Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Last Of Us

First off, Gamespot gave this game an 8 out of 10.  Gamespot is wrong.  More games should be made like this and an 8 out of 10 is absolutely absurd.  Let's take a look at games in the last year that Gamespot considers better than TLOU:

Cloudberry Kingdom, Dota 2, Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition, The Walking Dead, Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World, New Super Luigi U, LIMBO, Dark Souls, Sound Shapes, Borderlands 2, Mark of the Ninja, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Darksiders II, NBA 2K13, Forza Horizon, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Dishonored, F1 2012, New Super Mario Bros. U, Halo 4, Assassin's Creed III, Dance Central 3, Far Cry 3, LEGO The Lord of the Rings, Tomb Raider, Bit.Trip Presents...Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Guacamelee!, BioShock Infinite, Metro: Last Light

This is always a losing proposition; this type of comparative effort between games of different genres.  But, there is an underlying inescapability to the point.  There are a lot of good games on that list above.  But there are also a lot of games on that list that can't seriously be uttered in the same breath as "Game of the Year".  Metro: Last Light?  Mortal Kombat?  MGS Revengeance?  Halo 4!?!?  So, the two obvious questions are: Are there people on staff at Gamespot that don't believe that Naughty Dog's work in this game is worthy of GOTY consideration?  And if not, how can they justify giving a GOTY candidate a lower score that a bunch of games that they don't even think of in the same league?

Second, there are a lot of people who question the morality of the game, a fact which is to my mind one of the reasons that make it a GOTY contender.  So many "story driven" games leave you unmoved.  The credits roll and its off to the next game.  TLOU is not that, and I don't think people recognize how incredible that is.  MGS 4 tried to move you in that way, but Kojima's story was so convoluted and the idea of sacrifice among the characters was always fleeting.  Everyone makes it.  Real people that you felt for died in this game.  Some you were glad to see go.  Some you weren't.  Others you weren't sure one way or another.  That's an accomplishment, regardless of the morality of the game.

And finally, I want to mention a criticism of Joel's final actions that many people have taken issue with.  This idea, this notion of selfishness.  It seems very hollow and disingenuous to reduce the final actions in the story to mere questions of motivation and a need for a dispassionate utilitarian conclusion.  Humanity has been ravaged and the species is in jeopardy.  Many people see on the one hand, Joel selfishly acting to save Ellie - against her wishes - and on the other hand, the pressing need to save humanity from destruction.  Well, to the first point - why is selfishness a moral consideration?  Everything everyone does aligns with their own value system and therefore is beneficial for themselves.  Marlene was saving humanity.  It was good for her to do.  Just because she's theoretically going to save billions doesn't make it any less selfish.  She's doing it because it aligns with what would be best for her life.  Saving humanity is better for her than protecting her friend's child. No one does anything that isn't good for them in some way.  Joel is selfish by saving Ellie, sure.  The question doesn't hinge on whether what we do is good for ourselves.  The question doesn't even hinge on whether doing something for ourselves comes at the expense of others - everything we do comes at some expense. The question is whether the things that we do for ourselves can come to some future good.  In terms of the future good, is Ellie's one, real, definite life any less worth saving than the theoretical billions that might be saved.  One is real and certain, the other is just conjecture and speculation.  If it were clear-cut and easy, it wouldn't be especially interesting.

Next to this idea that Ellie's wishes were somehow a consideration in all this: this is patently ludicrous.  Why don't we let children drive?  Cast a ballot and vote?  Give their bodies away?  I thought we all agreed that, true or not, accurate or not, children don't have enough sense in their heads to make a decision like whether they should sacrifice themselves for science.  Most adults don't have enough sense to save for retirement, or not accumulate massive amounts of avoidable debt, or give up smoking, let alone properly make a decision like how best to save humanity.  But we have all these voices saying Ellie's wishes should be respected like she was a 40 year old woman.  She's a kid.  You could fill a kid's head with anything and they'll spit it back out at you.  How long has Ellie been hearing things like: You can save us all...we're all depending on can save the world. It's ever present in her brain.  It's the first thought that she has when she wakes up and the last thought she has when she goes to sleep - that she can make a difference for others.  That making that difference is her purpose in life, her reason for being.  People saying she has a choice in all this don't seem to understand that she doesn't have a choice at all.  She's a kid, she's programmed to answer "yes".  She has no chance of saying "no" to all those subliminal suggestions.  No child does, no matter how feisty or grown up they might seem.  That's why we have parents to say "yes" or "no" for her.  That's why we have parents at all.  Joel ended up being the parent that Ellie didn't have, the same way that Ellie was the daughter that Joel lost, and no one else seemed interested in being a parent for her.

And finally, the pressing need to save humanity, that's where we see the simplistic head of good ol' fashion utilitarianism.  1 billion is more than 1.  Well here's the thing.  1 is greater than 0.  See what I did there.  Possibly saving 1 billion people is better than possibly protecting 1 person.  But definitely saving Ellie and researching her in every way possible is definitely better than cutting her brain open and discovering oops, we were a little hasty.  One Ellie will eventually become zero Ellie's in time at which time one dead Ellie can be used to save billions.  But it doesn't work the other way round.  So which utilitarian analysis is more valid, the one with speculation or the one with certainty?

But all this from a game that only deserves an 8.  Seems like too much thinking and passion for an 8.

P.S.  I wouldn't be me if I didn't do the obvious nitpicking that I do.

1) 60 percent of the human population in 20 years.  That would still  leave 2.8 billion people - with the vast majority of them acutely aware of the problem, suggesting that future losses would occur even more slowly. Sorry, but that hardly qualifies as on the brink.  The first time the human population cracked 3 billion was only 50 years ago.  For hundreds of thousands of years humanity had fewer people and less knowledge than the in-game world and they managed to not go extinct.  Assuming people not being idiots and mankind in general having a dependable and pronounced cognitive advantage over infected people whose brains have been eaten by a fungus - the basic outline of the game doesn't actually make killing Ellie for a vaccine or cure especially pressing.  Where was the highly-organized zombie horde threatening to systematically overrun every major city and stronghold, like in every other ridiculous zombie work?

2)  So a Cordyceps fungal infection takes over a human, infecting their limbic system and turns them into zombies with progressive degenerative symptoms over time.  This causes them to be compelled to violently assault other not infected humans (but not each other) and become a walking plague on the world.  Ha ha.  So, basic metabolic consideration...its a big problem of biology when your food source is also your reproductive means.  The infected aren't hunting animals with rudimentary tools, rearing livestock, or making crops.

What do they eat?

Well I suppose they could somehow be photosynthetic.  But the game seems to suggest that they are both compelled to assault uninfected humans in order to both feed on them and reproduce through them.  Well follow that to its logical conclusion.  Either you've eaten every uninfected human that can become your species, you stop feeding and reproducing and you go extinct, or you infected every human, made every member of your food source a member of your species and you all starve to death.  How do these zombies last?  You find them in these sealed places where people haven't been for years (i.e. no one to feed on).  They don't seem to be intelligent enough to operate a can opener and feed off of rations.  Yet they aren't wasting away from malnutrition.  They're just ready to go.  These zombies don't have any biological drives except for biting people.  But that isn't enough to sustain an animal.  Just saying.

The Moral Ambiguities In The Last Of Us:


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