Post-apocalyptic settings in media are popular nowadays. The destruction of human civilization has been envisioned in many different ways, ranging from aliens to zombie-viruses, from self-inflicted nuclear destruction to an all-destroying meteor slamming into our planet. The Last of Us picks a variation of the 'virus nearly wipes out human life as we know it' scenario, choosing the Cordyceps fungus and applying it to human brains instead of ants.
Interestingly, we live in an age in which we're apparently enlightened enough to start reflecting on the possibilities of how our species could come to their end. Calling playthroughs of videogames with post-apocalyptic scenery 'reflection' might be a bit of a stretch, but developers nonetheless plunge into a reflective activity, Crafting
situations in which players (otherwise known as 'mass society') can start feeling what it's like living in a lonesome world full of threats.
Even if a playthrough of The Last of Us cannot properly be called reflection, perhaps it can act as an encouragement to initiate such an activity. It may be fun to *play* in (ultimately unrealistic) virtual post-apocalyptic lifeworlds, but to physically inhabit such a world or ones similar to it - no matter how hard it is to truly imagine the human condition under those circumstances - surely has to be awful.
Idealism appears to be a foul word these days, but though defeatism is one of its enemies, it still seems that good ideas - combined with bare truths - ultimately have to steer our global village through the 21st century. The Last of Us could, if only on a relatively small scale, inspire people to start reflecting on more realistic scenarios for the late 21st century. We have a great responsibility - both on an individual and collective level - to leave the world as a better place for our lineage (any reasonable person at least has the *intention* to do so), and one can seriously question if we're doing enough, facing what seems to have been turned into a 'liability' by some.
There's more to wealth than just economic growth (ecological pollution equals 'growth', since the cleaning up of wastes equates generating jobs), there's more to politics than just politicians talking (depending on how extreme a viewpoint the one end of a political spectrum takes, the closer 'moderate' parties can get to these extreme viewpoints without it being noticed by most people; a dangerous development that requires citizens to become more politically involved). Even though I certainly hope that you as my reader don't agree with everything I say, this foreword has been written first and foremost to present the game you're about to play in a light that is pretty much absent from the videogame industry.
Games are 'supposed to be' fun and entertaining, they 'shouldn't contain too much realistic political themes' but mere caricatures of real policies instead, so the argument goes. I would instead argue that narrating videogames, especially as they rapidly replace literature and a wide diversity of other cultural activities and phenomena, are *exactly* the right place to sketch real-world problems, existential and ecological problematique, and that developers have a socio-cultural responsibility to actively explore those themes that are underrepresented in our current Western social consciousness.
A developer's refusal to do so (in the case of videogames strongly driven by narrative) would be an insult to the intelligence of any adult gamer. Arguments 'considering the current market' reflect the hidden hollow ideology of many mainstream developers; the argument essentially states that 'companies are paying attention to what gamers want, isn't that great?' That's the world upside down; one should create something great in order to attract a (new) audience, not create something because it is conforms to the expectations of a market! The latter means the creator doesn't have ideas of their own but 'fortunately' does know which existing ideas are popular under the currently dominant gamer age (and gender) demographic. I'd say that if you don't have any ideas of your own, you have no place in any creative industry. Year after year, new 'blockbuster titles' replace their mindless predecessors, whose stories have been long forgotten, just as the majority of identical 'new' stories will be forgotten.
But there's hope still for intelligent 'adult' (18+) gamers. It seems that with the aging of 'older generations' of gamers, a new 'adult' market is slowly opening up, of which developers are only slowly becoming aware. While a promising thought for the future, it remains foolish should an entire segment of the gaming industry's market (women included) be put away in the freezer for twenty years; after a few years, most of it will be rotten.
For the time being we'll have to take our individual responsibility to move beyond videogame narratives and explore the most urgent societal themes all by ourselves, or perhaps with a little help from our friends of the declining literary world. As such, hopefully The Last of Us manages to inspire beyond being a mere captivating experience.