I wrote this in the span of 30 minutes or so basically entirely out of thoughts that came directly out of my head with 0 arrangement or focus beyond a few thoughts I've loosely had over the last few months. Apologies if I lose my train of thought at some point, but I think this is in line with the sort of analysis you often see on this sub, so I hope this will be received well.
The Last of Us 2 is the polarizing sequel to one of the most beloved games of recent years, due in no small part to the leaks reporting a certain, not-as-well-beloved character's gender identity. Whether the outrage grew from that point and then morphed into a general loathing of everything The Last of Us 2, or there are many different rages that slowly cohered into one mass of despising, is ambiguous, but the point is a lot of people do not like this game at all. 40-minute YouTube analyses are a dime a dozen these days, and sifting through the mass is often its own chore, so many of us, especially on this sub, stick to a few well-known reviewers to get a second opinion on a game, especially in a case like this.
I don't think I'm crazy for saying VideoGameDunkey and NakeyJakey are probably two prominent figures in the minds of this sub, and those familiar with their content will instantly see the parallels I'm attempting to draw. For those not familiar, although these YouTubers both identify themselves as easily distracted, and the type of person to focus more on gameplay than overarching story, they had radically different takes on the story of the Last of Us 2. VideoGameDunkey praised it as emotionally-charged thought-provoking, while NakeyJakey was generally unimpressed with its story content and criticized the fact that its gameplay and its plot tell different stories, a phenomenon we all know called ludonarrative dissonance. In essence, NakeyJakey was disillusioned with the fact that the game tried to make statements about violence, revenge, and hatred, that ultimately fell flat in the face of its constant slaughter.
Honestly, though, I thought this was an uncharacteristically shallow take from NakeyJakey, and I'd like to explain why I find myself agreeing more with VideoGameDunkey. I doubt this essay will empirically change anyone's mind, and I'm sure someone has already made a very similar argument to this already, but I'd like to use a new angle to consider this game and the debate surrounding it.
Consider the beloved American political pundit, Ben Shapiro. A bit of a meme on Reddit for his argumentative tactics, which are often deemed as disingenuous and bad-faith. Whether the man should be praised or scorned is something I will not comment on here (although you can probably take a cursory glance at my post history and determine my feelings) the point that I'm trying to make is that Ben Shapiro exists within a world strictly defined by his perception logic and its corresponding fallacies. If you are arguing with Ben Shapiro, and you deviate from what he sees as the rules and protocols of pure, unadulterated logic, you will be called out. And, by and large, this paradigm extends to the entirety of the internet. It doesn't matter if you make an eloquent and inspired argument, if you end it by calling your opponent a sheepraping cunt, that is an ad hominen attack, and that will not suffice.
Here's the thing, though, and this is the device I'd like to use to tie this essay back to ludonarrative dissonance and the Last of Us 2: sometimes, a logical fallacy makes sense. Sometimes, it's right to say that maybe legalizing sheep rape will lead to widespread bestiality, even though that uses the argument of slippery slope, or it's right to call your opponent a racist if he says that he doesn't like a certain type of 'people' who drink tea and don't say their r's, even if that's an ad hominem attack.
And the reason that I use this analogy is because of something NakeyJakey said in his video on Red Dead II, which I found myself agreeing with pretty entirely: a game is like a conversation with a friend. And the issue with Red Dead II, is that when you say, 'I want to go over there and do this', Red Dead II has a tendency to scream 'MISSION FAILED' in your face. Red Dead II is a shitty friend, because it tends to ignore your own desires in favor of its vision of a perfect future. And even though NakeyJakey does not use this argument in his Last of Us 2 video, I think it still holds true here (It's also worth mentioning that I don't mean for this essay/writing/shitty analysis to be a direct rebuttal to him at all, he's just someone I respect who made a very well-reasoned video on the Last of Us that I disagreed with, as opposed to calling it an SJW nightmare circlejerk). Jakey is frustrated here because he tells the Last of Us 2, 'I don't want to kill all these people to get revenge for Joel', and the game says back, 'stab a pregnant woman', and the Last of Us 2 says, 'too bad.'
But that's what he gets wrong here, because the Last of Us 2 isn't a conversation, it's an argument.
And we can see this in the way that it uses the 'fallacy' of ludonarrative dissonance to ultimately 'win', or at least express what it wants to express.
Because the entire crux of the game is that you don't want to do what you're doing. But this is intentional. Ellie is a deeply traumatized person who has been co-opted by her mental illness into a quest for revenge that she, deep down, wants nothing to do with. The fact that you have to reconcile with the motives of the main character and your own desires, while also doing many things you both find reprehensible, is woven into the story in a very unique way that means your own goals will only coincide with Ellie's at a few points, most notably being the end, at which point, neither of you want to kill Abby anymore. Because Ellie's, and your own, memories of Joel will slowly bring you to the conclusion that this is all unnecessary. This is the opposite of the first game, where you and Joel want the same things to happen until the end – namely the protection of Ellie – but you are repulsed, even if relieved, when he kills the surgeon. Conversely, the second game is gross, sad, and bleak and at the end you are left with horrible emptiness, but the promise of a clear conscience.
And this is why ludonarrative dissonance is a genius tool in this scenario, because, even if it is fallacious, it helps you to understand what Ellie is experiencing, the divide between what she wants to do and what she feels like she wants to do.
I don't want to sound pretentious at all – truly, I'm a complete fucking idiot who knows some big words and likes writing, and this entire essay is probably completely incomprehensible. But I just feel so sad when I see the way this story uses the medium of video games to tell a story that could be told nowhere else, through the use of gameplay and story, subtext and dialogue, to truly expand on the cycle of violence and how no one truly chooses to be involved in it, and so many people completely fucking hate it. And people use the same argument against it to say it blows cock, when really that thing makes it great. I won't say this is an objective statement, but I think it is true that the game uses gameplay to inspire disgust with Ellie, and Ellie is shown feeling disgust with herself, but still a sense of drive inspired by her PTSD, as shown in flashbacks. And it is so disheartening to so many people do not, or do not want to, see this.
Honestly, it's just so numbing to see that every time a game tries to push boundaries, it is mercilessly hounded and ridiculed. Everyone in the community says they're bored with the current AAA video game format, but Call of Duty sells a quadfuckingdragillion copies every year, and whenever a Last of Us 2 comes out, people will reflexively hate on it because it takes a fucking milliwatt of brain power to dissect the story, gameplay, and characters, and how they all coalesce to a final product.
We deserve FIFA.
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