Freedom in linear gaming: Teens React completes The Last of Us

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Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, as I’ve written before, is a masterpiece. At least, that’s my subjective opinion. Definitely the best game of the past 17 years (those of you counting at home will realise this is because Metal Gear Solid came out in 1998).

Well, earlier this week the YouTube series “Teens React” concluded their nine month long saga of playing through the game, and I have been eagerly waiting for this moment. To see the gang, several of whom said they don’t really play games or at least this type of game, go from awkwardly learning the controls to feeling the full brunt of The Last of Us‘ gut punch of a narrative has been surprisingly enthralling, and the anticipation of seeing them experience the amazing conclusion was driving me mad. But they got there, and it was really worth the wait. Not all of them reacted how I expected, and that’s just a testament to how The Last of Us can affect people.

SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US FROM HERE ON OUT.

The first thing that struck me was how quickly some of them started turning on Marlene. I mean yes, she is essentially the face of the group that is going to kill Ellie so she represents the situation the player opposes, but she also completely in the right when it comes to SAVING MANKIND. Some of the players contemplate this, but the others very much reacted with “oh imma gonna KILL YOU!”

This rage continued into the escape section where Marlene begs for her own life, realising she cannot stop Joel taking Ellie away, and Joel just calmly puts her down. The almost collective “yeah, take that you evil person,” surprised me, as from a pure ethical standpoint Joel is in the wrong. But he is a flawed man, not willing to lose another daughter, and I suppose The Last of Us is so effective at putting us in his mindset and that is what we’re seeing coming out of the teenager’s reactions.

last of us marlene death

Got nothing funny to say. Too brutal.

This also isn’t the first moment the teens feel they needed to slaughter people just so they won’t come after them and Ellie. They pretty much all had the same reaction upon entering the operating theatre and whether or not to kill the surgeons inside. One of them even stated to the camera “I have no other choice,” before proceeding to beat the assistants. The same girl then calmly replied “that’s too bad,” when the remaining surgeon cried they didn’t want to die. Another player apologises as she guns them down.

It’s pretty haunting stuff, especially since only the main surgeon has to die for the player to progress further. The other two can be left unharmed and cowering, which is how I left them after savagely bludgeoning the lead surgeon to death in the fit of rage. In my personal playthrough, I realised that rage was a little terrifying, and if the other surgeons would just let me take Ellie and go then there was no need for more bloodshed. So I calmly lifted her up and carried her away.

last of us stab surgeon

Let’s not even get into how this was probably the last neurosurgeon alive in the US…

There are those that say linear games have no value compared to open-ended, player choice oriented titles like the recently released Fallout 4, because they play out the same way each time. I’ve often disagreed with this view (it’s probably obvious by now I hold linear narrative games in a higher personal regard than most others) and seeing Teens React play through The Last of Us has presented an excellent example of how a linear game can still have a unique resonance with different players. The experience I had playing that section of the game was very different to some of theirs, resulting in different behaviour in-game and thereby creating a slightly different series of events.

Was Joel an enraged psychopath, slaughtering the defenceless to rescue Ellie, or was he a determined pseudo-father strongly fighting to get her back? Both can be portrayed by the player with the overall outcome being the same, and that’s the beauty of how a linear narrative can produce water cooler stories like you get from the likes of Fallout 4.

Man, now I just want to play The Last of Us again. Or whatever it is Naughty Dog is considering as a sequel.

Tell Tom to shut up about The Last of Us on Twitter: @tomdheath. Don’t forget to follow @load_screen and like us on Facebook.

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