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The Last of Us is the least we should ask of games Exclusive
 The Last of Us  is the least we should ask of games
July 2, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

July 2, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Programming, Art, Design, Production, Exclusive

I have had to play the story of the man holding a gun at the end of the world countless times, and have been asked to believe in it, to emotionally invest, to take it seriously. It is stark, bleak, exhausting, that I had to wait this long to see that experience done well.

Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is the third game in the last year to star a tough male hero in a paternal dynamic with a younger female companion character (Telltale's The Walking Dead and Irrational's BioShock Infinite are the others). All three games seem prominently interested in emotional narratives, and two focus specifically on storytelling in a post-apocalyptic world beset by zombies.

It's hard to call Infinite, riddled with "what not to do"s and benefiting little from its coin-flicking, improbably-waisted Disney caricature of a companion an exemplar of storytelling or relationship design.

Complicated times

But what it shares with the others is a certain anxiety about the man in games' role shifting -- once the young, muscular striver aiming to procure himself a pneumatic woman-prize through heroic deeds, his tenor is now complicated by age and the times.

In this Guardian article, Keith Stuart discusses the rise of male-centric dystopia in games. He notes that while post-apocalypses are popular provocative story engines in games, they're still primarily focused on the role of the man performing necessary violence and exploring the job of fatherhood.

Which makes sense: as the game industry grows and stabilizes, the men playing and making commercial video games now have children and families of their own and have presumably matured as regards their acquisitive attitude to status and sex (or at least some of them have).

They may have developed a conscience about doing work that they can share with the wider world, rather than that illuminates a private power fantasy. The girls on the screen are now more reminiscent of daughters than of potential mates, and adult creators may now be experiencing a parent's sort of horror at putting those girls' fates into the grabby hands of young men of the sort they once were.

Post-apocalypse, as a genre, generally becomes about how men are to negotiate their social roles as the world's known structure becomes senseless. In eras of economic comfort (or confusion), the post-apocalypse fiction seems to be popular a values correction, reminding participants of the nobility of survival.

Zombie apocalypse -- a sort of crossbreed of the horror genre with survival fiction -- is an interesting one, though, specifically dealing with a redefinition and re-examination of what constitutes humanity's social and gender roles for everyone. "Loss of self," (represented as shambling infection) is the ultimate end to be feared.

That's thought-provoking given the adjustment many in games are trying to make toward a more diverse and inclusive medium and business -- and the anxiety a lot of traditionalists seem to express about the change that's needed in their culture. Note that among the three games discussed here that involve men as caregivers for children, the mother is never present.

BioShock Infinite presents an actual undead ghoul as a stand-in for mother; The Walking Dead reveals an infected (unfit) mother for a child presumed abandoned. There are two children in The Last of Us whose mothers are never introduced nor prominently explained. Games may be anxious about fatherhood, but on motherhood they're at a loss altogether, a fascinating dichotomy.

'It is on its face a video game, made to present specifications'

But while the spirit and culture of games is shifting, the fundamental structure and best practices of video games is slower to evolve. Popular commercial games need to feature certain familiar touchstones, either because marketing says so or because most people aren't used to making anything else: A character experiences a narrative event, shoots their way to the next narrative event, accompanied by high production values and melodrama. We see a lot of the world over a man's shoulder, we look often at his brawny, bandaged, armed pair of hands.

Here is a description of The Last of Us: When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, you are a tough, bad-ass man of few words whose young teen daughter is tragically killed before your eyes by the forces that were supposed to protect you. Twenty years later you and your tough, bad-ass woman partner are smugglers until you encounter a cool teen girl who might hold the secret to Saving Humanity if only you take her to the rebel hideout, and now you have to protect her.

Will the world be saved? Can you kill a lot of zombies on the way? Will you have an emotional response to the partner AI like you're obviously supposed to? Find out in this third-person action game with guns, stealth and melee elements!

In other words, it is on its face a video game, made to present specifications. Yet itís the grace and restraint with which The Last of Us approaches such limitations that sets it well apart from any other game where you play a sullen man trundling along with a gun.

It's not that it's reinvented video games, or invented much of anything overt -- it's "simply" that it takes the things video games are about right now, takes the things that video games seem to have to do, and solves the problems of previous attempts. It takes some basic and very reasonable requests about games of their sort and answers them. From here on, there are broad spoilers about the story. You probably ought not to be reading an in-depth critique of a game if you are very concerned about spoilers.

If we must have paternal narratives where literally all the female characters sacrifice their agency in some way to the male hero by the end, we should have nuance -- we should at least be able to argue that we're intended to reflect on that theme. We should at least be able to argue that the female characters stood for something other than sexist caricatures. For once.

If this is the story we have to tell and the format we have to use, it seems difficult to do any better than The Last of Us. It is harder and harder to find a narrative justification for why your character can gun down hundreds and hundreds of men and still be a lovable hero (a problem Naughty Dog itself has with its Uncharted series).

Killing zombies, killing people

If you have to patch this problem with zombies -- subject matter for video games not just because the issues processed within zombie fiction are emotionally convenient for game developers, but because they are humanoid targets you can set in the real world -- at least make the zombies interesting.

TLoUís zombies are incredibly well-done, genuinely seeming like people suffering various stages of a maddening disease -- from intensely-aggressive and sobbing to faces erupted with spores, humanity gone. Fighting them is intense, overwhelming, often prohibitively so (for me). It often induces the precise breed of panic and disgust that seems appropriate for a civilian executing a living thing with a heavy weapon.

Of course, you have to kill some real people in TLoU, too. Probably still a few too many. But you can use stealth any time, if you want to, and itís a fully-fledged option, which doesnít happen that often in games like this, and that is nice. And sometimes you just use stealth because it makes more sense, not because the game has automatically correlated tactics with your moral stance that may or may not put you at odds with the protagonist the game is trying to draw for you or the story it is trying to tell. Amazing.

If you are good at the game, it lets you be good at it, and if you are not so good, the partner characters will actually help you. They react in plausible ways to things that are happening. If you have to play a partner-shooter, this seems like a wonderful thing to be able to expect. Your partners do not generally toss Witty Banter into gunfights, and instead save their words in those situations for warning you about things that are actually sneaking up on you.

'Restraint of all kinds is good for storytelling'

They do not monologue while you are looking for supplies. The game generally lets you decide when you want to listen to conversations. Little of the dialogue is surprising, but most of it feels at least plausible. There is no excess of story; you infer based on the body language of the characters, the way they speak to each other. You donít, come to find out, need to have characters recite things they clearly ought to already know for the benefit of the player. You just let the player figure it out. At major plot points, the game gently moves to a new season of the charactersí lives.

Restraint of all kinds is good for storytelling. There are virtually no onscreen UI elements. You will not be interrupted with trophy alerts about irrelevant bonuses to collect. The grim affirmation of life you undertake by choking your 25th assailant to death lest they notice you and hurt you is not accompanied by a clever little title for your feat. You are not likely to forget you are playing a video game, nor should you, probably, so itís pleasant when a game doesnít insist on constantly reminding you just when youíre starting to feel something. Itís often quiet, with music sparsely used only when it suits -- there are no swelling violins to let you know when you ought to be on guard. You just are on guard.

It doesnít feel it has to remind you about anything. If we are playing video games about the anxiety of adulthood and parenting and power structures we could at least expect that they treat us like adults, which TLoU definitely does. Interestingly I kept thinking that without the extreme violence, the story of Tess, Ellie, and Joel might make a nice bit of young adult fiction -- accessible, but not immature. How strange that giving the player even a little credit to parse and interpret their own experience feels like a refreshing step.

The first 20 minutes of the game awed me. Joelís daughter Sarah felt like a real person. Her room felt like a real place. She was someone I might have known at her age, someone I might have been, even. She ambles quietly around her house with the bleariness of sleep. I donít know if I have ever controlled such a human-looking person in a game before. Just a little prior to starting The Last of Us I played Remember Me, which also opens by giving you control of a female character -- who wakes up from being sealed in some stasis pod fully-equipped to sashay around sensually.

If you are going to have to have that thing video games do where they kill your poignant little companion at least give them Sarahís kind of dignity first.

'The last story of the strong man at the end of the world that I need to play'

If you are going to have to have a taut-lipped, Ďfraid-to-love gruff male lead again, at least bury some kind of sensible fear inside him, as Joel has. Some kind of vulnerability, and maybe some kind of compensation for that vulnerability that goes beyond abstractly-sketched ďdark side.Ē And let the subtleties of the environment -- the way people in the quarantine zone move aside for him, or the fact he has Handled Things for decades after the outbreak -- be visible and known, but unspoken.

If you must again tell the story of the strong man at the end of the world, the least you can do is make an excellent game. The Last of Us is an excellent game, touching when it wants to be, and distressing when it ought to be. And it's visually lovely, the beauty of art, not just tech (though it is technically stunning, too). Naughty Dog seems to have invented entirely new color palettes simply by changing the types of daylight it shows -- slate-colored dawnlight, rosy crepuscule, overcast white tinged with lemon, and blue only when itís going to make an impact.

If the ending must leave openness to a sequel, at least let it also be open to interpretation, as The Last of Usí is.

This is probably the last story of the strong man at the end of the world that I need to play. Itís probably the last one that ought to be made, too. This is likely the pinnacle of that particular form.

You could develop another, but if I ever have to gaze over another weathered shoulder bisected by another gleaming rifle against another horde of shambling male identity crises, you should make it at least as good as this game. If you can.

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Robb Lewis
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Well the trend towards younger female heroines could be that the game designers are aging with families as you say or because they know that core gaming is too male dominant and they need hero characters that will attract more girls / women to play. The last couple years for core / console games have been tough as the NPD data shows us so I would suspect this trend is being driven more by business need versus creative adaptation. I like it and hope it attracts more females into core gaming

Chris Clogg
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I wonder what Half-life 3 (assuming Valve ever does it) will have in store. Time to play as Gordon and Alyx's kid? Lol though I'm guessing Gabe would rather die than do that.

Dan Miura
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Why do you need to attract more females into core gaming?
Not sure why at all, because gaming is a time sink, and while I enjoy it there is nothing of value in it. Do you want to attract more females into sitting on the couch watching baseball while drinking beer?

Would you also like to attract more men into nail salons?

What service are you performing by making sure the sexes are equally represented in all areas of life?

Should women desire to have large distended abdomens and smelly bowel movements simply because men so frequently do?

Drives me nuts that people think they are accomplishing something by putting women in all places men are, or vice versa. Let's make sure women can access all the places of self improvement, but there is no reason at all to think the world will be a better or more interesting place simply because we have women in all of the same places of recreation that men are. It won't be better, it'll probably be worse for them and us.

What would be better is if you could get more men to leave video gaming and join women in more productive hobbies.

Cody Kings
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Michael Liu
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More productive hobbies? Why? According to the same principle less people should be watching movies, or reading, or god forbid play chess or and instrument of some sort. None of those activities are productive either.

I don't understand this obsession of measuring everything in productivity. It boggles the mind someone should be steered away from a hobby because it's of little value to the society at large.

Jarod Smiley
profile image was fantastic...Not perfect in anyway, but when it delivered, it assumed you were able to grasp it, and I have to applaud ND for making a title that gives the player so much respect.

Also for those that are just starting to play, I recommend turning listening mode off, it seems like an obvious feature for people having difficulty with the game, but the game doesn't seem to be designed around it.

john talbot
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"Just a little prior to starting The Last of Us I played Remember Me..."

best. game. ever.

Kenan Alpay
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Great article that mirrors my own thoughts. If you're gonna play a game where you run around and shoot things, this is the one to play.

I liked it over Bioshock Infinite, where the shooting felt great, but the constant need to shoot targets felt in odds with the world and the message presented to me. An "abandoned" world is an easier trope to exploit, which is why Bioshock 1 made more sense, at least to me.

Dan Miura
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what is it with people and the word trope. Everything is a trope now.

Marijn Lems
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Leigh, I sincerely hope that all game developers interested in narrative make it a point to read all your articles. After you wrote the definitive piece on Bioshock Infinite earlier this year, and now this even-handed analysis of The Last Of Us, you should become one of the leading voices when it comes to the improvement of future narrative games.

Alexander Ageno
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Dear Gamasutra:

Please let users delete their comments. It's annoying when I can't.



Bernardo Del Castillo
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definitely echoing many of my thoughts (although I have a lot of technical gripes with some game design decisions of TLOU, to be discussed in the future), narratively an aesthetically I found it was an excellent effort.


One thing that I am a bit unsure about is the "manly" nature of the game. I mean, we can't deny that an important component of the narrative IS the conflict of a father searching for atonement for the lost loved ones. But although we play as Joel most of the game ( and I am a man ), I couldn't help to realize that Joel was its own character, HE was not ME, I understood him, but in most situations, I felt more connected to the female characters.

The thing was that I didn't particularly feel as if I was any of the characters in the game, in many ways it is a profoundly ~literary~ experience: I understood their situations and I felt for them, but I was left wondering what would I do if I had been in that spot. It is quite clearly a character study, but it is also a story driven narrative, that as I see it , just happened to have Joel as its connecting thread.

In fact, in many ways, I feel that the ending is a display of how Joel turns into the villain, a monster born from his grief and the illusion of making amends, given his new opportunity at fatherhood. Rescuing Ellie he has no real intention of saving her, but instead saving something that gives purpose to HIM...
In fact, there is one situation that one of the articles misses, he was hellbent on abandoning Ellie when he had the chance, handing her over to Tommy. But at that point HE bends to HER will, she lets him know that she is not willing to sacrifice another person. And he folds, he turns into a rabid guardian for her ONLY at her request.
While he allows the situations to get the better of him, women (and other characters) actually manage to "do the right thing". In the spectacular closing scenes, Joel is arguably presented as a selfish coward, and we discover that he could very well be as monstrous as his most brutal actions show him to be.

However, all things considered, I get that they chose this particular setup and not another probably to adhere to a more approachable status-quo, and that is ever so slightly disappointing... But quite honestly I wouldn't mind one bit ( and I don't think it would be a stretch) if they were to tell Marelene's story, or any of the other characters for that matter.

As you note, this game is probably among the few truly adult games, almost completely avoiding falling into the required juvenile "this is a VidjaGame so it has to be X" tropes, and when it does fall it manages to inject some significance into them. This approach could very well be paving the way for even more interesting games in the future.

Marijn Lems
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Jeez. I promised myself I wouldn't shamelessly post a link to my own analysis of the game here, but your comment so closely mirrors the points I make there that you've left me no choice:

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Hey, Good article, I very much agree. You definitely elaborate much better than I did.
Very Interesting. One point someone made that I have been thinking about lately, is how the game delves a lot on the theme of established dogmas.
Just as Joel is unable to change his paternalistic fixation, Marlene too sees herself as a savior, thinking that she is acting for the greater good. However, she keeps Ellie sedated through the whole process, unable to really face her.

Both Adults claim that they are doing what she would want, but neither of them are willing to actually ask the child about her choice, let alone decide her own fate. Instead they both assume and direct ( even Tess does so too ) what she should fit into their arguably selfish plans.

(at some point I thought the game might even touch up on the idea that the earth as a whole was better off without humans and their schemes, but other than the passing giraffes, it seemed like just a passing though)

Marijn Lems
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MORE SPOILERS Good point about Marlene - I hadn't thought of that. Still, in my opinion, her actions feel less selfish, seeing as you can hear her struggling with sacrificing Ellie on the audio tapes you find in the hospital. However, you're right that she too robs Ellie of her agency. Foolish really; if she'd just let Ellie speak to Joel his rampage might have been averted - but that's the hallmark of a great tragedy I suppose.

Jacob Germany
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As a note, at least American culture does not consider a minor, let alone a 14 year old, capable of making a decision such as "Should I die to save others?".

Marijn Lems
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Obviously. But that assessment is based on the safe world we live in now. In other cultures and in other times, the age of maturity is/was much lower, and considering the world Ellie lives in (and the way she handles herself), it's safe to say that the contemporary rules shouldn't apply.

Luis Guimaraes
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And the whole "Balance of Power" AI thing everybody was talking about, did it deliver? Does it make the NPCs and the world feel more real? Is it as good as the AI from F.E.A.R? Are the infected tacked on as a McGuffin or is their backstory interesting?

By the way, there aren't any spoilers after the spoiler alert, Leigh. The closest thing to be remotely considered a spoiler is three paragraphs before that. This makes me wonder if I should read the Infinite article even without having finished it.

Edit: forget it I already got my answers.

Connor Fallon
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This is an excellent breakdown of the game. The adherence to some of the cliches of videogames was very apparent while playing, but the game managed to take the best parts of those tropes, naturalize the worst parts, and humanize them. It's funny how a small dose of self-awareness and humanity can make such a difference.

That said, I think the most effective section of the game by far was "Winter," and I think that's because it's the chapter that most strayed from those established game tropes. The encounter at the end of that chapter was very powerful and emotionally involving.

Eric Adams
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I would love to have a choice at the end of the game. Being forced to play out the one conclusion left me with a bitter and unsatisfying taste in my gaming mouth.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I also thought that would be cool, but then it could have felt like a bit of an afterthought...
It would have been very interesting if it was added throughout.. ideally not informed but action based choice ( like, I tried to shooting the surgeon in the arm ), or maybe other organic situations like killing or not killing some enemies.

But I imagine that would have expanded development exponentially, and also, potentially could have diminished the dramatic impact of the narrative as it is.

Marijn Lems
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I think it's interesting to compare the reaction to the ending of The Last Of Us and those of Mass Effect 3. In the latter case, the backlash was considerable because players had been trained to expect to be able to shape the story. In the case of The Last Of Us, however, the game goes to great pains to sell itself as a fixed story, a tragic character study that you happen to be playing. Even though, as Eric's comment proves, it's hard to convince gamers to let go of the idea that "you ARE the protagonist", I think The Last Of Us succeeds better than most (and I agree with Bernardo that multiple endings would surely have undermined the unparallelled dramatic impact of the narrative).

Scott Lavigne
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Why? I'm not sure how people have gotten this idea that there needs to be branching narrative paths in all games ingrained into them, but it's an idea players need to get away from. You are not Joel. You are not Ellie. This game is not meant for you to project yourself into their plot; the agency of The Last of Us comes between plot points (during combat or stealth sequences) when the game strives to make the player feel like a generic survivor in the setting, not specifically Joel or Ellie.

The only decisions you make that actually give you agency to the characters in the entire game are whether or not you give Ellie a high-five and who you choose to defend in the sniping sequence. It would make absolutely no sense to shoehorn in some "choose your ending" thing at the end and would undermine the narrative they've crafted. It's Joel's and Ellie's story for you to observe, not decide.

The player controls them only because actually executing the survivalist sequences yourself immerses you in the world and makes you understand their situation better than being a completely removed observer. The Last of Us is a game (a system of competition between the player and the game's mechanics) and a plot delivered within the same package (but still separate). It is not a roleplaying game.

Heng Yoeung
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The idea of projection is very dangerous. "An adulterous generation wants a sign," was what Jesus said. Let me explain. If I have my arms folded at my chest, which I do a lot, because I don't have pockets to put my arms into, what is the meaning? A co-worker noticed this once and concluded "distant, cold, macho", and other ideas you might have from yourself. The thing is, that's not what I am about. I just happen to like folding my arms 'cause ,like I said, I don't have pockets to put them into. Another example would be, what it is the meaning of dark clouds? Some of you are thinking "a foreshadowing of something evil". Well, you may be right. However, what if it was going to rain? What if there was an eclipse of the sun that day? Still dark clouds, no? I like the line from Joni Mitchell's "Both sides now", "I really don't know clouds, at all." Leigh, you wrote an excellent article. In fact, you are a very talented writer from what I have seen. However, the psychology of The Last of Us is not necessarily your domain. I haven't played the game. You may be right. But, do you really know clouds?

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I don't really know Leigh's writing fully, so I can't speak for all of it, but your comment makes little sense...

You... haven't played the source material... So you are saying that the article appears to observe things that seem to be done in the game with a certain purpose even though they could signify something else?
Isn't that the condition for every observation ever? I mean until something HAPPENS and IS STATED it isn't certain, but there is no way of being sure even if everything points in that direction..

It is the basis of induction which is one of the most widely used methods of observing reality. Sure, you can doubt induction, but then there is no point in discussing anything outside objective truth.. which actually doesn't exist... soo... see where we get here? nowhere...

Alternatively however... countering your nebulous assessment, somethings aren't always what they seem, but some things are exactly what they seem... In fact from observation it is more logical to infer that when something seems to be happening one should assume it will happen.
Personal bias is unavoidable, but in many ways, this article clearly resonates with a lot of people's opinions about the game. So I guess that the only glint of truth we can have.. common knowledge of the observed object and discussion about its implications.

Heng Yoeung
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Tell me ONE person who is sufficiently educated will disagree that 1+1=2. There IS absolute truth.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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hmm nope, thanks for the belated insult but that is not true, not when observation and abstraction are involved..
point me towards a discreet perfect unitary measure in nature...

atoms? cool we can speak of atoms... but hey not even atoms are effectively identical.

In fact 1+1 =2 is in itself an abstraction, an induction from observations of what is expected to happen but may not always be true. It doesn't represent reality, only approximates a result.

The idea of projection is very dangerous. It enables knowledge.

Pallav Nawani
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True that.
1+1 may not be equal to 2 always. I, myself, have noticed that sometimes it is equal to 3.

Heng Yoeung
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>>True that.
>>1+1 may not be equal to 2 always. I, myself, have noticed that >>sometimeit is equal to 3.

And, I suppose you now want me to take you to our leader, right? What universe do you live in?

Heng Yoeung
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Um, let's go ahead and just do the mathematics like when we were kids, ok? And see what we have. Let's start by holding up your first finger. Now add another finger to it. This is how we make an abstraction concrete. There is no loss of truth going from the abstract to the concrete. It is generality to a specific. (Going the other way, however, you might lose meaning.) How many do you have now? Can you count with me? Where's the approximation? 2 is 2 is 2.

>>>point me towards a discreet perfect unitary measure in nature...

I don't even understand what this question even is asking. And I don't think you do either. Please explain.

>>>>The idea of projection is very dangerous. It enables knowledge

Actually, it is intelligence that enables knowledge. If you are dumb as a fruitcake, you're gonna be dumb like that for the rest of your life. It is intelligence that allows you to understand things and get knowledge about it.

In fact, the two sentences don't even relate to each other in any coherent way. Knowledge in and of itself is not dangerous. It's in the way that you use it. (Thank you, Eric Clapton.)

Bernardo Del Castillo
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you know ... this got out of context a while ago...
Your criticism still fails to hold any ground, as you are supposing the article supposes upon supposition.

As for perfect discreet unitary measures, maths, and most observational sciences depending on maths, work mostly in discreet measures: one kilometer, three kilograms, five humans... etc etc.. and these are all abstracted values rounded to a known discreet measure.

However these values don't really exist in the real world, they are suppositions that the observations are what they appear to be and that they behave in such way consistently within the system defined.

That last sentence was actually a quote from your post, to which I added that it enabled knowledge. Since the way that we can know something is by observing and infering it's coherent behaviour, but there is no way in which we can be certain not to be "projecting".

But as I said I think your main criticism was already voided, and I believe I'm wasting my breath discussing this further, since you tend to have many very preconcieved notions and seem to be hoping to ridicule my logics in some way. So I'll see you around.

Heng Yoeung
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So, are you agreeing that 1+1=2 or not. 'Cause that's the proof I gave that's there is absolute truth. This is not out of context because you are the one who brought up the contention. If you cannot back it up, yeah, "wasting my breath" is a good excuse to bow out.

Dan Miura
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Heng, you are spot on. I think the writer is talented too. But she clearly hates this genre and it seriously compromised her review. That is clear to me having read her earlier review of Bioshock Infinite (which I think is the best review I ever read) to this review, which is just awful technically and content wise.

Matthew Calderaz
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Great analysis, but I disagree with your conclusions.

The sentiment that this particular narrative theme is 'played out' and shouldn't be used again seems unduly cynical to me.

I absolutely agree there should be more variety in story and characters in narrative driven games, and would welcome more maturity in both.

However, isn't the game-play among the 3 examples you gave, (Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, TLOU), dramatically different? Granted I've only played TLOU, but as I understand it we have (respectively): a highly structured interactive story, an over-powered ego-shooter, and a gritty stealth-action survival/exploration adventure.

I've heard complaints from some casual gamer friends that enjoyed Bioshock Infinite that TLOU is 'too hard' or there's 'not enough ammo'; and in watching a bit of game-play from Walking Dead, it looks incredibly accessible for casual players.

I don't disagree that the narratives are all very similar. But it seems naive to suggest that these games are all more or less the same thing because of their story elements, when the game-play couldn't be more different.

Or to take an example from film Mad Max, Children of Men and The Road are all violent post-apocalyptic movies with paternal male protagonists, (perhaps not Max until Thunderdome), yet extremely different in execution.

Anselmo Fresquez
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You mean the least we should expect of video games is that they are movies where you role-play as one of the characters? Look, I can appreciate what is happening in console gaming these days. Big advancements. Mind blowing jumps in tech. Amazing new concepts. But always I'm hearing this emphasis on the new, new, new... shiny, faster, bigger! This month it's all about this game, then that game this week... it's gotten to be trendy, sub-culturally driven and honestly there's a bit of an unstable social component driving it all (but let's not delve into that). Suffice to say, the soaring bar of "the least we should expect" is requiring developers to reach new heights of storytelling in their games that nobody ever imagined for the medium.

We all know what happened to Icarus, don't we?

So here's where this road goes. You see it in every industry.

You reach this point, ultimately, of consolidation. In order to meet the demands of the audience, a certain level of talent is required. Talent is a limited supply, however, it can be exhausted rapidly. So, you wind up with a few major corporations making >95% of everything. Okay, so what? So, the gaping maw has to be filled. But what if the demands can no longer be met and profitability maintained? Two things: developers will force cost cuts on production-side and increase costs on retail side.

What does this mean for today's gamer?

For you, it means that games will become worse, more unoriginal and more expensive... not in spite of the demand for more but because of it. Think of old sitcoms or your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Yeah. Then after everything has been done, something will have to be reinvented, things will change and they may not be to everybody's liking. Then they'll start marketing to the new generation when this generation gets too old.

So yeah, I'm not exactly excited for this movie-game craze.

For me, it doesn't matter, because I have just as much fun playing old games as new ones.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Well I see where you are coming from, and I agree that games of this budget and this cinematic ambition are probably not in tune with the current state of the Gamedev industry. But that is only a superficial vision of this particular game's achievements.

More than the MOVIE-GAME intentions, the article seems to praise how mature is the game's approach to players. In fact I personally think that TLOU's achievements are closer to other games such as Dear Esther, Journey or Spec Ops: the line. In the sense that it's willing to subvert its own mechanic tropes and use them as a significant narrative tool to enhance the whole package. It even manages to overcome many of the crudges that games "ought to have" by exercising restraint, succinctness and (mostly) intuitiveness in it's systems and UI.

It also does this in its narrative, avoiding most heavy handed exposition, and allowing long stretches of simple, quiet tension building, world building and exploration. Even the combat doesn't seem like AAA third person shooter combat, it is not designed to make you feel super epic great, but instead rather messy, frantic and brutal. And the fact is that they really went the extra mile to extend the tone, the themes and the overall narrative feel of the game into the gameplay. And it is actually quite rare to see that.
Another impressive aspect in this sense is how dark the themes in the game are willing to get (hollywood would hesitate to have a main character THIS grey).
Sure, this doesn't mean anything in gameplay terms but it shows you that at least they are using the budget they do have in more interesting ways than bigger explosions and more bombastic set pieces.

In the end it is true, this is a massive AAA game, but its traits (and it's heart) doesn't really feel like one. As much as the scope, art and motioncapture pyrotechnics do for the game, you should note that the team behind it is only around 80 ppl (which is big but not humungous by today's standards), and although it may seem that it is only pretty face, there is a lot behind it, and it shows a pretty hopeful direction for these types of games.

Erica Howard
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Really well said. I don't understand how anyone who played the game could be critical of what this article is saying.

matt landi
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@ Anselmo, I don't mean this to start an argument, but have you played The Last of Us?

Jason VandenBerghe
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Finally, someone expresses the gift the game gave, in clear and simple terms. This is exactly what I saw when I played it, but I would never have been able to say it this clearly. Thank for this, Leigh. Excellent.

Andrew Wallace
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"The Last of Us is the least we should ask of games" is the least we should ask of games criticism. We would be better off as an industry if more articles were of this caliber.

Dan Miura
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Awful review, just awful. I'll be back with more, but this was all piss and vinegar for no reason other than you don't like the genre. So, why review it if you don't like the genre so much? Everything was a backhanded complement. Yuck, I can't believe I managed to get to the end of the review; it was just terribly written.

I loved your Bioshock Infinite review, but this was so not that. I'll post more later about why, specifically, this review is manure, but atm it is 4am. Glad you are reviewing, but... yikes!

Quality Control please.

Sam Ee
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You obviously did not read the full review. Please read before you speak.