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The Beautiful Misery of ‘The Last of Us Part II’

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II is a dark, unrelenting experience. It is a cautionary tale about the cycle of violence, accomplished by subjecting you, the player, to some of the most graphic, harrowing violence ever portrayed in a video game. Blood gurgles in your enemies’ lungs when you slit their throats. They mourn over fallen comrades. They beg for their lives.Many characters die, slowly and painfully, and those who survive are diminished, physically or spiritually, in some fundamental way. This is not cinematic “video game violence,” aesthetically designed to reinforce your character’s badassery. This is the type of macabre you see in the dark corners of the Internet, where users post shock images that you can’t unsee.Let’s talk about the Trip Mine, for example. As in the first game, you collect household items—bits of rag, rubbing alcohol—and craft them into health kits or makeshift weapons. A container and enough fertilizer yields an explosive Trip Mine, which you can strategically plant on the ground. Then you hide, draw the enemy’s attention, and wait.When this Trip Mine rips through a human target, it’s horrifying. The blood ‘mists’ in the air. Chunks of flesh scatter on the ground. The blood pools and smears on the concrete, and the victim’s clothes glisten with fresh blood. Years ago, I saw a post-mortem photo of a man who had jumped to his death from a great height. His insides were outside of him; he resembled a human being in a general sense, but he looked oddly shapeless and slack when smashed against the sidewalk. That’s what the dead people in The Last of Us Part II look like—anatomically correct and bracingly real. It wouldn’t surprise me if the developers used autopsy and crime scene photos to ensure accuracy.Your distaste for this violence is the point. And when the game is over, you feel relieved—which, I suppose, is also the point. The lesson that “violence is self-destructive and all-consuming” is an old one, but the attempt to teach that lesson—by forcing us to engage in despicable acts and be disgusted by ourselves—is fairly new and unique to interactive fiction like video games. Is it an effective or necessary technique? It can be, in moderation. But when carried out to this scale and magnitude, it feels emotionally manipulative. To progress the narrative, you need to kill. So, you kill. The average player will, as a matter of necessity,
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