Gaming with a heavy heart

John Schmidt Web Editor

This column contains spoilers on The Last of Us.

The following isn’t so much about video games; rather it’s about what this particular video game did to me. For years, I felt desensitized to some of the more heartfelt moments in videogames. It seemed to me that the over the top violence and moral questions presented were something added to give the game a higher production value. Saying “Oh man you can do these awesome violent things to someone” or “You can make this awesome decision” in a game, adds to the gameplay, I guess.

Over the break, I finally got around to finishing Naughty Dog’s 2013 game The Last of Us. This game tells a powerful, character driven story about a man and a young girl, and their time trying to survive in a recently infected world. The game is about surviving massive groups of infected people along with bands of non-infected bandits, government troops and militia. During this game, your main characters, Joel and Ellie, have to do some rather intense things to many people. Keep in mind that these people don’t exist; and this game is renowned by a lot of people in the video game industry as the best game of 2013.

In the game, the characters travel on a journey towards the Midwest. Ellie, the young girl, is carrying the cure for the infection that is killing everyone, in her body and it’s up to Joel to make sure she gets into the arms of doctors safely and quickly.

While the characters are in Pittsburg, they come across another duo, a man and his younger brother. You work with these two to try and get out of the city, and end up having to kill some of the rebels that riddle the area. For some reason, strangling and beating rebels to death with lead pipes bothered me when there were two kids playing in the other room and joking around with each other. This game lets you explore old schools, hospitals and factories that are completely destroyed and it becomes clear that in the game, there is absolutely no hope left whatsoever. You’re surrounded by death and sadness that, no joke, can fumigate.

Eventfully, an “infected” bites the young boy you had met up with and he himself is about to turn into an “infected”. His older brother shoots him, then kills himself. Watching that cut scene was so emotionally tasking for me that I had to put the controller down and go talk to my dad about Christmas music. I just couldn’t play the game anymore.

That moment was matched over and over throughout the game. I felt sick to my stomach, on the verge of tears. I was emotionally compromised for the rest of the game. This connection to a game is something that has never happened to me before. When playing video games, I never truly cared about the characters as much as I cared about Joel and Ellie.

One of the last scenes, where Joel is carrying Ellie through the hospital, and exceptionally sad music is playing, the Fireflies are shooting at you, I began to tear up. What Joel was carrying in his arms meant so much to him and I could feel that even though it wasn’t real, even though it was on a screen.

I read a lot of books, watch a lot of TV, and play a lot of video games; and the only other time I had to put something down like I did for The Last of Us was when I was reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis during this very descriptive dog mutilation scene.

I personally feel that even though there were very tasking parts of the game, telling a story that makes someone feel so involved is something more games should do. We tend to get caught up in the gimmicks and cool things you can make your characters do; but do we get as attached to other characters as much as we grow attached to Joel and Ellie? It seems that the masses are more interested in costs, reviews, gimmicks, graphics and the culture of particular video games than what they were actually intended for: to tell a story. A lot of the other games I play frequently do tell a story, but it’s just not as interesting and I’m not as invested as I was in The Last of Us.

The Last of Us knocked it out of the park with that story and character development so much that it made me reach my emotional maxima. I loved every second of it, even though it was hard to get through sometimes. 


John Schmidt is majoring in journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]