I am 29 years old, a former Gold Coaster and converted Melbournian. I am a popular culture sponge. I like music, movies, books and video games and I like to talk about those things almost non-stop.
Also, I think you are pretty. There I said it.
The Last of Us is really something else.
My original plan was to complete and then review this title but I had an experience with it not long before reaching its incredibly bleak conclusion and I wanted to talk about that a little bit. Spoiler warning is in effect from here on out.
Quick trip to the department of backstory for setup’s sake. Bear with me.
For most of the game’s entire playtime you are in control of grizzled, cranky survivor Joel, erstwhile steward of Ellie, our last hope for survival against the Cordyceps virus that has ravaged humanity. Upon entering the game’s third act, “Winter”, we find control switched to Ellie after Joel suffers a nasty accident and is convalescent. Ellie plays very differently from Joel - she’s lighter, faster and seems to be have better aim than Old Shaky Hands.
Out hunting for food, she encounters two scouts named David and James from a nearby militia encampment doing the same. She warily (and shrewdly) barters for medicine with them. David dispatches James back to camp for syringes and penicillin. He attempts to talk to Ellie, trying to gather more information on her. His inquiries are clever and pointed but Ellie is no-one’s fool and she eludes his questioning without giving too much away. The two are attacked by a sudden rush of infected people and they briefly work together to survive and escape the situation. James eventually returns with the bartered-for medicine and, alarm bells ringing about these guys, Ellie departs at high speed to administer her drugs to Joel.
Ellie is awoken the next morning by shouting in the small abandoned down where she and Joel have hunkered down. David and his men have tracked her and are now searching for her. Ellie leaves the still comatose Joel and attempts to lead the men away from him. It works. They follow her and eventually capture her. David continues his attempts to pull more information from Ellie and she begins to provide it in dribs and drabs. David eventually loses his temper and makes to kill her Ellie reveals that she is infected, taking David and his men off guard. She sees an opportunity to escape, she takes it.
You pilot Ellie through a raging snowstorm, unable to see more than a few feet in front of you at any time, quietly avoiding or taking down guards in your path. This was all pretty straightfoward action/survival horror genre stuff but it was when I entered a large tavern that things got genuinely scary.
David enters the tavern and attacks Ellie. She evades him and hides. David, enraged, begins to stalk the tavern, searching for her. For you.
Last year in Melbourne a woman named Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in the inner suburb of Brunswick by a man named Adrien Bayley. Bayley has a history of sexual and physical attacks on women and has been consistently given slap-on-the-wrist sentences. At the time, all of my female friends were outraged by the attack on Jill Meagher. They were frightened by it. Most began searching for something to protect themselves with against such an attack. Some began looking into obtaining personal pepper spray (outlawed in Australia). Others, personal defense classes. All of them had stories of being harassed by men in the street and all of them held a perennial fear of being caught alone at night and attacked.
I realised that, as a man, I’ve never felt anything like that. If I’m walking down a street alone at night, I’m probably thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast or that TV show I really like. I’m definitely not on high alert for sick, deranged human beings leaping out of the shadows to attack me. I asked my female friends about their worries, I tried to empathise with them and thought I was able to imagine the sort of fear they were talking about. It wasn’t until I got to the above part of The Last of Us that I understood.
David has a gun and a machete. He is much bigger, stronger and faster than you. He jeers and taunts you as he stalks you around the tavern. He sets a fire at the door so that you can’t escape. Your challenge is to get behind him, sneak up and attempt to stab him. You must do this three times in order to take him down. With each attack on him, David becomes more and more deranged. His hunting becomes much more aggressive and his taunts much more hurtful, demeaning and antagonistic.
I realised that my hands were gripping the controller as though I meant to break it. My heart was pounding and my breathing was elevated.
I was terrified of this man.
I snuck up and stabbed him in the side on my second attempt and David threw me off. He produces his machete and begins to run around the room trying to catch you. He moves erratically, frequently stopping so you lose him in the commotion and can’t use your hearing technique to figure out where he is. Not knowing where he was was incredibly scary. I didn’t want to get near him to finish him off because he was so terrifying. And when he’d spot me and come charging toward me, so much faster than Ellie, my stomach would turn as I tried desperately to flee and hide.
I felt helpless. I felt powerless to stop this maniac. I felt like nothing I could do could possibly stop him from doing what he planned to do. I wasn’t strong or fast or big enough.
I’ve never felt like that before.
Eventually I was able to subdue him a third time, but he fought back again. He flips Ellie onto her back and places himself between her legs. With his hands on her throat he makes it clear what’s going to happen next. Ellie manages to reach her discarded knife and lets the bastard have it. She gets out of from under him, takes his machete and starts going to town on him, terrified that he’ll somehow get up again. When Joel appeared on the scene moments later to rescue Ellie I was felt relieved to have him back - not because I hadn’t enjoyed playing as Ellie, but because it meant comfort. It meant familiarity. It meant being bigger than the other guy again. And that wave of relief made me feel like a fraction of a man, I can tell you. Ellie collapses, inconsolable, following her ordeal and when you see her again in the spring, she is a changed woman.
The Last of Us allowed me to access a kind of fear I’d have never experienced otherwise. It has allowed me to see what my female friends and family are talking about when they say they’re constantly on alert. It’s given me a new appreciation for what they go through every day.
They’re so brave.
I don’t know how they do it.