“The real world just doesn’t offer up as easily the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding afforded by virtual environments. Reality doesn’t motivate us as effectively. Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential. Reality wasn’t designed from the bottom up to make us happy.” says game designer, Jane McGonigal in her book Reality is Broken.
Certainly, when it comes to the future, essentially an extrapolation of the past, the predictions are that we are either going to go down surrounded by Walking Dead or we are going to kill each other in a dystopian survival of the fittest scenario like in Revolution. These two series, actually, inhabit the two extremes of a pendulum that swings from one to the other as we vacillate between the opinion that our worst enemy is us to the thought that our worst enemy will be something that we cannot control and are powerless to fight against.
In that regard The Last of Us a Naughty Dog offering, occupies a place that is a mix between these two extremes. The ‘enemy’ is certainly an outside agent exacerbated by the dog-eat-dog mentality that we so frequently seem to be able to bring into play when we depict post-apocalyptic, fictional scenarios. Naughty Dog last brought us Uncharted a universe I have frequently spent countless hours in and it appears that in The Last of Us they have taken things to an entirely new level and that is what’s really important here.
Gaming is essentially a codification, which is what McGonigal alludes to in her book. Not only do we run a doomsday scenario in an immersive environment that helps us clearly visualize its consequences but we also participate in it which helps us understand its governing dynamics in a way that releases real insights that we can take out of the gaming environment and apply in real life..
Just like playing Age of Empires made us appreciate the fact that frequently an empire has little choice, it has to invade neighbouring lands in order to gain fresh resources and it has to fight off marauders who have little choice but to attack it in order to gain resources, playing a game like The Last of Us allows us to realize that everything we do, as people, has a choice.
There is a deep layering of cognitive resonance found in the way we become aware of our actions and intellectualize our choices. This is the main attraction of a game like The Last of Us where the codification of the game introduces a metalayer of meaning. Awareness of this and the dynamics beneath it, transforms a gaming platform into a theoretical board upon which the game of life is played.
Questions like ethics, for instance, are examined against the backdrop of expediency dictated by survival and in a universe where there is no “right” and “wrong” each action becomes revealed for what it is: the architect of the chain of events that stem from it. This is the real universe of our everyday lives ‘cleaned up’. When the noise of surrounding information that distracts us gets stripped away what we end up with is a signal that makes sense at a very deep, fundamental level. We understand more of what runs our lives. We consider issues that we may have never considered before in ways that we couldn’t. And that is a semantic gain in a totally transformative way.
The Last of Us Official HD Game Trailer