I watch more movies than the average person, I’m willing to wager. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’m a “movie buff”, but I like enjoying movies from around the world and movies that didn’t make it to the big movie theaters for wide release. Sisu is a recent movie that didn’t get quite wide release in the United States, which I presume is that it is a foreign film, despite being nearly all in English. There seem to be quite a few comparisons to John Wick, but I think it is a better comparison to Mad Max: Fury Road. I thought it was terrific.

One of the important parts of story telling is using the medium. An old oral tradition should be told differently than something on a stage and still even more different from a feature, blockbuster movie. A novel can, and therefore should, tell its story differently than a movie would.

I’m also a fan of video gaming. There are certainly people who have a broader range of games they’ve played and enjoyed that I have, but I appreciate a game that tells a good story. I recall 1993’s Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers as the first game to ever emotionally move me. It told an amazing story that grabbed my heart. I was thirteen or so when I played, it so it may not still hold up.

The Last of Us was the first console game to ever hit me in the heart, and it was at the conclusion of the game’s opening act. It would also get me again a couple times later.

The Last of Us Part II took me quite awhile to get to playing. I was vaguely aware of some online controversy around it, but it seemed to be primarily around hateful people that didn’t like that a primary character is gay and/or a supporting character is trans, so I don’t care about their opinions. Then there was a show made of it that seemed to have some strong buzz around it.

I played it, I loved it. It did a terrific job of showing, not telling. It built on the story from the first game, but didn’t really require it. The ending of the game emotionally ruined me … It hit me hard.

I’ve read what I’ve written below, and I don’t think that any of it really constitutes a “spoiler”, but it does discuss some primarily technical aspects at the end of the game.

Prior to The Last of Us Part II, I don’t recall a game that used its medium so well. The interactive nature of a video game makes its medium different than a movie or a book, but that doesn’t make it inherently more engaging for me. Immersion in a game world through well written, well voiced video game characters and their relationships do. Where, I feel, The Last of Us Part II takes the art form of storytelling through a video game format from good to great were two things:

  1. The story has two main characters. Both are protagonists. Both are heroes of their own stories. Both are at odds with each other at an emotional, deeply emotional level. The game has you play as each and understand them both as well rounded, believable characters. The game promises a confrontation between the two - and it delivers it. I have no recollection, in my years of playing video games, where I personally hated feeling that I was doing a good job playing one of the characters in that show down. I didn’t want either to win or lose, because they were both such good characters that I wanted to see succeed. A movie may have this, or a book might have two characters that the reader would love come into conflict. But it’s not the same as turning pages or letting the movie unfold as it is to be actively involved, via the controller, with doing something that you don’t want to see occur in the story, but has to happen.
  2. Our main character is Ellie, and her driving motivation is her relationship with Joel (the main character from the first game). In many of the scenes featuring Joel there is a small, easy mini game of strumming a guitar in the game by running your thumb over the pad on the PlayStation controller. I’m not sure of the name of that feature, but if you haven’t used a PlayStation 4 controller, it has something similar to the trackpad of a portable computer. The mini game isn’t a challenge at all. But if you’re getting a scene with Joel, that guitar is probably in it, and the mini game of having Joel show Ellie how to play the guitar might be in it too. While playing the game, I thought it was a needless little detail. Why am I taking a break from not getting killed by mushroom zombies to play the guitar? But - I take it all back. The final time that the game uses that mechanic? It twists the emotional knife that the ending of the game stabs.

I hope to see more games in the future that make interesting and novel use of their medium to create imaginative gaming experiences, and also emotionally engaging stories.