My last videogame console was a gamecube back in 2005, since then I have been watching closely the main launches and whishing some day I could get a Playstation 3 to play games such as the developed from Quantic Dreams like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls.
Last year Naughty Dogs released The Last of Us to the heavy appraisal of the videogamephile community. With the launch this year of a 1080p remastered version of The Last of Us I finally took the plunge and bought a Playstation 4 to dive into the post-apocalyptic world of the game.
When reading the reviews on videogame sites the strong narrative was always a dominant appraisal given to the game. Coming from a cinema background I always read videogame reviews having in mind that a strong narrative for me is very different from journalists who can enjoy playing First Person Shooters for hours straight. Considering that in past reviews these websites pointed out some games with a good storytelling when at max they were entertaining.
I also enjoy playing games just to discover a new physic mechanism or just to spend some time relaxing, nevertheless my approach to the story in a videogame is to compare them to other mediums as literature, cinema, series, theatre, etc. Although the story is very compelling in The Last of Us, certainly one of the best experiences I had with videogames, it still far behind the ways literature and cinema have been experimenting with styles and methods.
The huge difference and advantage of The Last of Us that separated the experience of playing this game with other games and even watching flms or reading novels is bonding with the characters.
During the 20 hours that took me to finish the game I mostly played as Joel, the stereotypical man hardened by loosing a daughter (this calls for a deeper analysis between the genre representation in classical hollywood in contrast to videogames). Joel unwillingly assumes the task of bringing a girl who carries the cure for the disease that swiped out humanity, her name is Ellie. The plot is not hard to imagine, a violent facade to a deeply compationate man who lost his daughter now needs to protect a teenager girl. During the 20 hours the game strongly focuses on how both develop affections for each other having Joel assume the paternal figure and protecting Ellie from any evil.
Once again, a good story for videogame standards but not the most inovative narrative comparing to other mediums. So how does the Last of Us break the frontiers of cinema? Bonding through interaction.
I’ll briefly narrate my experience on this matter. During the game I slowly grew fond of Ellie, in the beggining I was worried that the girl would interfere with the gameplay, be a cumbersome addition, a weight that I would have to carry around. In my case the sensation that Joel had in the game of not wanting her is passed to me as thinking she would interfere by blocking my passage, make me easier to find by the enemies and other factors and bugs that can happen in a game.
A few hours in the game I started loving her for helping me out in areas where I couldn’t single handedly pass a barrier. The developers designed the levels in such a manner that you are thankfull for having someone with you to help out. Furthermore the dialogs are very impressive and every 20 minutes or so more information is revealed making the discussions between both a door to bonding with the characters.
Around 4 hours in the game and I decided that if I had a daughter her name would be Ellie. After that my paternal senses told me to protect her at all costs and took me even searching for comic books hidden around the scenarios so I could give it to her.
The dialogs and voice acting works as it should always be but rarely happens en videogame– disapear as if it’s so natural that you’re watching a movie.
This game showcase an opportunity that further blockbuster games should explore– find meaningful ways of interaction that allow the player to bond with the characters. In literature this has been heavily experimented, a contemporary example is how Orhan Pamuk majestically transports the reader to the mind of the main character in the book Museum of Innocence. After weeks spending a couple of hours a day reading Pamuk’s book I started to imagine that my relationship was going downside such as the character in the book!
Personally I think that what both have as advantage is time. To play a game or read a book you can spend days or weeks. During this whole time you carry around with you the emotions and connection with these characters that you spend a little time each day. The time spent creates a deeper connection in opposition to cinema where your connection lasts for a couple of hours, although strong characters can start with you for years (like Faye and the cop of Chungking Express).
In cinema you have a limited time and have to use wisely to make a impact the viewer with a fast and strong connection while literature and videogames can afford a slower but more steady approach to the characters.
Concluding The Last of Us breaks the barrier of passivity in cinema with interactivity, and utilizes the steady and long character development more in touch with the pace in literature. When correctly utilized like Naughty Dogs did in this game we can see the full potential of videogame as a medium that combines all the other arts as tools of expression.
obs.: The soundtrack is amazing also made by Gustavo Santaolalla who wrote music for movies like Amores Perros, Blueberry Nights, Diários de Motocicletas, Babel and many others!