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Game Theory: The Last of Us Pt.1 - Do Games Need to Be Fun?


Two weeks ago, I played The Last of Us for review, which you can find here: http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/mlsa/the-last-of-us-review-257256.phtml . After taking more time to ruminate and take in othersí thoughts on the game, Iíve found that The Last of Us raises interesting questions about video games as a medium and what players expect from a game. In the first of a series of articles, I hope to answer a question that may seem a bit oxymoronic: Does a game need to be fun? And, if so, is it still a game?

I mention in my review that I rarely had fun while playing The Last of Us. I stand by this statement, and upon reflection, I donít think I was meant to. Let me clarify by saying that I did enjoy this game, and that I donít think ďfunĒ and ďenjoymentĒ are the same thing. I enjoyed Requiem for a Dream, but in no way did I have fun reading it. In fact, Requiem and TLoU were very similar experiences. Both were dark and brutal throughout, with a thick layer of tension and despair that never dissipated. I was never comfortable, as there was always a new horror waiting on the next page or corner. In both cases, I had to take frequent breaks because of the overwhelming sense of dread that gnawed on me. Upon finishing Requiem and TLoU I felt a sense of relief, as though an emotional weight was suddenly lifted. I have similar sentiments toward re-experiencing these media. While I love both of them, I donít plan to revisit either one for a long period of time.

My experience with Requiem, while intense, did not surprise me. Iíve had many similar experiences with literature. The Last of Us, however, rocked me to core. It was the first game that ever came close to eliciting the same kind of emotion. I would even go so far as to say it trumped similar experiences in other mediums because of the added element of interactivity. Iíd never played a game that, by design, was not intended to be fun. I think there is an inherent expectation that all games are designed to be fun. If they arenít, then something went wrong. Yet, for the most part, The Last of Us is solid on a technical level. The game is not fun because Naughty Dog wanted it that way. Because of this, the game presents a unified narrative experience, something that canít be said of Uncharted. Had the gameplay in TLoU mimicked the successful formula of its predecessor, the narrative impact would have suffered.

So what does this mean for games in the future? Is it okay for a game to forego fun in order to present a unified narrative experience? As someone who values narratives in games, I think so. Though others find fault in a game that isnít necessarily enjoyable to play. I think this is another symptom of the gaming communityís difficulty in seeing beyond the standard rubric of what constitutes a game. Itís the same community that laments over the lack of originality in the industry, yet decries a game for not meeting the arbitrary standard that its grown accustomed to.

This generation has seen more games that subvert the gaming standard than any other. Games like Journey, Unfinished Swan, and Flower may soon require a revision to the definition of a game. I would put The Last of Us in a similar category because it adheres to the dictum of presenting a unified experience above all. The Last of Us may signal a new era in videogames, one where a game doesnít need to compromise its vision in order to be relevant to mainstream audiences. I hope to see more developers take notice of this gameís success and dare to reach higher plateaus in the medium.
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About mlsaone of us since 12:12 AM on 07.23.2009

I'm a writer. I write things. Good things. I also play videogames. Here is where I combine the two. Like this liger.