TLDR: violence is an effective tool in last of us part 2 and I think it does a great job at characterizing the npcs in the world, the world itself and the protagonists you play as.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen regarding the last of us part 2, aside from the story, is the use of violence in game. I’m not talking about people complaining that the game is too graphic or violent, although there’s certainly some who believe that, I’m talking about those who argue that the game uses violence to manipulate you and to try to beat you over the head with a “violence is bad” message. While I can see why people wouldn’t enjoy this game due to the portrayal of violence, I wanted to make a case for why I think the use of violence in this game stands out to me and why I think it’s so effective
- Character development through Gameplay:
I know this isn’t unique to part 2, plenty of games have used gameplay to show how a character has changed or to reinforce certain characteristics they posses. However, I haven’t seen other triple a games where the gameplay is so brutal and it’s used to show you just how desensitized these characters are to violence, and how far they’re willing to go just to fulfill one objective. The only triple a game that I can think off that does something similar is spec ops the line, but I haven’t played it so I feel I can’t really properly compare them. Anyways in last of us part 2, especially during Ellie’s segment, I felt violence was used effectively to show us the worst side of both characters, they’re really brutal and desensitized to the violence they use, they just see their enemies as obstacles and the idea that hate and anger consume both of these characters is reinforced by seeing how they act during gameplay. Like I said, this isn’t the first game to do this, but to me it really stood out because naughty used this in conjunction with other elements to make their use of violence stand out.
- Enemies being shown as humans and reacting as such:
This is the thing that stood out the most to me. Maybe it’s because I don’t always play stealth games, but most games I’ve played don’t go out of their way to humanize enemy npcs to this extent. Seeing dogs react to their owners being killed, seeing them search for another human because they’re confused and don’t know what to do, seeing enemies cry out over their fallen friends, all of those made the violence in part 2 incredibly interesting to me. It also made the setting feel much more real, the level design and art design also contributed to this, but the enemies being so human also allowed me to immerse myself even more in this world. Seeing the homes of both the wlf and seraphites, learning more about their history and seeing them react to events around them, made me see them as humans. Normally games just tell you that the enemies you’re gunning down are also humans, you’re never really shown this unless they’re main characters. This was especially effective during my second play through which made me feel more uncomfortable with violence, i can’t really describe it but playing this game made me feel something I’ve never felt in any other game. Like I said about my previous point, I know part 2 isn’t the only game to do this, I’m sure there’s plenty of games I haven’t played (especially indie games) that do something similar, but seeing this realized in such a huge blockbuster game was something that I didn’t expect and it was well executed in my opinion.
- It reinforces the idea that you’re basically just an spectator:
I’ve seen people argue that other games such as undertale did this whole thing in a better way because violence in that game is optional, you’re not forced to kill anything and a pacifist run is possible. I used to think the same, but I’ve realized that unlike those other games, the protagonists in part 2 aren’t there to help you get immersed in the world. In other words, they don’t serve as a a vessel that brings you into this real world, you’re just an spectator witnessing these events. By being forced to kill especially on the harder difficulties, you come to understand more of this world and the characters that inhabit them. Like I mentioned before, violence is really effective in setting the stage and making you understand the characters. Most people in the world of the last of us are just that, people, but they’ve been forced into some extreme circumstances and seeing how they handle said circumstances is what makes them so interesting and compelling.
Counter argument: I think despite all the praise I’ve given this element, it’s important to look at some of the arguments against the points I’ve made. Ive seen people argue that the biggest problem with violence in this game is how eventually you the player become desensitized to it because it’s so frequently used and how the length of the game also makes the violence less effective as it goes on. I see where this arguments come from, and while I can’t come up with a good solution, I also think that last of us 2 wouldn’t be as great as it is if it didn’t use violence the way it does. To me it’s such an interesting game because, despite it having a lot of positive moments and a bittersweet ending that leans more to the positives side of things, it’s overall a really relentless game and it Wouldn’t be the same if violence wasn’t used to reinforce this idea.
Conclusion: Violence is a tool that can be used to make us question the characters we play as and can make the world we’re exploring seem more real. Last of us 2 uses violence effectively for this and while I can see why a lot of people don’t like how it’s use, for me it was a really effective tool that helped with immersion and ended up creating one of the most unique gaming experiences ever. I’d love to see more games grounded in reality use a similar approach to part 2.
Let me know your thoughts on all this! Sorry if my sentence structure is a bit wonky, English isn’t my first language. Also, this is the first time I’ve ever done something like this and I would really like some feedback on my writing and arguments, thanks again!
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