Post-apocalyptic settings in media are popular nowadays. The destruction of
human civilization has been envisioned in many different ways, ranging from
aliens to zombie-viruses, from self-inflicted nuclear destruction to an all-
destroying meteor slamming into our planet. The Last of Us picks a variation of
the 'virus nearly wipes out human life as we know it' scenario, choosing the
Cordyceps fungus and applying it to human brains instead of ants.
Interestingly, we live in an age in which we're apparently enlightened enough to
start reflecting on the possibilities of how our species could come to their
end. Calling playthroughs of videogames with post-apocalyptic scenery
'reflection' might be a bit of a stretch, but developers nonetheless plunge
into a reflective activity, crafting situations in which players (otherwise
known as 'mass society') can start feeling what it's like living in a lonesome
world full of threats.
Even if a playthrough of The Last of Us cannot properly be called reflection,
perhaps it can act as an encouragement to initiate such an activity. It may be
fun to *play* in (ultimately unrealistic) virtual post-apocalyptic lifeworlds,
but to physically inhabit such a world or ones similar to it - no matter how
hard it is to truly imagine the human condition under those circumstances -
surely has to be awful.
Idealism appears to be a foul word these days, but though defeatism is one of
its enemies, it still seems that good ideas - combined with bare truths -
ultimately have to steer our global village through the 21st century. The Last
of Us could, if only on a relatively small scale, inspire people to start
reflecting on more realistic scenarios for the late 21st century. We have a
great responsibility - both on an individual and collective level - to leave the
world as a better place for our lineage (any reasonable person at least has the *intention* to do so), and one can seriously question if we're doing enough,
facing what seems to have been turned into a 'liability' by some.
There's more to wealth than just economic growth (ecological pollution equals
'growth', since the cleaning up of wastes equates generating jobs), there's more
to politics than just politicians talking (depending on how extreme a viewpoint
the one end of a political spectrum takes, the closer 'moderate' parties can get
to these extreme viewpoints without it being noticed by most people; a dangerous
development that requires citizens to become more politically involved). Even
though I certainly hope that you as my reader don't agree with everything I say,
this foreword has been written first and foremost to present the game you're
about to play in a light that is pretty much absent from the videogame industry.
Games are 'supposed to be' fun and entertaining, they 'shouldn't contain too
much realistic political themes' but mere caricatures of real policies instead,
so the argument goes. I would instead argue that narrating videogames,
especially as they rapidly replace literature and a wide diversity of other
cultural activities and phenomena, are *exactly* the right place to sketch real-
world problems, existential and ecological problematique, and that developers
have a socio-cultural responsibility to actively explore those themes that are
underrepresented in our current Western social consciousness.
A developer's refusal to do so (in the case of videogames strongly driven by
narrative) would be an insult to the intelligence of any adult gamer. Arguments
'considering the current market' reflect the hidden hollow ideology of many
mainstream developers; the argument essentially states that 'companies are
paying attention to what gamers want, isn't that great?' That's the world upside
down; one should create something great in order to attract a (new) audience,
not create something because it is conforms to the expectations of a market! The
latter means the creator doesn't have ideas of their own but 'fortunately' does
know which existing ideas are popular under the currently dominant gamer age
(and gender) demographic. I'd say that if you don't have any ideas of your own,
you have no place in any creative industry. Year after year, new 'blockbuster
titles' replace their mindless predecessors, whose stories have been long
forgotten, just as the majority of identical 'new' stories will be forgotten.
But there's hope still for intelligent 'adult' (18+) gamers. It seems that with
the aging of 'older generations' of gamers, a new 'adult' market is slowly
opening up, of which developers are only slowly becoming aware. While a
promising thought for the future, it remains foolish should an entire segment of
the gaming industry's market (women included) be put away in the freezer for
twenty years; after a few years, most of it will be rotten.
For the time being we'll have to take our individual responsibility to move
beyond videogame narratives and explore the most urgent societal themes all by
ourselves, or perhaps with a little help from our friends of the declining
literary world. As such, hopefully The Last of Us manages to inspire beyond
being a mere captivating experience.