Context: Butch is still playing “Left Behind,” DLC for The Last of Us
Note: Some spoilers for this DLC
What an odd little chunk of game this is.
So a whole session of playing, about 45 minutes I’d think, not a single bad guy, not a single shot fired, no damage taken. Yet….. it’s good.
Wandered the Cambridgeside Galleria….uh….Liberty Gardens…..and did the Halloween store. (That’s SO the Galleria.) Nice stuff. Trying on masks, asking questions to a thing that has no real answers, PLAYING at stuff that’s scary.
I absolutely LOVE the only real thing I had to do last night was “roar.” Hit triangle over and over and over until Ellie roared. Why? Because I didn’t want to roar. I wanted to take the mask off and not roar. I was scared to roar. Roaring is noise, and noise brings clickers and guards. Noise brings threat. Roaring brings attention, and attention is scary. I felt just like Ellie. And, like Ellie, I was surprised when I roared and not much happened. That was a really, really neat little bit of QTE.
I agree. There’s some nice toying with expectations there. We’ve all seen Halloween store-style scenes in movies, so we KNOW that one of these times the monster will be real!–except it’s not. Not right now. Even if you yell and make noise and stop trying to hide.
There’s an interesting contrast between the solid knowledge that there are very real monsters out there, and the fact that this, this is just play: for a few minutes, we can be safe just playing. I think this is kind of the childhood bits…the monsters are far (enough) away, and we can just have fun with friends and pretend for a while that everything is fine and the world is full of non-lethal stuff to explore.
Also interesting that I said “toying with,” because we could argue that this section is just cruelly playing with us, wounding us with foreknowledge and then letting us run around a bit before pouncing, because our expectation that at some point the monsters will be real, or at some point they’ll emerge from some dark shadow, is TOTALLY based in fact.
We already KNOW how this ends, literally know because they told us, not just know in a general way because we’re familiar with the conventions of narrative, and we know the end is not happy. The monsters WILL show up, it’s just a matter of when.
But I think another argument is that rather than cruelly toying with us, this section is giving us a tiny bit of fragile happiness, something for Ellie to remember fondly as well as regretfully: telling us that even though the monsters ARE out there, and you know they WILL show up, it’s still worth it to live while you can. We may be doomed, but we can still roar when we get the chance.
Yup. Cuz remember, Ellie doesn’t want to roar (literally, metaphorically). Her roar is the roar of a teenager: between the irrational fears of childhood (there’s monsters under the bed) and the very rational fears of adulthood (there’s monsters outside). It’s her childhood fears (she’s been indoctrinated with “outside is infected/bad”) that make HER not want to roar, and it’s the player’s adult fears (I’ve been playing this game for 22 hours and I damn well KNOW that that’ll bring clickers) that make US not want to make her roar. But what’s interesting is that both kid Ellie and adult player are wrong. It was just fun.
This DLC is also turning the depiction of childhood, and the role of the player, on its head. We spent the main game seeing our parenting in Joel. Now, we’re being the parent to this version of Ellie ourselves, as players. “Don’t roar! Don’t you know what’s out there?”
And that’s why we are wounded with this foreknowledge: we’re adults. Wait until your kid gets a little older. You know the monsters he’ll have to face, sooner than you like, are real, and you’ll see him running around the playground, getting ever closer to having to leave the mall.
I mean, adults know how it ends. We all do. But we let them play and roar as long as we can.
Man, fuck this game.