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On “The Last Of Us II” Reactions, Review Bombs, And Recourse

How do you follow up a masterpiece? Whether it’s a painting, a TV show, a movie, or a video game, how can you improve on what many see as the best of the best? It’s a relevant question and one the “Terminator” franchise has failed to answer for 20 years.

Now, “The Last of Us” is facing that same issue. Years ago, I cited this game as an incredible achievement in terms of storytelling and characterization. Like so many others, I eagerly awaited the release of the sequel. I wanted to see the next step in Joel and Ellie’s journey.

Then, the infamous leaks came out that spoiled large parts of the game. After that, my enthusiasm for the game quickly diminished.

Now, “The Last of Us II” has finally come out. Enough time has also passed to confirm how accurate these leaks are. In that sense, there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is, the leaks weren’t as disappointing as implied. The bad news is, they’re still pretty goddamn disappointing.

It’s akin to being run over by a Prius instead of a fully loaded dump truck.

The reasons for that disappointment are many. I haven’t bought the game. I actually canceled my pre-order after the leaks came out. I still intended to buy the game if the leaks were debunked, but that didn’t happen. I only confirmed them through both a friend and through a few Twitch streams.

I won’t get into the details of the spoilers. I’ll just note that they present a very bleak, very depressing resolution to this story that got us so emotionally invested in the first game. For a game company with as great a track record as Naughty Dog, that’s quite a downgrade. To appreciate just how bad it is, imagine if this was how the “Logan” movie played out.

In the first 20 minutes of the movie, some random character that nobody has ever heard of, let alone cared about, brutally kills Logan in front of Laura. Then, for the rest of the movie, it attempts to make us sympathize with this character who killed Logan. On top of that, when Laura gets a chance to avenge her fallen father, she opts not to for reasons that don’t make sense. She just lets this person go, offering no closure or catharsis.

Those who have played the game can probably fill in the blanks. Again, I don’t want to detail too many spoilers. I’ll just say that there’s a character named Abby in the game and she might very well go down in history as the most hated video game character of all time. It’s not just what she does that makes her deplorable. It’s how the game tries to make players care about her.

To some extent, I get the intention. The premise of the game actually has a novel concept. It attempts to send a message that violence and hatred is a brutal cycle. The more you pursue it, the more it perpetuates. In pursuing that path, you don’t know just how many people you hurt, destroy, or ruin. That’s a good message and a great premise, but this game just fails at every possible turn to make it fit the story.

It shows in how fans have reacted to it. As of this writing, the Metacritic score from users is in incredibly low. It stands in stark contrast to the critical reception of the game, which is always quite telling, as certain movies in recent years have shown. A recent Forbes article attempts to explain it away, using bigotry and bots.

However, I don’t think that’s accurate. I think that’s just making excuses for a story that clearly didn’t work with the audience. Now, even the creators behind the game are starting to attack that audience, which is a problem. I know I’m not a successful author or creator. The chances of me ever getting that success are very slim. However, I know enough to understand how idiotic it is to attack your audience/consumers.

It leaves me genuinely concerned about the larger impact of this game. It also has me concerned about what this will do to an industry that is already laden with controversies and negative hashtags. I’m already bracing for plenty of rants, excuses, and whining from every side. At this point, it’s inevitable. I also seriously doubt that “The Last of Us,” as a franchise, may have just destroyed its future.

It’s tragic. Hopefully, the pending release of “Cyberpunk 2077” and the graceful presence of Keanu Reeves will balance things out in the gaming world.

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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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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, video games

The Strange Appeal Of The Apocalypse (According To “Rick And Morty”)

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What is it about the apocalypse that fascinates us so much? Why do movies about zombies, machine uprisings, and overall societal collapse appeal to us? Is it just the dramatic, action-packed stories they evoke that thrills us? Could there be something more to that appeal?

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic tale every now and then, I don’t consider myself a fan of the genre. In general, I opt for more hopeful and optimistic stories about the future and the present. I can still appreciate movies like “World War Z” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” but it’s not the kind of story that appeals to me, in general.

Even so, I don’t deny that there is a certain appeal to it. I’m not just talking about apocalyptic stories either. For some, the idea of a world in which civilization has collapsed has an innate allure that goes beyond zombies, killer robots, or even invading aliens. To some extent, that appeal is directly related to the flaws of civilization itself.

To appreciate those flaws and where the apocalypse fits in, it’s necessary to reference a show that has a knack for conveying complex philosophical insights in a way that’s both entertaining and hilarious. Yes, I’m referring to “Rick and Morty” again. No, I’m not apologizing for that.

In the same way this show has conveyed complexities of nihilism and the burdens of genius, this show also does a better job than most at conveying the unique appeal of the collapse of civilization. It does this through two episodes, “Rick Potion Number 9” and “Rickmancing The Stone.” While the details are subtle, as is often the case with “Rick and Morty,” the message is clear.

Simply put, the fruits of modern civilization are debilitating, dehumanizing, and soul-crushing for the vast majority of people. If you’re rich, good looking, and well-connected, then civilization is fantastic for you. You can get pretty much whatever you want and you can get other people to do all the hard stuff you don’t want to do.

If you’re everyone else, though, you’re kind of stuck. Throughout “Rick and Morty,” Rick Sanchez doesn’t hide from that fact. His nihilistic commentary on life, death, and everything in between makes clear that civilization is just a few extra inconveniences to an undisputed super-genius who can build a nuclear reactor out of pond scum.

However, it’s through characters like Jerry Smith, Rick’s perpetually mediocre son-in-law, that the true weight of modern civilization becomes clear. To some extent, Jerry represents all the non-Ricks of the world. They don’t have the benefits of good looks, deep pockets, or god-like genius navigate civilization. They’re basically stuck working for the scraps.

Both myself and most people reading this probably have more in common with Jerry than they care to admit. We work jobs we don’t like to make just enough money to survive in a society where simply living is both overly-complicated and expensive by modern infrastructure, law, and economics. For most people, just living in a decent place with a manageable mortgage payment and good WiFi is the most they can hope for.

In the apocalypse, though, everything is simpler. All those complexities of modern civilization go out the window. Life is no longer defined by your ability to find a job, pay the bills, stay out of jail, and not piss off the wrong people. It’s defined by your ability to survive day-by-day. It basically resets our society back to its tribal roots.

For some, that’s a horrible setback because it means they actually have to work, sweat, and toil for their survival rather than relying on underpaid peasants. For most, though, it’s a massive equalizer. Suddenly, your money, your fancy clothes, and your tax bracket don’t matter. All that matters is your ability to survive another day.

In “Rick Potion Number 9,” Rick and Morty’s antics bring about the complete collapse of civilization. In the process, Jerry Smith gets a chance to be something other than the guy that modern society walks all over because of his inherent mediocrity. Suddenly, he doesn’t need genius, looks, or connections to thrive. He just needs an ability to hold a crow bar and fight monsters.

In “Rickmancing The Stone,” this breakdown of civilization and equalization of stakes gets an even greater push, albeit without Jerry. He still plays a part in the story, but only to the extent that it’s clear just how much modern civilization crushes people like Jerry whose skills are too limited to thrive. Conversely, a “Mad Max: Fury Road” style apocalypse simplifies the types of necessary skills.

In that world, and nearly every other apocalyptic narrative for that matter, you don’t need to go to a fancy college, invest in complex industry, or network with rich elites. You just need to be willing and able to learn basic survival skills, like hunting, foraging, self-defense, and basic crafts. Most people with moderate hand-eye coordination and a little grit can learn those skills.

These are skills that go back to the basics of our hunter/gatherer past. They’re skills that still manifest today, both with rugged outdoor-lovers and in societies that have collapsed, albeit on a non-zombie, non-global scale. Whatever the circumstances, though, the end results are the same. The apocalypse doesn’t just simplify the stakes. It requires us to be egalitarian in the most pragmatic way possible.

Think of all the petty divisions we currently deal with, from identity politics to philosophical debates to never-ending feud between “Star Wars” fans and “Star Trek” fans. In the face of an apocalypse, all that stuff becomes meaningless. Disagreements over feminism and masculinity don’t matter. Clashes between liberals and conservatives don’t matter. Complex economic theories don’t matter.

To some extent, that is appealing. Sure, it also means no internet, no TV, no movies, no social media, and no media of any kind. It also means no air conditioning, no electricity, no modern medicine, and no modern comforts. That may limit the appeal, but at the same time, it removes the complications that comes with those amenities.

Let’s face it. They are complications that get pretty infuriating. In the modern world, you can’t just survive. You have to have a career. You have to have some sort of profitable skill. Even if you do, that’s no guarantee you’ll gain the respect you want, attract the mates you want, or establish yourself as a productive member of your community.

In the world of the apocalypse, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you had or likes you got on FaceBook. It doesn’t matter how many friends you had in high school, how many matches you won on “Overwatch,” or how many dumb things you did as a kid. When society, civilization, and infrastructure collapse, none of that matters. You’re essentially free to just live and survive.

For the Jerry Smiths of the world, the apocalypse would be the perfect make-or-break scenario. You either show that you’re willing to work, fight, and survive or you die. That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, blunt, and uncomplicated. You have just as much an opportunity as some guy who went to an overpriced prep school. Even if you fail, you fail on your own accord.

That said, there’s also a dark side to that appeal. While “Rick and Morty” double down on the dehumanizing, degrading nature of modern civilization, other shows like “The Walking Dead” show how it can take people who would be unremarkable in a civilized society and turn them into monsters. That’s how a high school football coach can become a tyrannical, but charismatic dictator.

Like modern civilization, the apocalypse affects people in different ways. Some, like Jerry Smith and Negan, might actually thrive in it. Others won’t be able to handle it, having become too comfortable with the trappings of civilization. That’s something that modern survivalist groups bank on and, should the apocalypse ever come, we’ll see how much or how little that pays off.

Personally, I hope that day never comes. It’s not just because I probably wouldn’t last long in an apocalypse. I’ve never gone camping, I don’t have any survival training, and I’m not sure how I’ll react to a zombie. I think that while modern civilization has its flaws, it has more long-term potential than any apocalypse, by default.

Since much of that potential is still unrealized, although we are making progress, the apocalypse will still have more appeal to the vast majority of people who feel trapped by the rigid complexity of modern civilization. They can only do so much with their lives and there’s only so much they have to risk.

Then again, maybe that’s something both civilization and the apocalypse have in common. As Rick Sanchez once said, “To live is to risk it all. Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.” It’s just easier to do that in the apocalypse because, with or without zombies, the stakes are simpler and clearer for everyone.

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