Tag Archives: Joel and Ellie

A Note On The “Last Of Us 2” Leaks (And Spoilers In General)

People have mixed, but intense opinions on spoilers. I know people who will get downright violent if you threaten to spoil something to them. I also know people who just roll their eyes and brush them off, as though they’re no big deal. It’s one of those issues where there’s very little middle ground.

In the age of the internet and social media, it’s almost impossible to avoid them. Some movies, video games, and TV shows can be completely spoiled in a single tweet. There are unmoderated anonymous boards like 4chan where every detail can be spoiled, alongside posts of trolls determined to make ordinary people gouge their eyes out.

Personally, I prefer to read spoilers before I see a movie, buy a game, or get invested in a show. When I saw “Dark Phoenix” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I read spoilers beforehand. They actually made me more excited to see those movies because I liked what I read.

Sometimes, I make exceptions. I avoided spoilers for both “Avengers: Endgame” and “Breaking Bad.” In those cases, I really wanted to feel the impact when I saw how the story played out the first time. While I doubt reading spoilers would’ve made me enjoy both stories any less, there was an element of impact that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

I think a lot of people make exceptions when it comes to spoilers, but sometimes they have an impact that goes beyond spoiling a surprise. That’s what happened recently with “The Last of Us Part 2,” one of the most anticipated video games of the past decade. As someone who played the first “The Last of Us” and praised it on multiple occasions, I was among those brimming with excitement.

Then, an employee at the developer, Naughty Dog, leaked the entire story. Out of respect for those who still don’t want to be spoiled, I won’t go into detail here. I’ll just cite the report by Den of Geek, who also made a concerted effort to avoid such details.

Den of Geek: The Last of Us 2 Leaked Plot Confirmed by Naughty Dog

The Last of Us Part 2‘s story has been leaked. Various clips that showcase nearly the entirety of the game’s story have made their way online. Naughty Dog has recently confirmed the leak via a tweet that asks fans to not spoil the game for others and to avoid spoilers if possible.

The extent of this leak is massive. Not only do these leaked clips include nearly every major cutscene from The Last of Us Part 2, but it seems that fans have also gotten their hands on a leaked level list that details the story structure of the sequel.

Now, I’m going to be careful with my words here because I don’t want to spoil this game for those who don’t want to be spoiled. Even though the leaks have spread on nearly every platform, I don’t want to compound the issue. The primary reason I’m bringing this issue up with The Last of Us Part 2” is because this whole situation with spoilers has some important insights that are worth mentioning.

The biggest insight, thus far, is just how much these spoilers effect the perception of the game. Before the leaks came out, “The Last of Us Part 2” was by far one of the most anticipated games of the year. Naughty Dog’s reputation was very polished and there weren’t many people saying bad things about them.

That situation has been completely reversed.

While it’s hard to gauge every reaction, I’ve seen a fairly consistent pattern. Almost everyone, including those who were very excited about this game, are incredibly disappointed by this. It’s not just that the story was spoiled. The details of that story have rubbed everyone the wrong way.

Without getting into specifics, they effectively undermine some of the most important aspects of the first game. The journey the players took in The Last of Us was a deeply emotional experience. Even if you’d read the spoilers ahead of time, there’s a lot of appeal to that experience. I knew the basic of the game long before I played it. It still had a profound impact on me by the time I got to the end of the game.

With The Last of Us Part 2,” that impact is effectively undercut. The journey that we took in the first game doesn’t matter as much in this game. Everything that made you fall in love with these characters and their struggles is either ignored or overshadowed by something else. For anyone who loved the first game, where’s the appeal in that?

There are also some “political” overtones to the story that have rubbed people the wrong way. I put “political” in quotes because in the world of video games, “political” is usually just code for “political or ideological leanings that I don’t agree.” I’ve never cared much for that. In general, I try to avoid it, but it has become an unfortunate trend in video games, thanks to scandals that have only gotten more absurd with time.

The only aspect of “politics” that I resent in video games, and media in general, is how it tends to hallow out a story. If the point of a story is to just score certain points with certain ideologies, then it renders the story bland and predictable. When done poorly, it becomes outright propaganda.

Based on these spoilers, I won’t say that “The Last of Us Part 2” reeks or propaganda, but the ideological themes are not exactly subtle. While those themes don’t bother me personally, I’ve seen enough internet outrage mobs to know the reaction it’ll incur. That reaction will only obscure any legitimate criticism of the game and its story.

I had not pre-ordered this game, but I was planning to once a new release date was finalized. Now, I’ve no desire to play this game anytime soon. I’ll still follow reviews and feedback. If parts of these leaks prove to be inaccurate, I’ll gladly change my tune. To date, however, nobody at Naughty Dog has denied them. That’s often a sign that they’re real.

To some extent, I’m grateful. I’d much rather learn about this before I dropped over $60 on a game that was only going to disappoint me. During these times, nobody can afford to waste that kind of money. I’ll wait until others play the game to see how the full story plays out. Maybe it’ll work out in the end, but I’m not very hopeful.

It’s a disappointing turn for something that I was genuinely excited about. It also darkens the prospect of this franchise becoming a how on HBO. It’ll be interesting to see how these leaks and the reactions to them effect the sales of the game. If it’s as bad as some dread, then the emotional journey that this franchise took us on could come to an abrupt and tragic end.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Joel From “The Last Of Us”

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For the past few years, it has become a popular pasttime to label certain elements of popular culture as toxic or “problematic.” Take any character, song, plot, role, or trope from any brand of media. Apply an excessive amount of scrutiny, distorting it as much as necessary along the way. In the end, some people will find a way to make it offensive.

It’s through that process that shows like “Seinfeld” can be called racist. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” can be called culturally insensitive. Movies like “Big” can be called creepy. Even classic video games like “Mario” and “Zelda” can be considered sexist. Scrutinize it enough and everything becomes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and culturally insensitive.

I find that whole process to be an exercise in trolling that does more to spark outrage than it does meaningful discussion. It’s the same process that created the idea of “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve gone out of my way to deconstruct on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to bemoan all the flaws and frustrations that occur when regressive attitudes mix with regressive agendas. There’s enough debate, discussion, and outright shouting going on in that field as it stands. Instead, I want to shift the tone of the conversation by going to the opposite end of the spectrum.

By that, I mean I’m going to do the opposite of highlighting something that some may find “problematic.” Instead, I’m going to cite something that I think is inherently positive from which we can learn. In fact, I’m going to try and coin a new phrase that’s more uplifting than some of the other buzzwords used by the regressive crowd.

I call it “noble masculinity.” It’s the idea that there are noble, admirable traits in male characters that are worth celebrating in the context of a larger story. Having talked so much about toxic masculinity and why I think it’s such a flawed concept, I feel it’s only fitting that I attempt to counter it with something more positive.

I know it’s popular to criticize and complain about male behaviors these days and, as a man, I don’t deny that we can do some foolish things. However, men are also capable of incredible acts of virtue. Those traits deserve more attention, if only to remind everyone that men can be more than outrage fodder.

There are a lot fictional male characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comics that I could cite who embody positive masculine traits. Characters like Superman, John McClane, and even James Bond come to mind, although I’m sure there are some who would disagree with the last one.

However, in this initial exercise of exploring noble masculinity, I want to cite a lesser-known male character from popular, critically acclaimed video game that some have called the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic of the console generation. That game is called “The Last of Us” and the source of the noble masculinity comes from Joel, the grizzled, yet vulnerable male protagonist of the story.

For those who haven’t played “The Last of Us” or just don’t play video games in general, Joel may initially come off as a mix of old cowboy tropes and John McClane rip-offs. However, by following his story, he reveals a level of depth that includes instances of noble masculinity that men and women alike can appreciate.

Joel’s story is not built on prophecies, superhuman abilities, or dumb luck. As a character and a person, Joel is largely defined by a grit that’s uniquely masculine in many ways. At the beginning of the game, he’s not looking to become part of some larger struggle. He’s just a single dad, trying to make a living and provide for his daughter, Sarah. In world full of dim-witted father figures, it’s pretty refreshing.

Then, within the first 10 minutes of the game, Joel suffers the greatest loss any parent can endure. He tries to protect his daughter from first stages of a full-blown apocalypse, but ultimately fails. He ends up watching his daughter die in his arms. It’s a very emotional moment, one in which Joel’s pain is palpable.

That defining moment establishes Joel as a man who fights to protect those he loves, but is all too human and very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control. There’s only so much that he do when the world around him is falling apart. No amount of anger, lament, or sorrow can change that. He, as a man and a survivor of this apocalypse, has to find a way to cope.

While his coping skills aren’t perfect, as evidenced in many powerful scenes throughout the game, Joel’s grief helps drive him. It also lays the foundation for the emotional development he undergoes after he meets Ellie, his young female co-protagonist who becomes a critical part of the gameplay and the story.

I could probably write another article about Ellie and why she’s one of the most compelling female characters in modern video games, but in the context of noble masculinity, she’s very much a catalyst for Joel’s emotional journey. Her own story is remarkable, but her influence on Joel is where she really shines.

It’s not a case of a knight rescuing a princess or a female character trying too hard to be an equal to her male compatriots. In fact, Joel’s first impression of Ellie isn’t a good one. She comes off as an irritable brat with a bad attitude. Essentially, she’s the kind of immature teenager that guys like Joel go out of their way to avoid.

However, their stories soon become intertwined. They end up having to work together, rely on each other, and fight for one another in order to survive a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by zombies, toxic fungus, and military-enforced curfews. Before long, they establish a bond that brings out the best and worst of both characters.

For Joel, the best is reflected in those same paternal instincts that caused him so much pain and sorrow at the beginning. He comes to see Ellie as a surrogate daughter, of sorts. At times, he resists that and even gets upset when the idea is thrown in his face. In the end, though, he doesn’t avoid it.

As a result, Joel’s story embodies more than the love a father has for his child. It also reveals how willing a man is to form a bond with a total stranger, who is not even that nice to him in the beginning, and tries to protect them with that same paternal dedication. It doesn’t happen all at once. He even resists it at times. He still embraces it and all the tribulations that come with it.

That, more than anything, is the most important element of noble masculinity that Joel embodies. He’s not Superman, nor does he pretend to be. He’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, saying at one point that he trusts others more than he trusts himself. Most men are reluctant to acknowledge such insecurity, let alone reveal it. Joel doesn’t hide from it. If anything, he channels it.

It’s something that resonates with Ellie too. Throughout the game, she has opportunities to cut ties with him and go along with someone who might be better-equipped to help her. However, she choses to stay with Joel. Just as he comes to see her as a daughter, she comes to see him as a father.

The fact that he and Ellie go through this journey in the midst of an ongoing apocalypse makes their bond that much more powerful. It also requires that Joel push himself harder and confront the limitations that kept him from saving his daughter. Being a father made for great sorrow in the past, but it also made him stronger and more determined in the future.

That’s not to say that Joel doesn’t have his low points. There are moments where Joel does not come off as noble. Some even argue that his decisions towards the end of the game undermines his nobility. I would argue that it actually reinforces it.

When the world is already in the middle of an apocalypse and people are willing to sacrifice innocence for what they think is the greater good, then that’s when traits of noble masculinity become most critical. That’s when a father’s willingness to protect his child should be at its strongest.

That dedication still comes at a price. With a sequel in “The Last Of Us Part II” already in the works, it’s likely that Joel will continue to pay a price for his choices, however noble they might be. The fact that he still makes those choices and is willing to accept the risks reflects the challenges and strength that come with masculine drive.

Joel is probably not the greatest example of noble masculinity in all of fiction, but I would argue that his is the most relatable. He’s not perfect, nor does he pretend to be. He doesn’t have any capabilities that are impossible for other men to achieve. He’s a man who was utterly destroyed when he lost his daughter, but didn’t run from the chance to be a father again and to a total stranger, no less.

Flaws and shortcomings aside, I still contend that the noble masculinity that Joel shows throughout “The Last of Us” are far greater than any of the “toxic” traits that others may cite. In playing the game, it’s hard not to empathize with him or his journey, especially if you’re a parent. In appreciating his strengths, though, it shows that there is room for a brand of masculinity that anyone of any gender can admire.

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