16/07/2020 – During the pandemic of Covid-19, many of us have found ourselves consuming media on another level, to an extent that streaming services had to decrease the quality of their videos in order to make sure the internet doesn’t come crumbling down. And thankfully it hasn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have experienced the two masterpieces that I would like to talk a bit about.
I recently completed my play-through of a game called The Last of Us: Part Two. It’s rarely that I write about games, as I still feel the stigma of the negative connotation it has; waste of time, childish, non-productive, non-serious etc. Yet, time after time, I have been taken aback by the advance in quality of the storytelling it can offer, and the immersion of the player in the protagonists story.
The Last of Us: Part Two was a long awaited sequel to the original 2013 game, another masterclass in the craft of narrative gameplay. Yet, Part Two takes things further in such a way that it leaves you gobsmacked in its audacity. A game that dares to piss you off, to challenge you, to put in you in the shoes of someone you want to hate, to push you to see things through different perspectives… It’s overlong, it’s depressingly grim, yet flashes of life affirming scenes keep you moving forward, with characters you love to hate, and hate to love. Whether it’s better or worse than the first game, it’s undeniable that it’s a game that has to be experienced.
Around the same time, I also began to watch the BBC series I May Destroy You. Set in a pre-Covid London, it tells the story of Arabella – a writer trying to focus on her new book whilst also being a twenty-something; hanging out with friends, drinking, doing drugs, basically being a human being. Then along comes a blankness in her memories. A scar on her forehead. The premise of her tracking down what happened one night in a bar eventually becomes an example of superb storytelling, as each character struggles to come to terms with errs of judgment, confusion over consent, guilt and their own silence. One episode focuses on a character gaining her voice back in such a way that they become another cog in the machine, to be used and consumed by those who express their extreme love. Other episodes take the characters back to their childhood in their school days. Seeing how those we have identified with until now treat others, is what binds this game and series together for me; the courageous duality so expertly expressed by the creators is mind blowing.
As someone who enjoys writing for film, to analyse both has been fascinating. The Last of Us: Part Two begins with familiar characters you have spent hours with in the first game and love dearly. To spend even more time with Ellie and Joel is spine-tingling. Seeing their life-like faces on the TV screen again is a profound experience. Yet, it doesn’t take too long before the narrative shows its true nature and you as the player find yourself falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. The crescendo leading up to an unexpected perspective shift is so strong, as is the hollow feeling you are left with soon after. Like the game, I May Destroy You also forces you to see things from multiple perspectives. It’s a challenge that we aren’t accustomed to, yet it’s one we all should face. This series is so fun, colourful and full of funny characters; whilst the subject matter of each of their storylines, the very opposite.
For me, it was all about coming to terms with the reality of each world. I May Destroy You presents London as most of us know it; a metropolitan city full of opportunity, joy and deceit. It showcases a high level quality in drama and comedy, wrapped in rape, sexual harassment, identity and gender issues, to ultimately broaden the mind of those who deem themselves open minded. The Last of Us: Part Two does something similar. By focusing on two severely damaged characters, and forcing you to spend time with them, with actions you openly reject, it questions our own nature on how open we are to empathy, understanding, and ultimately, moving on.
To take the decision to leave a relationship, to quit a job, to leave our comfort zone is extremely difficult. It’s not really in our nature to do so. Yet, doing so is usually what frees our mind. Nothing is really black and white, and when we tackle the grey lines of life, that’s where we can further ourselves as human beings.
The Last of Us: Part Two is available on Playstation 4.
I May Destroy You is available on BBC iPlayer and HBO.