Violence and The Last of Us

Way back on Monday night, after the American president spurned democratically elected leaders, but before he sat down and had beef and ice-cream with a dictator, we got the first gameplay trailer for the The Last of Us Part II.

This sequel is one of the most anticipated in video game history and it certainly has a lot to live up to. The Last of Us was a critical and commercial hit. In the last five years we’ve seen the influence that it’s had on the gaming industry and, to an extent, modern fiction as a whole. The sequel will need to be just as emotionally gripping, hyper-realistic and gut-wrenching as the first outing, and the footage we got at E3 seems to suggest we won’t be disappointed on any front.

In this outing, set at least some-years after the original, we’ll be playing as Ellie. The companion character from the original has been elevated to protagonist status, which should allow for some new styles of combat, as well as different reactions to new situations.

It would be difficult to primarily play as Joel following the closing scenes of the first game. I know I’d be conflicted, immediately jumping into the shoes of someone who’d made a selfish decision that changed the course of human history, without having the time to deal with that as a spectator. I imagine we’ll get a chapter where we play from his perspective, just as we did with Ellie in the first game, but I’m certainly glad to be shifting protagonist.

In the first and final scenes of the trailer Ellie is at a dance, seemingly in a safe-zone during a time of relative peace. We get a lot of the trademark Neil Druckmann dialogue, with each line pushing the characterisation forward. There’s an unknown woman who seems to be making the rounds with all the twenty-somethings in camp, and her and Ellie share a tender moment and a kiss.

elliekiss

Fortunately, I’ve only seen a little bit of negative online backlash to a kiss between two women in a video game.

“Why did they have to make her a lesbian?! I’m not buying this game now. The gays are pushing an agenda!”

“Well Ellie’s sexuality was revealed in the first game, and you obviously bought that. What’s the agenda exactly?”

“To have gays in the game, and- and- make them- kiss!!”

“So their agenda is to exist and experience love? Yeah, I think I know where the real manifesto of hatred is coming from…”

I’m not going to dwell on that anymore. Show me a 2018 game with an LGBT protagonist, and I’ll show you ten that don’t feature any. If you can’t handle a handful of non-heterosexual characters in modern fiction, after a century of populist-fiction that featured almost exclusively straight characters, you need to look at your heart.

The real controversies from the gameplay trailer came from the level of violence.

This is definitely a discussion worth having because, yes, that was an extremely violent scene that they showcased! A man lost his small and large intestines for hells sake! Possibly a medium-sized one as well, there was a lot of intestine hanging out.

As graphics and motion capture technologies improve, games that set-out to be hyper-realistic are only going to get closer to emulating what real violence would look like. The trailer featured stabs to the neck, visceral gunshot wounds and the aforementioned fairly casual disembowelment. Which was carried out by the presumed antagonists.

The Last of Us series doesn’t pretend to be any kind of cartoonish portrayal of the apocalypse, so I think most gamers knew what to expect. On first viewing of the trailer I watched the raw-video, but the second time around I watched fan-recorded footage of crowd reactions at E3, and I think their responses showed that we’re mature enough to separate fictional violence from reality.

There was an audible groan of disgust, matched by my own, as the disembowelment took place. The audiences gasped and verbally flinched every time someone violently had a sharp object plunged into their flesh.

At one point, right at the start of the gameplay sequence, I thought that they cheered a man being stabbed in the neck. Which made me feel a little uneasy. But on closer inspection, they don’t cheer as the violence starts, but when the game HUD fades in and they realise this is no longer a cinematic.

Two more moments during the violent scenes drew cheers from the live-audience. One featured Ellie crafting a brand-new item that violently exploded an enemy, leaving chunks of his flesh scattered on the floor. The other was during a near-death moment that Ellie managed to escape from by shooting an attacker in the face. I can only hope that the gamers in attendance were cheering for a cool new game mechanic and their hero escaping the clutches of death, and not the idea of people being murdered in such brutal ways.

I think hardcore gamer-bros and Mumsnet will draw different conclusions from the trailer, and everyone else will land somewhere in the middle. But there’s no denying that this was one of the more violent scenes of video game action we’ve seen in a while.

elliefight

I don’t like to talk about video game violence as a “problem”, because that’s historically been the right-wing way of scapegoating real-life violence, instead of acting on gun control or funding mental health services. But I might start to debate it with more seriousness the moment I find myself reacting inappropriately to hyper-realistic video games.

I know that anyone who has issues with the levels of violence in games like The Last of Us will be smart enough to just not play them. My challenge to anyone who’s worried about video game violence so much that it consumes them, would be to address and help with real-world violence. Donate to foreign-aid clinics, help with March For Our Lives and other such movements. Expose the terrorist organisations on our shores, like the NRA, who bring real violence to everyday life.

As much as we love our fiction, there’s only so much energy we should waste on something that’s unproven to correlate with the violence that’s happening in our world right now.

Judging by the behaviour of the antagonists I’m going to hope that they’re a chaotic group with fascistic overtones, or at least harbour prejudices to people other than their own. Because in this day and age, nothing beats graphic fictionalised violence against people with hate in their hearts.

Again, I know the distinction between what’s fiction and what’s reality. I’m not about to go out and stab a person who incites violence against the marginalised, but you bet I’m going to live it out in a video game.

Today is Wednesday, June 13th and North America just won the World Cup bid for 2026, which’ll be pretty awkward if Trump declares war on Canada.

Will you be playing The Last of Us Part II? Or has the violence crossed a line this time? Let me know in the comments below!

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