Dissecting the Discourse – The Last of Us Part II (Spoiler Discussion)

Sometimes, for whatever reason, the gaming community can be incredibly toxic, to the point where satire isn’t satire and people are just…angry.  Normally, its because a developer or publisher have displayed shady consumer tactics to inflate their profits, but in the case of The Last of Us Part 2, it isn’t warranted.

There are spoilers below for the game below, so if you haven’t finished the game, I recommend you stop here.

Not since Metal Gear Solid 2 has there been this much fan discourse.  Back then, it had to do with Solid Snake being replaced by Raiden as the playable character.  It was a big deal as creator Hideo Kojima decided to take the series in a different direction for one game.  The reaction by fans was by far and large overblown.  Having Raiden as the main character did nothing but provide the narrative a different point of view.   All the huffing and puffing was much to do about nothing.

With The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2), Naughty Dog makes a bold narrative decision by having the player see the events from the perceived antagonists perspective.  Its bold because this character, Abby, brutally kills the protagonist from the first game, Joel.  This isn’t the first time a video game has ever let you play as the villain, but its significant because half of the game is seen through her perspective. 

In what will more than likely be an unpopular opinion, Joel was more than deserving of his fate.  TLOU’s ending, which was controversial in its own right, did not set Joel up in a favorable light.  He killed a number of innocent people and possible doomed more because of his love for Ellie.  In other mediums that have a grounded take on revenge, that deed never goes unpunished.  It was only a matter of time.

Death eventually came for Joel through the hands of Abby, who just so happened to be the daughter of the head surgeon that Joel killed.  Its not an entirely original take in the genre, but it was effective as he was brutalized in front of Ellie and becomes her sole reason for being.  Revenge and hate are central to the TLOU2 narrative.   Ellie is constantly enabled by her companions throughout the game to exact revenge, even though its consistently made clear that the better choice would be to let it go.

Naughty Dog does a strong job of showcasing PTSD and the effects it has on the human psyche.  Ellie, while incredibly determined, has difficulty coming to grips with her various actions throughout the game.  There is no catharsis, even after she kills the majority of those responsible.

Abby, who was able to avenge her father, has difficulty shouldering the guilt and looks to atone in various sequences.  Both characters main motivations directly align with the TLOU2’s central theme of hate, but both find drastically different results.  Its obvious that Naughty Dog was trying to explain through the narrative that hate will leave nothing but destruction in its wake.

Playing as Abby shows how she came to her decision of slowly letting the hate go.  Unlike Ellie, there are those close to Abby who don’t approve of her narrow-minded actions.  They don’t work to enable her like the circle that surrounds Ellie, who naively believe that holding those responsible will allow her to move on.

By changing perspectives at different points of the game, you’ll see that any action involving revenge ended up in disaster for both characters.  Ellie clearly couldn’t cope with the trauma and ended up in a far darker place mentally than Abby.  There wasn’t some character assassination taking place when Ellie was already teetering toward the dark due to the events of the first game.

Yes, she was dealt an unfair hand, but she was provided multiple chances to turn around.  TLOU2 exposed how even the most hardened individuals can be the most fragile given the circumstances.  Both characters however, were given the opportunity to walk away and when they didn’t, both had to live with the consequences as a result.  TLOU2 at its core is a character study, one that isn’t new to other mediums, but is something rarely touched upon in gaming where you’re rewarded for taking revenge.

It was bold and even if there were some slight missteps, its refreshing to see this type of narrative finally take shape in a video game.  Unsurprisingly though, gamers lost their shit and things quickly became toxic.  Review bombing and hostile takes became commonplace and anyone defending the game were immediately cast aside. 

There’s nothing wrong with disliking a game, not everyone will agree with TLOU2’s direction, but this level of discourse is absurd. This type of feedback could ultimately lead to developers who want to make bold choices reverting to the status quo. If you’re not happy with the game, that’s fine, but be logical, there is nothing gained from being irrationally upset because the developers made a choice. Brush it off and move on.

Personally, I thought the game was great. Visually, its one of the best I’ve ever seen and gameplay-wise it vastly improves on the original. The narrative does have its occasional slips but even with its inconsistencies, it tells an engaging story with a powerful message.

Its ok to disagree, but the discourse was all for naught. People were mad to be mad and all it did was contribute to the rising toxicity seen in the gaming community. All that melodrama for things you’ve seen in other mediums which makes you wonder why can’t people harness that anger into something positive?

If The Last of Us Part II is any indicator, hate does nothing for you in the end.

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