The Last of Us: A Game That is so Much More than just Killing Zombies

I missed posting this on the actual anniversary of “Outbreak Day” – Outbreak Day (September 26, 2013) is the day in the video game, The Last of Us, that a terrible virus reached “critical mass” – so yes, just to be clear, I’m referring to a fictional event. In the real world, September 26th is still a time each year to celebrate the awesome-ness of The Last of Us, (and this year was renamed “The Last of Us Day” instead of “Outbreak Day.” Thanks COVID.)

If you’ve never heard of The Last of Us (TLOU) feel free to Wikipedia it, but I’ll simply say it’s a video game (released in 2013) that tells the story of a man, Joel, trying to get a teenage girl, Ellie, across the country in a post-apocalyptic setting – and there are zombies (kind of). ( I guess they are not technically “zombies,” but there are people who are trying to attack/eat you, and you have to kill them, so in my mind, they are pretty much zombies.) It’s a pretty dark story, and as you could guess, also pretty graphic and violent.

And it’s been one of my favorite games to watch my husband play.

These days I’m not much for video games – back in the day I was pretty amazing at The Lion King on the Sega Genesis, but in recent times I have little interest in playing or watching many video games. So 7 years ago when Dean asked me if I wanted to watch him play TLOU, I was pretty skeptical. Especially knowing it was supposed to be a scary and violent game with zombie-like people. Not exactly my typical cup of tea for entertainment. (Just for reference, I tried to watch The Walking Dead many years ago, but it scared me too much.)

TLOU has become a big point of connection for my husband and I – I literally sat and watched him play this game for hours, like probably a good 20 or 30 hours (not in one sitting thankfully). The story is captivating, the characters are compelling… there’s so much to like about TLOU. From the first opening scene of the game, you are hooked. For Valentine’s Day (back in 2014) my card from my husband was TLOU themed (see the image back at the top.) So this year, when The Last of Us Part II came out, both my husband and I were stoked. (And yes, we finished it, and it did not disappoint!)

One thing I have really appreciated about TLOU is how it features really strong female characters. In the first game, you start out playing as Joel, but eventually end up playing as Ellie. And Ellie, even though she is young, is a force to be reckoned with. Her whole life she has grown up in a world where survival was always a prime objective, and certainly not a guarantee. I distinctly remember a scene in the game where Ellie and Joel are exploring an abandoned building, and Ellie finds a book, something along the lines of The Babysitter’s Club, or some similar novel. She glances through it and is dumbfounded to think about a teenage girl’s biggest problems being whether or not her top matched her shoes, or if a boy liked her.

Ellie in The Last of Us Part II

In TLOU Part II, we meet another female character who becomes critical to the story: Abby.

Initially I hated Abby (the game kind of makes you hate her at the beginning), but as the game progresses, you learn more about Abby and her story, which of course allows you to empathize with her more and more. Abby is… built like a horse. I don’t know how else to say it. She has a muscular build that would rival any man’s. I remember thinking it was strange when we first met her in the game. But later, I found I really appreciated how this game featured women that were not stereotypical damsels in distress, in terms of appearance or actions. I appreciate being able to value women’s bodies that are different or unique – I myself have struggled a lot in the past (or sometimes the present) for not being able to live up to what I thought I was “supposed” to look like.

Abby (The Last of Us Part II)

I guess to summarize I just really want to say that I love The Last of Us (parts I and II) because it tells a great story that goes a lot deeper than just killing zombies (or infected people… I know they’re not technically “zombies.”) I really love how this game is kind of an exercise in empathy; the more you learn about each character’s story, the more you understand and have compassion for why they are the way they are. (And don’t we need more of that in the world today???)

This game was initially such a surprise to me back when I watched the first one, and the second one was so well done (I won’t give any spoilers, but it was seriously amazing!)

If you have an opportunity to play or watch this game, I would highly recommend it! You can even find the cut-scenes on YouTube if you’re not much of a gamer but are curious about the story.

Thanks for reading.

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