Spoiler Warning: Like my statistical review of The Games of Thrones novels, the following post contains massive spoilers for the Playstation 3 game, The Last of Us. By all means at your disposal, play the game first and then come back to read the article. You have been warned.
The Last of Us is a remarkable game. Playing the game over the course of a few weeks resulted in some anxiety and nightmares as I replayed a few of the creepy-as-hell sequences and brutality of dying repeatedly while trying to fall asleep. For example, nothing can quite prepare you for quietly creeping past a host of Clickers in a dark room – or that first time a Bloater rips your face open in shockingly-close detail. While the game travels well-established mechanics of cover-based combat and stealth in yet another post-apocalyptic setting, it is the acting, characters, and story that set the The Last of Us apart from titles with similar gameplay. The journey of Joel and Ellie is riveting, and the conclusion to their story is unlike any experience I’ve had with a videogame in the 20-plus years I’ve been an avid consumer of such entertainment.
After completing the game, I scanned around for other reactions to the game, which I had previously avoided for fear of spoilers. Some of the commentary was surprising. A discussion of the game by Polygon used the following terms to describe Joel at various points in their commentary: sociopath, psychosis, disturbed, and spook. Meanwhile, the New York Times commented that “Joel grows over the course of the game into an admirably complicated protagonist” between paragraphs that blast the game for its handling of gender roles. The later is I comment I disagree with slightly, but my thoughts about Joel are more in line with the Times’ take on him.
By the end of the game, I felt completely immersed in Joel’s experience of the world. I empathized with him. The following is my attempt to justify the actions of Joel at the end of the game – and rationalize why my thoughts were completely in line with his actions when I/he burst through the operating room to find Ellie about to be killed.