Tears for Fears : How “The Last of Us” Will Change The Game Industry
Note: This article is Spoiler-Free
Yeah, I know. It’s a massively hyperbolic statement. Statements that have been made before about many other games across many generations of consoles. But this one’s different. This one is actually important.
I have friends that have cried during video games. In a way, it made me jealous because I felt like I was missing something inside me- that I couldn’t tap into my own experience and be tearfully moved by polygons and code. To the layperson, perhaps that’s a weird, almost bizarre notion because the biggest purview into games they have is Halo and Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed. Great games, all, but about as emotionally compelling as dirty sock. Unfortunately, that is now 90% of the gaming mainstream due to the huge boon the industry has received over this last console cycle. Like summer movie season, the game industry has shifted more into releasing blockbuster after blockbuster consisting of viscerally exciting, yet ultimately hollow experiences.
Just last week, while E3 was in full swing, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg participated in a panel at USC about filmmaking where they commented on the emotional disconnect of video games:
Spielberg: “The second you get the controller, something turns off in your heart.”
Lucas: “The big game of the next five years will be a game where you empathize very strongly with the characters and it’s aimed at women and girls. It will be the Titanic of the game industry, where suddenly you’ve done an actual love story.”
Two days after they voiced their (very valid) opinions on video games, I slid my copy of The Last of Us into my PS3 and needless to say, nothing turned off in my heart. In fact, it was overwhelmed. So much so that by the time the opening sequence of the game cut to black, I was so wrought with emotion, literally doubled over, that it took nearly all of the main title sequence and half of the following cinematic for me to compose myself.
And I’m not the lone voice. Many gamers are shocked and stunned not by what happens narratively in that sequence, but how incredibly powerful it turns out to be. Moments such as these are littered through out the course of The Last of Us. All of them are grim and harrowing in their own right, but none of them are as effective as that opening sequence because the opener is a gut punch to the soul. It boldly sets the stage, telling everyone that Naughty Dog is not here to fuck around.
Developers have, with this console generation in particular, tried many times to lock into communicating emotion in a real and meaningful way; the same way films and even television do seemingly so easily. They try to make character models look more human and articulate through technology iteration- Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire are probably the most successful examples of this tech, but as emotional conduit, both games came close yet ultimately failed. The Last of Us does not have the facial animation technology of those games, yet the emotional impact of it is greater than both of them combined. To a certain extent, yes, you do need the technology to more easily connect to a high-poly model, but it goes beyond that. Naughty Dog have finally cracked the code to make drama successful in video games.
The Last of Us is exciting because of its inherent brilliance, but also of what it means for the future of games. In terms of getting people to connect on a deeper level to a video game, it is the most progressive piece of entertainment software in decades. The hope is that we can learn from the restraint and control of the execution of drama in The Last of Us and stop trying to blur the line between games and film and instead obliterate it completely.
I’m sure Spielberg and Lucas would love to be proved wrong.