All the faces of violence
In The Last of Us, violence has always been one of the most important elements. But, be careful, it has never been free. There is a precise context in which it is inserted; and above all, there are characters who have lived a particular life, before abandoning themselves – in whole or in part – to it. Let’s think about Joel. In The Last of Us, to explain how it has become what it has become, we are told its story: who he was, where he lived, what job he did. When her daughter is killed before her eyes, something in Joel changes forever. It breaks. And so on his face, at any moment, a violent shadow is glimpsed, ready to take over and transform it.
The Last of Us, however, also does another thing. Try working by subtraction, e to completely overturn the narrative plane. When Joel meets Ellie, and learns about her and becomes fond of her, her violent nature also changes; and the extreme gestures he makes become a necessary means of not letting another daughter die.
In the case of the first chapter of the Naughty Dog video game, violence was a predictable and well framed element, narratively justified and coherent. In The Last of Us Part 2, no. In the first images that were shown, Ellie, who grew up and learned to live with violence without ever really knowing kindness, is impulsive, physical, sharp. A tense violin string. He kills his enemies mercilessly. He runs at breakneck speed. He growls like an animal.
Take a stick with ease. She is a murderer, before anything else. And you can read it in his eyes, and you can hear it in his voice.
But violence is part of the character. IS it makes sense. The gamer who moves her is given a choice: either embrace Ellie’s nature to the fullest, or run away and play differently, taking advantage of the environment, the tall grass, and anything else that allows you to avoid confrontation. For some this is not enough. Because the violence, in The Last of Us Part 2, seems excessive, with no way out, and often downright unjustified. But is not so. Or rather: it is, if we want to stop here, on the surface of the problem, and not wanting to go further.
No judgment, no lessons, only humanity
In The Last of Us, as in many other video games, movies or TV series, and books and comics, violence is a perfect extreme with which immediately seek contact with the public, and in this way, create a bridge of empathy. Because the first task of those who tell a story is to be able to bring the public closer and make them participate, moving away from the two-dimensionality of paper and screen.
A video game, by definition, is not a film and it is not even a book. The gamer is given several possibilities. And each of them is, in turn, limited. Because you can only make a certain number of decisions. We cannot go beyond. The story is already written, and must only be lived. There is a risk, therefore, of an excessive identification, and of an almost overdose, for the gamer, of sensations and feelings. The Last of Us, however, remains a entertainment product, and an entertainment product must not teach any lessons.
He can show the world in his infinite complicity, he can lead the videogame player to live the most absurd adventures, and he can allow to be a hero, to win. Or, as in this case, to play a character put to the test by life, with a precise history, background and character. And violence, in all this, is a fundamental ingredient.
In Ellie, because of her nature, kindness is amplified, and it takes little, a gesture or a word, to notice it. Think of the first gameplay trailer for The Last of Us Part 2. A kiss, for her, is a breath of fresh air. And it is because all her life she has been used to holding her breath in a sea of pain. When he dances, he is happy. He regains his naivete as a teenager. And this aspect, compared to what happens shortly after – she who kills, who assaults, who mercilessly strikes – stands out magnificently. And you notice, and it’s good for the rhythm of the video game experience. And this is what we should dwell on.
There is no point in insisting on looking for a part, on finding an alignment. In the stories, violence is the blackest black; it is the extreme of the litmus test that photographs humanity. A video game does not aim only at the silent observation of a story; but he also wants someone, the gamer, to live it. In the case of The Last of Us, violence is an integral part of the narration and characterization of the characters: it has a specific reason and purpose.
Does it upset, shake, horrify? Perfect: it means that history, in the end, got what it wanted. And the gamer tried something he probably never would have tried before. We don’t think about right and wrong; we do not judge violence out of context; think about what a story, if good, if well told, if three-dimensional and credible, can give us. And The Last of Us has always given us a lot.