The title says it all. The Last of Us is the greatest dystopian story I have ever experienced.
This may be the only time I attribute the greatest piece of work in a genre to a video game. This isn’t to say there isn’t some stiff competition. With movies ranging from Mad Max to Blade Runner to novels such as World War Z and 1984. This is a genre I love to consume and yet, one video game sticks out above every dystopian story that’s crossed my path. That is the narrative the player experiences as Joel and Ellie in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
The video game format plays a huge factor into why The Last of Us is such a great addition to the genre. Dystopian narratives typically offer tragic environments with high-stake decisions for the protagonists to make. However, in video games these decisions become all the more heart wrenching because you, the player, takes control of the protagonist. The Last of Us is the best example I have seen of forcing the player to make very tough, very human decisions. The game doesn’t offer the player much choice within the game, but by the time the game ends, for me at least, the choice was obvious. This choice aligned with that of the main protagonist the player control throughout the game, Joel.
Throughout the game’s narrative, the story forces any player with a conscience to at least be aware of the bond growing between Joel and Ellie. The game starts tragically with Joel losing his biological daughter and to watch him reestablish a father-daughter relationship with Ellie through small bits of dialogue and interaction throughout the game makes the ending completely justified through an empathetic lens. Joel’s final choice in the game may not be the most beneficial decision he could’ve made for humanity in his world, but it completely makes sense considering human nature. How difficult would it be to let someone you love die for the sake of millions of strangers? There is also no guarantee that the alternative would save society for certain.
Joel’s decision is loaded with questions of morality. Never before had I witness a character make such an important decision and reveal their human nature to this extent. Critics may argue that Joel is selfish for not sacrificing Ellie and the obvious decision was to let the Fireflies finish their experiment on Ellie to try and find a cure. But when all is said and done, at least for this player, I’m glad he took them all down.
When the credits rolled on my first playthrough, I felt extremely human. Ellie asking what had happened to the Fireflies and watching Joel lie to her was a painful experience for Joel and the player as well. I controlled this man who lies and gives up a chance at restoring humanity due to his selfish love for one human being. The weight of emotions this game’s narrative imposes on the player is the best I have ever seen in a dystopian work of fiction. I honestly felt guilty because I would’ve done the same thing in his shoes.