Dying can be an effective tool for video game makers. The successor to the successful “The Last of Us” confronts players a little too often with death.
After the attacks of the zombie-like creatures, nothing is more important than the cure. The players put on their protagonist’s players so that they keep them alive. The ammunition is scarce and the strength at the end. The story can only continue thanks to the care for the virtual figure.
“The Last of Us 2” is one of the last major exclusive games for the PlayStation 4, which will soon be replaced by the fifth model. Even more than its predecessor, which has sold more than eight million copies, “The Last of Us 2” relies on a narrative of death and survival. It is a narrative that cannot be brought to life in any medium as in a video game. Because here it is the players themselves who keep the characters alive – or not. In the game, a relationship with characters can be built that makes every death a loss.
In “The Last of Us 2” the players equip the protagonist Ellie, who was still a young girl in the first part. She is now an adult and wants revenge. The players use it to track down weapons, plans and tools. They heal her when she is hurt and develop her skills. Setting the game is a Seattle after the collapse of society. Most people have become so-called clickers and other zombie-like creatures: creatures that are infected by a fungus and shuffle through the area. They stagger through this world as human remains, lust for life and try to wipe out everything that happens to them. But the greater danger, as is so often the case, is the people themselves who have joined together and fight each other.
“How old were you when you first killed someone?”
The talks in “The Last of Us 2” are about death and dying. The players control characters whose death is always on their necks. It makes every movement a little more difficult, makes every house to be explored, every street a possible end. When players are hit by enemies, drops of blood adorn the screen. Many video games have the maxim: kill or you don’t survive. Although there are illnesses and infirmities in the game worlds, the protagonists rarely die from it. Your virtual life will end if the players are not careful. If they don’t heal, don’t find enough medicine to reach higher levels, don’t show enough care.
From these game mechanics of survival, stories can unfold in good games: who the players keep alive in the course of their story and who not. How much they care about their character or strive to stay alive. All of these are narrative possibilities of the video game. Over the many hours of play, ties to the controlled characters develop. And unlike passive film watching, more can be lost in a video game than a narrated character. It is the own Character of the player who is no longer. With him, all decisions, all efforts – all the hours that have been put into him disappear. Something personal dies, at least virtually.
When death becomes an end
In “The Last of Us 2”, violence and the death that follows it are not meant to be an end in themselves. Every death, whether from a friend or an enemy, is supposed to create a force that shakes players. People who die in the course of the game don’t just die. They gasp, whimper, screech. The game doesn’t want to leave satisfaction, it doesn’t want to stage the joy of killing. Every death is supposed to be a little story about the end of this one person’s life.
At its best, “The Last of Us 2” tells of violence and dying as the greatest possible disruption. The innocence of every life, the peace, the security, they are destroyed by the sudden onset of violence. In some scenes, “The Last of Us 2” is a brilliant and important game. In one scene, Ellie searches a synagogue with her partner. Dina, with whom Ellie has a love affair, is Jewish. She tells of the Holocaust in the synagogue – that it comes from a long line of survivors. A quiet, heavy moment that has a long-lasting effect.
Until the noise and killing begin again. These are probably the weakest moments in the game. When violence and death become a dead end. When the players slaughter, slaughter, slaughter.
Just as a metaphor in a novel loses its effect when it reappears again and again, death in “The Last of Us 2” loses its effect more and more. Again and again the players are asked to shoot themselves through areas full of people. The bunch of those who lose their virtual lives is growing. But even the most explicit depiction of violence loses its narrative effect if it becomes arbitrary and can be expected.
The players wonder: what can I do about it? The game has no answer to this question.