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Puncherson_64LadyBrain_64

Context: Butch recently finished The Last of Us

Note: Piles and piles of spoilers for The Last of Us

Butch:

Ok, here goes.

So this game goes on a lot about failing one’s children. We have yapped about that before. So, here we have a father figure saving the kid. So very much to talk about in so many different ways, but I’ll start with this:

The whole hospital bit is a take on what “we would do if it was our kid.” I mean, if our kid was in danger of being killed, sure, we’d say “I’d kill everyone between me and him to save him!” Indeed, we see Joel mutter things like “I’m coming, hold on.” And so, as you fight, you feel a bit heroic, and you empathize with Joel, if you’re a parent. At least I did.

Then you get there. And you have to kill the three doctors, and boy do you, in terrible, graphic ways (very graphic), while they beg for their lives. (the last says “Just take the girl and go.” you kill him anyway.) That made me feel….. uh….. less heroic.

Then carrying her (like in the prologue) and Marlene, which shall be discussed later on.

And then the real ending. Joel is happy. He’s almost peppy. He’s comparing Ellie to Sarah, more on that later, too.

And Ellie asks him a straight up question. He asks her to swear that something is the truth, and he does what I would do with my kid: He lies. He looks her dead in the eyes and lies.

And I was devastated by that. Because it throws away everything they have. They finally have a connection in this wasteland of a world. They have trust. They’ve gone from two people, all alone, out for themselves, and they trust each other. And he lies. It ends with that.

And what’s awful, of course, is we’d do the same. We’d lie to our kids to protect them. We’d say what we thought they’d want to hear.

But when Joel does it, it sounds like a betrayal. It’s selfish. It’s what he THINKS she wants to hear, but it isn’t. She’s grown. She wants the truth. Joel’s lie isn’t for her. It’s for him.

My mother used to have this cartoon on her fridge. It was a father wondering to a mother what their kid would be when he grew up. The mother says “I’ll know what he’ll be. He’ll be my baby!” Which she thought was funny, and I thought was disgusting. I wasn’t going to be her baby. “That’s just fucking selfish,” I used to think.

But that’s what Joel is doing. Protecting her. Keeping her innocent (despite ALL evidence pointing to the fact that she isn’t), because if she STAYS a child she can stay HIS child. It’s terrible. It’s selfish. It makes you feel like Joel threw away everything he spent the whole game trying to get.

And then you realize you’d have done the exact same thing, I mean the EXACT SAME THING with your kid, and you want to throw up.

I think it was very, VERY effective that you end the game as Ellie. Even though all that’s a cutscene, you take those last few steps as her, FOLLOWING Joel. The game puts you in Ellie’s shoes, just for a bit, to see it from her perspective. And man, did it work.

In a game that you just keep thinking can’t get more depressing, it is fitting that I really could not fathom a more depressing ending than that.

And what does it say about us that here, in a game where you do terrible, awful things to so many people, the thing he did that I found the most upsetting was lying to Ellie?

Man, I need DAI.

Feminina:

I hated myself, killing those doctors. And here’s the worst thing–you DIDN’T actually have to kill them. I assumed you did, so I killed them all, but then I read (from someone else who also felt terrible about it and investigated) that after you kill the first one, who’s holding the knife at you, you can actually just walk past the other two, take Ellie, and go.

So we killed two people unnecessarily, two people who weren’t even making threatening moves, who were in fact begging us to just leave them be, because we’re in such a mindset of “everyone must die!” that we don’t try to find a way NOT to kill them. I seriously just figured “I must have to kill everyone to move this scene forward” and so I did. Even though smashing that nurse’s head on the floor made me feel kind of sick.

All along in this game, whatever things you do, usually you can say “well, those people would have killed me if they could.” Those people, even if you can kind of understand their motivations (David), are trying to kill me. I am justified in killing them.

And then…no. Not justified, I just got so used to being justified that I didn’t stop to think about it. A commentary on how self-righteousness and violence are a terrible combination? A chance for someone who DOES stop to think about it, and manages to get through without killing those two people, to feel a tiny bit better about all the people they did kill?

And Marlene, yeesh. As Joel, yeah, I get that she would have kept trying to find Ellie–the only way to completely save Ellie is to make sure no one will come after you (and Marlene seems to be the heart of the Fireflies, so I assume that without her it’s all going to fall to pieces or something, although in actual fact I’m not sure why someone else who knows about this project wouldn’t also be motivated to come after you–presumably there’s documentation, and you haven’t killed EVERY doctor left in the world).

But it was not easy or satisfying to shoot an unarmed person repeatedly and then run off.

The whole end bit was hard, really. I’m fighting my way through the hospital, thinking “but these are the good guys!” Sort of. As good of guys as we have, anyway. Here I am killing off this game’s best approximation of good guys, even if, yeah, saving them isn’t going to mean everything suddenly turns out all right. Marlene would probably have wanted to offer the vaccine to people on condition of giving her control of things, and there would have been all the usual human bickering and backstabbing and scrambling for power. Nothing changes. The whole game does imply that the human race isn’t so great anyway, so maybe it’s no great loss that Joel did what he did and we’re all going to end up as shambling fungus-spreaders. The giraffes will be just fine!

And you’re right about the lying bit. As he’s looking her in the eye, swearing that what he told her about them not needing her was true, I’m thinking “yes, of course, you HAVE to lie.” But it’s absolutely the worst call if he’d wanted to actually have an honest adult relationship with her. This would have been a time for him to say “look, I did horrible things to get you out because they were going to kill you without giving you a choice, but if you want to sacrifice yourself, I respect that and we can go back.”

But that would not have been soul-crushing enough for this game, so instead he lies, and she accepts it–for now: who knows what revelations may come in the future and how betrayed she might feel to learn the truth, and what that will do to their relationship–and everything is happy…ish. But built on a trembling foundation of lies!

As you say, he wants her to be a child, HIS child (that “baby girl” line back at Cannibal Fortress returns to mind): he wants her for himself, not because it’s what’s best for her. In the end, he doomed the human race to save himself the loss of Ellie, not to save Ellie herself.

There is no satisfaction of a job well done.

Butch:

Wait….what? Really? Shit, did you really have to tell me that? Christ, this game gets more depressing even when you’re not playing it. Damn. That makes me feel pretty awful.

Everyone must die because it’s……wait for it….US or them. It’s easy to fall into that.

Wow. See, here’s something interesting though: had you not gone and googled that, we wouldn’t have known. Is it ok that a game is making a point that only gets made with extra research?

Shooting Marlene was especially tough as “You’ll only come after her” also seemed far more possessive than protective. Marlene WAS Ellie’s de facto mother. She raised Ellie. I certainly thought there was this overtone of “She’s mine, not yours,” that went beyond “I’m saving her, you’re not.” There was a tone that he was afraid that Marlene would take her from him. Indeed, I’m sure that he would think Ellie might agree; he doesn’t tell Ellie what he did.

There was certainly a closing of the circle. The fireflies sure looked and acted a great deal like the troops at the beginning. Certainly running with Ellie in your arms was meant to recall running with Sarah while being chased by troops, so there was overt comparisons between the “rebels” and the “government,” how they were different shades of the same thing.

But see, I didn’t think he had to [lie to Ellie]. I knew he would, and I knew that I would, but he didn’t HAVE to. He didn’t. Are we saying he HAD to because we are, in fact, parents? Are we saying he HAS to so that when we eventually DO something similar to our own kids we can rest easy because we HAD to? Because we don’t. Not really. Ellie SAVES Joel near the end there. He’s in a bus, she saves HIM. She got through David’s stuff without him. She doesn’t need him. She doesn’t need protecting. She needs the truth, she needs friendship, she needs guidance. She’d be fine if he didn’t lie. Just like our kids will be when we inevitably think they aren’t.

No there really isn’t any satisfaction of a job well done. MAN this game. Let DAI be fluffy. Please. I want to woo and save a world after all that.

Feminina:

Sorry, man. I had to share my pain, because I (still!) also feel pretty awful about killing those doctors. I half-seriously contemplated going back and replaying the end of the game, several weeks later, just to NOT do that, but decided I couldn’t face going through it again, and that whatever point had been made wouldn’t be unmade by rewinding one tiny piece of the whole picture.

I don’t know to what extent we can give the game credit for making points that no one will get without external research, but we can certainly say that it’s interesting that this is how our particular experience of it is cast in a certain light based on that external knowledge.

Good point about Joel’s possessiveness as he and Marlene argue, literally over Ellie’s unconscious body. The two parent figures, fighting about what’s best for the child/what the child would want, while really arguing about what they want for themselves.
“I don’t want to lose another daughter!”
“I want to have influence in society, and that requires that people, you know, survive!”

And…I don’t think Joel HAD to lie, but I think he had to lie if he wanted to keep Ellie. Because she’d be fine if he didn’t lie, but she’d also likely be dead. Right? I mean, there’s a good chance she’d want to go back and sacrifice herself for humanity, I think? Certainly there’s no way to know for sure, it’s possible that she’d say “you know what, I DON’T want to die, humanity can manage without me” (and who could really blame her?)…but it’s possible she wouldn’t say that. And then he wouldn’t have his daughter, and he can’t take that risk, not after everything he’s done.

So he’s lying to her to save her life, from herself, and for himself, while denying her the agency to decide if she actually wants to be saved. It’s kind of awful. Kind of understandable. Like every single thing in this game.

I think it seems especially awful because, as you said, Ellie has grown up so much. We’ve SEEN her mature. She’s not a child. She deserves more than “for your own good” lies from the person she’s grown to trust and care for. But she doesn’t get it, and so she’s denied the opportunity to make her own choices like a grown-up.

I don’t hate Joel at this point, I do understand why he did what he did, but I don’t think I want to play as him anymore. I’d love to play more as Ellie, but Joel is just…there’s too much history there now for me to be comfortable with him, in a way. I hope they focus on someone else if they do a sequel.

Butch:

Man, that’s gonna haunt me. I wonder why. Cuz I guess you always DO have a choice. Right?

Dunno if we can give THE game credit so much as GAMES credit. I mean, they can be experienced different ways. They’re not unique in that respect: installation art or other dynamic art forms have been making “unique” experiences for years. But what IS new is that there’s a) objective ways that they differ (you killed the doctors or not is far more concrete than sharing the ephemeral observations of an art installation) and b) we live in a time where you’re a couple of keyboard clicks away from what you missed. You can’t wiki someone’s reaction to modern art. Or, well, you COULD, but whether that person saw the light reflect that way isn’t so much about YOU.

That’s just leaving out the freedom of choice thing.

Funny that this game was derided for not offering choice, when here we are with a choice we didn’t know was a choice when we played. Interesting.

Hmm. Maybe we are being too hard on Marlene. Did you find both of her recorders? (Another interesting decision to have a voice recorder for this plot bit) She really did sound like she was agonizing over the decision to kill Ellie. In one, she’s actually addressing Ellie’s (dead) mother (“It’s been so long since I talked to you, Anna”) As mentioned, one could make an argument that she has more of a parental bond than Joel does. Ellie certainly sees her as a mother figure. So I think it’s more than just wanting to rule the world or something. I mean, she didn’t even know Ellie was immune until she got bit three weeks before the game started. so that’s 14 years of raising her just because.

Ya know, way that all played out with the “talking to Anna,” one wonders if there was some DLC planned there that didn’t happen. Feels like that.

Tangent: They used a voice recorder for Marlene’s agonizing over Ellie, but a written journal for her thoughts about being seen as another “dumb grunt,” which, of course, casts her in a far more selfish light re her decision to kill Ellie. Interesting. Must ponder.

I think the game sort of let us off the hook a teeny tiny bit by strongly implying she’d go back to die. She tells the story of getting bit with Riley (That’s DLC stuff, ya?) and how they waited to lose their minds together and that “she’s still waiting to lose hers” almost wistfully. We see just a little glimpse of a “I wish we had died” sort of thing. Which is slightly cheap, because it does let us think Joel is saving her, when otherwise it would be VERY ambiguous that he was.

But then…… Did he ever (or did anyone ever) tell Ellie that they were going to kill her? He says “there’s dozens like you and they’re not looking for a cure anymore” or something, but I don’t remember him saying “they were going to kill you,” just “they don’t need you.”

Of course, he DID give her a chance to go to Jackson and avoid the fireflies after the giraffes and she didn’t go, so maybe he knew he had to lie. Still selfish.

He should give her more credit. But then, we should ALL give our kids more credit. I’ve even mentioned in this space how I underestimated Butch Jr., and how that was wrong.

I hope they focus on someone else in a sequel, too. Mostly because I feel this story is over. Move on. But certainly the way they left it leaves them as options for sequels. And you MUST figure this is going to get a sequel (though the last of us 2 just sounds almost as dumb as Final Fantasy 14). Too successful not to. But I sorta wish it doesn’t.

Feminina:

I think that’s the thing, that you DON’T always have a choice (other than “stop playing the game”), and so when you realize that you did have one, you feel bad about missing out, or something. I mean, you didn’t have a choice as to whether you’d kill all those guys in the hospital who tried to keep you from getting to Ellie’s room in the first place.

You don’t have a “knock unconscious” move, and sneaking around them wasn’t an option, and you’d already made them mad enough in the cutscene that you couldn’t even just surrender, so it was either a) die, b) kill them or c) turn off the game and don’t turn it on again.

Declining to play is a totally legitimate option, and one I exercise frequently with all kinds of games I don’t feel like playing, but if you decide TO play, then many times your only choice is HOW to kill people, not whether.

So now we learn that this was a whether, that it wasn’t necessary to kill, and we feel terrible because…murder. Unjustified killing. As per previous discussions.

Yeah, I was a little too flip with Marlene’s imaginary “I want to have influence in society” line. I totally don’t think she’s a terrible person. Her log about Ellie WAS agonized, and as you say, she knew Ellie from childhood. She has arguably a better claim to know what Ellie would want than Joel does. I believe that she genuinely hated to make this decision, but felt that it was the right one, and that she had to do what was right. In an objective sense, it IS the right one.

Yes, one person should die to save the lives of thousands. It’s not a good thing, but maybe it’s the least bad thing we could have managed. Her move would have inverted David’s cannibalism–kill adults to save children–by killing a child (now not such a child) to save…everyone. Is that failing the children, or finally protecting them? Giving one child the chance to save the rest?

We could make a case that Marlene is actually the best person we know in this game. (And on the other hand, she’s the leader of a violent rebellion…but it’s not as if there’s nothing that needs rebelling against here, so she’s certainly no WORSE than what remains of organized government, even if we don’t buy that she’s necessarily much better.) I think she represents the good guys, to the extent that this game allows there are any, and Joel kills her even though she’s no immediate threat to him, and apparently doesn’t even tell Ellie she’s dead.

To survive, to protect your children, you have to be a monster.

Butch:

Well, kill everyone or sneak. I think neither of us snuck all that well.

You know, this funnels us down a different discussion topic: should you go hit the wikis anyway? I mean, I said yesterday that games are sort of unique in that you can very much find out the road not traveled, but does that mean you SHOULD? Would we have been better both emotionally and as people who want a good artistic experience by staying off the damn internet? Sometimes I think so. And yet, I can’t NOT. I told myself that I wouldn’t watch that opening cinematic for TW3 that came out, and I held off for like seven minutes.

It’s true, we don’t get the images of all the other kids dying awful deaths because you saved the one you care about. But then, we don’t get that in real life either, do we? Sure, we KNOW there’s starving kids out there, and yet we will go out tonight and burst our own children with candy because they are ours. Yet another example of the game pointing out the tunnel vision we all have.

I suppose you do have to be a monster. Because Marlene IS good. Indeed, Ellie keeps trying to convince you of that. Tess isn’t so keen, but then, Tess isn’t that nice a person either, now is she? (Still should have done more with that character)

All told, this was a very, VERY good game. I think I liked it more than you did (well, not liked per se…..)

Feminina:

Sneaking was HARD in that game. I tried all the time, but the only way it really worked for me was “sneak up and kill someone,” not “sneak by and get away without killing someone.” I heard that sneaking around people was supposed to be possible, but I just could never make it work. And of course you face the dilemma of “if I sneak around YOU and try to spare your life, and then the next person spots me and yells, you’ll come running and then I’ll die or else I’ll just have to kill you anyway.”

So a lot of times it’s just good old-fashioned common sense to kill everyone you see!

In any case, I have a pretty strong sense that sneaking around all of those guys in the hospital and getting to Ellie without killing them was not a real option. Although I could of course be wrong.

I don’t think there’s a real “should” or “shouldn’t” in terms of reading the wikis, I think it just depends on what you want from the game.

It seems totally valid to me if someone says “I played the game I played, and that’s the only one I need, and I don’t want to hear about all the other ways I could have played it.”

It also seems totally valid to say “I played it this way, but I thought about playing it this other way, so what would have happened then?”

I mean, we don’t say “should” or “shouldn’t” about people discussing various alternative endings to movies or whatever. You can talk about it all you want, but you can never KNOW. What games offer is the option to actually KNOW what would have happened if you’d done B instead of A (at least to the extent that it was plotted out by the writers…obviously, there are also plenty of what-ifs that won’t be taken into account by a game’s structure).

When you know there’s alternative content that exists, fully realized, but that you didn’t see, I think it’s normal and totally fine to want to know what it was, and I think it can add interesting angles to discussions of games as well (so, for our purposes, wiki away!).

I also think it’s normal and totally fine to not care about what it was, or to prefer not to know because you want to just keep your own experience of the game, or whatever.

Wiki if you’re interested. Don’t if you’re not. That’s where I come down on the matter.

Butch:

YES! YES! That even happened to me at the very end! I was in a hall, and heard people running, and I hid, and three dudes went right by me! And I carried on, giggling, saying “they didn’t see me,” until I got to the next room, got spotted, had to kill two dudes and thought “Oh now they’re going to ah there they are” and wound up with the shotgun.

Maybe it was possible to get by without killing everyone, but then you’d be getting into metagaming not playing the role territory. I’ll ‘splain.

Sneaking, I found, if you were really going to do it right, took TIME. Crazy time. Took forever. Hide, find the pattern, move to where the best place is to kill, wait until person comes near, kill repeat. Took a LONG time. Now, if I were Joel, and I had weapons, and I knew Ellie was about to be cut open, would I have taken a tactic that took FOREVER? No.

As for wikis, Ok, should and shouldn’t seem judgmental. How about “do you find that reading them makes the experience of playing more or less…..engaging?” Or “Do you think devs WANT us reading those?” Not judging.

Feminina:

Yeah, there’s that. Even if it were possible to evade every soldier in that hospital and slip into the operating room undetected, would Joel have taken the three hours to do it? With alarms going off, and the possibility that at any moment, Ellie could be dying? Naw.

I don’t generally read game wikis while I’m playing a game, so I guess in that sense I feel they’d make the experience of playing it less engaging. Once I’m done, I might read up on things I missed, paths not taken, etc., and I don’t find at that point that it detracts significantly from my experience of what I did. I mean, maybe I have regrets (“oh man, I didn’t have to brutally murder two doctors?”), but that doesn’t make the thing that I did experience any less engaging.

I don’t know what devs think about wikis. Perhaps Buttons will weigh in.

I could see someone being either unhappy with it (“all these things we meant for you to actually do the work to find in-game are just listed out there!”), or happy with it (“all that hard work I did on X thing is recognized somewhere and more people will be aware of it!”), or neutral (“do your own thing, player…do your own thing”).

Butch:

Exactly. I was in a state of parental rage. Guns ablazing. Hell, I was in such a rush I think I missed an artifact or two. Joel would have done the same.

Fair enough as a wiki policy. I try not to wiki during, unless I am really having a reaper moment. Then you sorta have to. Stupid reaper moments.

Knowing Buttons, he’s neutral. Knowing Buttons, he’s thinking “Wikis?”

Feminina:

That’s true, I do occasionally look something up if I just can’t get past it and need the wiki to tell me “look under that big rock, dummy,” or whatever. But by that point, sheer frustration has already broken your engagement with the game, right?

We wiki to get BACK to the flow!

It’s all in how you use it.

And hell, even if someone wants to use the walkthrough to plot out their every move in advance, if that’s what they enjoy about the game, go for it. Some people don’t like surprises. Doesn’t bother me none.

Butch:

Yup. Reaper moments break the flow, they do. And enrage one, and not in the good save the kid way. Bad rage.

What I will NEVER get is the people who use the wiki just to get trophies. I mean, trophies are weird enough, but cheating to get them? What the hell?

Feminina:

Seriously, those weird freaks who spend all their time on the wiki trying to figure out exactly where to go to pick up the right quests to get some cheaty platinum trophy are the biggest losers of all.

Heeeeeyyy…

[Note: Feminina is currently in the middle of a calculated, wiki-informed trophy hunt in hopes of gaining Platinum in Skyrim, just because]

Butch:

Games. Always making us reflect on our flaws.

Feminina:

They’re tools for introspection and self-discovery, is what they are.

Violence? What violence? I just play games to better understand myself as a person.

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