loved one other person again, but that person risked losing their life to do something great, you’re telling me right here that you would go well out of your way to sadistically torture individuals and in some cases innocents before killing them, and after you save this person you love that you would tell them that none of that ever happened and there was no choice to be made or conversation to be had?” In the world as it is today? No, and I also don’t think Joel would have made that choice in this world, because the environment he was in shaped him into what he was. Monstrous environments create monsters, in more ways than one. It’s why my first thought upon seeing the ending was, “How selfish can you be?!” but then when it marinated, and I thought about it, I realized I was looking at it through *my* point of view in my CBI-less world, and it wasn’t fair for me to do that. I can judge his actions as horrible, because they were horrible, but it would be incomplete analysis to ignore what such an environment does to one’s mental state when one *isn’t* emotionally compromised.

                  I agree with you that TLOU is a game about selfish people whereas FFVII is rife with self-sacrifice, and while VII begins in a dystopian city, hope still exists. TLOU’s landscape was devoid of that with the only slim hope being the brain of a 14 girl who’d have to die in order to even test the theory. I know I keep beating this dead horse, but the environment fostered selfishness, and it was part of the “what if” the developers asked when they were crafting the narrative.

                  “A game like TLOU is nothing but extreme pessimism. It is a grim, hopeless, laughably violent, depressing, ugly take on humanity. I think that it misses the mark of “maturity” (as I mentioned in my review) because there’s no subtlety to it, no balance.” I suppose in terms of pessimism there’s no wiggle room. It IS a very pessimistic narrative, but not completely so, because while Ellie is alive, the potential for a cure still lives. This creates a paradox obviously since she’d have to die in order for this to be achieved, but as long as she lives, that sliver of ironic hope is still there. I love things like that. I think it’s beautifully tragic.

                  “Wherever we’ve seen horrible evil we’ve also seen transcendent good. TLOU takes none of that into consideration. ” It doesn’t in the time frame we’re shown, but it’s possible that that occurred within the 20 year time skip. When you found the notes from and about Ish, he was inviting people to live in that community with him where they had a daycare/preschool. Then everything went to hell, the infected got in, and all you see are the results. “They didn’t suffer” in the room with the children. When the pandemic started, I am certain the same kind of heroes you see during natural disasters were doing their all to be good people, but when no cure or decent enough solution was forthcoming and resources start to run low, survival becomes the primary goal. I think it’s feasible to hold onto hope for one, two, five, even possibly ten years, but after 20 years of the entire world being like that, it’s going to fade, and even if something comes along that *might* fix things, people will be skeptical.

                  “Hahaha do you think you husband and your parents and your best friends are like that?” No, not in the world we’re in now, but when humans lose the overarching ability to shape their environment, it will shape them. Looking at this in microcosm, the strong correlation between environmental factors and numerous behaviors.

                  “Who was rebuilding in TLOU?” Tommy and his wife built that community, so some people were, but on a global scale with infected still at large, there’s no way to rebuild while that’s still a factor. When you have a disease that literally turns people into monsters who make more monsters, recovery really isn’t possible until you either destroy or neutralize that factor. Possibly in time more settlements like Tommy’s would crop up, but I hesitate to say how far they could go with CBI still a major factor.

                  “Prove to me that this occurs in every incident of intense familial loss.” There are many people who never recover from intense loss. Complicated bereavement disorder is one name for it. Mourning itself can become a mental disorder and/or it can be a factor in or complicate depression. It doesn’t occur in every incident of it, but around 10-20% according to what I googled from Psychology Today. Yes, there are inspiring stories, but I think inspiration can be “inspiration porn” in the “If I can do it, so can you!” That’s just not true. Everyone processes things differently, and in a brain that’s either prone to or does has a pathology, intense grief is going to complicate things.

                  “I keep hearing about it having this profound statement about human nature is intense in its execution but it’s nowhere near comprehensive. At least have a complete view of humanity.” I think this is their view of humanity in the absence of hope mitigated with intense grief. I understand why you don’t agree with it, because it’s not showing the whole picture, but then again it isn’t* showing the whole picture. It’s possible somewhere else across the ocean something similar is playing out or the situation is different elsewhere, but with lack of communication, it’s impossible to know. TLOU was showing the devastation that would arise in the way of such a pandemic. Maybe the next one will show more. From what I read, it seems they always planned for a sequel.

                  “You can’t have it both ways now. Either you have empathy and so do others to make them care about others’ needs over there own, or nobody has empathy, neither you or I, like TLOU would probably have us believe. So which is it? Are you the only one with empathy or does humanity possess it and the ability to be “humane.”” It’s very possible the majority or all of the empathetic people died or their empathy died within them during those 20 years. I was certainly horrified with those “tourists” were gunned down. The 60% of the people who were dead or infected may have become that way in trying to be heroic. I don’t like the idea that compassion will get you killed, but again with that kind of environment, it very well might. We didn’t get to see the actual “downfall” in steps. We were just shown the introduction and then thrust 20 years into the future to see the aftermath.

                  I’m not entirely cynical, especially not around children. That’s just not right. It’s possible that their idealism will last long enough to make a positive change, and they learn fairly quickly what a hole the world is without having to be told that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I firmly believe in letting children have a childhood with all the imagination and wonder it can bring. It’s one of the things I credit for giving me my imagination and the too many writing ideas I’ll probably never get to. I may understand monsters, but I’m not one lol.

                  “Is that enjoyable? I’m just sad for you.” Actually yes! It’s far more enjoyable than expecting something to be a particular way and being wildly disappointed when it isn’t. Reality always smacks down my expectations, so I usually lower them so it’s not nearly as much of a let down, and if it’s better then hooray! This is coming from someone who completely stopped writing for a months because of the number of rejections she received almost a decade ago. There are really no words to explain how devastating it is to feel that you’re not good enough at the thing you love the most. Now I know inherently that publishing is subjective; however, that doesn’t make it better. it’s the reason I started focusing more on fanfiction, but eventually I’ll have to run that gambit again. It’s also one of the reasons I started blogging. I have my own place to write what I want.

                  I do look forward to some things, but it’s pretty rare and it has to be something that’s *safe* to look forward to like playing MK8 with friends haha.

                  See the pessimism of games like this doesn’t bother me in the least. This could be that it’s falsely confirming a believe I already have and supporting my cognitive dissonance, and maybe I should look at better, more optimistic sources of information, but I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend climate change isn’t happening and the people in power who could do something about it couldn’t care less so long as they can line their pockets. Positive thinking isn’t going to solve that problem. Just like it won’t get you up a flight of steps if you’re in a wheelchair.

                  “There are ugly things in life but there are a lot of beautiful things, too, if you look for them. I sincerely wish for you to find as many of them as you can someday.” I’m pretty much obsessed with beauty lol. I know beautiful and good things exist, and I know the ugliness doesn’t erase the fair, but vice versa as well. I’m not nearly as miserable as I’m sure my comments have made me out to be (I do deal with depression and anxiety, but if I’m out and about in public and not overwhelmed, you wouldn’t know it). On the contrary in person I’m quite outgoing despite being an introvert lol. I’m not saying my worldview is the best either. It’s just what’s worked for me for nearly 40 years. I’ve learned a lot of tricks, because I’ve been lower than I’d like to admit, and what works for me is preparation to a point. The expect/plan for the worst and be happy if things are better mentality.

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                • My heart! Hahaha I don’t know how much more my old ticker can take, so I’ll try to emphasize the points where we can meet and shake hands. I of course absolutely and permanently respect your opinions and the way that you view the world. I couldn’t operate a blog I’m claiming to be building on the basis of championing civil discourse without it, so forgive me if I’ve seemed to trample on you. Self-restraint is a huge virtue I’m trying to work on!

                  So here’s where I can meet you halfway across the bridge: I can view TLOU as a “what if” story too. To my mind, that’s a more significant statement then TLOU making a complete assessment of human nature. I would agree that if TLOU was tweaked just slightly, as in actually having empathetic humans in it, then it throws it off. Again I think you hit the nail on the head. I have a fundamental disagreement of perspective on humanity than those who built this game. Those characters do make sense in that environment, but not as realistic reflections of humanity through all of the terrors of history, so that’s my halfsies with you there.

                  “We never see the grief process, and it’s possible that this was one of the devs points: that grieving is necessary and that bottling up your emotions is devastating and destructive. Maybe it’s because I’m more prone to engage with sadder and darker stories, but I feel there’s more to garner from them.” Wisdom is in the house of mourning. As expressed, the bleakness of TLOU just doesn’t provide a complete picture of humanity. It’s one-sided. Halfsies there. Did the devs talk about the need for grief and not bottling? I’d be interested to hear about that and know that in essence TLOU and Joel’s is a cautionary tale against bottling intense emotion. That would make it possess a realistic reflection on humanity, to my mind.

                  In response to your third paragraph, I can live with that. Point is we’ll never know how successful Joel would be at hiding Marlene or how successful the Fireflies could be at tracking them down. I just don’t happen to think that the possibility of being found was enough justification for Joel to kill her as she laid down her gun and asked to talk.

                  I don’t believe in torture in real life, and I’m glad you don’t either, also I don’t believe it should be advocated for in fiction either. Included in fiction, yes, but not justified in fiction. That’s revelatory of people justifying torture in their minds. I’m not against capital punishment for example for those who’ve abused and murdered children. It’s the sadism and enjoyment Joel seemingly took even after he’d obtained info on Ellie’s location that I find unworthy of defense, to be denounced.

                  “I apologize if I implied that you have no empathy.” Oh my I am not offended in the least haha I think that it’s implicit in a lot of the defenses of TLOU against those who didn’t appreciate certain aspects of it, and I felt that it was implied but please understand that I didn’t remotely take it as a personal insult, and I wouldn’t be angry if you had meant it anyway. I think it’s just one of those ways in which our language works, but I have been called worse for disliking this element of the game! 😀

                  “Monstrous environments create monsters, in more ways than one.” For that I agree but I’ll also fall back upon the balance that the worst situations in life have revealed some of the best people through history. Again, a balance, in situations which have lasted entire lifetimes, not just 20 years, but it’s that balance of human nature that’s lacking in TLOU. I often wonder why depict a story that goes out of its way seemingly to be this dark? I’m sure there a variety of reasons, but I don’t think one of them is because it somehow summarizes all of humanity. Not now, not in any situation that we’ve been in historically, not for any duration of suffering.

                  “I agree with you that TLOU is a game about selfish people whereas FFVII is rife with self-sacrifice, and while VII begins in a dystopian city, hope still exists. TLOU’s landscape was devoid of that with the only slim hope being the brain of a 14 girl who’d have to die in order to even test the theory. I know I keep beating this dead horse, but the environment fostered selfishness, and it was part of the “what if” the developers asked when they were crafting the narrative.” Again, I can meet you here. It’s a poignant “what if” story but I don’t think it encompasses what humans are.

                  “I suppose in terms of pessimism there’s no wiggle room. It IS a very pessimistic narrative, but not completely so, because while Ellie is alive, the potential for a cure still lives. This creates a paradox obviously since she’d have to die in order for this to be achieved, but as long as she lives, that sliver of ironic hope is still there. I love things like that. I think it’s beautifully tragic.” No! Haha Joel did everything he could to ensure that that cure couldn’t be harvested. The leadership of the Fireflies was dead and their surgeon/doctors. Who knows what knowledge was lost? Who knows if anyone else even knew what to look for? That’s hypothetical of course but consider the damage that a single Joel caused at that hospital. It must’ve crippled if not eradicated the FF’s capabilities. He did as much as he could to ensure that humanity could not rebuild and that Ellie would continue to live a life of suffering on the run from monsters. All because he wanted her for himself. The way it ended, I saw no hope at all but we’ll probably have to wait for the sequel (which I won’t be rushing out to play).

                  “I think it’s feasible to hold onto hope for one, two, five, even possibly ten years, but after 20 years of the entire world being like that, it’s going to fade, and even if something comes along that *might* fix things, people will be skeptical.” I think that you can find plenty of examples in history where conditions of suffering, oppression, and civilization being decimated lasted longer than 20 years and good still existed in some hearts. Not many, not all, but some. The endurance of “humanity” in humanity is something that TLOU throws out the window with everything like the sanctity of life and empathy. Like Red Metal pointed out in his review, how is anyone still alive at all if it’s just: “Oh look! They’re not infected but they’re alive, let’s kill them!”

                  “No, not in the world we’re in now, but when humans lose the overarching ability to shape their environment, it will shape them.” Humans didn’t lose that ability in TLOU… as you point out in the next paragraph: Tommy was rebuilding and are we to expect that his was the only such free colony in the world and that Joel and Ellie just stumbled into it? Even should civilization collapse entirely, which it hadn’t at this point because local governments still existed, humanity has survived without civilization and built up from there before.

                  “When you have a disease that literally turns people into monsters who make more monsters, recovery really isn’t possible until you either destroy or neutralize that factor. Possibly in time more settlements like Tommy’s would crop up, but I hesitate to say how far they could go with CBI still a major factor.” Given everything we know from the game, I thought that it seemed clear the infection would burn itself out? If in time the infected because motionless piles of fungus, then barring new infections (which radical settlements could attempt to ensure), the infection would eventually disappear. In how long? Well, 20 years later there were some originally infected who had become motionless piles of fungus. Foreseeably, the situation could last a lifetime but building and rebuilding could ensure a better future, tentatively, if any of the “humans” in TLOU actually possessed humane attributes.

                  “There are many people who never recover from intense loss. Complicated bereavement disorder is one name for it. Mourning itself can become a mental disorder and/or it can be a factor in or complicate depression. It doesn’t occur in every incident of it, but around 10-20% according to what I googled from Psychology Today. Yes, there are inspiring stories, but I think inspiration can be “inspiration porn” in the “If I can do it, so can you!” That’s just not true. Everyone processes things differently, and in a brain that’s either prone to or does has a pathology, intense grief is going to complicate things.” You’re getting my point here. It’s not that every incident causes someone to become Joel. It’s not that every incident causes someone to become an inspiration. The point is: it’s not entirely one-sided! And on that basis TLOU doesn’t make a profound statement about all of human nature, because not everyone is like Joel. Or maybe that infection killed off the 80-90% and left only the 10-20% alive? That’d be convenient for the sake of this self-indulgently dark story. Maybe the fungus targeted people whose brains were capable of grasping things like helping others and thinking of others, y’know for survival. I don’t think that preserving ones own life at all costs is the only aspect of survival after all. TLOU is less than realistic.

                  “I think this is their view of humanity in the absence of hope mitigated with intense grief. I understand why you don’t agree with it, because it’s not showing the whole picture, but then again it isn’t* showing the whole picture. It’s possible somewhere else across the ocean something similar is playing out or the situation is different elsewhere, but with lack of communication, it’s impossible to know. TLOU was showing the devastation that would arise in the way of such a pandemic. Maybe the next one will show more. From what I read, it seems they always planned for a sequel.” To clarify, my position is not that I dislike TLOU because it doesn’t show the whole picture of humanity, which it’s free to do as a story, but my dislike is for the argument that TLOU is great because it shows us what humanity is like, which is this all-encompassing statement. We’ve moved on from that, so thank you, but you can see how many times it played out in these comments and you can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard that argument in PMs and chats elsewhere.

                  “It’s very possible the majority or all of the empathetic people died or their empathy died within them during those 20 years. I was certainly horrified with those “tourists” were gunned down. The 60% of the people who were dead or infected may have become that way in trying to be heroic.” Given that I think more people would go out of their way to help someone in need versus raping a child or shooting an unarmed woman (though those things happen) that would be extremely convenient for the infection to have wiped out all the “good people”! The thing with goodness and empathy is it makes martyrs out of the good people. This is something else you can find played out through history and I’m certain after only a few short years we’d have been left with at least some people like that. Again, it’s not TLOU’s fault for not showing all people in existence, but its fans can’t proclaim the game to be indicative of all human nature if that’s the case. If it’s not the whole pie then why say it defines the whole pie in reality? Halfsies here is where we find our worldviews to overlap but we’ve already touched on that.

                  As far as cynicism and children, this is why it’s something that’s so important to me to continue to see the world with a child’s eyes. Not in terms of a lack of education or understanding or the idleness of childhood, but with an emphasis on innocence and wonder and awe and joy. Why lose that as an adult? Because we realize that everyone else is an adult that’s lost the same thing? It needn’t be that way. I’m glad you’re not a monster. I don’t think that you are. I think humans are better than that.

                  ” Reality always smacks down my expectations.” But why? Is it because the expectations are unrealistic? Is it because there’s absolutely nothing to find pleasure or contentment in in any situation in life? I’m just curious. I mean rejection is terrible of course but look at the silver lining in that. You’re getting the chance to better present yourself and refine yourself. Being rejected is valuable. And it’s certainly better than a lot of the other suffering conditions we could find ourselves in. I think it would be something to be thankful about. And it’s not like I’ve never known rejection either. I think in a lot of ways life comes down to attitude. I’ve had crappy days and good days where the same essential things happened. How I take rejection is up to me. I’m not in any way attempting to belittle your experiences, because look you found blogging (something you enjoy) through rejection. If you were never rejected, would you have met the friends you’ve made here? Bright side.

                  MK8D! I practiced today!

                  “See the pessimism of games like this doesn’t bother me in the least. This could be that it’s falsely confirming a believe I already have and supporting my cognitive dissonance, and maybe I should look at better, more optimistic sources of information, but I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend climate change isn’t happening and the people in power who could do something about it couldn’t care less so long as they can line their pockets. Positive thinking isn’t going to solve that problem. Just like it won’t get you up a flight of steps if you’re in a wheelchair.” Positive thinking isn’t going to solve the problem? Is negative thinking? Of course not! “Thinking” of any kind isn’t enough to move anything, but it starts there.

                  Haha is just plain thinking of any kind going to solve the problem? In that case, will a positive mindset be able to come up with positive solutions or is a negative mindset going to come up with negative solutions? Both of them can represent “heads in sand” when they become selfish but it seems to me that moaning or being pessimistic about everything wrong with the world is less useful in solving the world’s issues than positively acting upon our available resources and inspiring and education (both positive things) people to do and be better than they are! Dystopia won’t solve anything. I don’t know that I’m prepared to write a thesis on the values of optimism vs pessimism but like I mentioned in the previous comment, both extremes are foolish. The balance is reality in the middle, and I’ve found that you can motivate people to do and be better on positive notes like inspiration, education, friendship, mentorship, self-esteem, and being there for people versus negative things like guilt, distrust, depression, complaining, and hatred. Don’t you? I’m sure with everything we can see going wrong in the world that you and I as writers want to be forces for change, so then the question is how do you best facilitate change: positive change or negative change? Progress is positive, paralysis is negative. It’s not a matter of cognitive dissonance or actively ignoring reality. It’s a matter of the drive to make changes, and I think setting higher standards and expectations for people rather than lower ones is the only way to get things done. If we’re just setting the lowest expectations so as not to be disappointed, who’s going to be our next president?!

                  ” I know the ugliness doesn’t erase the fair, but vice versa as well. ” That is exactly, exactly, exactly my point. Life is full of both and we have choices to make about them, which to focus on, which to primarily think on, which to advocate, which to denounce. I’m not out to change your perspective on life (can’t do that in a handful of comments) but I’m sure this could help you fight off some of that depression a lot of us deal with. It’s helped me. Beauty in the face of ugly. Goodness in the face of evil. Be inspired. Set expectations and then achieve them. Look at your resources and make the best of them. Contentment where you are and aspirations for the future. I’ll meet you halfway here past the end of TLOU and reach out my hand and tell you that yes there is hope. Your worldview has worked for you and maybe we’re having this conversation for a reason (*wink* hahaha!), to maybe find some things that will work not just for you but for our world, together.

                  Liked by 2 people

                • You’re not trampling on me in the least! It’s an intense discussion, but it’s one without the typical ad hominem attacks and logical fallacies I normally run into on the internet. I used to become highly defensive when someone would have a different opinion, buuut that was usually because some of the people I know IRL used ad hominem attacks, so I just grew used to being defensive, because I was expecting an attack. A lot of that was based on my love of FFVII. There’s a few friends I have who love FFVI who were never mean or antagonistic to me about it, and they’re the friends I share the sweet FFVI links with hehe, but I think I’ve mentioned before my past issues with some gaming circles so I was pleasantly surprised by WP’s non-antagonistic space. I mean I just finished playing a video game with three guys; I wasn’t very good at racing, but there were no sexist/misogynistic comments. It’s not a toxic environment; therefore there’s no need for me to expect toxic actions nor behave in the same manner to mitigate it, and LOL I *may* have inadvertently made a parallel to TLOU 😉 Anyway, I’m not feeling attacked by this conversation. Contrary opinions force me to argue my point in a rational way and come up with different arguments and examples; it’s essentially practice for essay/review writing. They make me think about new circumstances that I might not have. It’s like problem solving!

                  I noticed the grief thing pretty quickly into the game and took it down in my notes for review. Now whether or not people just learned not to grieve because they didn’t have the luxury of doing so or they’d seen so much horror and death, it just became natural I’m not sure. I may be cynical and skeptical, but I’ll never be to THAT point. It could also be the “survival of the fittest” attitude the devs seemed to be highlighting where showing grief is similar to showing weakness.

                  I’ll admit I’ve had “good” characters torture people for what they believe are valid reasons, but then again these characters are more dark/antiheroes, and I also think my defense of Joel (as it were) comes out of having written characters with similar emotional damage. They don’t live in the same world (though there *are* undead, but the circumstances are a bit different), so I might have an “insider” point of view since I’ve been in that head space before as a writer. To be absolutely honest, when I finished TLOU and thought about it, I was stunned that its narrative bears an uncanny resemblance to my first novel, but the character who’d be “Ellie” calls the character who would be “Joel” out constantly and consistently on his (for lack of a better term) BS, and when the “rescue” happens is extremely angry with him for a time. Granted, he doesn’t lie to her, but there are similarities especially in terms of sacrifice.

                  I think empathy has its limits. Whether or not it should is a discussion for another day. I do get REALLY annoyed when someone comes along and makes an argument for why I should feel bad for a character I hate, and there’s one particular point that’s my kryptonite, and it irks me to no end. But any character who is developed enough will inspire it in a certain percentage of the population. So while I don’t feel any guilt for what happened to David, I’m sure there are people who do (blech but every character has a fan base).

                  I thought the infection worked in those four stages of runner, clicker, bloater, and then the fourth stage where the body would completely die/decompose and release the spores, which would also infect other people. So there were two ways of being infected. Breathing in the spores or being bitten by an infected person.

                  “…my dislike is for the argument that TLOU is great because it shows us what humanity is like, which is this all-encompassing statement.” Yeah, I think we’ve covered this, and I suppose the only other thing I could say is it’s only showing *that* portion of humanity that is behaving that way, though (and this could just be for lack of seeing them), I do think it’s one of the best examples of a more realistic zombie apocalypse with how it expands on something that actual exists. While cordyceps only infects ants (for now…D:), they kept up with the accuracy, and how (a certain portion of) the population would react to it and survive after 20 years seems accurate (to me), too. I’d be willing to entertain other zombie apocalyptic narratives that might do it as well/better. In fact, I’d love to compare/contrast.

                  Life can come down to attitude if you’re able to change/modify your attitude and have some modicum of control of your circumstances/situation. I’m careful with making claims like that because not everyone is able to mitigate the negative experiences. They stick to some more than others. It’s why two people can go through the same experience and one can be able to shake it off, but the other will have PTSD. I used to be critical of people who couldn’t “act” okay when they had to, because I can and have done so pretty much my entire life out of necessity, but not everyone has the ability to do that, and even though I *can* it doesn’t mean I’m okay. I just learning how to not make a “scene,” because it would earn me attention I didn’t want. As we learn more and more about psychology and how the brain operates, we’re seeing that much of what we think is choice/free will really isn’t as voluntary. I’m not saying there aren’t ways to (attempt to) improve your mood or recognize poor behavior, but treating the brain and any issues with it in a similar fashion to how we’d treat any other malfunctioning organ is going to work out better in the long run. Granted, the brain is the most complicated organ in your body and quite possibly the most complex “device” on the planet, but the first step to solving any problem is acknowledging and and looking for a source.

                  Unfortunately, “positive thinking” is often put forth as the end all/be all of any critical issue, and while thinking of any sort won’t do anything on its own, so called positive thinking won’t even acknowledge that a problem exist, whereas negative thinking e.g. people just keep dying at this intersection could spur some action e.g. there should be a light here. Obviously both can be pathological, but the continuous negative usually happens when an attempt to fix the problem occurs, but nothing gets done because a certain subset doesn’t see anything wrong. There has to be a source for solutions and that starts with thinking, words, ideas, etc.

                  It’s really hard to explain how my brain works haha. I think people have the viewpoint that I’m miserable inside especially when I say I’m not a happy person (or they’re confused because of the outgoing thing). And that’s not to say I don’t find happiness or excitement in things like tonight’s MK8 session was kick ass! I had so much fun, and it was a great time, but my I suppose “normal” state aka default isn’t happy. Like writing in any way doesn’t make me happy per se. It’s the thing I’m supposed to do. It makes me feel fulfilled/content what have you. When I finish a novel or essay I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment, because I love discourse and deep conversations and everything I put out there opens up that possibility.

                  Ah! The Oatmeal, who is a fairly prolific internet comic, made a strip that perfectly explained it. That’s one good thing about the internet. There are so many people who are now connected that damn near anything thought or feeling you have is probably shared by a good portion of them who can finally put into words something I’ve never been able to express despite my impressive lexicon. There’s some crudeness to it (he has a particular type of humor), but it comes down to the idea that our definition of “happy” isn’t very good. It’s ephemeral and often out of reach for many, but just because you’re not happy, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing things that are meaningful.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. The Last of Us is not on my list of top ten favourite games, but I’m glad I played it. I don’t particularly enjoy horror, and the zombie genre in particular leaves me cold. This, however, was different. I think I may have had a different relationship with the character of Joel than you had as—somewhat sadly—I could relate to where he was coming from. He had been reduced to a shell of a man in much the same way as the hunters, the hunted and the infected. I liked Naughty Dog’s portrayal of this deeply flawed individual as it showed him choosing to do good, even if wasn’t always for the best reasons. It’s interesting to me that he chose to help Ellie for selfish reasons at the beginning of the story (gotta get the weapons cache back) and then chose to help her for… well, selfish reasons at the end (I don’t care if humanity dies—I can’t be without her). Does this make him unlovely in the extreme? Absolutely. I do, however, tend to find this kind of story far more compelling than if he had made all the right choices at the end in order to make the narrative a bit more neat and palatable (not that I’m saying that you’re saying this). I think stories like this tend to force me to engage with myself more honestly, to assess my own motives and agendas in everyday life. Am I really being as selfless as I think I am? Isn’t it worth doing good anyway, even knowing that my motives are wrong? Can good still arise from such emotional ugliness? I feel that the story in The Last of Us challenges us to think about that. Perhaps it’s a parable about learning to care, even as we make the wrong choices (which all of us inevitably will at some point or another). We can’t wait for our inner and outer worlds to align perfectly in order to act. There is only now and our incomplete selves. Man, I’m getting a bit existential there, so I’ll stop. Suffice to say, when I put the controller down at the end of the game, I did cry, and it was cathartic. Anyway, while I might respectfully disagree with you on some elements of the game’s characterisations and narrative, I can see that you’ve given an honest and nuanced assessment that I wish there was more of in gaming journalism. And, no, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that what you’ve created here is a fine piece of gaming journalism. It was an absolute pleasure to read. Please, keep it up, my friend. It’s absolutely worthwhile, and has merit.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Your first sentence captures my thoughts on the game. It’s of obvious quality but I didn’t particularly enjoy its character arcs, the ending, its gratuitous moments, and the way interactivity in a game got in the way of their storytelling. That’s where we’ll have to respectfully disagree but we can agree that it was a game of high caliber. I can see the point about the Last of Us encouraging self-reflection on selflessness versus selfishness. I just happen to think that Joel went so far out of my reach, and immersion in his character, that it would’ve been better suited to a movie when I wouldn’t be forced to do things through him that I felt were insane. He represents more than just hypocrisy or selfishness, to me he’s more like someone who just went off the deep end. That seems needlessly dark for where Joel’s arc was going for almost the entire game.

      Thank you for your exceeding kindness in saying such things about my article! I appreciate you reading and expressing yourself with such courtesy. You’re an inspiration to me to do the same, even when I disagree with someone. Civil discourse can save our generation!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember you saying in our recent discussions that at the end of the day ‘games are games’. It would be a sad day if we were to get into biffo territory over something like that, my friend. It looks like everyone else here has the same attitude too. You’ve got a fine group of readers around you here, Red. (Can I call you Red?) 😛

        Liked by 1 person

        • Feel free to call me whatever you like but I’ve been called a lot worse than “Red” before! I like it, as an online moniker. 🙂

          I can’t take credit for this readership and I’m sure thankful that they are so thoughtful and courteous! You’re a part of that, too, so thank you to you as well. Sadly, I’ve been a part of many conversations which came to verbal fisticuffs over opinions on games, many times due to my instigation and short-sighted self-importance, but that’s something I’ve been trying to work on.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this game! It was a very fun post to read. I too played this despite it not being my typical game type. I avoid zombie games or anything of the like because I find that the payoff of the game doesn’t compare to the months of my imagination running wild any time I’m outside by myself. This being said, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Last of Us. I tag-teamed it with my husband so that I didn’t have to play the more stressful parts, of course.

    I did have a few thoughts to add to the narrative section of this review. You mention that Joel takes the autonomy away from Ellie in the end of the game by lying to her about the true nature of what happened at the hospital. This is very true, and an excellent point. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of the game’s ending lie.
    Rather than detracting from the narrative, for me, this adds to it. If I recall (without playing the game again right this moment), their whole journey starts out with a similar lack of autonomy. Ellie doesn’t have a choice in going with Joel. She’s just supposed to go with him. And Joel doesn’t care if she wants to or not, he just has to deliver her. He makes it clear throughout the beginning of the journey that once she’s delivered, he’s done with her.
    As the story progresses, Joel begins to form a connection with Ellie and eventually starts to recognize that despite the chaos and wretched state of the world (and humanity, apparently), Ellie is a pretty cool human and he begins to trust and love her.
    As they near their destination, I seem to remember him giving her the option to turn back, to take a different course. She decides to continue forward. Now, if memory serves, the Firefly group makes it sound like Ellie will be fine after the operation. When Joel learns that this is not true, his faith in humanity (which Ellie restored at least a little, healing the gaping wound left by losing his daughter) is shattered once again. He finds himself in the process of losing another daughter, and sees the monstrous lie that the Fireflies handed to the pair of them. The revelation shakes his world back down to what it had been at the start of the game. Joel goes into grizzled survivor mode again and, determined not to lose Ellie, loses all control and rips through the hospital to rescue her.
    When he denies Ellie autonomy in the end, he is still acting under this reborn sense of preservation. He saw that giving her autonomy put her in grave danger at the hands of people who were supposedly going to do no harm. Taking away her choice seems like the only way to save her. Besides that, he already knows that his relationship with her is on the line no matter what he does. If she finds out the truth, they are toast. But what would have happened if he told her the truth? “Honestly, your life could have saved humanity but I decided that you were more valuable as a person than as a cure and now humanity might be doomed because you matter. Live with that for the rest of however long we have left.” Not only would this have destroyed their relationship, but think about what it would have done to Ellie.
    So the long and short of it is that this is a narrative in which we see great change in Joel, only to see him revert to his former self at the critical moment, change entirely revoked. Stories where change occurs and is lost, or where change is offered and refused don’t happen often, but they are intriguing when they do! It makes me look forward to the next chapter in their story. Will Joel have a shot at reclaiming his change, or is he stuck like this now?
    Anyway, thanks again for this post! Sorry I left you a small novel in the comments!

    Liked by 5 people

    • I love small novel comments! I’m only sorry it takes me so long to respond to them. I’ve been working through these in order and this has been a tough game to express my thoughts on, especially in response to the thoughtful commenters who stopped by. I’m interested to hear that you’re not a “zombie junkie” either. Playing through this game for the first time, I’m glad that it didn’t really feel like a constant zombie game. I don’t think I remember them even using the word “zombie” at all.

      I should clarify that the lie, and the moments leading up to it, don’t necessarily “detract” from the narrative for me. Rather, those last scenes and Joel’s completely insane decisions right up at the end, which I wouldn’t make and didn’t agree with, or even see coming in his arc, ensured that any immersion and investment I had in the character evaporated and Joel became just completely repelling and disgusting to me. I hoped for a lot more with his character and I felt his actions ruined the catalyst for his character, threw dirt on his daughter’s death, and objectified Ellie (a great character) as his “stand in”. It’s one thing to have a flawed character, tragedies are filled with them, but it’s another thing for a character to make a 180′ right at the end of the game and throw the player for an unexpected loop, presumably for shock factor or to make a statement about the depravity of humanity (those two being the chief defenses I’ve received for this game’s ending). The result for me was not moving, not really even shocking, but disappointing and unimpressive. I didn’t feel like the ending was earned, turning a man who’d suffered great loss into an obsessive maniac is about as revolting and hopelessly depressing as anyone could imagine, and maybe that’s why they went with that ending, which to me smacks of the complaint I made that TLoU occasionally seems like it’s trying to be more “adult” than its story demanded.

      “As the story progresses, Joel begins to form a connection with Ellie and eventually starts to recognize that despite the chaos and wretched state of the world (and humanity, apparently), Ellie is a pretty cool human and he begins to trust and love her.” This is what we all saw coming and I think the ending throws that in the dumpster and lights it on fire. In the end, it’s apparent that Joel doesn’t treat Ellie as a human with free will or autonomy, nor does he even trust her so he lies to her rather than tell her the truth, and finally those things really make it clear that he absolutely does not love her at all. Imagine if I took away free will and lied to my children? Would you say I loved them as a good father? Or would you say I was just using them to make myself feel good? That’s using others, not loving them.

      “As they near their destination, I seem to remember him giving her the option to turn back, to take a different course. She decides to continue forward.” You are correct here, so thanks for pointing that out. This is possibly the last glimmer of real love and humanity in Joel, giving her one last option.

      “Now, if memory serves, the Firefly group makes it sound like Ellie will be fine after the operation. When Joel learns that this is not true, his faith in humanity (which Ellie restored at least a little, healing the gaping wound left by losing his daughter) is shattered once again.” This is actually different than it plays out in the game. You can rewatch the scene on YouTube. Joel wakes in the Firefly base and 30 seconds later he finds out that Ellie is being prepped for surgery on her brain to remove the infection, which Marlene informs will kill her. Joel flips out. Marlene leaves. Joel tortures and kills guard. Joel slaughters the Firefly battalion. Joel kills the surgeon to rescue Ellie, dooming mankind. Joel flees through the hospital muttering “baby girl” to himself like a madman. Joel kills Marlene. Joel drives away with Ellie and lies to her. Joel and Ellie climb up a ridge toward Tommy’s and Joel reiterates his lie. It’s shocking but unimpressive and unearned, because Joel just flips and loses his mind at the last few scenes and throws away the entire game. I liked a lot about this game but I’ll never appreciate this ending since it throws away his character, ruins his arc, trashes the bond we both cherished between he and Ellie, smells suspiciously of sequelitis, and it’s ethically and morally reprehensible, especially for a man who was at first so pitiable.

      “He saw that giving her autonomy put her in grave danger at the hands of people who were supposedly going to do no harm. Taking away her choice seems like the only way to save her.” Save her for himself. That’s the key. He is exactly the same as David at that point, except he’s interested in her as a daughter-figure stand-in and not her as an object for sex. That’s markedly better, obviously, but it still renders her less a human being than an object, a plot device as far as Joel’s concerned, and that’s again a shame considering how good of a strong female character Ellie is. He could’ve been noble and told her the truth, that he wanted to protect her, and give her the option to do what she wanted to do with her own life, but instead he torches everything, including their relationship anyway, considering she sounded like she suspected the truth. Rephrase “Honestly, your life could have saved humanity but I decided that you were more valuable as [a thing that makes me feel better and helps me cope with my personal loss] than as a cure and now humanity might be doomed because you matter. Live with that for the rest of however long we have left.”

      Ellie might have accepted that Joel wanted to save her life but she could respect that he’d give her the opportunity to decide what she’d want to do with herself, if he’d allowed her, couldn’t she? Are there many other characters that go as far as Joel only to throw it all away at the very last moment in a fit of madness? How earned would you feel the ending of Lord of the Rings would be if Frodo didn’t throw in the ring and Gollum didn’t do it for him? As for where the story goes from here, check out the comment by Red Metal here. I agree with him and I think they’ll probably just kill him off for more points in the “hopelessly sad” department. The Last of Us was relentless, powerful in its presentation, but not a piece of art that makes any valuable statement or treats its characters in any respectful or sensible way, so far as I’m concerned. I do appreciate the comment and I hope I haven’t expressed myself too strongly. Someone else here said that this game forms strong opinions, so there’s that to its credit at least!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Haha I love your rephrase. That was a pretty good addition!
        I think that overall, the conclusion that I eventually found that made me feel like the ending was earned was that it seemed to me like a depiction of overcoming trauma. Joel loses his daughter, but he doesn’t just lose her. He witnesses her be shot by someone who should have been in a position to protect her. He held her while she died, and listened to her frightened sobs before she fell still in his arms. A life-altering trauma, to be sure. Trauma like that can drastically change someone’s personality, as we see in Joel in the beginning of the game. And of course, the game does a lot of healing for him up until he finds himself in the same situation. Just like with his daughter, he finds Ellie in a situation where someone in a position to protect her is ready to kill her. It’s a huge betrayal, but also a trigger moment.
        Now, there are two ways this could have gone. One, Joel overcomes the trauma of the past and tries to rescue Ellie, possibly without killing people. But he knows he has next to no time to save her. The other way is the one that plays out: Joel lapses back into the traumatic moment when his daughter died. The stress triggers the hardened man from the beginning to spring to life as a defense. Humans naturally try to protect themselves from trauma just like they do from physical pain.
        In trauma mode, Joel lapses into a self that has only one goal: stop the pain. He has to stop Ellie from dying no matter what. After, he does not manage to remove himself from damage-control mode. He stats in it, something that likely becomes apparent to Ellie.
        The 180 that entirely diverts his changes fascinates me. Stories are stories because something has to change, but the character has to take that change and accept it. Joel doesn’t. Perhaps it’s this that makes me feel like the ending, though not entirely satisfying, was earned. And I agree, it does open the sequel nicely. But I got the sense that it’s because this story isn’t over yet. Joel failed his opportunity to change. Now it is Ellie’s turn to take the story forward. I look forward to that.
        As a parting thought, I enjoyed imagining a similar twist in LoTR. But then I started thinking and I decided that it wouldn’t feel right because it would come out of nowhere. Frodo doesn’t have a significant trauma in his past that has shaped his personality for decades. He just lived in the Shire. Granted, his experiences upon leaving the Shire are quite traumatic, and almost make him abandon ship at the end. His trauma is fresh, but it isn’t so imbedded in him that facing a new threat is going to send him into a survival-driven madness to escape it. It helps that his final push isn’t a mirror of the traumas he faces, and that his particular traumas are not as destructive as holding your daughter while she dies.
        Thanks for the conversation! It’s really great to see your perspectives. I’m not a dad, so the ending didn’t strike as strong of a personal chord with me as it did for you!

        Liked by 2 people

        • I definitely see the impetus and catalyst for Joel in that trauma and that made him a character I cared about for a lot of the game. I personally think he went too far (not just in murdering but in torturing, and eventually keeping the truth from Ellie) to really say he loved Ellie at the end, which is tragic in my eyes but as you’re pointing out here it’s also one that isn’t unheard of or unexplainable from a natural, protective, trauma-related perspective. I didn’t necessarily think that Joel’s actions were unexplainable so much as repulsive, especially considering I think he threw away his bond with Ellie in the end, the central thing that was beautiful about this game. ANYWAYS… I’ve gone on for so long and I’m sure I’m just repeating myself. Haha! I appreciate the conversations, too! And thanks for your niceness during it all. There’s also a lot of very smart people here and I just can’t keep up! These comments prove that people can express their disagreements without resorting to name calling, on the internet no less! O_O

          Liked by 1 person

  5. SPOILERS
    The ending to me was never emotional, and I’m not sure if it was to most people either. Maybe it’s how fans have a hard time expressing it is what made you go into it expecting an emotional ending because all most could say without spoiling it is “Wow!” And these types of zombie apocalypse stories are typical and a lot end in some kind of sob-story, so that could have been another factor. Perhaps a number of fans did try to say that it was emotional, but when I try to explain the ending without spoiling it, it’s more that I’m trying to express shock. The ending is shocking, and I think that’s what a lot of fans are trying to get at. It’s shocking how the story just ends with revealing how extremely selfish and manipulative Joel is. He’s a character arc of the Biblical type. You don’t have to necessarily agree with him either. Unless you’re like some of the apathetic teenagers I saw in the Teens React to The Last of Us finale, which surprised me at the extent to which teens would make awful decisions. Then again, hardly any of us made great decisions or had very many good ideas when we were teens.

    On to the next point: I think the game is not about whether or not you were entertained or enjoyed, but the emotional reaction you have to it. Not every video game has to be enjoyable or entertaining, but I understand if that’s what you personally want out of a video game because this medium is more work than a movie or novel. But games like this are attempting to get more out of you the way films and novels do. The Last of Us is survival horror, like Alien: Isolation. Do you enjoy Alien: Isolation overall? Not really, because it’s supposed to emulate the feeling of fear and dread. Arkham Asylum is a game you praised for it’s claustrophobic moments, and that’s not a feeling people like either. So I don’t believe games are meant to be purely enjoyment or entertainment. It’s putting you in the shoes of a protagonist to experience something stressful and challenging that you couldn’t otherwise. The overall emotion you seem to be experiencing is disgust, and it is a completely reasonable reaction. You are disgusted and horrified at the lack of humanity this world of this game expresses, but when the our species is dying off, there’s not much left than a survival instinct. It’s not a fun experience, but maybe it’s an important one.

    Like you said with movies: there are movies that are miserable like Schindler’s List and Grave of the Fireflies. There are miserable movies like the torture porn types too, but those are just gratuitous, and don’t have any redeemable qualities. The miserable movies that have purpose are the ones where you learn something important. I saw a movie recently called Come and See, and it may be the most horrific movie I’ve seen yet that wasn’t gratuitous. It drains you in it’s neorealistic depiction of WWII, and while I can’t say I look forward to seeing it again, I can say I learned a thing or two about humanity– what we’re capable of doing and withstanding, but maybe that’s something I already knew too. Movies like these make you more empathetic to contemporary situations, because what you see on the news echoes what happened then, and to learn empathy may be the most important about us. That’s why I believe reading books, watching movies, or playing video games simply for escapism is extremely limiting (I am not accusing for subscribing to escapism btw). From art like this you’re supposed to take away an opinion, connect or understand others, and think how differently you would done things. You took away a strong opinion, and I think that’s the most important thing. Video games are attempting that nowadays, and it’s not something the medium is used to.

    But hey, that’s just a theory, a GAME theory.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Oh I can just hear that dudes snarky voice in my head now, thanks. Actually, thanks for taking the time to read all these words and leaving a thoughtful response of your own. I know you understand the points I’ve tried to make.

      So here are some of the things I heard when friends, colleagues, peers, tweeters, and fellow writers found out I was playing through the Last of Us. I got a lot of “the ending made me cry for hours” and “the feels from that ending” and things like that. I won’t blame my reaction to the ending on the hype or feedback that people gave me about it before I experienced it, but that said I certainly did go in expecting at least an ending that was some kind of massive tragedy. Considering the sadness of a lot of this game’s scenes, that’s what I was expecting, a sob-story, right up until the credits rolled. That’s why I felt like I’d missed something enough to immediately jump online and see if I got the “bad ending” for not completing an in-game task or something along those lines. I completely see your perspective that the ending was shocking. That’s an apt way to describe it. For me, it was shocking without being moving, without emotional impact, so it seemed brutal just to be brutal with Joel lying to Ellie to keep her for himself. I went back and rewatched the ending again shortly after and I still felt it was just lackluster, illustrating Joel’s selfishness and that’s it. Maybe launching the need for a sequel, too. At this point, I have to ask why it is that articulate and intelligent people I know expressed the ending in this way? Maybe they actually were saddened by it? The disconnect of immersion from not seeing things through Joel’s eyes anymore, since he went in a sudden direction that he didn’t seem to be going, ruined any emotional connection the ending could’ve had for me. That disconnect is essentially my biggest problem with the game and it stems from the way Joel’s character was treated. I’m not sure I’m phrasing this all clearly (it took me 9k words to make my points), so there are a few other commenters here I’d recommend reading (Red Metal) who saw the same thing and expressed the same point much better.

      “On to the next point: I think the game is not about whether or not you were entertained or enjoyed, but the emotional reaction you have to it.” With my philosophy for gaming taken into considering and the lack of emotional reaction that I had to it, this essentially sums up why the game didn’t resonate with me. Without any (profound) emotional response to it, it was just watching a bunch of awful people do terrible things to each other. I don’t believe games are meant to be purely enjoyment or entertainment either and I can empathize with the rebuttal that “this is art which makes a statement”, to which my response is what statement is that? That human beings suck? Human beings are selfish? I don’t need a plodding, unashamedly depressing game with a mid-story stunted protagonist to tell me that, especially without any hint of a solution to the bleakness of human nature. In other words, I see the point that art is supposed to make a statement and not just be entertainment, but since I happened to find any kind of statement in the Last of Us to be minimal, jarring, unearned, or of little value, unmoving and generally not impactful or pointed, then there’s not much here for me anyway. The “statement” of the Last of Us is like a placard, a statement said in isolation without any other questions asked of it or anything else explored in it, like why are humans so sucky or what can they do to be less sucky or what can you do after suffering loss to recover (as seen through a character arc, not expositon), so the central statement of the game isn’t packaged in an intriguing way. If there’s another big theme takeaway from this game, I’d like to know it. “From art like this you’re supposed to take away an opinion”, which I get, so there’s that if that was its primary goal. The loss of innocence theme is interesting but again it’s a factoid and that’s all.

      I did like the gameplay, visuals, and music at least. As someone else here also said: I don’t want to take away the enjoyment that other people might’ve had with this game, but this wasn’t for me and I don’t know if I could be one of those gamers that ONLY plays games like this. I can think of quite a few bleak and ultra-violent pieces of art that make their point much clearer and with greater impact. It’s like A Clockwork Orange but more petty and less shocking. It’s like The Men Behind the Sun accept there’s no necessity for its existence based on actual war crimes committed in our history.

      Thanks for not accusing me of subscribing to escapism. I appreciate art in different varieties but I think here that the presentation of this being a video game, taking so much work to get through, and the layer of interactivity just took me out of the experience. Could’ve been a great movie because then at least I wouldn’t be forced to move a character forward that I’d completely lost any sympathy for. What’s your take on Joel’s character? Do you see my perspective on him being pretty much the same as David by the end of the game, after all the teasing that the game does with his heart softening and then him becoming a torturer and murderer right up until the very end just to keep this objectified daughter-figure for himself? That goes way beyond making mistakes or being a hypocrite.

      We see eye to eye on a lot of this and I agree with your points, that the Last of Us is art which doesn’t need to be enjoyable escapism, it’s just that this particular art failed to move me and I wondered exactly why that was the case. You are absolutely right on when you said “You took away a strong opinion, and I think that’s the most important thing.” Given the kind of responses this article is getting, a lot of people have some very strong opinions, and I appreciate that you and I can have this discussion about our opinions just as civilly. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of a more nutshell-esque way to phrase my perspective: The Last of Us is art but it doesn’t make a statement which I found compatible with its presentation or which I found moving or profound, so it just exists. It is art but its shock factor is just shocking (disturbing) and nothing else to me.

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    • Wow… you blew my mind that you remembered this. One year ago you said: “Generally, any long cinematic is enough to annoy me. It should only be there for as long as absolutely necessary, and only if there’s no way whatsoever of putting it in game-play. In fact, The Last of Us is basically one long cinematic with occasional moments of interactivity. That’s why the critics love it – because it’s more like a film, which they understand more than games.” Here I am a year later and now I agree with you. You’re a prophet.

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  6. Amazing review (congratulations) about one of my favorite games ever. For me the art, characters, story and also the gameplay blended perfectly in an adventure that loved every single minute for 18… And some time later, I played again, two more times, and still was loving it. I’m sure I’ll play it again trying to minimize the wait for the sequel (hopefully, in 2019), By the way, the trailer of Part II is an absolute perfection.

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    • I did see the trailer and though I didn’t really have this profound experience with the Last of Us where I really loved it, I did think that trailer for Part II was great. Very much a tease. I would probably play it but given my reaction to this game, I’ll probably wait until the hype dies down again.

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  7. This is one of those games that I wished I had bought a PlayStation 3 for. I went with X-box 360, and to be fair they also had some great games, but this is a game that I wished I could have played back in my gaming days. This post makes me regret that even more, and it is really clear how cool this game was, and still is. Great post! 😊

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  8. Bah! I can argue with your philosophy if I want to because I would argue with a brick wall if I felt like it. 🙂

    Joking aside, I agree with a great many points you make here, albeit, it wouldn’t be one of my comments if I brought some contradictory discussion points. So onwards we go.

    I would have cited parts of your review but it is about 27,000 words long so I’m not going to do it.

    Personally, I disliked much of the gameplay. This is a tendency I have with Naughty Dog games from the PS3/PS4 era. The Last of Us really capped out for me though. Not only are the poor gunplay and cover mechanics of the Uncharted series on full display here, the game mostly focuses on the stealth aspect. I’m not a fan of stealth games. This isn’t a failing of the game, it can’t help the fact that I’m not in to that style of play.

    But I do fault the game for putting the player in situations where the mechanic could be used to complete a goal but then force the player to slaughter all the enemies anyway. And in doing so, force me to engage in the less than good third person shooter mechanics that have been a problem with Naughty Dog games for a decade now. This happened more than once to me and infuriated me to no end. That and the repetitious palette swimming sections. Ugh… kill me.

    My other issue with the game was with the narrative and specifically the ending. I’m not necessarily on board with your total assessment of Joel, or maybe I’m reading your assessment wrong, but the final cutscenes are where he falls apart for me. I felt that from the start with Ellie, he didn’t want to get close and then over the course of the year he let her in to his heart and he began to see her as a foster daughter of sorts. I’ve been told this is me projecting on the character but, I think he began to love her. And this is where the projecting came in, but I could justify to myself almost everything Joel does up through even the escape (well maybe not the torture thing but you get the point). I think I’d do any and all those things, including sacrificing my own humanity to protect my kids.

    So side note before I continue. There are two branching paths for me here. The first is the assumption that Ellie (or my kid as I am projecting myself in to Joel’s shoes) does not know their fate, to me anything is acceptable to free her. The second is if she does know her fate, in which case, no action should have been taken.

    I don’t personally believe that Ellie knew her fate, if the game makes it clear that she did and I missed it that is on me but as you’ve mentioned subtlety is not this game’s strong point and much of their narrative beats are blunt hammer strikes. This isn’t to say that if given the chance that Ellie wouldn’t have consented to save the greater good but it wasn’t clear to me and as such, I would have fought through hell to save her as well. Again, that can all be a misunderstanding on my part but to me the ending is where I fall off.

    The lie. I can’t pull myself past the lie. My Joel, and that is where interactive narration takes us – to a place where these characters are no longer just the property of their creators but rather jointly owned with the player, wouldn’t do this. Because, I wouldn’t do this. I wouldn’t lie to my child to protect myself, or at least I don’t think I would. It shatters the character that I had been a part of building. I grew from not caring about this girl and just doing the task, to loving her and wanting to see her thrive. I get that some of that is hypocritical because she could have done great things by saving humanity but I wasn’t sure that her choice was to lose her life in the process. That said, lying to her betrayed the character I had been a part of and ruined any development that was happening, perceived or not. It ruined my relationship with Ellie in a way that wasn’t via my own actions.

    As a movie I think it would work because the story is delivered how the creator wants it. Games are different, there is a symbiotic relationship between player and creator. The best games, even ones of this more cinematic nature, don’t betray the player to placate the creator and I felt betrayed by The Last of Us. Still do in fact, four years after playing it. Thank you for bringing those feelings back to the forefront. I don’t know what I’d do without you to ruin my days on such a consistent basis since I started reading your blog.

    Obviously I’m joking but I do still feel strongly about it. Like I can’t argue with your philosophy on how you approach games, one can’t argue with my feelings on the narrative here. Certainly they can lay their points out, and I’ve heard many of them over the years but I can’t get behind the all out love fest that this game often endures. It is a dour gaming experience, that in itself isn’t bad, but being betrayed on top of that I can’t abide. More power to those that love the game though. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from those that do, it just didn’t work for me.

    And sorry again for the blog sized reply….

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m putting a word limit on your comments, young man! Just kidding. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. Like I mentioned elsewhere, I do think that discourse is important today, especially if we disagree, and this is a perfect opportunity to practice doing that in a world where people have stopped talking to each other and having actual conversations. I’m glad to know you agree with several points but have your own thoughts on others. We wouldn’t be different people if we thought identically! I’m going to cheer you yet, Oscar!

      I’m finding that people who are familiar with Naughty Dog games from this era are ones who are the most turned off by the gameplay. For me, it may have been a treat since I’ve never played an Uncharted game or any other recent Naughty Dog title beyond this one. It sounds most often like players who disliked gameplay here felt that way out of weariness with similar gameplay elsewhere in these games. My theory on that, at least. And I can empathize with you not preferring stealth gameplay. It’s not something that sells a game to me but I can tolerate it if it’s got a reason for its inclusion.

      “I felt that from the start with Ellie, he didn’t want to get close and then over the course of the year he let her in to his heart and he began to see her as a foster daughter of sorts. I’ve been told this is me projecting on the character but, I think he began to love her. And this is where the projecting came in, but I could justify to myself almost everything Joel does up through even the escape (well maybe not the torture thing but you get the point). I think I’d do any and all those things, including sacrificing my own humanity to protect my kids.” I can see your perspective here. Where I’d differ is that I’d sacrifice my personal humanity to protect my kids but I’d make the distinction that having to torture other human beings isn’t necessary for such a sacrifice. There were so many moments where Joel’s “love” looked more like fanatic obsession, staining even the memory of Ellie and guaranteeing her lifelong hatred if she found out. That to me is at the other end of the spectrum from paternal love. I don’t see that the hypothetical situation of her possibly not finding out makes a difference, but then I define my ethics on the basis not of guilt being established if the victim finds out but on the basis of the act being objectively wrong and doing it making you guilty regardless of if anyone else knows, like the victim, or not. Excuse my layman’s talk. Can’t believe we’re even having this conversation here, and that is at least one aspect more about the Last of Us that I find impressive!

      I don’t think Ellie could know her fate, or at least there’s good reason to believe she didn’t, which made her suspicion of Joel’s tale at the end all the less engaging for that final scene. I do think Marlene (less a villain than Joel) was right when she suggested that Ellie would want to give her life meaning by sacrificing herself for something so significant. I think that’s well within reason of the human experience, especially for teens, but that’s just an assumption or guess I have no research for.

      “The lie. I can’t pull myself past the lie. My Joel, and that is where interactive narration takes us – to a place where these characters are no longer just the property of their creators but rather jointly owned with the player, wouldn’t do this. Because, I wouldn’t do this. I wouldn’t lie to my child to protect myself, or at least I don’t think I would. It shatters the character that I had been a part of building. I grew from not caring about this girl and just doing the task, to loving her and wanting to see her thrive.” We are in PERFECT agreement here. The thing that needs to be said about the ending is that Joel was just covering his butt at that point, and he just wanted Ellie for himself: an object that represented his long lost daughter because it couldn’t be said at that point that he really loved her as an individual, to my mind.

      Maybe they should’ve had a quick time event where you had to tap X to prevent Joel from lying to Ellie? Oh I would’ve been so in the game if they did that!

      100% agree that if this was a movie, it’d be pretty awesome, but it’s like they wanted to make a movie but made a game instead. The attempt is interesting, to put so much cinema into an interactive experience but those two things don’t gel toward the end of the game and the fact that it’s a game itself ruined the cinematic story. It shot itself in the foot with that. I can watch a character on screen do horrible things but that’s different from me actually controlling the character to do those things in a game. I’m glad you and I felt the same way. I just didn’t know how to phrase it and I muddled along 9,000+ words thinking “disturbing” was the answer when what I ought to have said about The Last of Us was I felt betrayed as well. Happy to ruin lives, here, thanks! 😀

      I have a feeling four years from now, if I were to read a review on The Last of Us, that I’d leave a comment very similar to yours for that future author. Plus, bonus, if no one can argue with your feelings on the narrative and I share those same feelings, then that means nobody can argue with my feelings on the narrative here as well! Thanks for indirectly giving me a ton of ammo to defend my take on this game. In all seriousness, I appreciate the sizable comments. They’re easier to take when I agree with them, too, so there’s that. I refuse to say “I loved this game”. Maybe “I appreciated aspects of it” is the furthest I can get at this point?

      Like

    • I agree though it would’ve detracted from the cinematic thrust of the game that it fought for against its own interactivity, evidently the way its creators wanted it. We can’t change the way characters act in cinema like we can’t change Joel here but in cinema we don’t become complicit in characters’ failures.

      And I do believe the sequel contains Joel and Ellie according to the trailer but did I suggest that sequels need the same characters? I’m wracking my brain here.

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    • Yeesh, I don’t know if my friends would let me live if I gave it a 5 or 6. Just kidding. At the lowest, I could imagine it being a high 8 because of narrative problems, but what were the reasons why you’d place it so low on a grading scale? Given, I agree that this is not the greatest game of all time, as well.

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      • Poor gameplay, unmemorable characters, stiff controls, etc. Naughty Dog is one of my least favorite game developers. They try and make their games like movies, but they’re poor movies in my opinion.

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  9. I think by sparing Joel, Naughty Dog inadvertently painted themselves in a creative corner. In the sequel he will either die and it will be unsurprising because that’s the obvious conclusion to his arc or he will survive, which will still be unsurprising given Naughty Dog’s propensity to protect their leads at all cost. They seem to write in a way that assumes the player is 100% on board with the protagonist, which is very grating whenever they’re deeply flawed or the writers overestimate how likable they are.

    Anyway, this game is one I point to whenever asked why I place so much importance on endings; it pays to stick the landing, and this game shows what happens when you don’t. It led me to develop my rule stating that a work with a terrible ending can’t get a passing grade. A bad ending retroactively sours most, if not all, of the goodwill established up until that point. I’m still going to review the sequel, but there’s the knowledge that a lot of the drama is probably going to be the result of how poorly handled the last scenes were.

    Also, I kind of wonder how many people who declared it the Citizen Kane of gaming actually saw that movie.

    In either case, I’m glad you got more out of it than me. Thanks for linking to my review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You were an inspiration for a lot of this post, so thank you! I know our opinions differed slightly and I definitely thought this was still a great and well-crafted game, despite a ruined ending (imo), in virtually every area except for the narrative thanks to Joel’s incomplete arc and immutability. I’m struggling to come up with an example of a character as deeply cruel as Joel’s that didn’t ultimately have some kind of redemption. Can you think of one? I completely see what you’re saying about them assuming the player is 100% on board with the protagonist because that’s what I felt was happening in the game and my mind consciously resisted it until it left me on the outside of the experience, frowning when it forced me to shoot the surgeon when I didn’t want to.

      Saying “It’s literally the Citizen Kane of video games” sounds a lot to me like picking the most hyperbolic of statements, equivalent to “so-and-so is literally Hitler”. I’ve talked about how hyperbole is practically a disease today in criticism and gaming (see how I used the word “practically” to avoid being guilty of the thing I’m complaining about?). I wonder how much of this you’d agree with me on, while noting that the score-system aspect isn’t the point:

      https://thewellredmage.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/critical-aggrandizement-or-how-being-comfortable-with-10-point-scores-has-atrophied/

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      • No problem. I’m glad I was able to help you write this review!

        That scene with the surgeon is the exact moment I realized the game and its protagonist were irredeemable. 2010s developers don’t seem to understand you can’t judge the player when you only give them one way to proceed. It didn’t work when Spec Ops tried it, and it certainly doesn’t work here. I can’t think of a game with a worse protagonist, to be honest. I’m pretty sure I’ve played games with villain protagonists who were still way more likable than Joel at his best.

        Yeah, another reason I decided to become a critic myself was to provide an alternative to the hyperbole-laden rhetoric that permeates throughout games criticism. With big outlets, either the game is a perfect 10 or it’s garbage. Meanwhile, the independent critic scene seems similar to music journalism at the end of the 20th century where they romanticize the past, dismissing the interesting trends going on right now as “not as good as in my day.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s interesting to me that you phrase it that way, because I felt too that the treatment of Joel the protagonist reflected on the entire game, made all that long and brutal story a waste. Since Joel throws away his arc, he throws away the bond between him and Ellie that everyone adored, and he throws away the whole story. It would’ve been very interesting if they’d given you an option to kill the surgeon or not, but ah that would’ve made it less like a movie then wouldn’t it? And yes, critical reform needs to happen.

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  10. I really enjoyed The Last of Us. I think its as close a cinematic video game experience I’ve had with the game. You get caught up in the stunning graphics, but most importantly, the characters as well, and totally invested in their story and what happens to them. Seems ages since I played it now, but still have fond memories of playing this great game. Really good review you’ve done of it here as well, you raised some extremely valid points.

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    • Thanks for commenting! I do appreciate the binding together of the cinematic and the interactive, I really do. It’s just that in this case those two things specifically clashed which showed me a blaring exit sign out of being immersed in the story. Thanks for seeing my points. What’s your take on Joel and his actions? I felt myself beginning to but ultimately I couldn’t get into his character or see his perspective, and I’m actually a father!

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  11. Still my favorite game of all time. (And I’ve been playing games a long time). I’m always happy to see it still getting the love after all this time. Nice read!

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    • I’m impressed by its quality in so many areas but I found the characterization of Joel disturbing and unfulfilling, which unfortunately made the ending seem like a whimper for me and derailed any immersion that I had in the game for the last several scenes. I’m glad it’s your favorite game of all time. Out of curiosity, how would you describe the story and the ending, specifically? I was under the impression, going in, that it was a tear-jerker. In actuality, I just felt like I might’ve missed something. Thanks for leaving me a comment!

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      • Wow. Where to begin? Ok, well, I did a fairly big post on my blog about my love for the game in great detail, but I’ll try to summarize.
        *Spoilers*
        It the end of the prologue, just before the “The Last of Us” title flashes up, I wasn’t teary eyed, but physically drained. My heart was pounding, and I was stuck somewhere between awe, and a hollow sence of loss. I knew I was playing a game, but the fact that I really felt a connection with Joel, not that I was like him, but I could really feel the weight of the situation. I was drawn into this horrible situation and there was no escape until the end credits rolled.
        I can site several scenes that really drew me into the characters and their story. Ellie and Joel in the Log Cabin, Ellie’s rescue of Joel (that was agonizing), David (I with there was an option to keep stabbing him and burn the body), and of course, the final push to save Ellie in the hospital. It doesn’t matter how many times I play this game (9 currently), no one survives in that operating room.
        I think for me, there was just a connection with these people who felt real. They had suddlties, imperfections, and were vaulnerable. I think this was one of those rare times where they felt human, and not like digital characters used to tell a story. Joel looking at his broken watch whenever Ellie impresses him, Ellie stealing the toy and giving it to Sam to help comfort him, these were the small details of people trying to survive, not just through the violence of the world, but their humanity, and their dependence on those around them.
        The heaviest impact in the whole game, is when Joel lies to Ellie at the end. The look she gives really does say she knows he’s lying, and she is forever changed for knowing.
        BAM. Right in the feels.
        I won’t say I teared up (maybe a little), but I was left emotionally and physically drained after every act without fail.

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        • “Drained”! I wish I’d thought of that. It’s a good way to explain how I felt after the whole game was over, indeed while playing through the game as well. I did feel a connection with Joel and I was “in” his character for most of the game, right up until that end when he throws himself into a dumpster fire of selfishness and ugly objectification of Ellie, destroying the bond he developed with her that we all loved. I fully agree that there are so many great scenes in this game. It’s a game of scenes. I just happened to feel that the ending stampeded and invalidated all of the humanity in those scenes. What did Ellie really mean to Joel in the end? She was at that point an object representing his daughter that he’d stripped of all autonomy with slaughter, torture, and deception. He ended up just like David who threw Ellie in a cage to rape her. That’s not a great character. That’s just dark and disgusting. He wanted Ellie for himself, not in a sexual way, but because of what she represented (just like for David how she represented “female body”). I couldn’t bring myself to kill the surgeon and I tried to turn and walk out, but alas there’s no alternate ending and Joel burned any bridge to “talk it through” with Ellie and the Firefly unit. I certainly didn’t murder the unarmed nurses standing by, since the game only forced me to be complicit in Joel’s selfish insanity by murdering the surgeon to proceed. It was an unearned moment enough for me to almost call it quits on the game. Any connection I had with Joel at that moment, which I’d previously got into, was now gone. That scene with the giraffes? Meant nothing. That time when Ellie nursed him back to health? Meant nothing. That scene where he holds her after she was almost sexually assaulted? Meant nothing, all that mattered in the end for Joel was that he did everything to keep his object, not his autonomous human. And that’s immensely repulsive to me. I don’t think this game had a good ending, but it did have a somewhat surprising and shocking one, which apparently makes the statement that human beings can be really selfish and suck a lot. If that’s all this game decides to hang itself on, then I’m glad I played it for its obvious high quality presentation but I can’t say I loved or enjoyed the story at all. The ending did nothing for my “feels”. It just made me think Joel was an A-hole. There’s the “statement from the art”! That’s the conclusion for this whole game about developing a bond! That’s what “fatherhood” in the Last of Us means! Roll credits! Nah…

          It was draining, so that’s the point where you and I will have to meet and shake hands. 🙂

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          • The true beauty of this story is that they didn’t walk us through it. They left it open to our own interpretation. Naughty Dog gave is credit to find our own depth in the tale and that’s the biggest part of The Last of Us for me.
            We both saw the same ending and walked away emotional in very different ways. That’s only ever happened to me with a great book or movie before.
            Thanks for the friendly banter.

            Liked by 1 person

            • The pleasure is all mine, thank you! Phrasing it in this way and allowing for the capacity of a game to be interpreted in different ways, as well as accepting that others have different opinions… that’s a hill that I’ll gladly die on beside you.

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  12. I’ve not played it, unfortunately, but I saw the incredible reviews and paid particular attention to how the story is supposed to be “amazing”, but I was hoping for a genuinely critical assessment of it. This has helped – thanks! I think one of the problems for many devs is they don’t read novels, so they don’t understand how to tell an excellent story, which is why so many video games are 50 years behind novels and films.

    I had to abandon Bayonetta 2, Mass Effect 2, several CoDs, and multiple other modern AAA games simply as the story was badly told, the voice acting atrocious, and the endless cutscenes an irritation. I’m really not in favour of this movie-esque route modern games have taken, but if they’re going to do it, Half-Life 2 and the Last of Us seem to be the place to turn for inspiration. I’m very eager to play this game, though, so I’ll be picking up a cheapo PS4 later this year to get my hands on it.

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    • Here we go again! Just joking.

      I think one of the problems for many devs is they don’t read novels, so they don’t understand how to tell an excellent story, which is why so many video games are 50 years behind novels and films.”

      I do think that you might be a bit presumptuous to say that many devs don’t read novels but maybe I am being presumptuous in defending their honor. That said, I do think that games deliver a very different set of problems than their passive media counterparts, the biggest of which is that games are not passive. Devs are struggling with finding the solution to those problems, although in some cases are getting better at it. Games like Journey and, Inside tell stories with zero dialog. Games like Firewatch and Gone Home deliver solid experiences where you discover the story by exploring the environment. And Until Dawn was a well acted, well delivered interactive adventure that really hit the cinematic effect it was going for (that of a B grade horror film). Film took a long time to grow in to the storytelling medium it has become, I really think we are getting there with games but it is going to take time. I’m glad I’m along for the ride.

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      • Get me off the train! Kidding. I’m delightedly surprised to see how some developers get around the interactivity, though on occasion it seems like this causes the game to stumble and trip up over whether it wants to be a film or interactive. Anyway, Journey is a great example that is certainly cinematic but my reaction to it was quieter and more reflective, almost as if it had bridged the gap between game and fine art, like a painting. I had a very near religious experience with that game that I wasn’t expecting at all, so that’s another layer of its reach that’s really impressive to me.

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      • I had just about the opposite reaction to your comments: I didn’t love this game but it could be said that I appreciated its quality. It wasn’t heart wrenching to me at all and while I did enjoy the gameplay, I didn’t like how the stealth felt obsolete through a lot of it when it forces you to fight your way through quite often. And I definitely saw very little actual beauty in it (beyond visually). It’s a very ugly world with ugly characters, relentlessly so. But hey, I can agree with you that it is super cheap! I appreciate that many people had a profound reaction to the Last of Us. Unfortunately I can’t count myself among their prestigious ranks. 😀

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    • I tried my best to be critical about it. It’s still, in my opinion, a well-crafted game even though I found it to be more repulsive than emotional. Yeah, there’s something about gaming storytelling which doesn’t seem on par with cinema and literature, the latter especially. Given, these are different modes with entirely different sensibilities, but I think that devs should begin to use the interactivity of games to propel their stories rather than painting themselves into a corner where interactivity interrupts immersion. That’s what happened to me with the Last of Us when it forced me to do things I didn’t want to do because of its characterization s. There are other reasons I don’t care for AAA games anyway, and I’m glad I played this one, but I’m not in a rush to play modern AAA’s because of it. I’d be interested in hearing your take on The Last of Us once you pick it up. It isn’t a long play but it can take some time to process. I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Cheesy, and thanks for enduring my longwindedness!

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      • He’s the creator behind Quantic Dream, the studio of Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, and the upcoming Detroit. He has a love for film and his games are styled like choose your own adventure films. Since you hate quick time events, I can’t see you enjoying the games he directs as they are super quick time heavy. Also the storytelling is super clunky, albeit with a lot of charm.

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        • I’m sure he’s quite talented but I haven’t played any of those games and from what I’ve seen of Detroit from the past two E3’s it’s something I’m not very interested in. Different strokes and all that, most likely. QTE’s bother me a ton, as you now know, maybe as much as Metroidvania bothers you, so I don’t know that I could get into them. I’d rather just watch a movie than a movie with button mashing commands. What would you say is the source of the charm, then?

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