The Last of Us is as much about the bonds among Joel and his surrogate daughter Ellie as it is about their post-fungal-apocalypse world. Sony/Naughty Dog
For years now, some of the ideal, wildest, most moving or revealing stories we’ve been telling ourselves have come not from books, movies or Tv, but from video games. So we’re running an occasional series, Reading The Game, in which we take a appear at some of these games from a literary viewpoint.
I played the game through the initial time in something like a ideal state of awe and terror. Enraptured is, I think, the word that best describes it. Carried away fully into this ruined, lovely globe and the story of Joel and Ellie in The Final of Us. Typically such a completionist — so obsessed with exploring every hide and hollow in these imaginary worlds I throw myself into — in this instance I basically rolled with the narrative. Ran when running was proper. Slogged through dark and rain and snow and sunshine. Stood my bloody ground when left with no other possibilities.
… that is how excellent the storytelling is in The Final Of Us. It tends to make you care so deeply for a intelligent-ass bunch of pixels in the shape of a teenage girl that you will damn the entire planet twice just for her.
Joel came to love Ellie, his surrogate daughter, and Ellie came to adore Joel, the only father she’d ever recognized. And I (a father, with a daughter roughly Ellie’s age, with Ellie’s 4-letter vocabulary and Ellie’s strange, discordant humor) loved Ellie, too. So when I reached the endgame and was presented with a terrible decision (no spoilers … yet), I drew my guns and slaughtered my way to the end credits, alight with fury and positive information that I’d created the only choice I could.
Second run: The beats are all the same, the story a identified point. Joel and Ellie fight zombies and soldiers and bandits and madmen. They drop pals and see sunrises and, this time, I play with an awful wisdom. Cassandra’s curse. I know how this story ends and I have produced up my mind that, this time, I will make the other selection. The appropriate a single (morally, mathematically, humanistically), and so I walk with ghosts the whole way, proper up to the finish, and then …
And then I make the precise very same decision once more. I can not make the other. It hurts too significantly. Due to the fact that is how good the storytelling is in The Last Of Us. It makes you care so deeply for a intelligent-ass bunch of pixels in the shape of a teenage girl that you will damn the whole world twice just for her.
(OK, so now we’re gonna get spoilery. Fair warning.)
The Last Of Us is a zombie story. It is incredibly derivative, borrows liberally from a hundred various books and motion pictures, is structurally simplistic, trope-heavy, melodramatic, viscerally violent, and in spite of all this (or, arguably, due to the fact of all this) tells one of the most moving, affecting and satisfying stories you will discover anywhere. At its heart, it is the story of Joel — a broken and hard-hearted thief and smuggler living 20 years deep into a zombie apocalypse. He and his partner, Tess, are forced into a job that calls for them to smuggle a young girl out of the Boston quarantine zone and deliver her to an army of revolutionaries simply because, of course, this girl is The A single — the only particular person ever to be immune to the spore/virus that turns infected folks into gross, murderous mushroom zombies. That young girl is Ellie. And, unsurprisingly, the job does not exactly go as planned.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s fine because it is familiar. The story-story is a stock frame — tested and reliable. It is a road trip story in the exact same way that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is, or Mad Max: Fury Road. Go from point A to point B, survive the journey, get there complete. And there’s absolutely nothing at all incorrect with a basic narrative architecture when it is becoming utilised to assistance complicated character arcs, as it is right here. The Last Of Us is a basic road trip story underneath, current in service to the complex and wealthy redemption story on best.
All the stakes and ruination are laid out in the initial 10 minutes, in a prologue so potent that it’ll break your heart even if you do not have one. Joel loses his daughter on the night the planet ends, his small girl dying in his arms, beneath the gun of a panicked soldier trying to hold back the infected. When Ellie floats into his life two decades later, the jaded gamer in you says, Oh, so here’s where he learns to love once more. … And you happen to be correct.
But then you watch it occur — in tiny moments like when Ellie, blowing off caution, walks a rickety plank amongst two buildings and Joel glances briefly down at the watch he wears, a gift from his daughter that he’s been wearing for 20 years — and you participate in it happening (guarding her, defending her, at some point becoming her for an extended chunk of the game in a brilliant bit of viewpoint switching), and it all just clicks. This is a really like story — a single of the very best parent-and-kid narratives ever told.
Which is when that ending comes and you are presented with the ultimate parental nightmare scenario: Will you sacrifice the life of your child to save the globe? Not a stranger, a friend or even a spouse, but your own daughter (which is what Ellie is now — Joel’s daughter, blood or no). Simply because in Ellie lives the remedy to the mushroom zombie plague. But in order to develop it, she has to die.
I started a third playthrough prior to writing this piece. I am walking slow, taking my time, listening to Ellie study from her joke book, watching her swarmed by fireflies on the outskirts of Boston and admiring the all-natural beauty and deep environmental storytelling of the game. Nature has reclaimed most of this abandoned globe, giving us an unusual apocalypse run riot with wildflowers. And although I have not produced it to the end yet, I know it really is coming. I know the choice I am going to have to make.
And I know exactly what I am going to do.
Jason Sheehan is an ex-chef, a former restaurant critic and the current meals editor of Philadelphia magazine. But when no a single is seeking, he spends his time writing books about spaceships, aliens, giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.