The Last of Us: Why I Love Videogames 1 Comment

The Last of Us: Why I Love Videogames

It feels like there is an increasing amount of effort being put into the story, characterisation and overall emotionality of videogames. Since videogames rose to popularity in the 1970s, there have been some great story-driven games, such as Myst (1993) and Obsidian (1996), and the story has almost always been the catalyst for gameplay, even if it exists only as traces, as a cue for the next round of action.

I remember when videogames were trending towards something you’d use to relax with, something that would allow you to tune out as you blazed through familiar tournament maps with your shotgun at the ready, turning opponents into red rain. Or you’d raise an expendable army to conquer realms, or use a cartoon character to solve a complex puzzle. This was back at the beginning of the noughties, when online multiplayer gaming was the rad thing and we all became very competitive and bitter towards our fellow gamers.

There are still games in which you can pretty much tune out and enjoy the bloodshed, but recently I’ve found myself increasingly emotionally invested in the journey of a videogame character. It’s become very difficult to watch a character suffer. It’s become harder and harder to make a character kill enemies. At times I even want to skip the action, the task of mowing through enemies and letting my character be beaten around, just so I can experience more of the storyline sooner.

And this is why I love videogames. I used to like videogames as a way to relax and to partake in a bit of problem solving. But now I love games, because they make me feel things for characters the way books do. The way I’d want to read for hours to find out what will happen next to a character is the way I play games to find out where the story will take the character next. Being completely engrossed in the plight of a character in a novel is the way I now feel about videogame characters.

It’s no surprise, considering how many modern videogames share elements with books, becoming more story-driven and character-driven. Recent examples of these kinds of games are Tomb Raider (2013) and BioShock Infinite (2013), two games that have extensive character and story development, attempting to create an emotional connection with a player.

I recently watched my brother play through The Last of Us (2013), an action-adventure survival game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where zombies with a sprouting brain fungus want to eat what’s left of humankind.

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At first I was curious about the characters and how they would interact with the post-apocalyptic setting. I wanted to know how one of the main characters, Joel, would survive in such a brutal environment, and then how he would interact as a middle-aged man with the other main character, Ellie, a feisty teenager who knows nothing of the world before the end of civilisation. Of course, there was a father-and-daughter style conflict between them, with Ellie giving Joel attitude as any teen would.

Then, as they suffered in the wasteland together, as they struggled and survived and kept some glimmer of hope alive, the complexities of the characters emerged. They dealt with loss and pain and wrestled with moral dilemmas, making decisions you would expect a real person to make rather than a hero. They weren’t always what our society would consider to be ‘good’ people; they faced moral quandaries and acted selfishly, their drive being survival. They were characters full of quirks and flaws, throwing sarcastic dialogue at each other at first, then different kinds of dialogue as their relationship evolved.

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The point of view of the gameplay was third-person, with a player controlling Joel at some points in the story and Ellie in others. This meant a player could empathise with both characters, in a similar way the changing points of view in the A Song of Ice and Fire series allows us to reserve judgement about whether a character is inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by allowing us to know the motivations behind most of their actions.

The story was cohesive, containing a clear beginning, middle and end. There was an initial setup and clear transitions between scenes to give the story flow and to create the sense of time passing, in the same way a book should have clear transitions to give the story coherence.

The highlight of The Last of Us was that it was character-driven and story-driven instead of action-driven, in a similar way a good book is. I could find parallels with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), in which characters find themselves in a setting in which they’re required to make difficult decisions and deal with pain and loss in nearly every moment of the story.

As well as these story elements in videogames such as The Last of Us, there’s the added bonus of interactivity—they allow a player to sympathise with a character at a completely different level than they can with characters in books because a player is the character. There’s also the music, which has become so cinematic in games that it’s impossible to tell the difference between music scores in games and in movies, though this could be an entire blog post all on its own

Now, I’m not saying that videogames are better than books. I just feel that they are worthy as a medium for storytelling in both similar and different ways to the written word, and that the hours spent unravelling the story in a videogame like The Last of Us are hardly ever wasted.

 

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There was a time when Chloe Brien wanted to be a fairy and work magic. Having given up on that dream, she instead wants to work magic with words. Her preferred incantations are fiction and poetry. She has been published in Verge, Voiceworks and elsewhere.

 

  • http://waryludo.blogspot.com.au/ DanielD

    There’s also a huge amount of literature studies also going into games as well. Not just The Last Of Us, but for games much older. Beyond Good And Evil, Bioshock (1), Spec Ops The Line, and many others do have a breadth of story, that while sometimes limited, can be comparable to that of other story mediums.

    This is a good starting point for a lot of critical discussion about games (including The Last Of Us):

    http://www.critical-distance.com/

    Its good to see that Voiceworks is exploring story in other mediums.

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