Non-gamers: when it comes to great storytelling, The Last of Us is just the start

the last of us storytelling

Yes, video games like The Last of Us have incredible storytelling – we’ve been trying to tell non-gamers for years, Vikki writes…


Oh, so you watched The Last of Us, did you? Yeah. Yeah, it’s really good. Yup, that ending sure was something, huh. Yeah. No. Yeah. Well, you know… so, I kinda knew what was going to happen. What? No, I’m not – uh, it’s a game. I don’t know… ten years ago, maybe? You had no idea? Oh. How about that.

I’ve had this conversation nineteen times in the last three days. I’m sure you have, too. Friends, co-workers, kids’ friends’ parents, family; it’s like the fifty-year-old video game industry has crept up on them and taken everyone by surprise. People who vaguely know you as “the gamer” of the group/family/office (I have some who even use air quotes and everything) stop you on your way to the kitchen or the bar or the coffee machine to ask you all about HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us. As if you didn’t spend all of 2013 talking about Joel and Ellie. Or 2020 – most of 2020, actually.

Don’t get me wrong; I can sit and talk about games for hours. We all know the “video games are a bigger industry than movies and music combined” line that some mainstream reporters trot out on the regular – as if it’s news; as if it hasn’t been this way for years; as if gaming is still a niche pastime that only virgins in their parents’ basements blah blah blah argh stop it – and we know this because video games are fantastic. Regardless of what genre or developer or platform you prefer, there’s pretty much something for everyone, and thanks to plentiful subscription services, you can fill your boots and slope off on all manner of interactive adventures in make-believe worlds for just a few quid a month. Bliss, eh?

Games are single-handedly the only reason I remained sane (and married, I suspect) during lockdown.

Wading through the comments on that TikTok video, though – you know, the one from “A Book Reader” who had a bone to pick with us because we didn’t tell them that games have “incredible plots and character development” even though that’s /all we’ve been talking about for 20 chuffing years/ – is like baptising yourself in the frustrated tears of an entire generation of gamers. What the hell did they think we’ve been doing all this time?

the last of us

The Last of Us? Yeah, we’ve heard of it. Pretty good game. Credit: Naughty Dog.

The Last of Us wasn’t a secret, you know. We didn’t hide it from you. In fact, I’m pretty sure the same friends/co-workers/kids’ friends’ parents/family were bored to death when I banged on and on about it at the time. And I get it. I know it sometimes feels like you need an A-level and half an away day just to use a controller. But I tried to tell you that Telltale’s The Walking Dead was available on pretty much every smart device known to humankind and could be played with the single swipe of a finger, but you didn’t listen to me then, either.

Is it snobbery, do you think? The palpable arrogance that gaming isn’t high-brow, educational, or thought-provoking enough to sit alongside reading as a “noble” pastime? Gaming is so often dismissed as something kids do, as something we should “grow out of”, an insult that seems unique to games and those who play them. You know, as if games like The Last of Us can’t be high-brow, educational, or thought-provoking. As if millions of us haven’t laughed and cried and ached deeply after setting down our controllers when the credits rolled.

A Book Reader posits that we’ve been “gatekeeping some of the best stories in modern history”, and maybe they’re right. I know very, very few shows, movies, or books that have moved me in quite the same way as games have, but maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books. And maybe they’ve been looking at the wrong games. If I sat here now, though, and tried to list all the games that have moved me – games that have “incredible plots and character development” and boast “some of the best stories in modern history” – I’d be here until I dropped dead of old age.

Sure, there are plenty of games we play because they give us the required dopamine hit to get through the day. There are plenty of games we play because they’re challenging and frustrating and even just because our pals love them and what we play isn’t nearly as important as who we play with. Yes, The Last of Us is an extraordinary story with a cast of astonishingly memorable characters, but it’s not the only one. Honest. BioShock. Red Dead Redemption 2. What Remains of Edith Finch. Gone Home. God of War. Titanfall 2. Silent Hill 2 – any one of those is worthy of your time. Even if you skip the mechanics of gaming and just watch the bloody cut-scenes. And I can’t help but feel a fizzle of bashful pride that these stories were ours and soon, someone will get to experience them for the first time, too.

“We don’t gatekeep – we just don’t try to convince anyone who isn’t interested anymore,” says one commenter on that TikTok post, which may be true, too. I know I stopped trying to convince my non-gaming friends and family, and that’s coming from someone who plays games for a living. Still. I can’t wait for A Book Reader to discover there’s been a The Last of Us sequel, too…

Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her last dispatch here.

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