The Last of Us

A Growing Problem in Storytelling

Ask any fighter; experience trumps strength, but experience and strength trumps all. This may seem like a strange way to start a piece about writing stories, but as per usual I will do my best to bring it home.

Spoiler(ish) warning for The Last of Us and the Fallout series.

Monsters, mutants, aliens or whatever horrific enemies your protagonists will carve their way through as your story progresses, individually they tend to be pretty static in their abilities. You may get different varieties of said enemies, but typically they’re separate from one another while also working together. You can have the physically weak but fast and numerous ones, they’re good cannon fodder for your characters to mow down. You can have the run of the mill grunts or drones, they’re basically comparable in ability to your protagonists and often make great opponents for them. Finally, there’s the big guys, the lumbering giants that tend to increase the likelihood of character death the second they step on scene. Each of these enemy types has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you can use them to your advantage when trying to tell a compelling story. One type on their own is a predictable affair, two different types requires some thinking and encountering all three becomes a tactical nightmare.

The Locust Horde from  Gears of War  is a great example ,  it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The Locust Horde from Gears of War is a great example, it’s comprised of lots of different creatures all working together… to exterminate humanity.

The key issue here is that while they’re typically united in a cause, doing whatever your characters don’t want them to do, these forces are typically comprised of disparate creatures. It’s the Vampire Lord’s undead horde, the Space Pontiff’s interstellar legion or the Orc King’s goblinoid swarm, it’s different creatures working together. If gives your antagonists some variety and keeps things interesting for the audience. This isn’t always the only way to create an antagonistic force, however.

Sometimes, enemies will start as the small and weak creature, then as time progresses they will morph into the typical grunt and then after a long while they will eventually transform into the lumbering brute. It’s a great way to show that the force your characters are facing is a truly homogeneous group, despite their appearances suggesting otherwise. Instead of being a menagerie of strange and horrific creatures that are working together for some random reason, they’re all the same and working together for that exact reason.

While having a unified force, comprised of different sub-categories of creatures that evolve into one another over time, does come with its narrative advantages, it also creates a serious problem. If time is the only deciding factor, then it’s inevitable that your characters are eventually going to have a literally big fucking problem on their hands. To showcase this point, we’re going to be looking at two series - The Last of Us and Fallout.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

They’re armored and have ranged attacks, these guys are a real threat.

In The Last of Us, humanity basically gets wiped out by fungal zombies. When a person becomes infected, they start out as a Runner, then after about a month they become a Stalker. After about a year of being a Stalker, they become a Clicker. Then, roughly ten to fifteen years after infection they become a monstrous Bloater. Their abilities change somewhat as they evolve, becoming less human as they change, but the basic idea is that they become more difficult to deal with the longer they’re infected.

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between  Fallout 3  and  Fallout 4…

You think they could’ve fixed the stupidly sized fire hydrants between Fallout 3 and Fallout 4…

In the Fallout series, most notably Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, East Coast Super Mutants continue to grow as they age. The FEV mutagen that turned them into Super Mutants continues to change their physiology and while they’re already stupid brutes, eventually it turns them into lumbering Behemoths that are of gargantuan proportions. This worked in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, because they’re set over two centuries after the world ended and Super Mutants were being created for roughly that length of time - two centuries to turn into a Behemoth isn’t that big of a deal. Fallout 76 changed this, however, because it’s set only 25 years after the nuclear apocalypse and there are Behemoths running around. This latest addition of the Fallout series puts the issue into roughly the same time frame as The Last of Us.

Whether you’re a survivor in The Last of Us or Fallout, you’re logically screwed just by the way in which the creators have crafted the world. Ten to twenty years is all it takes for base enemies to turn into the strongest enemies that’re available, and they don’t even get a say in the matter because it’s a natural process. Every human who is infected in The Last of Us will turn into a Bloater if they survive long enough. In Fallout, every human that’s dipped into FEV will turn into a Behemoth if they survive for long enough. It’s literally only a matter of time in both cases. Since the narratives need these creatures to be the biggest threats in their respective stories, the logical progression of events is that humanities chances of survival continue to plummet the longer the timeline continues. The Last of Us is set 20 years after the world ended, while most of the Fallout series is set centuries after the fact, which is plenty of time in both instances for the vast majority of these creatures to reach their final form.

The thing is, this could actually make your world that much more interesting. Instead of ignoring the rules you write into your own world, you can run with them and create a truly deadly setting that is a serious threat to your characters. In both The Last of Us and Fallout, if things had progressed as they should have, with humanity hiding from their growing problems instead of dealing with them… well, now they’ve got a problem that’s a million times worse. If time is the deciding factor in your enemies strength, then time is the enemy. If simply not dying is all it takes for your enemies to reach ultimate monstrous god mode, something even your protagonist and background characters have managed, then use that to your advantage.

If your zombies or mutants evolve over time, use that to create a story with unique zombies or mutants. If you don’t want your world overrun with final form enemies, then don’t set the story in a time period where that’s the logical conclusion. You’ve still got all the years before that to play with, so go nuts in the safer years. If you want an enemy force that is linked (wherein each creature evolves through each of the different forms) but you don’t want a world that’s inevitably overrun by final forms, then simply don’t make time the deciding factor. Have them get injected with a serum, or have it as some innate biological process that’s triggered when the need arises. However you do it, the golden rule is to keep your world consistent. The less your readers/players/watchers have to question how things work, the deeper they can invest in your world without making excuses for it.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in  Gears of War 4 , but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

Juvies (the small and fast mobs that swarm) can transform into Drones (the middle ground grunts) in Gears of War 4, but that’s as far as the evolution process goes.

This post isn’t about ripping on The Last of Us or the Fallout series, they’re games which means they’ve got more than just narrative issues to contend with. There’re gameplay balance issues as well, which are just as important. The thing is that a simple tweak of the narrative would allow everything to line up perfectly, and then there wouldn’t even be any issues for me to write about. If you’re making a setting, for a book, movie or game, think a little further down the line about where the natural progression of the events you set in motion will logically take things. Who knows, things could actually end up better than you originally expected?

The Last of Us 2 Looks Amazing!

So a trailer for The Last of Us 2 has been released, and I for one think it looks fucking badass. I like that we're seeing a cast of new characters and we're already getting hints of new conflicts. There was some serious religious overtones in the trailer, so I'm thinking we're going to see a fair amount of intolerance in the next game. At this point though, I don't even care if Joel or Ellie never appear again - I just want to play as *that* chick.

This chick, this warrior woman, is a fucking tank!

This chick, this warrior woman, is a fucking tank!

I don't know who she is or where she comes from, but I *want* to know! I don't know where she's gotten the food to be that goddamn rig in a post apocalyptic world, but she is a fucking machine! And it works too, she reminds me of Scarlett Johansson's Major from the live action Ghost in the Shell - she's this bulky warrior who just stomps around. You would not want to get into a fist fight with this chick because chances are that she'd just decimate you and all your friends. I really hope we get the chance to play as her, she's got this physicality that would let her go toe to toe with any Hunter.

I'm quite interested in these other two characters as well, they were both named and they're both Asian. For all the praise the first game got for inclusivity, there were no Asians on the roster, so it looks like Naughty Dog are getting on top of that right off the bat. With all that's being going on in Hollywood lately, with titles like Aloha, Iron Fist and Great Wall screwing over Asian American actors in favor of white actors, it makes sense from a casting perspective.

Yara (I think that's what her name was) - gets her arm broken, and then still manages to kill someone.

Yara (I think that's what her name was) - gets her arm broken, and then still manages to kill someone.

The young boy's hesitance to cut the warrior woman down, and his line "but she's one of them" could potentially mean Naughty Dog have written the absence of Asians in the original TLoU into the story. It's possible that where they were blamed for the cause of the Cordyceps Virus and ostracized by others, and that's why we never saw them in the first game. Or maybe it's got nothing to do with race and this warrior woman is just part of some group that nobody likes, I don't know. The powers that be have said that the second game will be about hate, and we already know there's a high level of religious intolerance, so some sort of race-based conflict it's not beyond the realm of possibility. 

Lev seems pretty capable with a bow, he took out one guy right quick. 

Lev seems pretty capable with a bow, he took out one guy right quick. 

Of course, not even a day after the trailer was released people have been writing articles about how it's far too violent and how it's disturbing that women are involved in the violence. The fact that two men are killed is overlooked and the focus is brought around to the broken arm of one woman, and the smashed in skull of another. Killing is fine as long as it's straight white men doing the dying, apparently, but we can't have women or children getting hurt. Never mind the fact that this is a post apocalyptic world where there are raging mushroom zombies that eat people... and humans that eat people... and humans that kill children because they're ordered too... and humans that try to kill children because they're sca- okay, you get it. It's a crapsack world, is what I'm trying to say.

I don't want to spend too much time raging about this topic again, except to say that this stops being an issue when you stop trying to make The Last of Us into something that it isn't. The world has gone to shit, but there are still good people out there and sometimes they have to do terrible things to get out alive. Stop trying to politicize it and spin it so that it reinforces your pre-existing views, just let it be its own thing. If you twist it and make it less dark then the overall story will suffer for it, the emotional pay off at the end is linked to the amount of risk involved in getting there.

A lot of people die in post apocalyptic stories, and even more get hurt, this is because they're not meant to be nice stories. They're tales of hardship and struggle and about making it through to the other side against all odds, the pay off is only worth it if the danger is real and the cost is high. Nobody cares that you walked across a field of daisies, but if there were ten Clickers and a Bloater on that field of daisies then that's a story that people are going to get invested in.

See? This is the sort of walk that people pay to hear about...

See? This is the sort of walk that people pay to hear about...

Anyway, I'm damn keen to see where they take this narrative. That warrior woman looks like she doesn't take shit from anyone, I'm sure she'd make for a powerful and conflicted protagonist. Maybe we get to see Joel and Ellie again, maybe not, but from the looks of things it seems like we'll be in good company either way. 

The Spores are the Real Threat in The Last of Us

Another piece on The Last of Us? 

I know, I know... I keep going back to the well, but it is a veritable gold mine in terms of content. It's not all fluff either, which is rare these days. This time I'm going to be focusing on the real threat in The Last of Us, and it's not the Infected, or other humans, but the spores.

Just by way of the structure of zombie stories, the zombies are usually not the real threat. Sure, they're something dangerous that the characters have to avoid, but they're more akin to a force of nature than actual antagonists. The faceless masses of a zombie horde might as well be replaced with a tidal wave, or radiation, or a cloud of poisonous gas - the individual constituents don't matter, it's the collective whole that you've got to worry about. This is a point I'll swing back to at a later date, but enough of that for now.

Typically, it's the other humans that the characters have got to worry about in a zombie story. This isn't just based upon the idea that they're as individualistic as the protagonist are, enough so that they're able resist joining the faceless masses of society that the zombie hordes often represent. No, there's a pretty basic underlying logic about why humans are the true enemies, and it's because that any human that has lasted as long as you have is roughly as tough as you are. You can outrun a mindless horde of zombies or bash their rotting brains out if one is trying to give you a hickey, but a thinking, feeling and reactive antagonist that has set their sights on you is a much tougher opponent.

Just another day...

Just another day...

This is what it's set up to look like in The Last of Us. The military are willing to kill anybody who doesn't obey their strict commands and you're straight up screwed if they even think you're infected. The Hunters target other humans specifically so that they can take their gear, they've shifted from a herd mentality to a pack mentality... the Infected have less chance of having what they want, so they don't bother with them, it's specifically humans that they target. David's group is willing to hunt and farm to get by, but then they're also more than happy to kill and consume other humans. The Fireflies are willing to sacrifice any and all individuals for their idealistic devotion to the greater good, so even if you're with them they're likely to get you killed. All of these groups are more than happy to kill you under the right circumstances, but they're still not the most dangerous thing in The Last of Us.

The spores are the true threat in The Last of Us, and it's just a shame that the game doesn't reflect this. The thing is that it's also understandable, because Naughty Dog painted themselves into a corner in regards to the spores. Overall the spores basically make sense, the real world cordyceps fungus has spores that infect insects once the fungi begins to bloom. Besides this one-of-a-kind infection method for a zombie virus, the spores allow for unique game play situations where your characters are forced to put on gas masks and enter an area with reduced visibility. Finally, for as deadly as the spores are, they're actually a strangely beautiful sight to behold. 

It reminds me of a Cowboy Bebop episode, Waltz for Venus, those spores were beautiful, but they made you blind...

It reminds me of a Cowboy Bebop episode, Waltz for Venus, those spores were beautiful, but they made you blind...

The problem with the spores is that, realistically, they're a near-impossible threat to combat. A single spore can be carried on the wind, or in the water, or on an animals skin, and it can easily infect a human within a Quarantine Zone. Considering each Infected sends out hundreds of thousands of spores when they start blooming after death, those are really shitty odds. If the spores in The Last of Us were acting at their full potential, then humanity wouldn't stand a chance.

When most underground areas look like this... you've let things get out of hand.

When most underground areas look like this... you've let things get out of hand.

How do you even begin to stop something that spreads on the wind? You'd need to incinerate every Infected that you kill, which means that you couldn't just kill them and leave them where they fall because they'd still be an active threat. You'd have to go into the spore-infested underground areas with flamethrowers and burn them out, then dispose of the blooming corpses down there as well. Good luck if you run into a Bloater while you're down there, because they can toss around spore grenades for some reason.... which just makes things so much worse.

The military tried their best to stop the spread of infection, and so they carpet bombed the area outside of the Quarantine Zones in order to kill as many infected as possible. Which makes sense, if it were just the Infected that they had to worry about. The problem is that explosions tend to push air away as they expand. Some spores might get fried by the heat, but a lot of them are just going to get pushed up and away... say, straight into the Quarantine Zones? 

Why would you ever do this?!

Why would you ever do this?!

The Infected themselves even make for inferior vectors for the infection while they're alive. They're constantly trying to chew peoples necks out or rip their jaws off and they're generally going for kill shots, which is a bad way to spread an infection. The idea is to keep the host alive so that the infection has enough time to do its thing and infect the host. Cordyceps is parasitic in nature, so it needs a living host in order to grow, and if the host dies before it has time to take root then it dies as well. Why don't the Infected just nibble on fingers or forearms, the bare skinned limbs that people are more than happy to thrust towards them? One bite is all it takes, after that the Infected can just scamper off and wait a day or two for the infection to make them a new fungi-buddy. The problem is, they're too dumb for that. 

Seriously... the Infected are more of a threat when they're already dead.

Seriously... the Infected are more of a threat when they're already dead.

And why aren't humans taking advantage of the spores? Why not walk into a spore-filled area with a gas mask on, get a garbage bag full of spores and then toss them into the soldier's barracks? Or leave spore laden food and drink as a trap for some Hunters? Why not hook a barrel of them up to a building's air conditioning unit and infected everyone at once? Seriously, these spores have a million uses and nobody is taking advantage of them.  

This is a similar situation to what I was talking about in my piece on Radiation over at Post Apocalyptic Media (go check them out). You can't realistically expect people to combat spores, or radiation, and it would actually make for a pretty boring game if they were portrayed accurately. It's why the spores are confined to underground areas, when in reality they'd be drifting all over the place, infecting anyone and everyone. People want to play a game where they're forced to fend of zombies and cannibals, not run around with a can of anti-fungal spray.

"A million bucks worth of weaponry, and I'd trade it all back for a lousy can of Raid!"   See? Even Matt LeBlanc gets it...

"A million bucks worth of weaponry, and I'd trade it all back for a lousy can of Raid!" 

See? Even Matt LeBlanc gets it...

I wouldn't mind seeing this play out as it should in future games, with billions of spores being released from collapsing tunnels that infect thousands of survivors across the United States. It would actually give weight to Joel's choice to save Ellie over making a vaccine - all those people could've been immune if they'd had a vaccine, but instead they got infected. So now he has to face the consequences of his choice.

It would make one hell of a closing scene for The Last of Us series, with Joel and Ellie standing with the literal last of us, fighting off an entire continent of Infected. Half of the survivors probably have the infection already, they're just trying to maintain their sanity long enough to take out some of the Infected before they go. Joel's decision to save Ellie would come back to bite him in the arse, literally, as the Infected storm the stronghold and the final remnants of humanity are wiped out for good.

Say what you will about the Resident Evil franchise, they knew how to make an impressive closing scene!

Say what you will about the Resident Evil franchise, they knew how to make an impressive closing scene!

It's a bit too action orientated, and a downer ending, for The Last of Us - but a man can dream.  

Naughty Dog painted themselves into a corner with the spores in The Last of Us, they're the real threat, but they're an unmanageable and boring threat. They really add something unique to the game, but they're just that bit too powerful to be allowed to work the way they really should. Whatever path Naught Dog take with the spores, I'm sure the sequel/s to The Last of Us will be amazing. 
 

The Ending of The Last of Us

A big part of The Last of Us is its last act, where Joel goes on a rampage and "selfishly dooms humanity" by saving Ellie. A lot of people think he was right, a lot of people don't, and some just think he's the worst, most selfish, kind of broken that a human can be. This whole discussion has bugged me since the game was released, and when I played it I found that the choices that Joel made were pretty much the same choices that I'd make as well.

...what? I stand by my decision.

...what? I stand by my decision.

First off, just to get this out of the way, it was never Ellie's choice to make. There's a reason that Ellie was knocked out when she cracked her head in the flooded tunnel and didn't wake up until the car ride out of Salt Lake City. The choice was only ever going to be between Joel and Marlene; save Ellie or save humanity, and Ellie was never going to get a say in this.

As for the Fireflies' whole plan, I think it's a pretty shitty plan all around and just to speed things up, I'll jot down why in a few bullet points.

  • They don't even know if they'll be able to make a vaccine from Ellie, they're just going to yank her brain out and give it a go.
  • A vaccine is fucking useless because who gives a shit if you're immune to the Cordyceps Virus when a Clicker is chewing out your goddamn jugular. There are still hundreds of millions of Infected roaming around the US alone, the few remaining survivors being immune won't change anything.
  • They didn't even ask Ellie what she wanted to do, they just found her unconscious and prepped her for surgery and went with the old "oh well, anybody would do the right thing and sacrifice themselves to save humanity" route of justification. It's an easy decision to make when you get all the benefits but don't have to make any kind of sacrifice.
  • Even if they could make a vaccine and even if they did manage to mass produce it - would they distribute it freely or try to use it as leverage against the military?
"Don't worry about me, I'm immune!" 

"Don't worry about me, I'm immune!" 

Now, you could say that Ellie wanted to make a difference, that she wanted her life to count for something, and you wouldn't be wrong. The problem with this is that throughout the mission through Salt Lake City, Ellie and Joel are discussing what they want to do after they've helped the Fireflies. Ellie specifically states that she'd like Joel to teach her how to swim and play the guitar. She's willing to help the Fireflies, but she's assuming she's going to survive the procedure. You don't go out and buy a week's worth of groceries and make dinner plans for next month if you're going to hang yourself later that day...

Now, Joel is just as much in the wrong as Marlene is for not waking up Ellie and letting her decide, but he's sort of got the moral high ground for not trying to kill a kid and harvest her bloody brain.  Although I've got to say that even I agree with him on this one, who in their right mind would saddle that responsibility on a 14 year old kid? That's a recipe for instant survivors guilt and lifelong self loathing, so I've got no problem with Joel making the decision for her. If you're going to be making a decision for someone else, the very least you can do is chose the option that doesn't result in their death.

There's some applicable wisdom in these old school quotes!

There's some applicable wisdom in these old school quotes!

I should probably state that I think that Marlene is a piece of shit and I really don't like her. My main problem with her, among many, is that she thinks she's the good guy. She's been fighting the government for so long, on behalf of "the people," that she's gotten high off of her own bullshit. She actually recites the Firefly mantra in her journal, like a prayer, because she's starting to believe her own lies. She can justify killing soldiers who are only trying to keep people safe and apparently she's able to justify killing a kid she was meant to be looking after.  She's so wrapped up in her own dogmatic ideology that any kind of violence, against any kind of target, is justifiable because it's in service of this non-existent group called "humanity."

The thing that really does it for me though, is that she begs for her life at the end. We don't get a defiant "you'll regret this" or a "you're dooming us all" line. No, all we get is, "Wait. Let me go. Please." There's not even the slightest hint of relief that Ellie is going to be okay, which you'd assume she'd have if the choice to sacrifice her had actually been that difficult to make. In her dying moments, Marlene shows us where her priorities truly lie - herself. 

I dunno about you... but I sure as hell wouldn't follow this person into battle.

I dunno about you... but I sure as hell wouldn't follow this person into battle.

Marlene is a terrorist who started a war with the military, while they were protecting her from the Infected, because she couldn't live under their rules. And she's a piece of shit because she's willing to kill a kid to create a vaccine, just to further reduce the chances of her dying. Tess went out like a boss, Sam accepted his death and Henry willingly followed him, but Marlene went out begging like a coward. She's not brave and she didn't "make a tough call," she chose the option that would save "humanity" ie: herself.

Joel, on the other hand, is way down the other end of the spectrum. He's not willing to kill Ellie to save humanity, but he's totally willing to kill humanity to save Ellie. Which, if you think about it, is what you would do if you were a parent. Call me crazy, but if you're not willing to nuke a city to save your own kid, then you're not fit to be a parent. That's literally your only job, keep them alive, and you do that even if that means sacrificing your life or your soul. Marlene may have been watching over Ellie since she was born, but Joel was more a parent to her in that last year than Marlene ever was.

If that ain't a family portrait, I don't know what is!

If that ain't a family portrait, I don't know what is!

The hospital scene at the end causes some contention for a lot of people, because it seemed to outright change the goal of the game. Killing Fireflies suddenly seemed like a terrible act, since you'd been travelling to meet them for the entire game. But if you recall, Joel was never that friendly with the Fireflies, his brother even left them because they were getting a bit too crazy, and our first real encounter with them is when they blew up a goddamn truck in Boston. When did anyone ever say that they were the good guys? Joel's role as a guardian was to look after Ellie, which meant he protected her from any and all threats - even the Fireflies.

Now, you could state that killing the doctor at the end was a purely needless act, but if you go back and watch it again you'll see that it's otherwise. The only doctor you have to kill is the one that said "I won't let you take her." He then picked up a scalpel and pointed it at a guy who's clearly just slaughtered his way past dozens of soldiers... the doctor made a call to stand in your way and he doesn't let you pass unless you kill him. He doesn't even try to fight you, he's making you kill him. So you do. The other two aren't as resolute as him though, so whether or not you kill them is up to you. You, as in you the player, not Joel.

Say what you will, this guy stuck to his principles till the very end. 

Say what you will, this guy stuck to his principles till the very end. 

Also, I find it kind of hypocritical that the female doctor says that she doesn't want to die, when she was clearly about to butcher an innocent kid.

This was basically their plan...

This was basically their plan...

After that you go for a light jog, shoot Marlene in the face and then bail with Ellie. Once you get to the final act of the game you're playing as Ellie and you need to pass through a wooded area. To me, this just book-ended the game; you started as Sarah as she leaves the safety of home and you end as Ellie, as she journeys towards the safety of home. There's this bit in this last stage where Joel jumps up off a log to reach a ledge and the log falls down, so he has to reach down and pull Ellie up. I read this review that took this scene as a metaphor for toxic masculinity; where the selfishly ignorant male charges ahead, ruins the path, and forces the female to rely on the sexist male's aid to proceed.

This is exactly the sort of loaded interpretation that made me want to avoid the game in the first place. To me, this scene was simply a quick recap of the whole game, he took Ellie from civilization (the road) through the wilds (the journey) and then he carried her at the end (the ledge.) Ambiguity is the wiggle room that allows for interpretation though, so I'm sorry that my interpretation doesn't push forward some kind of socially progressive agenda...

Then there's the lie, the final aspect of the story that causes so much turmoil in the online community. I don't understand it really, because what else was he going to do? "Yeah, they could have saved humanity but you would have needed to die, so that's on you." No, fuck that - there's this insanely damaging thing called guilt that you really don't want to throw onto your kids if you can avoid it. Joel is Ellie's parent now, he needs to shield her from all this shit, because that's what parents do. They lie about Santa Claus, they lie about the gold fish dying, the lie about the bank foreclosing on the family home and they sure as hell lie when thousands of people will die in place of their kid.

"I swear... that I won't needlessly burden you."

"I swear... that I won't needlessly burden you."

I think it's entirely possible that Ellie knows, but at this point she's more interested in maintaining the relationship than digging for the truth. She knows Joel, she's spent a year trying to form a connection with this guy, and she finally got what she was after. Was it the perfect relationship? Hell no, but then it's a far from perfect world, even before the infection hit. Is she better off this way? Well, she's alive, and so is Joel, and she's going to live a few more years at least. Despite the demons she's no doubt accrued, it's still better than being dead.

I loved The Last of Us and I loved the ending, I felt that turning the Fireflies into the enemies you need to take out was a great twist. A few of them were still alive in the hospital as you left though, so they no doubt know what Joel and Ellie look like. I'm sure they'll be back in the sequel and feeling doubly justified in yanking out Ellie's brain.  

They're still around...

They're still around...

The Last of Us and Feminism

(So I was writing this and it started out coherent in my head but it sort of spiraled into a rant and then it got impossible to edit, so I'll release it in two parts. There was a pretty obvious break in the style and overall point of the piece anyway.... so yeah, this part is the "whiny rant" part.)

While there is still no release date for The Last of Us 2, I feel it's a good time to finally throw my worthless opinion of the game into the ring. The Last of Us didn't change my life, but just to be clear, that's more of a critique of my life than the quality of the game. I loved the game, like so many others, and it certainly moved me in spots, but I'm not one of those people that will rant and rave about how perfect it was till the day I die.

It is pretty great though...

It is pretty great though...

I actually didn't want to play it at first, despite it obviously being a really high quality post apocalyptic title. It looked great, I liked the unique take on the zombies and it was getting rave reviews, but... the people who were playing it really put me off. It was released amid the build up to Gamergate, when there was a lot of social issues around gaming being brought to the foreground. Since The Last of Us put so much emphasis on the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and because it also had so many strong female characters, it's little wonder that it got picked up and carried as a mascot for what all games could and should be like.

I stayed out of the whole Gamergate cluster fuck, I could see points on both sides and to be honest the whole thing bored me. I started playing video games as a kid to get away from people, so social issues and games don't mix for me. This is primarily because the outside world ceases to exist once I start gaming. As much as I wanted to play this game though, I read countless articles about how it was a feminists dream but how it was somehow still sexist, how people were offended that the two main characters were white, about the horror of two female characters being (metaphorically) put into refrigerators, and I even skimmed through a forum argument between two chicks about what specific type of pedophile David is.

No thank you, I ain't having any of that shit.

I don't care what age cateogry he's attracted too... I just want to fucking kill him!

I don't care what age cateogry he's attracted too... I just want to fucking kill him!

So I rolled my eyes and played something else... Dark Souls, if I recall correctly. So I didn't actually play The Last of Us on the PS3, and it wasn't until I got a PS4, where the remastered version came with the console in a special deal, that I finally got to play it. I played it and I loved every minute of it, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like people had claimed it to be. The relationship between the characters was key to the narrative, sure, but it wasn't this emotional bonding wankfest that everyone made it out to be. Each character in The Last of Us is deeply broken and troubled in their own way, and each of them having to overcome their fears in order to move on is part of what makes the story great. It had plenty of female and homosexual characters as well, and it never made the slightest fuss about them, which is exactly the way that it should be.

I think that The Last of Us got swept up in this wave of social action and touted as something that it totally isn't. Sure, it can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but a feminist tale it most certainly isn't. Blame it on the ludonarrative dissonance if you want, but your characters literally murder their way across the United States. You shoot people in the face, stab them with scissors, rip them to shreds with homemade explosives, torture them, burn them to death and stomp on their heads. By the end of the game you've got a kill count that's so high it's no doubt left both Joel and Ellie as gibbering, homicidal maniacs. Also, if it's such a bastion of equality, why do we only murder human males and no human females? I don't actually have a problem with any of this mind you, except that last part which strains credulity, and it only really becomes a problem if you're trying to pass the game off as something that it isn't.

They're a great, but complicated, duo. There doesn't have to be more to it than that.

They're a great, but complicated, duo. There doesn't have to be more to it than that.

If you simply take it as a post apocalyptic story about two broken people who find one another and form a relationship, then it's all peachy. No need to try and shoehorn it to fit your political agenda, just let it be what it is - it's bloody good at that.

This is always the difficult part of the discussion, where I reveal that I'm not one of those people that runs with the herd and spouts the same old popular opinion for fear of being socially ousted. I'm not a Feminist *gasp* but I'm not a fucking Nazi either *double gasp!*  

Too many shocking reveliatons!

Too many shocking reveliatons!

I'm a storyteller, I have to maintain neutrality so that I can view all situations as objectively as possible. Obviously I can agree or disagree with certain things, but I'm usually trying to stay out of the action so I can observe and analyse the situation better. I need to be able to entertain any and all ideas, good and bad. So I'm sorry if this rustles your jimmies - but that means not picking a side. Telling me that a story is Feminist is about as appealing to me as saying it's a Skinhead story, they're both extremes and I don't particularly like the crowds that either group draw. 

I will probably still listen/read/watch the story though, eventually... maybe?

I don't care that The Last of Us has so many female characters, I also don't care that so many of them die, but I'm damn appreciative of how well written they are. Playing as two little girls wasn't a problem for me, that's something interesting that I haven't done before. Bill is such an complex character, I'm actually glad that he survived despite how much of a dick he is. Sam and Henry, that gets me every time, not because they're black but because they're so damn realistic. 

And I'm cool with that, because she's well written and interesting... and voiced by Ashley Scott from Jericho.

And I'm cool with that, because she's well written and interesting... and voiced by Ashley Scott from Jericho.

All I'm after is a great story, and that's something that The Last of Us delivered.

Being "diverse" isn't a selling point for me, it's not a good enough reason to pick up a game, or any kind of story. A diverse cast of characters is great, but only for what they can bring to the story, it's not simply great in and of itself. Give me diverse, or give me all white or all black, all male or all female, all straight or all gay - all I care about is the story that's being told. 

So that's the long of it, while the short is that I'm sorry that it took me so long to play this game. As is so often the case, the white noise surrounding it was just that - noise. It's a fantastic game and I really look forward to the sequel, and I'm confident that Naughty Dog will bring their customary attention to detail. I'm really hoping that they focus on the toll that the first game took on both characters, instead of simply bowing to social pressure and making it all about the lie that was told...

...but I'll get to that later.