"We're shitty people, Joel."

We demand much from the world while rarely giving anything back. We steal from homes, we kill civilians, we decimate entire towns, and we break economies. We're gamers.

The most common criticism of the Uncharted games is the dichotomy between the tone of combat and the tone of the cut scenes. In combat, Drake is a killing machine, able to wipe out hundreds of lives with a smirk and smile, and the cut scenes never acknowledge this penchant for mass violence. Such a dichotomy was dubbed “ludonarrative dissonance” in a blog post by Clint Hocking.

On one hand, we can argue that Drake was fighting in self defense since the bad guys usually do shoot first, but on other hand, he does kill so many people. Either way, the criticism went unanswered by Naughty Dog, as each Uncharted fell into the tonal trap. However, The Last of Us feels like a direct response to that criticism because unlike Drake, Joel represents the perfect synthesis of gameplay and character.

Joel is a killer. We spend a good chunk of the game, as Joel, killing people. Drake is a killer too, but what makes Joel’s violence special is that it bleeds into the cut scenes as well. This is established very early on when he breaks a man’s arm before Tess shoots him in the head. The pair of mercenaries torture and execute the guy like the villains of any other game. Tess even spells it out at one point, shouting: “We’re shitty people, Joel!”

Which is all to say that Joel is right at home in a violent video game.

Joel, as a character, is the inevitable consequence of trying to make a character fit naturally within the world of a big-budget AAA blockbuster game. He’s a realistic depiction of the kind of person who would commit the level of violence that we regularly see in games. He’s the quintessential gaming hero -- a sympathetic psychopath -- and a perfect distillation and characterization of our gaming habits.

Joel treats his world like we treat our gaming worlds. He’s a mirror, reflecting our worst gamer tendencies back at us. He’s selfish, agreeing only to escort Ellie because he hopes to get some guns out of the deal, and after he comes to love Ellie, he chooses to save her over saving the world. Almost every choice he makes is made in his self interest.

As gamers, we’re just as selfish, if not more so, in relation to our virtual worlds. After all, these worlds are literally made for us, so why shouldn’t we expect them to bend to us? We demand much from the world while rarely giving anything back. We steal from homes, we kill civilians, we decimate entire towns, we break economies, and we manipulate the world and others characters through ludic systems in order to establish relationships that are the most beneficial to us. When we game the systems to choose who lives and who dies in any game, we’re doing the same thing that Joel does when he decides to save Ellie instead of the world.

It’s a cruel choice, damning the world for his personal happiness, but I agree with the choice. If the game had actually given me a choice at that moment, I probably would have made the same one. Ellie’s a great character, and the world doesn’t really seem worth saving.

Joel is as detached from his world as we are from the game world. This is what allows him to be so violent. He doesn’t dwell on his actions. He just does what he has to do to survive and then moves on. In essence, he’s fighting and killing just to get to the next cut scene.

It’s easy to see myself as the hero in most games, despite playing as an assassin, an outlaw, a mercenary, a crime lord, a demigod, a psycho soldier, and more. I could justify this perception because the games never commented on my violent behavior. My actions didn’t define the character. My actions didn’t even really impact the character. But they do in The Last of Us. Joel is just the kind of person who would crush your skull with a rusty pipe, and I’m reminded of that every time that I crush a person’s skull with a rusty pipe in the game. There is no ludonarraive dissonance when playing as Joel. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. His character is uncomfortably resonant. Naughty Dog has given us what we wanted, and as it turns out, we’re shitty people.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.