Writing about The Last Of Us Part ll right now is choosing to add another voice to a cacophony of voices, the equivalent of one more person screaming nonsensically at a concert. Still, I can’t help myself.
As someone who’s usually aware of how toxic “the discourse” can get when discussing a beloved piece of media on the internet, the response to The Last Of Us Part ll has managed to surprise me, reminding me of the mind-numbing arguments people engaged with when discussing the last season of Game Of Thrones and Leia’s force powers in The Last Jedi.
Despite the overlap that exists between fans of The Last of Us and fans of these million dollar franchises - mainly that they’re perceived as male and straight - I can understand the discourse to a certain degree, and why these people hold these characters so closely to their chests.
Unlike film, TV, and literature, where you tag along for a ride and have no avenues for further involvement, video games hand you the remote. It’s a single gesture that makes a world of difference, giving you the illusion of control. Although you’re playing a character that inhabits a world with a fixed amount of options, it weighs on you whenever you press a button, whenever you find a collectible that isn’t integral to the story or stumble into a cutscene that is optional.
In a series like The Last Of Us, infamous for giving you no way out and for making you do tough things, once you beat “Part ll” and the title screen changes from the boat bleakly drifting through the night to that same boat safely harbored in sunny Catalina Island, you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Even if you had no say in the matter and no way of changing what happens to these characters, you still accomplished something. You had a hand in completing this story.
The relationship we have with video games is the most intimate one you can get. In a way, I understand that what these angry fans feel for Joel is what I ended up feeling for Ellie and Abby. My excitement over the simple existence of Ellie - this young, gay, badass, the first of her kind - is what every straight male gamer feels when they pick up a random game and play as their equivalent: a Joel, a Nathan Drake, a Peter Parker, an Alistair, a Link. A character who is like them and who is their clearest vehicle for catharsis, which is what we’re all looking for in any form of art.
The Last of Us Part ll is an amazingly challenging game, one that asks for every ounce of your patience and empathy. Moreover, it’s a game that matters. The fact that it chooses to focus on the narratives of women and minorities is a first in its scale. The Last Of Us Part ll features buff women, gay women, religious women, women with body hair, trans men, and more, all for the betterment of a rich story. It’s revolutionary.