Hopefully, the Last of Identity Politics in Gaming

39 Pontiac Dream, Going Postal
The Last of Us, Part 2.
Naughty Dog Fair use.

Spoiler alert! I’ll be adding plenty so make sure you read each and every one so you never have to play this turd of a game!

First off, my apologies for the lateness of this review. I had intended to write it not long after I’d completed the game a few weeks ago but it left a bad taste in my mouth and was difficult to digest, like a dodgy kebab that even after you’ve crapped most of it out leaves your stomach feeling horribly mutated. It was also soul wrenchingly depressing and it took me a while to throw that off but after a few busy weeks, I can finally get on with the business of writing this.

The Last of Us (2013) was a brilliant survival story set in a world ravaged by virus, where among the people trying to strive and survive in this new normal (God I hate those words), clans have sprung up, each with their own agendas and some more brutal than the monsters created by the Cordiceps infection which started this outbreak. Gamers followed the story of Joel Miller, a man who had lost his daughter in tragic circumstances at the start of the game, as he made his way across the country to smuggle a young girl, Ellie, who was immune to the virus, to the Fireflies (a semi military group looking to unite the people) who were planning to use her to develop a cure. Throughout the journey, he develops a bond with this girl who he comes to see as his surrogate daughter and in a tragic end to the game, fights his way through a mass of Fireflies to save her life.

Joel isn’t an ideal hero, he’s an anti-hero. As the game/story moves on, we find out that in the intervening years, between the time he lost his daughter and the present, he has done some dubious things. We are never told what but the impression is that he has hurt innocent people to survive. In his journey across the country, he brutally dispatches anyone who stands in their way and tortures a couple of men when Ellie is captured by a group of cannibals. He’s no Saint but at this point, he has accepted Ellie into his heart. We understand why he does what he does, even if we find some his actions hard to swallow.

The game and the story were amazing. The graphics, beautiful and subtle, were complimented by a stunning soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, whose soft strings provided the backdrop for an emotional story of two people brought together in difficult times. The playable side of the game is awesome as well as the gamer traverses through infection ridden streets and battles to get past hunters in dangerous environments, through stealth and with the backup of some heavy duty weapons. When Joel and Ellie are separated later in the game, we get to play as both characters, each different in their movement and in their missions.

The whole game, whether you’re playing or watching the story, is brilliant. It’s moving, it’s dramatic, it’s surprising but most of all, it’s stunning. The story flows easily, it is complimentary. You can invest in the journey, the characters and the playable sections are nervy and exciting so it was, with the announcement of a follow up, that excited fans clamoured to pre-order the next game. They needn’t have bothered.

The future of gaming is dystopian if The Last of Us 2 is anything to go by.

39 Pontiac Dream, Going Postal
Naughty Dog Fair use.

Where the first game was about hope, this is a flat out revenge story. It was supposed to be Ellie’s revenge story but the twist in this plot is the focus on Abby, Joel’s killer, who we switch to at the halfway mark of the game. Why, I still have no idea. Maybe it was to explain the brutal loss of Ellie’s father figure and justify it in some way. Maybe Joel (the patriarch) is killed off as being as part of a tainted past with his gender confused killer raised as part of the future. I don’t know. What I do know is that we are asked to care for these new characters, including Joel’s killer and the object of Ellie’s revenge, while molotoving and bombing our way through countless enemies. Much easier to take the head of a NPC (non playable character) than take out one of the many thoroughly unlikeable main characters. Anyway, to the game.

The Cordiceps virus, which turned entire populations into flesh eating monsters, also, apparently, turned people gay. And gender confused, it seems. Well, not the virus itself but the aftermath – the outbreak. Many died, mutated and came back to life but some of the rest decided that procreation and the raising of the human race wasn’t the best way to go forward. Not only is the lead character gay, something picked up and embellished from a DLC (downloadable content) in the first game, but so are a lot of other survivors. There are letters (documents picked up in play mode) from men to men and women to women; the object of Ellie’s revenge is, I’m sure, hermaphroditic (she has shoulder and arm muscles that would put the Hodge twins to shame) and the fabric of the family unit, painted so eloquently in the first game, is brutally destroyed in this one. We are also introduced to a young girl from a quasi religious group of insane fanatics who has been ostracised because she wants to be a boy. The writers really went to town on this game, ripping up the story from the first game to force identity politics down our throats. And, for some gamers, they failed with many 0 and 1 star reviews from players who have vowed not to squeeze any more money into Naughty Dog’s coffers until they return to the reason many of us love games, TV and movies – escapism. We’re supposed to be entertained not lectured to. There are multiple campaign groups in real life, set up to pressure the various states into agreeing with their messages and promoting their agendas. We don’t need that in games.

This game was one of the most depressing I have ever played in my life and the ending? My God, what was Druckman thinking?! Well, he had written a story which was completely intransigent; a fixed path which we all had to follow whether we wanted to or not. At the end of the game, Ellie, who had fought her way past tons of people who had nothing to do with her or her quest for revenge, finally has the opportunity to kill the heavy built Abby and what does she do? She lets her go! Why not have 2 endings, as other games have allowed, so you get the option? No. For Druckman, after giving Abby the perfect reason for killing Joel, adding this option would be too much. Ridiculous.

As one commenter on YouTube said, ‘I find it hilarious that Ellie can’t forgive the guy who made her sandwiches but she forgives Abby for bashing Joel’s head in with a golf club.’ That’s in reference to the ‘bigot’, as Ellie calls him, who was put out by Ellie and Dina kissing at a family event and who apologises the next day and gives her a sandwich. Nope, she can’t forgive that guy but can forgive the person who not only beats her father figure, Joel, to death with a golf club but also very nearly kills his brother, Tommy, holds a knife to the throat of her pregnant girlfriend and blows the head off her friend and girlfriend’s ex. Riiiiight…

39 Pontiac Dream, Going Postal
Why is Abby so buff comparison on Twitter has fans joking about steroids.
Naughty Dog Fair use.

No surprises that the gaming journalists gave this pile of horse manure 10/10. Of course they would. It’s a cacophony of identity politics and journalism is infected with it. For people who have never played this game but may want to have a look, check out YouTube’s reviews which are much more accurate, particularly the one from Vito. Hilarious and very true.

This game isn’t a compelling story, it’s a re-education for the multitude of people who haven’t had to endure a form of politics which has ripped through Western society. Gaming was one of the last places that identity politics hadn’t reached its grubby little claws into so why not start now? Why not indeed for the gaming establishment has something new to virtue signal about while the gamers, who just want to be entertained, are made to endure a nightmare which I doubt many will be keen to return to. If a Last of Us 3 is made, I fully expect sales figures to be massively down on the first two.

I will say that the playable action, similar to the first, is good, the graphics are stunning and the environment is larger but the story, so brilliant in the first game, lets it down. The characters, who you become invested with in the first game, are no longer likeable. The playable elements thus become superfluous and when the end credits roll, you feel glad to be able to put the ruddy controller down and get on with other things.

I very much hope that this game remains a one off and designers don’t look at this as an opportunity to expand on the new politics of video gaming. If they do, a lot of people are going to switch off and all of us lose out if that happens.

© 39 Pontiac Dream 2020

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file