Spoilers ahead: If you haven’t played The Last of Us, I’d steer clear.
After years of anticipation and even scandal, The Last of Us 2 finally comes out tomorrow. I’ve spent the last 3 days playing its predecessor in anticipation. Since initially playing The Last of Us in 2018, I’ve finished the game around 4-5 times–for me, someone who doesn’t consider themselves a “gamer”, and someone who rarely finishes any game, I find it almost surprising. To those who ask, I call it my favourite game. This is all due to the impact it had on me on initial playthrough.
2018 was when I’d first received a PS4 and The Last of Us as a gift from my partner. I’d only had very specific ideas of what a game could be. As a child, I’d only be gaming using borrowed consoles or the family’s PlayStation 2 and 3 when visitors came over or when I’d play with my older sister (amongst secret sessions of Tekken and RockBand, of course). As an adult, I used an older PlayStation 3 that belonged to my sister, but it eventually died out taking my Skyrim and Batman: Arkham City playthroughs with it. My gaming experience compared to my close friends is limited, though I can never say I’ve truly felt left out because of others in my life who’ve allowed such a luxury. However, I hadn’t realised the capabilities games had to tell a story.
Though I’ve always recognised my love for the characters and the dynamics between each and every one of them, I fall in love with them all over again, again and again. There’s no doubt in my mind that the game’s focus on characters and relationships has shaped a new perspective in how I approach my own relationships, and what that allows me to question each time I revisit the game.
First, there’s Joel and Sarah, father and daughter in a world identical to our own. We then meet Tommy, Joel’s brother,as they both fight to rescue the little family they have amidst the outbreak. Then, Joel and Tess, two survivors who will do their most to protect the little unit they’ve created by any means necessary. Before the trek Ellie and Joel go on, we meet Marlene, having been a maternal figure to Ellie since the death of her biological mother, and Ellie willing to risk it all to save her within a moments notice.
The way the web of these relationships sometimes parrallel or contrast, to me, make the ending of the game weigh heavier and the decision Joel makes to save Ellie make so much more sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s the right one, it’s the choice Joel would make, as hinted throughout the entirety of the game.
Not sure why, but it’s taken the playthrough over these last couple of days for me to be unconsciously asking myself what it means to survive, and what it would take for me to do so by any means necessary. Is it to protect myself? To protect loved ones?
Ellie, near the end of her journey with Joel to the final area of the game, turns to Joel after he offers her freedom from the inevitable, and says, “It can’t all be for nothing.”
We’ve killed people, in this game. People like Ellie and Joel who are simply trying to survive, and save their own, in all their own odd and twisted ways. What it takes to survive means something different for everyone, but some have lost reason for who or what they fight for. Animal instincts kick in. Killing doesn’t take second guessing. This is the world in which they live, and it is all Ellie has known and wants humanity to escape from because she knows it’s the right thing, but also because carrying the weight of being the only known person to be immune to the disease that caused all this disarray can’t all be for nothing.
For Joel, the trauma he’s experienced, and the things he’s done… It can’t all be for nothing, right? Is this why he saves Ellie at the end? 20 years ago, he couldn’t save Sarah as that wasn’t within his control, nor was the death of Tess. Does Joel believe he’s doing the right thing, or because of having something to fight for justifies his wrongs, so that what he fought for can’t all be for nothing? What matters if the world is saved and things begin to go back to how they once were, if the things he fought for no longer exist? The hurt he’s experienced from those he’s lost, can’t all be for nothing either.
After Ellie hands him the picture of him and Sarah, he says, “No matter how hard you try, you just can’t escape the past.”
Perhaps it’s possible I’m asking the obvious, but there are many layers to the ending I try to make sense of. It makes me question what I would’ve done, had I, for 20 years, had been wrestling for a reason to stay and to survive, to justify all the things that I’ve done. I see others do that now in the state of our world in 2020. I see how I do that now, in my own measly way.
Our world is full of complex characters, and whether we like it or not, the webs of our relationships impacts the choices we make. We fight the fights we believe are worthy for the causes we choose. Perhaps in the face of catastrophy, the world of The Last of Us, though far, isn’t too far from the world in which we live.
Also published on Off Campus.