The video game industry, like comic books, has been misinterpreted as a kids business; but on the other hand, it has been the scrutiny of single-minded individuals because of the depiction of violence. A lot of the time, video games have been blamed for school shootings; yes, some video games are violent but it is the parent’s job to regulate what their kid plays. However, when officials blame video games it is because they need to blame something, not because they have evidence to back their claim.
As anyone can see, the video game industry has been a topic of debate for a long time; however, with recent blockbusters like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, video games have been making more money in a single day than movies do in their entire theatrical run. Perhaps, the growth in sales is due to the variety of ways one can buy video games, however, one cannot deny that the video game industry is constantly growing. And with that growth, there have been better games with better stories.
For the first time ever, I felt that the storytelling of a video game surpassed the storytelling of any movie. Yes, this is a bold statement when thought-provoking films were released in 2013: Her, and 12 Years a Slave. But The Last of Us is a story that emotionally moved me throughout its fifteen-hour playtime.
The Last of Us is a PlayStation 3 exclusive, developed by the famous Naughty Dog studios: they have made the classic Uncharted and Jak & Daxter series. The Last of Us is a survival game about a post-apocalyptic America; however, this is not the typical violent post apocalyptic world. While this game can be extremely violent, the player can choose to play stealthily and not kill anyone. So the violence, which can be gruesome and hard to watch, can be avoided by the player’s choice. On top of that, the violence in the cut-scenes all have emotional impact; it is not the typical run and gun heroics of other video games. When the protagonist Joel kills, the player feels remorse.
Joel, who at the start of the outbreak is a single father, develops into a smuggler who defines the word ‘anti-hero.’ He is a violent sociopath who kills without remorse to get his way; from the beginning the player knows the type of character that he or she embodies and at first it is tough to be Joel. But there is an acceptance for Joel’s actions because this is the cynical world to inhabit: a world where coddled individuals will not survive.
At the beginning of the game, Joel lives in a totalitarian community near Boston, where the smallest crime could get you killed. The player quickly learns that there has been a civil war between the government and the fireflies: a rebel organization. After the prologue, the story begins with Joel’s smuggled goods being taken by the fireflies; in order to get them back Joel needs to sneak Ellie, a teenage girl, out of the community. Ellie needs to be smuggled out because she might be the cure of the virus that led to the apocalypse; now the overall plot is the average clichéd apocalypse story. However, the way the story is told is what sets this video game apart from other stories in 2013.
The overall story takes place through a year and it shows the journey and eventual bond of these two characters. Ellie is a foul mouthed teenage who constantly bothers the hard-nosed Joel, but through death-defying situations they slowly start to care for each other. Again, the gated community in Boston is violent and bleak; but the outside world is a million times worse. This is not an easy game to play, nor is it an easy game to play in one sitting. Several times, I had to walk away because the game featured moments that are emotionally unsettling.
But this is not a game that is shocking for the sake of being shocking; these emotional moments are key for the growth of the relationship between Ellie and Joel. And it is not like the two lead characters became friends overnight; each moment is meticulously planned out to show their transformation from ‘co-workers to platonic friends.’ What makes this game work is the players’ investment into this relationship. Any moment of tension causes the player anxiety because they want the best outcome for Ellie and Joel.
But even through all the bleakness of the video game no one expects the ‘gut-punch’ of an ending that this game has. Yes, by the end the players have become so emotionally invested in these two characters’ over-arching story that we forgot where they started. Joel has grown from his one-dimensional sociopathic ways, while Ellie has matured from a foul-mouthed teen; most importantly, both have learned to care about someone again.
Like I said, we the audience want the characters to succeed because we have become emotionally invested in them; but the ending calls into question by what means should they succeed. Usually we want them to survive by any means necessary, but what happens when ‘any means necessary’ gets pushed to the limit. This ending calls into question the actions of the players throughout the game; who is the villain in this very grey world? And it does not have an answer because in a world without societal rules the nature of humans emerges. Yes, this is a bleak ambiguous ending, but it is also thought provoking.
There have only been a few films that have made me emotionally distraught at the conclusion; this is the first and only video game to do so. And it was the only entertainment medium to do so last year. I truly hope that they leave this as a standalone game because if Naughty Dog makes a sequel the ending of the game loses its meaning. With that said, The Last of Us changed the way that I view video games; yes, I always respected the industry, but I never thought that a video game could tell a better story than a movie. The Last of Us proves that this so-called ‘kiddie industry’ has grown and now demands respect.