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The Last of Us Playthrough: Loss and the State of Nature

Few games, if any, have drawn tears from me, but The Last of Us managed that feat within its first 15 minutes. Yes, I’m one of the last ones left to finally play The Last of Us and I’m going to document my experiences every day until I reach the end. If you’re like me and haven’t played The Last of Us, you’ve been forewarned.

Though I never played it until just today, I read a lot about it; I knew from the instant Joel’s kid was introduced that she had to go. There had to be a facilitator for the relationship with Ellie I read so much about.

Even though I knew Joel’s daughter would die, I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did. You see, I also have a daughter, a two-year old, and if I can be one of those parents for a sec, the thought of losing a child becomes sharper when you have a child to lose. The loss must be incomprehensible. How Joel’s daughter died, however, took me by surprise. Gunned down by one of us, not one of them.

Unlike films, which can build up for forty-five minutes or longer before taking a hard right turn, video games must take that flanking movement immediately. There are perhaps several reasons for this, mainly the need to avoid changing gears halfway through and abandon the game’s established mechanics to introduce completely different ones.

From what I’ve gathered so far, The Last of Us uses this turn to set-up, not just the world, but also Joel’s demeanor.

Some might consider Joel unlikable. He might be, to an extent. As far as I can tell with my limited time with the game, everything he’s done is understandable considering the circumstances of the last 20 years.

The first time I (not Joel, of course) encounters one of those things, I confronted them head on by being a little too loud with my sneaking. Good. I swung on them violently, the dead weight of my arms thudding against their brains, the loss of my daughter still fresh in my mind.

After 20 years, you might think he’s let it go somewhat, but the abrupt jump of 20 years keeps the wound fresh in the player’s mind, and you know, too, that it is still fresh in Joel’s.

The first task I have is to find and kill Roberts, a gun-dealing thug who set Tess up with two murderous henchmen. We learn later she killed those two, right before we tag-team murder three more of his henchmen, all without batting an eyelash.

Nathan Drake wouldn’t approve of such murder, at least not without a witticism to justify it. Joel and Tess’ justification is the states of nature, however, not treasure diving.

Does Joel feel bad about killing? I don’t think so. I snuck up on a guard with a shiv and stabbed him simple because the shiv was a new option. Right before I pressed the button, the guard pleaded, “Okay, you got me!” Too late.

Joel sunk the shiv in his jugular and drained him of his blood as routinely as an oil change. I felt a bit regretful, but a close-up of Joel showed a rabid man with blood in his eye.

In a state of nature, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Joel had his initiation when a bullet took his daughter’s life, a bullet from a soldier’s rifle, a soldier who didn’t hesitate to follow orders the second things went bad.

In this world, Joel’s murderous demeanor is not a character flaw, it’s armor.