The Last of Us: An Argument For and Against Joel
By Chandler Preston Rice
“I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.” - Primo Levi, If This Is a Man
(READ: SPOILERS AHEAD)
The general consensus of today is that the world is becoming more violent, depraved, and generally cruel to both our fellow man and the earth we benefit directly from. We slaughter each other wholesale, we destroy the earth in the name of progress and industry, and create more efficient ways to do both. Because of this, many people and comedians feel that we should burn it all down and do a factory reset. I disagree. Now I’m not going to say that Mankind is perfect, far from it based on my earlier statements, however I am going to play the devil’s advocate and made an Argument Against humanity using my the single greatest game ever created: The Last of Us.
The Last of Us takes place in a future where a fungal species known as the cordyceps, a real fungus that infects ants, has brought the world to its knees, turning humans into relatively mindlessly murderous organisms. The infected (THEY ARE NOT ZOMBIES, ZOMBIES COME BACK FROM THE DEAD, THE INFECTED WERE NEVER DEAD) do not even eat the bodies they produce, they just kill and move on. See, cordyceps does not feed on organisms, it simply wishes to spread. It is a frightening part of nature that is even more so since it is real. Small pockets of humanity continue to exist in major cities such as Boston and Pittsburgh, though I am being generous with the latter. The player takes on the role of Joel, a grizzled veteran of the world with a shaken past. Many times in the story he vaguely mentions times where he was a raider of sorts, slaughtering innocent people for supplies. Joel calls himself a “survivor” in order to justify his methods. His brother, Tommy, however states that he himself “only has nightmares” of those years. Then there is Ellie, a young fourteen year old girl with a strange condition. See, she was bitten by an infected three weeks ago during the beginning of the story, however she has not turned. Most infected turn within three days. Joel is skeptical, but circumstances force him to realize that she is telling the truth. The pair travel across the country to try and find the Fireflies, a rebel organization who believe they can find a cure using Ellie. The game shoes the duo kill numerous enemies in protection of themselves, Joel showing his particular skill in the art of murder. In one torture scene he stabs a man under the kneecap and scrapes the cartilage in the single more sickening sound I have ever hear. Kudos to the sound developers. Eventually, after the two grow into a father-daughter type relationship, the reach Salt Lake City, where the Fireflies are making a last stand to find a cure. Ellie is quickly taken into surgery and Joel is informed that they will take out the virus from Ellie to reverse engineer a cure from her blood. However, cordyceps lies in the brain, so the surgery is fatal. Joel takes exception to this and goes on to slaughter every member of the Fireflies to the last man, giving the player the option to kill the doctors or not. Most choose to do so. Joel lies to Ellie, saying that the cure was impossible to make. She doubts him.
So why did I tell the entire story of the game other than to fawn over it one last time? Well, you see, the depravity of man is rampant throughout the game. In Pittsburgh the citizens had overthrown their military government by stringing them up by the street lamps and torturing them to death. The player doesn’t find much out about them, but it is clear by the piles of shoes that they are murdering anyone who comes into town, so called “tourists”. In Boston, civilians are executed by the number for the slightest infractions by the military government, including walking outside after dark and using fake ration cards. However, those are not what I’m focusing on. I’m focusing on Joel’s choice. As said before, at the end of the game Joel slaughters all the people able to make a cure due to the love he had for Ellie. I fully understand why someone would do this, I don’t have any kids but I would murder someone for my dog. Like, full on murder someone. Seriously. Though my dog is not the ultimate cure for all of mankind, I think. Many players debate his choice, whether mankind could even come back from such devastation, or if mankind was even worthy of returning. In one section of the game you find a group of “Hunters” so to speak. Their intentions are unclear at first, though it becomes very clear once you find a “ meat ledger”. I’ll leave it at that. Of course Joel kills them all, with a bit of help from Ellie, but I think it was justified. I’m of the opinion that mankind could not recover from this disaster, that any attempt would be in vain. After all, without stable supply and trading lines, how would the Fireflies distribute the cure? Remember, there are still billions of infected roaming the nation, not to mention the most dangerous game of all: Man. I know I’m flip-flopping a bit on this subject, but I don’t outline things. No matter what you think, Joel lied to Ellie about just about everything. He slaughtered people trying to save the world, he tortured and murdered others and tried to justify it with “ we are survivors”, and lied to the one cure for everything for his own selfishness. Joel is a flawed protagonist, and generally a bad person.
Maybe I’m a bit tough on Joel. I mean, I LOVE the character design and story. He is my favorite character in any video game, because he is flawed, because he is selfish, because he is murderous psychopath with few morals. Too many games try to make their character infallible, but Naughty Dog took a chance and delivered. Plus Troy Baker is an amazing voice actor. If you can’t afford the game or don’t have a PS4 just watch the cutscenes on YouTube. It’s basically a movie.
Thank you for reading, and it can’t be for nothing.