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Violence and Emotion in The Last of Us

/ Nov 1st, 2012 2 Comments

The Last of Us
The Last of Us

The Last of Us

Death is everywhere in games. Fighting games have gamers beating each other unconscious when they’re not performing Fatalities. Thousands are killed throughout FPS campaigns and even the most family-friendly plumber throws the occasional Koopa off a cliff. Something needs to slow progression and all too often, it is a person the player needs to off. Most of the time players do not feel a thing and they are not supposed to. Some games, however, make the gamer feel every single one. Let’s take a look at two of Naughty Dog’s games, the Uncharted series and the upcoming The Last of Us. These games also have players surviving against waves of attackers with computer-controlled women at their side, but the atmosphere and tone in each are radically different. The emotions that players will have when trying to survive The Last of Us will differ greatly from that of most games of this generation.

Nathan Drake may be charming and nimble, but he spends his days murdering hundreds of pirates, mercenaries and crazy men in ape costumes who drink supernatural grape Kool-Aid. The life of an Uncharted enemy is brief and cheap with no consequence. No one is going to feel sorry for Mercenary #429. No one will question why the gamer did not sneak around him and no one will question their decision to kill someone. It is all done with Indiana Jones styling and progression is halted until all baddies are dealt with, so Drake and the players are not given the option to spare an enemy’s life. It is not something they are made to think about as they experience the game. Yet when the kill count is thrown in the player’s face after killing the end boss in Uncharted 2, it makes them question just how noble Nathan Drake is and by extension, how noble they themselves are. There is no emotional impact to fighting in Uncharted. The gamer may want Drake to survive so that they can see the next amazing explosion or death-defying jump, but they will have to ruthlessly slay a few battalions of enemies first. It is okay though, because the chortles flow when Drake slaps someone with a fish, or wrench, or makes a quippy pun about how he did so.

A scene from The Last of Us.

It is time to think before pulling that trigger.

In The Last of Us, players have the option of sneaking, distracting and evading. Ammo and supplies are limited, so the choice to avoid a fight completely can very beneficial. Not only that, but the AI controlled partner, Ellie, reacts to actions that players take in battle. In the E3 demo, they player can hear her strain as she throws a brick at a stalking enemy to help Joel out when he runs out of ammo. After Joel sets an enemy on fire with a Molotov cocktail, she exclaims with surprise and horror at the action. Joel sternly tells Ellie to “keep it together,” but not without the gamer hearing the pain in his voice. Extreme actions are met with extreme reactions. Kills will not come easy and the demand they have on the characters’ emotional states is convincing and realistic. The death toll should stay low in a game like this. The player is not only escorting Ellie, they are giving her a glimpse into her future as a survivor. This gives much more meaning to each potential skirmish, as fistfights and gunplay should be left as a last resort. This puts the onus of initiating violence squarely on the shoulders of the player. It is a test of morality: is the gamer a violent person and do they want to subject other survivors and Ellie to the visceral effects of violence and the toil that violence takes? Since Joel and Ellie possess no preternatural abilities or superior strength the violence has a cost, whether it be their emotional state, the well-being of their psyche or simply the usefulness of their bodies after exerting so much energy in a land where food is scarce.

Playing The Last of Us looks as rough as the world it portrays. Slaughtering the opposition in other games is easy. The Last of Us portrays a more real experience, with every grunt and scuffle. Doubters should watch the E3 demo. Glimpses of humanity burst from enemies. They cower when taken hostage. They beg for their friends’ and partners’ lives. No one in The Last of Us is a mindless drone set on killing the main characters. Each is a person, made desperate by the world they have ended up in. Killing them should not be seen as a victory, gained experience points or an accomplishment. It is murder. It may be justified, but it’s murder nonetheless and should carry the same weight. The final seconds of the E3 demo are the most powerful. Joel aims the gun at the target’s face, only to have him look up, eyes full of terror and beging for mercy before Joel squeezes the trigger. Should Uncharted or any other such game carry as much emotional burden for a single kill, it would be nearly impossible to finish a campaign, and would severely limit the variety of genres as we enjoy now. The vast majority of games would be labeled as unplayable just by their impact on the human psyche. The Last of Us makes it hard to kill another human being, and with the prevalence of meaningless deaths in other games, that is exactly what the gaming public needs it to be.

Chance Asue

Chance Asue

Associate Editor & Multimedia Specialist at Gaming Illustrated
Chance Asue is a self-taught computer builder and hardware junkie. His favorite game franchises include Pokemon, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy. He is Gaming Illustrated's Multimedia Specialist and reviews the latest hardware tech.
Chance Asue

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  • Andy

    The demo was certainly mindblowing, and my expectations for this game is through the roof.

    My only concern is that these encounters could get repetitious after a while if they don’t have enough distinct enemy voices and lines of dialogue. The more times you hear the same voice clip, the less impact it’ll have. I trust that Naughty Dog has anticipated this, but I’m a bit concerned nontheless.

    • Chance Asue

      I agree. That was an issue with Uncharted and it’s recycling of enemy types. Hopefully The Last of Us will have more variety since we are dealing with citizens instead of soldiers.

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