The Last of Us Part 2, Videogame Violence, And The Ol' LD (DISCOURSE FREE)

Jeeze, I had a whole big thing written out on that other thread, and then lost it, and it got real big so I made it its own post.

A short note on the idea that it is a AAA Videogame (derogatory) with AAA Violence and that it gamefies violence because its main gameplay verbs are Shoot and Cut and so it just has more violence than it should and it causes ludonarrative dissonance because it's a game with a lot of killing, which I feel I am saying in response to this [Polygon article]( which has a rare example of unintentional url humour... I dunno, at least as far as _The Last of Us_ is concerned, I think this is ultimately kind of a simple even boneheaded take, just 'cause I feel like if any AAA (derogatory )game at least sort of justified why its narrative and setting was inundated with constant, stifling violence, it was _The Last of Us._ I mean, I don't see a _whole_ lot of people mention this, but I felt the level of violence was appropriate given the situation, and more specifically, I think it was characteristically a sort of post-post apocalyptic society that would emerge, specifically out of the United States of America going through that sort of apocalypse and responding by immediately descending into hyperviolent individualistic plaguefascism. "Human beings are the monsters after all because gun" is pretty reductive at least of _The Last of Us Part 1,_ for sure even if _Part 2_ is less interested in portraying that aspect of the setting. Like, I thought it made sense that a culture of extreme violence would come out of a situation where a hyper dominant and deeply arrogant cryptofascist state became compelled to eat most of itself to survive a disaster, but also what it would look like if the powerful were relatively successful in hanging on to power, especially in a situation where soft power structures collapsed overnight, and once that happens, the power of being already militarized can't really be argued with. So I do think the _setting_ justifies its omnipresence of violence, but to a certain degree it feels like a setting that only makes sense emerging out of the corpse of America if it were to be murdered in a certain way. I have this private fantasy about the concluding shots of The _The Last of Us_ Series showing the arrival of ships or aircraft full of highly organized soldiers and doctors from Africa and/or Asia who have been planning a continental rescue mission for North America for the last 20 years, and come armed to the gills with weapons specialized for killing Infected and a vaccine ||they didn't even have to kill a kid for.|| And they'll just look around and think, huh, yeah, ok, this makes sense, but damn, really?

Anyway, enough of that.

I gotta say, I felt Tim's statement of ".............but that game is just REAL good" in my bones. Cause... yeah... that game is REAL good.

For the record, I had not played _The Last of Us_ until, well, last year. I remember seeing the [E3 2018 Gameplay Trailer]( and thinking there was no way that that could be actual gameplay and that the cinematic and dynamic way it unfolded must have been AAA Games (derogatory) doing what they do and making a AAA Trailer with gussied up AI and carefully choreographed action with trailer unique animations and scene blocking to make the combat look more visceral than it actually would play like. After Tim announced he was going to review Part 1, I figured, okay, there might be something to this. I had foolishly gotten a download code for _The Last of Us: Remastered_ with my PS4, and dismissed it so heavily as _"just another AAA zombie game,"_ that I intentionally did not ever enter the code, and, thinking I was too cool to have a PS4 for any reason other than to play _Bloodborne,_ even semi-intentionally lost the slip of paper at some point. Finally playing that, however, made me see that, that's a good game, and also think that, hey, maybe this Part 2 trailer _isn't_ bullshit... just based on how everything felt in TLOU1. And honestly, it really wasn't bullshit, which is still kind of mindblowing to me. Maybe some of those animations are gussied up for the trailer, sure, but behavior of the enemies as well as the level of interaction you have with the environment is pretty much faithful to the gameplay, which is ridiculous.

It makes TLOU2, in my opinion, the new gold standard for stealth action games, 3rd person shooters, and maybe even just broadly games which adhere to at least some entertainment focused facsimile of realism (we're not so naive as to think this game would be better if it was _actually_ realistic, what we love about games like this is that it gives the _feeling_ that it is realistic). The way physical spaces in the game simultaneously feel realistic and that they will act and be navigable, but also like they are tailored to foster good gameplay, is nothing short of a marvel. I think this is because so much work was put into making the game play in a way where, simply by knowing what it's like to navigate and interact with physical spaces in The Real, you feel you know how physical spaces will work in _The Last of Us Part 2._

Disclaimer, but I played the game on my first playthrough with all of the difficulty settings maxed for most of it. I did this because I felt _The Last of Us 1_ as well as other Stealth Action games prepared me more than adequately for it, and that after seeing that trailer I really wanted to see what the game could throw at me. I had a blast gameplay wise doing this, I really love stealth actions games and when I get into them I go hard. Mid game spoilers, ||to give a less stealth oriented and more action oriented run-'n-gun feeling to Abby's sections, which for me felt more thematically appropriate and gameplay-wise mechanically refreshing, I lowered the survival settings for Abby's section but kept everything else at max, so I could still have intense combat but feel less constant tension. I also did this just 'cause I had no idea I was only like 60% of the way through the game and that Abby's Literal Half wasn't more of a diversion to lead into the ending than such a huge part of the game. But once I realized it really was basically the back half of the main dramatic arc of the game, I realized setting it that way was a really good idea and I had a lot of fun playing that way.|| Particularly with stealth mechanics, it doesn't feel Videogame-y. By which I mean, for instance, as much as I love those games and for how particular of a weirdo was at the helm of them and who I imagine could only have been constrained by tech limitations, you very very very rarely get even a whiff of that cognitive dissonance like in _Metal Gear Solid_ where these supersoldiers with genetically enhanced hearing and vision can't see Snake's boots poking out from under the truck. Sure, having the rifle slung on Ellie's back clip through the wall won't reveal your position, but aside from stuff like that that probably wouldn't even be fun to have to deal with anyway, everything else makes the gameplay come together in a way that feels so visceral, dynamic, and communicable. Like, the shooting and aiming and movement is all great if not excellent, but it's the way you can see a physical space before you and know how interacting with it will work in a way that frees it from feeling like a videogame with rules to its physical spaces that don't line up with reality, or, again, perhaps more accurately the entertaining fascimile of realism, that forms expectations in the player for how to play and move and approach combat challenges and problem solve.

That's not exactly what I find to be so good about TLOU2, though. I think what really set it apart for me was that the action on screen and the way in which control and deliberateness of control was finely crafted makes that control disappear as I became immersed in the gameplay, action, tension, and, yes, the violence.

Now, this is going to make me sound like an ultra freakazoid serial killer weirdo. But bear with me, because it is not exactly a "good" or "cool" thing... TLOU2 gives me too accurate of a feeling of what it could be like to stalk and pounce on and kill a person.

In a more fantasy based or less morally slate gray setting, stealth action is empowering. It's cool in _Sekiro_ to blitz around killing legendary creatures or loyal warriors to a feudal lord or ||The Feds,|| swiftly and stylishly. In _Metal Gear Solid,_ we get moral complexity, but also melodrama. And depending on what game, you can even put in extra effort to exclusively use non-lethal force, which, honestly, feels Canon.

In this relatively grounded story in this relatively grounded world, though, the pragmatism of its murder is uncomfortable. What's even more uncomfortable is that you barely notice it getting easier and easier as time goes on, and then, a brutal moment in a cutscene snaps you right back. It is not a Murder Simulator, delighting in crass and shapeless acts of murder. But it does simulate murder. Those visceral and synapse level responsive controls and communicable mechanics are not just for having fun doing a Gameplay. They place you in the role of the live choreographer plotting out the survival and mortal combat undertaken by the player character.

One of the ways it does it so effectively is by what I think amounts to stiletto precise employment of cutscene QuickTime Events, believe it or not. At their worst, QTEs are simply ways in which the laziest developers are making sure that you are paying attention to their boring cutscene, or want something Cool to happen visually and felt it acceptable to rob the player of standard gameplay to do it. At their best, they are a powerful part of the way action on screen, player immersion, narrative authorship, and player control of a character can greatly enhance the immersive experience of playing games. I ultimately don't know how deliberate some of this is, but two moments in particular, as I both played them and thought about them afterwards, made me feel gutpunched by how powerfully the game used these subtle psychological manipulations on me, and all it was were, of all things, QTEs.

The first moment is... detailed spoiler heavy story description. ||When Ellie corners Nora in the basement of the hospital. Nora is doomed because of the spores, and so Ellie demands that she tell her where Abby is, in exchange, she will quickly mercy kill her. Nora remains defiant. Ellie tortures her to get Abby's location.||

Vague, less spoiler-y but still certainly a spoiler description: ||Player character Ellie needs information out of someone whose death is all but certain. They are defiant, because it would involve betraying a friend. Ellie tortures them to get the information.||

Something Tim said during his Action Button Review of TLOU1 stuck with me and now I think about it a lot when I play games, especially ones like this. In TLOU, I never feel like _I_ am Joel or _I_ am Ellie. It feels much more like I am simply in control of their survival instinct. I choreograph, but I do not choose anything important. I have no narrative authorship. In this moment, that aspect of the game feels like a slap in the face. If was not being generous, or, frankly, I was not glued to the action on screen when I played it, I would probably feel that this is a Kick The Puppy moment big time, because while we do not get any input as to whether our player character chooses to use torture to get what they want, and they will do so no matter what, _progression in the game_ is gated behind the player Pressing The Square Button to Initiate Torture. And the game knows that you don't want to see the character do this, because it doesn't show you the victim, it shows you the player character's face from the ground up. We have to press Square not once, not twice, but three times, to further the cutscene.

It is easy, I think, to say that must simply be the game going "yeah you loved that didn't you, you sicko, you pushed the button to Torture. you should feel bad because you made that moral choice, didn't you, but _of course you don't you sicko,_ you _love sicko shit_, if you didn't like it you wouldn't keep playing would you, you sicko???" I think this is a reductive view of what the effect (if not the deliberate intent) was on forcing the player to press buttons to proceed with the action on screen. It was at this moment I felt that the game was doing something more than that, because, it seemed to be aware if not predictive of how I was feeling and how it felt to have control in this game, because, it is definitely aware that I am not Ellie and I don't _feel_ like Ellie, what I do is I direct and time her movement and action. I am deliberately not given authorship over whether to Torture or not, but, I am also not given any authorship at all. What, in that intense sequence _am_ I being given authorship over? It struck me like a lightning bolt--what I'm in control of is the emotive expression of the player character. In that moment, I am not controlling me, or Ellie, or even Ellie's actions. What I am in control of is more abstract, it's not someone's body or survival instinct. I am in control of someone's emotions, I am in control of Ellie's hesitation, the internal conflict that knows what she is doing is horrific and wants this to not happen. It's the emotion I'm feeling when I am not pushing the button, it's one of the most intense feelings I've had from _not_ pushing a button. I am desperate for there to be another way. I don't press Square exactly because I've figured out the game is indeed going to gate progress and give me an alternate scene. I press Square because the rage in Ellie's face tells me that Ellie has made her decision. My hesitation is superseded by the narrative authorship, and ultimately, what I am controlling is momentary internal pleading with a blind rage. I press Square. All of the same emotions come back, stronger, but it's the same. I press Square again. My hope for a different outcome is ground to dust when still nothing changes. I press Square again and the screen goes black shortly after.

The other moment is almost its polar opposite: ||Day 3. Ellie finds Mel and Owen in the Aquarium. She catches them unaware and has a gun on them. She frantically demands information from them to find Abby. She tries to set up Tommy and Joel's torture tag team on her own (we get this feeling that Ellie is way too comfortable with resorting to torture). As they inch closer and Ellie becomes more frantic, Owen rushes her. After a short struggle, she shoots him in the gut and he collapses. Mel rushes her, gets on top of her on the ground with a knife to her throat. Ellie is able to throw her off, and then overpower her fairly easily, stabbing her in the neck, killing her instantly. Owen dies shortly after.||

Vague description but still spoilerific: ||Player character Ellie finds two friends of the person they are hunting, and pulls a gun on them, demanding to know where their friend is. Player character is frantic and tries to force them to co-operate by using a manipulation torture tactic she learned from a complicated mentor. This tactic requires two people, though, and in her franticness, one of them rushes Ellie when their guard is down, and gets shot in the gut after a brief struggle. The other tackles them to the ground, is almost able to kill them with that momentum, but in the end, Ellie shoves them off and overpowers them easily, killing them in the process. The other person shot in the gut dies shortly after.||

At this stage in the game, I think we are supposed to be getting real tired of seeing Ellie kill people senselessly. I don't see how at this point the sins aren't weighing on you. And I think that is deliberate. The QTEs, or rather, QTE, here, though, is actually immersive in the ways in which they are _absent_ rather than present. For most of the game, we have gotten the idea that if we get physically overpowered we will need to mash the Square button or whatever, in a cutscene, we may be asked to finalize an act of violence with a button press. However, that's not what happens here. Ellie gets rushed and loses control of herself. She shoots reflexively, instinctually. And in that moment, it's the last thing that we the player want to see. We don't necessarily feel sympathetic to what Ellie wants to do but we very likely don't want her to murder to get it if she doesn't have to. And yet, she does. But where the game gets you invested in Ellie's feeling of frantic loss of control is how it does and does not use QTEs. To this point we have become physically used to the way in which with our body (controller in hand) we move and direct another body (Ellie). Often that means controlling murders. But in this moment where we are surely tired of murder, there is only one QTE--the moment Ellie is overpowered and needs to fight off her attacker to survive. The way in which Ellie kills them in this scene is not connected to our sense of control at all, It is not the result of a button press. Again, we are forced to be dragged out and crammed back in to control of this character, but the only control we can muster is the control to keep her alive. We are as out of control of the act of killing her attackers as she is.

Ultimately, _The Last of Us Part 2,_ rather than epitomizing what I think is seen as this flaw or incongruity between gameplay and narrative and player control as that Polygon article concluded, instead feels like a logical conclusion to the sorts of things in games that have been talked about since _Bioshock._ That discussion as it pertains to like how _deeeeep_ it is maybe even felt almost like we were beating a dead horse, and sometimes it feels like the morality aspect of it is at least a near dead horse. That's a bit unfair I think and this game made me think about it a lot. There is still plenty of ground to cover in terms of the potential for videogames as an immersive form of media to immerse the player by being more _aware_ of what "control" is, whether control is just what you do to enact gameplay and clear interactive challenges, or if control can be extended to narrative effectively, or if we can control something like emotive performance or if a game can play with our emotions, and what it feels like to have it, not have it, be given it, and have it be taken away, and so on and so forth. TLOU2 was a stellar game, mechanically, audiovisually, in terms of accessibility, but I think for me that's what really put it over the top. It made me think about and feel what was happening on screen in a way that was uniquely intense and gripping. I've maybe kind of gotten to a point where if I'm gonna be killing people in a videogame, they better be unambiguously evil (and then at that point it already isn't a realistic setting unless we talkin' Nazis or Cops (derogatory)), and if it is a realistic setting and I have no real reason to believe the people I'm killing are deserving of death, the game better make me feel really uncomfortable about it. And, I guess, it is conducive to my enjoyment and engagement with the game that I can lean into that discomfort willingly.

As I said in the opening paragraph I think the first game established at least a setting in which this level of horrific violence makes sense, I can't imagine the psychological impact of living in a world where some people are forced to destroy human shaped things (that were once human (but are definitively not human anymore)) before in their parents' world they would be legally allowed to operate a motor vehicle (because that could kill someone done irresponsibly!). And excessive and relentless and graphic though TLOU2 was about the idea of persons taking lives, I don't think it was gratuitous. If anything I appreciated the brutality of it. If you are going to portray an ugly world like this or refer to the worst parts of the one we actually live in, I want it to be honest, my interest and frankly patience for a lack of authenticity with regards to how our existence is inundated with constant horrendous violence has been gone for a while. Tthe subject matter is about things that are disgusting and depraved and not even a lifetime of shooting person shaped things prepared me for it. Despite being a blockbuster AAA title, it really does make the game hard to recommend, because I think it's good at what it set out to do. It is a sicko game about sickos who do sicko things and if you don't like going into sicko mode at least reasonably enough it can be if not _should_ be offputting. Genuinely, I say, if you don't think you would enjoy it, don't play it! Don't even watch a Let's Play. It's a game that does mean to make you feel immersed in intense and awful experiences. Even though I can't deny that it isn't a niche title commercially, thematically it basially just should be. Whether or not Naughty "Coolcorporate Overlords" Dawg really deserve to grant themselves the creative licence to do something like this is up for debate (I don't really play their games so idk!), but least when I played it I did not feel like the game was "gamifying" violence or making me feel that the violence was part of a Videogame, because its omnipresence is so cloying, in a way that at least for me felt like a conscious rejection of the idea that there can be something poetic or dramatic or meaningful about murder. It's murder, it's there, it's inescapable, it's not even natural because as a species we aren't really murderous, but it has been unnaturally made ubiquotous. Murder means life, which is, no hyperbole, the most fascinating and precious thing we, as life, concretely know of, is utterly destroyed, forever, and nothing will ever be the same ever again such is the complexity and depth of it, and those left behind don't have meaning or purpose or a duty, they have trauma and a void, a permanent absence that can never completely fill in such is the depth and complexity of it, and it can even grow and consume more things around it when you do nothing to even try and fill it. Yet the people in these situations murder as easily as they scratch an itch in public. It's horrible!! But... I think it makes sense to me.

And I guess finally while we're at it, Revenge = bad is so played out, but I dunno, I didn't expect it to have anything to say about that, at least nothing profound, and yet, the resolution ||feeling like it was the result of a sudden momentary impulse and nothing else, was at once shocking and predictable in a way I found kind of incredible, what with the overall shape of it all.|| It really left me feeling like it could have gone any which way because the motivations and stakes at play seemed developed enough (not complex, developed) that it really did all just come down to ||chance, an almost intrusively sudden emotional shift. I did not feel the character redeemed themselves. I did not feel drama, or poetry, or language, or heroism and certainly not justice. It was not a "right" thing to do so much as it was a moment where an impulse to understand and be aware that what felt like the pursuit of some tireless obsession was just a pitiful and downright petty destructive cycle she was set on by nothing more than her own pain and guilt, and that impulse somehow illuminated however faintly the bottom of that void, and then, the illusion of meaning that pushed Ellie forward on a relentless path of violence evaporated, at least, in the most important moment, it was able to let go. And she loses _yet another_ irreplacable, precious thing over it, but finally there is an acceptance of the reality of that, that it was at least a decision someone else made and one's own will should not be imposed on the existence of another, like the way she had erased life as nothing more than an obstacle. And so instead of a void, since no death is involved, we are left with a lessening of the correctness of form... not a void, and not a good change, but the impact of a poor choice poorly made, landing with an appropriate, awkward discord.||

I dunno. That was a real dynamite videogame I guess. Is it high art, and profound? Maybe not, but man, it made me feel a whoooooole lot of feelings, and at some point, there's no difference.


One final note on the last chapter.

||Good idea to place the one group of irredeemable bastard motherfucker humans who are Literal Slavers who are seemingly remnants of the LAPD, right at the end, where, damn, I was tired of having to emotionally and immersively loathe violence! FUCK those guys!! Felt good to liberate and arm their slaves!! They're in videogame hell!!!!!!!!!||

Also, just saying, the DISCOURSE FREE label in the post title is not saying this post must be discourse free, merely that my initial analysis is free of The Disc Horse.

I welcome any and all injections of The Discourse into this thread.

Accessibility rules. Naughty Dawg should make all of the tools and platforms they developed open source immediately or they're hypocrites, though :0] You can't say shit like "we want gaming to be accessible" and hoard all the amazing tech you developed. Then you're just saying "we want disabled gamers to give us money, fuck all the rest of you"
I'm not trans but I thought ||Lev|| was chill and I think they did at least some of that correctly if not all of it.
Destroy All Chuds who can't handle a game having player characters be women they don't want to have sex with.
Everyone who worked on that game did a stellar job but fuck exploitative labor practices in the game's industry like crunch. Unionize!!!

for me, TLOU+2 fail for I guess 2 reasons. 1) the writing is bad to mediocre and 2) it is absolutely not realistic/convincing in any tactile or material way. The degree to which all the tech and graphics separate it from being a videogame is to my eyes, negligible. Yes the graphics are good, but no the people don‘t really look or move like people, the environments don’t really look like places. None of this videogame stuff looks like reality no matter how much $$$ was thrown around, so when a game stakes its “seriousness” on reality-relatability, I think it‘s setting itself up for failure at least in that regard. And that TLOU+2 are so blood-soaked just makes it, in my opinion, that much more incoherent. It’s still a goofy ass videogame

The plot, world, macro writing and at sentence level is just dull and boilerplate, but also gracelessly manipulative. Feels like the games started with the idea to make a "gritty" "postapocalyptic" game for "adults," then every prestige TV and MFA level cliche and gimmick that a corporation would permit was enlisted to justify this concept. I don't like the experience of having to triangulate what I'm supposed to "take away" from a mass market stealth action game. So those moments in these games in which I myself have to consider the consequences of violence fall totally flat for me. I already know that killing a pregnant lady in the course of a cycle of revenge is wrong, and I already know that the character ellie will be "haunted" by this. Just give me the audio/visual/narrative experience/object and let me have a meaningful (or not) time with it. The games feel (to me) like 30 hour lectures from a dumb guy who wants $59.99. So I have a hard time seeing really all that much of a difference between button press morality in TLOU and button press morality in metal gear solid 3.

I appreciate your insightful reading here because maybe I have too much of a mega grinch attitude to extend much sympathy to these games. Sorry for the negativity, feel free to give this post the double middle finger IRL in fact I encourage it.


@Gaagaagiins#14622 Accessibility

yes what they did in this regard was truly impressive and excellent

Yeah, at the end of the day it is still a piece of software designed to entertain and satisfy the user on a mechanical level. No amount of expensive cutscenes and platitudes about the cycle of violence can cover that up. It‘s like when they gave you guns in Mirror’s Edge. You can't have it both ways.

That's not to say I feel there is anything immoral about the game or that it shouldn't be enjoyed.. its just some of the most well-treaded territory in contemporary fiction, and not at all interesting.

Ever since the drone strike mission in COD4 people have been trying to use introspection and meaning to justify ridiculously fucked up things to include in your videogame that sells a zillion copies.

It's like once graphical fidelity got to the point where things become extremely hard to ignore, rather than actually doing anything about it or changing their ways, the industry just decided to shift the conversation to "we know its fucked up, doesnt it make you think?????" How about make a fucking game where you don't shoot a gun as the primary objective?

Then you have stuff like the new Doom's glory kill animations which don't even read to me as violent. So, IDK.

@Jtwo#14666 Is it weird for me that like, I agree with you, but I still thought the experience of playing the game was intense?

I don't think I could say that the game and the violence in it was "nihilistic", 'cause it just feels like the mirror side of saying Violence Has Meaning to say Violence Doesn't Have Meaning. It feels almost like that's the wrong question.

Man, that’s not weird, the game isn’t all bad. I was actually thinking about booting it up to revisit some of it after reading your essay.


@Jtwo#14666 Then you have stuff like the new Doom’s glory kill animations which don’t even read to me as violent. So, IDK.

I'm with Tim and Patrick Gill--these are Comedy

they’re not nihilistic games, they lack even that conviction such as it is. It’s the constant having it both ways-ness that makes them absurd to me. Violence-condemning game that has a weapon-crafting system. I remember when the first TLOU was marketed as a game in which you could blow a guy's face off as he begged for his life.

I keep thinking about MGSV for some reason and why that game kinda worked for me despite having its own exploitative qualities. I think it might be because it doesn’t deny its b-movie and exploitation sides and doesn’t really insist on player-complicity (despite kojima's comments on being ashamed of words and deeds). The game/kojima take responsibility for what’s in there. To the point of closing the plot+thematic loop initiated by a 30 year old MSX game that ends with killing a guy named "big boss" with a lighter + bottle of hairspray. TLOU doesn’t have the stupidity/honesty to do that

@Gaagaagiins#14620 I think this is a really interesting topic and something I've been considering here and there: when does violence “work” and why is it successful or unsuccessful. So apologies for maybe coming on too strong with negative energy.

Will say that one recent example of game violence I found effective was the showdown/shootout in Disco Elysium. I found it effective I think because the threat of violence was so rare, and in fact to that point in my playthrough the only incident of violence, and different plot currents and to extent the game's mechanics fed into the situation and the outcome. And part of why it was effective is the way that the game's systems (stats, conversation, dice rolls) connect to credible beliefs, ideologies, and emotional states. So it could make complete sense to have a violent, authoritarian character relish the opportunity to inflict violence, and it could also make complete sense to have a character perform a violent act out of extreme reluctance, or ineptitude, or panic, etc.

Talking with a friend about TLOU2 recently (we both had mixed, maybe ultimately negative feelings about it, despite enjoying the first one), and something he proposed during that conversation made me more frustrated at the game's insistence upon being as violent and full-of-crafting and “adult” and just AAA Games-y as it is:


the whole game took place in Jackson, as Ellie, walking around talking to people and exploring her relationships. Walk around, talk, hang out. What if instead of The Last of Us, this were Firewatch? To me the most interesting thing about "a sequel to The Last of Us" is addressing the ending of the first game, which I would argue was such a clear and end-stopped statement about the game's characters that the idea of a sequel—especially one which is only a mechanical iteration on, rather than interrogation of, the first game—seems insulting.

Now, this would obviously never happen (which is why the idea hadn't even occurred to me), because AAA Games (derogatory, lol) as a phenomenon are generally gutless and their content is dictated by what will sell, and turning The Last of Us into Life Is Strange (or Tokimeki Memorial, or whatever) wouldn't sell. I don't much like the idea of the first game, which I agree _feels_ like some kind of prestige TV wannabe, and whose writing isn't unique, but I did like the story it told, _a lot_, despite those caveats. What the sequel amounts to seems like ||turning Ellie into a more depraved version of Joel||, which ultimately comes across as a squandering of that character's potential. I think everything that happens to her in the game "makes sense," but it's just not very surprising or new. I got exactly what I expected.

I won't pretend I predicted all the plot beats and character moments, but when Naughty Dog or Druckmann or whoever explained the game took its subtitle from The Godfather Part II, I thought, "Oh, that's what this game will be like." And then it was.

That being said, thank you @Gaagaagiins for starting this thread! Your read on the scene with ||Nora|| honestly made me think more about the game‘s use of QTEs. During the scene I admit I was kind of rolling my eyes just at the idea of it being a QTE, but it turns out that’s the easy way of thinking about it and I didn't consider what it really means in the context of a QTE to have the player look away from “the action.”

Talking about this game online was swallowed up completely by the social media-Youtube vortex of poison hellfire and the level at which the podcast guys were able to talk about it (Tim saying the equivalent of yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah dude and the others avoiding it) was dissatisfying, to say the least.


@captain#14702 What the sequel amounts to seems like ||turning Ellie into a more depraved version of Joel…||

Hmmmm. Interesting that you said _more_ depraved, cause I thought the point was more that Ellie became Joel's _equal_ in that sense, if not still lesser but on the same path. All of the worst things she ends up doing were things she learned from him after all, and presumably he'd done them a lot.

There's nothing concrete about this but I always got the sense that either Tommy or Joel were like, FBI agents or CIA something like that.

What about this, as a more sophisticated story other than the bonehead "revenge bad violence bad you should feel bad" cliche--overcome with rage, Ellie seeks to "avenge" her father figure, who she both loves and hates. She thinks she wants this out of love despite it being pointless and barbaric (people tell her this but ultimately she is spurred on by Tommy). But in seeking this vengeance, she starts to become everything she hated about him.

That's at least better than the boring archetypal self destructive revenge, I dunno.


@yeso#14701 So apologies for maybe coming on too strong with negative energy.

This is the IC forums and we're forum buddies, now! I value your insight and I wouldn't have shared had I been afraid to be criticized at all. And I know it comes from a place of good faith.

@Gaagaagiins#14710 I guess I only say “more” depraved because the game bothers to show us all the things she does, where the first game settled for the ol‘ “20 Years Later.” So that’s a good point! But it doesn‘t feel right to me, in any case, to say that Ellie is doomed to be ≥ Joel. On one hand I disagree with an opinion I read in The Disc Horse which implied that, because Ellie is affected by her relationship with Joel, she is totally stripped of agency and basically erased as a character. On the other hand, I do think there’s a way to show how this relationship is significant to her in a way other than how the end-product that is The Last of Us Part II ended up showing it, which is to say, you're playing what feels like a not-so-different sequel to The Last of Us.

I really do dislike this read on the game that it's being preachy about revenge being bad. It clearly respects the player's intelligence enough to know it doesn't need to spell that out for them. Maybe the act of showing Ellie attempting to get revenge in a negative light is bound to come across that way, but I'm disappointed at the assertion that that's _all_ the game is trying to say. I don't think it's moralizing, I think it's showing us the inevitable result of what would happen if ||Joel were to be killed.|| I like your interpretation.


@captain#14703 , thank you @Gaagaagiins for starting this thread! Your read on the scene with Nora honestly made me think more about the game’s use of QTEs. During the scene I admit I was kind of rolling my eyes just at the idea of it being a QTE, but it turns out that’s the easy way of thinking about it and I didn’t consider what it really means in the context of a QTE to have the player look away from “the action."

I have been thinking about them a lot since about 2019 after playing the _God of War_ reboot, since, I think, it was around the time of the original _God of War_ trilogy those were really taking off. And it made me think back on them too.

Lots of games use them in a really hack way that I think has contributed to them often feeling hacky, but honestly, I think when employed with sophistication and taste, they can be very powerful tools for forming an emotional engagement with gameplay.

_God of War_, yes, even the original games, use them deceptively well, at least when they're at their best. It's not just about gamifying mundane actions, it's about linking gameplay up with a corresponding physical action to make you feel more engaged and present in the action. Twist around a control stick to twist off a Gorgon's head, strain your gamerly thumbs mashing the O button to correspond with Kratos straining to open a heavy door, or whatever. The sensation of Kratos using his strength is mirrored by the sensation of the player using their strength.

It's not unlike haptic feedback in that it's a parlor trick, the moment you notice it is the moment that the illusion can end up falling flat. But if there's enough in the experience elsewhere that is acting as misdirection, I think it makes games feel so much more engaging.


@captain#14714 all the game is trying to say

I suppose it's not absolutely all, but the game gives us not one, but two multi-hour revenge narratives, with both protagonists attempting to get revenge on the other so if the shoe fits I guess....


@Gaagaagiins#14711 This is the IC forums

@Gaagaagiins#14716 Like with the rest of the gimmicks the game ripped off, the QTE implementation in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow manages to look very much like God of War‘s, but in the end doesn’t really work. I don‘t know why that’s the example that's coming to me. I like that game otherwise, but man. Use design gimmicks with conviction!

@yeso#14757 Yeah, fair enough. If the game comprised only one of those two multi-hour narratives it could still be argued to be laying that message on a bit thick, but _two_?! The shoe does fit, I'm just too distracted thinking about the foot.

Just an idea

If you structure the narrative starting entirely with Abby in Seattle, and maybe cut or definitely re-order the scenes with her father the doctor then you might have a better story. Immerse the player in Abby's world, her concerns, but don't reveal her connection to Joel and Ellie. Instead while she is on her mission to save Owen and then Lev, there is the tension of the mysterious killer hounding her. Once you get to the scene where her and Lev are going to enter the movie theater THEN go back and tell the story from Ellie's perspective.

You then change the theme from "seeking revenge was bad because actually Abby is no more a monster than you are" to "now that you know all of this about Abby do you still want to get your revenge?" Instead of punishing the player with the cliche "you like all the killing don't you" gotcha, you ask them up front if they're committed to their mission.

I dunno, the big reveal was that Joel dies and that you play as Abby. What if the big reveal had been, "oh shit, Joel is in this game and you don't even know until halfway through that you are the one who killed him"

ok hear me out: what if ellie was a japanese boy in a seaside town, who one day returns to his family dojo only to find his father locked in mortal struggle with a mysterious chinese gangster…


@yeso#14774 ok hear me out: what if ellie was a japanese boy in a seaside town, who one day returns to his family dojo only to find his father locked in mortal struggle with a mysterious chinese gangster…

I feel that this hinges entirely on whether or not Ellie know how to operate a forklift