Joel and Ellie of the The Last of Us each experience some unusual character arcs despite the fact that neither of them change that much over the course of the game. Who they are at the end of the game is very similar to who they are at the beginning. They do a lot, a lot happens to them, and their attitudes toward each other change dramatically, but even the most significant events produce only minor changes in their defining characteristics and worldviews. This is not a bad thing. People don’t change easily, and the final conversation of the game is a great piece of writing because it shows two characters struggling with that fact.
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The Last of Us is structured around the seasons: summer, fall, winter, and spring. Each season gets its own chapter, and each season has its own mini story arc. But if we pull back some, the game is clearly split into two distinct narrative arcs, one comprised of summer and fall, the other comprised of winter and spring. For this post, I’m mainly interested in the summer and fall arc, in which The Last of Us plays out like a travelogue. On their journey, Joel and Ellie meet three sets of friendly people: the loner Bill, the brothers Henry and Sam, and the leader of a peaceful community Tommy. These three sets of characters pull double-duty when it comes to theme and character development. They all give different responses to the thematic question, “How do you keep living when the world is dead?,” and they all also represent the past, present, and future of Joel and Ellie.
This post contains spoilers for The Swapper.
The Swapper is a puzzle game about clones that uses its mechanics to fuel a story that explores the psychological and societal ramifications of cloning. It compares and contrasts these ramifications with two very different societies: human society and a society of psychically linked alien rocks.
Continuing with the thoughts from my previous post, Theseus is a mining station in deep space, cut off from earth, and that separation is painful. As individuals, we still rely on large groups for survival. Our individuality does not make us self-sufficient.
The Swapper is fairly straightforward puzzle game: You use a special gun to create clones of yourself, and you use those clones to hit switches and open doors. Mechanically, it conforms to the typical tropes of sidescrollers and puzzles games. Narratively, however, it asks a question few games do. What if these mechanics were real? The Swapper uses its clone puzzles to fuel a meditation on individuality from both a personal and societal perspective.
Grinding is supposed to be annoying. It is supposed to force the player to perform a menial task over and over again in order to afford some arbitrarily expensive thing. Sometimes we grind for experience to level up, sometimes we grind for gold to buy stuff, sometimes we grind for rare items, or sometimes we grind out side quests for that 100% completion statistic. The time that it takes to grind out these dubious achievements isn’t really a factor in why grinding is annoying. Even random battles in Half Minute Hero get boring and they only last a few seconds each. It’s the repetition that gets to you. Grinding isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called “grinding,” a word that evokes a sense of slow, eroding destruction. If it was fun, could it still be considered grinding?
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More