The Last of Us: Proving Story-Based Games Work


Atticus Heneger, Writer

On June 14, 2013 the world was given one of the best video games ever made – The Last of Us.  It was met with resounding praise from both critics and audience, scoring 93/100 on MetaCritic and a 9/10 on Gamespot. The game was praised for many things; however, the most emphatic source of praise was the game’s complex characters and story.  While some games trade gameplay for story (or vice versa), The Last of Us manages to maintain both.  This overall hows that video games as a medium can reach the height of storytelling while at the same time exceed public expectations.

Player Investment
One of the most powerful scenes in the game is in the introduction. The game begins with Sarah hosting a birthday party for her single father, Joel. Despite being only 12-years-old, Sarah manages to scrape up enough money to buy him a watch. The introduction establishes Joel and Sarah’s relationship, creating player empathy. Had The Last of Us failed to create player investment, the entire introduction wouldn’t have been so powerful. The central conflict is that Joel and Sarah are in the midst of the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. As Joel tries to flee the city but in the chaos, his daughter dies. This is the first curveball players are given,  forced to watch a man mourn the loss of his daughter. “I found the game’s intro was very well structured and was great at stirring emotion,” said sophomore Alexander Glynn.

The Impossible Choice
In the end of the game [spoilers about to happen], Joel gains another daughter, Ellie, who survives the apocalypse. Over time, the two bond – to the point that Elle is essentially his surrogate daughter. However, Joel has to make an impossible choice. Ellie is immune to the zombie virus that has destroyed the world. By using Ellie’s brain, scientists hope to make a vaccine and cure the world of the apocalypse; however, in order to create a vaccine, Ellie was give her life. The emotion of the story is intense, and the length of a video game allows for the player to get smaller moments and character interactions. As such, The Last of Us demonstrates the strength of video games as a story-telling medium.

This reviewer suggests players meet the characters in this game – characters that one can easily fall in love with. The ending challenges the common notion that game protagonists are the heroes of the game. Even the design of the enemies and zombies in the game are quite different than typical zombie games. As a result, tot only is the story engaging, but the gameplay is also fun as well, combining the best parts of a narrative and interactive experiences. The Last of Us successfully paves the way for many more story-based games to follow suit.