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    element40's The Last of Us (PS3)

    [January 20, 2017 01:11:50 PM]
    From Gameplay Session on 1/18/17
    I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than by playing the Last of Us with my wife. The character interactions and environmental storytelling are just so good.

    After the discussion in class today (1/19) I have begun to formulate the different philosophies of the characters in The Last of Us. Joel falls very very squarely into the viewpoint of the “Law of the Jungle”. Survival for him is perhaps the most important thing in the world. Every action he takes is determined by this desire for survival. Taking out Robert, agreeing to smuggle Ellie, even his arrangement with Tess is about maximizing his potential for survival. Human connections are not the motivating factor for Joel, but if human connections can help him to survive then they are worth investment.

    Despite his clear emotional attachment to Tess and his anger at her death, he pushes it away until their survival is assured after escaping the capitol building. This isn’t exactly unexpected for Joel to feel this way. Unlike normal everyday life before the cordyceps outbreak, survival of the fittest is a very real tangible thing in this world. If you do not do everything you can to survive, you’ll likely end up dead, or worse infected.

    Tess also believes in the Law of the Jungle, but not necessarily to the same extent as Joel. Despite being perhaps even more hardened and callous than Joel, as soon as she sees that Ellie is immune, her perspective shifts. Getting Ellie to the Fireflies isn’t about getting paid anymore. She seems to know that getting a cure for the cordyceps virus is more important than their survival, even going so far as to sacrifice herself to save Joel and Ellie and use Joel’s feelings for her to convince him to get Ellie to the Fireflies, no matter how far or difficult that journey may be.

    This utilitarian viewpoint of doing what makes the most sense for the most people is not as much about “Survival of the Fittest” and is more about “Survival of the Largest Number”. This begs the philosophical question of moral choices. Having played this game before I know the ending and I know what happens to Ellie and Joel in Salt Lake City. Knowing whether to sacrifice the one to save the many (or in Tess’s case sacrificing yourself to save the many) is a difficult decision.

    I honestly do not know what decision I would have made. In this respect having a linear narrative without player choice is actually to the credit of the game. I love the fact that I don’t get to choose whether Joel chooses Ellie over the cure, ESPECIALLY when finding the cure is not guaranteed, though Ellie’s death at the hands of the scientists would be guaranteed. This give the player only two choices, follow Joel’s rampage through St. Mary’s Hospital and rescue Ellie, or turn the game off.

    I chose the first, which I guess means that my choice as a player is to save Ellie over the rest of the world. Then again after losing Sarah, I can’t exactly blame him. Some people when discussing the game actually say Joel is the villain of the game. While I can’t agree with this entirely it is only because the world of The Last of Us is not at all black and white. The entire world is shades of darkness and light mixed together.

    (Note: This session contained all play from when the trio enter the Capitol Building until Joel and Ellie arrive at Lincoln in search of a car, I have played the rest of the game before)
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    [January 19, 2017 08:12:16 AM]
    From Gameplay Session on 1/17/17

    Having fought my way back into the city past infected I was met with a somewhat scarier enemy, other humans. This is the point in the game where I as a player was offered a choice on how to interact with my enemies. By waiting and playing carefully you have a chance to hear banter from the thugs Robert has hired to protect himself. Because I like to conserve ammo and play carefully (I play this game like its Metal Gear), I heard their lamentations about how trade has dried up and their contacts have disappeared so they are forced to take menial protection jobs where they aren’t even sure they will be paid. While this is sad to hear, they are also unquestionably enemies in our path.

    A lot has been said about agency in videogames. The original Bioshock played with this in an interesting way in that you as the player were mind controlled into doing what Fontaine told you, which happened to coincide with the objectives onscreen and the only way to advance the narrative of the game. This game doesn’t have the mind control aspect, but it does limit player choice in a similar way. The only way to progress the game in your first encounter with Roberts henchmen is to murder them, either through shooting or bludgeoning. Violence is the only way to solve the problem and there is no ethical non-violent way to resolve this dispute.

    Despite the player’s inability to choose in this situation, that will not always be the case. For the next few sections of the attack on Robert, the player is given the opportunity to play using stealth (which although it isn’t explicitly non-lethal, it seems to be knocking out guard rather than killing them). While there is a practicality to stealth, meaning that you save ammo and health by defeating enemies in a non-lethal fashion, there can also be a moral choice to attempt to do so. This prerogative to take an ethical approach to finding Robert is on the player however and is not explicitly indicated by the game. On the contrary Marlene later says that sneaking “isn’t your style” indicating that Joel as a character is less concerned with the moral implications and more concerned with the survival aspects of a stealthy approach.

    I choose to disregard this comment and believe that I as a player have the right to choose that the actions the game lets me take are for a multitude of reasons, morality being one of them. This makes some sense in the context of the gameplay as well. Once you are discovered by an enemy, they don’t give you another chance to do things in a non-lethal fashion. Guns are drawn and death is the only solution. In this way Joel can take a small moral high ground in this conflict (the validity of which isn’t necessarily guaranteed). “My” Joel doesn’t kill unless he has to, unless he has no choice. Whether this can remain a facet of Joel’s character remains to be seen as he makes his way across the country with Ellie.

    (Note: This session contained all play from when Joel and Tess re-enter the city until they and Ellie reach the Capitol Building in the Boston Quarantine Zone)
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    [January 18, 2017 01:30:49 PM]
    From Gameplay Session on 1/16/17

    The Last of Us is in my opinion a pinnacle of ethical and emotional storytelling in games. While this session was not particularly long, I still encountered a myriad of ethical and moral choices faced by the characters in the game. While the linear narrative of The Last of Us does not allow for as much player choice as a game like Mass Effect, the characters themselves face choices frequently. During the introductory scene in Texas, Joel and Tommy briefly argue over whether they should stop their car to let in the family walking down the road. We are barely 10 minutes into the game and the characters already must face down a tough ethical dilemma. Because of their choice to leave the family by the wayside as they drive past we assume that that family will not survive the Cordyceps outbreak.

    Joel already from this moment demonstrates that he does not hold the utilitarian viewpoint of doing what is best for the greatest number of people. Rather even just a few minutes later we see him urging Tommy to move the vehicle forward despite the crowd of pedestrians ahead. Joel’s family is in danger, and he will do what he needs to in order to save his family. The first time Joel sees an infected, he has to make the choice of shooting their next door neighbor in the head in order to protect Sarah (and himself) from a threat.

    Once the car crashes and the player assumes direct control of Joel for the first time, the player is given their first substantial choice. While the game encourages the player to run and carry your daughter to safety, players have the option to fail for the first time. You “can” stand there and not move you “can” try and save others, but doing so simply ends in Joel’s Death at the hands of infected. In essence, any choice the player makes that goes against saving Sarah and escaping the infected is “wrong”. After Tommy makes the selfless choice to hold back the infected so Joel can outrun them, we see another quality of ethical dilemma, is sacrificing yourself for the good of others the right choice to make? While this will certainly come back up across the game, here is the first of many times we encounter it.

    This is not a trait unique to Tommy however. Joel also faces the same choice when the soldier is given an order to kill Joel and Sarah (which is another ethical dilemma about the greater good given that they might be infected for all the soldier knows). Joel turns his back to the soldier trying to shield Sarah from the gunfire. While this has the opposite effect Joel intended, we can see that Joel does not see himself as more worthy of living than those he cares for. He is also willing to sacrifice himself for Sarah, and later Ellie.

    Finally, I want to discuss the first real “player choice” that presents us with an ethical dilemma. Up until now most all the choices have been handled by the narrative, but this one is strictly in the hands of the player. Shortly after descending into the tunnel to leave Boston, Joel and Tess find several corpses emitting contagious spores. One human has been trapped by Debris and his mask is broken, leaving him exposed to the spores and likely infected. He begs Joel to shoot him in the head, to put him out of his misery and keep him from becoming a clicker.

    There are a myriad of reasons Joel may not want to kill this man, for one is it morally wrong to kill someone even if they are asking you to. Secondly, ammunition is a scarce commodity and spending it to put this man out of his misery might leave Joel in danger later with no ammo to save himself. This dilemma is difficult to wrap your mind around. Is Joel endangering others if he doesn’t kill the man before he turns? Is Joel wrong for “wasting ammo” as we see later by Ellie’s immunity how can we be sure that he won’t also be one of the exceedingly rare immune humans? I would be interested to see how many others made the same choice I did (to put the man out of his misery). I’m looking forward to any comments and hope to find more to write about in my next session.
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    Status

    element40's The Last of Us (PS3)

    Current Status: Playing

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 17 January, 2017

    Opinion
    element40's opinion and rating for this game

    One of the best games of all time, while sometimes the combat and puzzle mechanics can drag on a bit, the storytelling, character development, and environment are without equal

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

    Related Links

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