The Folly of Serious Games

Let me start out by saying that I am a big fan of The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2. I’m still not sure if I’m happy with the story so far, on the whole, but the fact that I’m still thinking about it tells you something.

However, my gosh, are both games goofy sometimes.

Not intentionally either. These games are intended to be deadly serious, and treated as such. Even when they elude to comedy, it’s done with the intent of providing contrast to the bleak nature of the people and the world we find ourselves trudging through.

For the most part, Last of Us succeeds in creating an atmosphere of desperation, harrowed and compelling characters and a real, grizzly weight to every set piece.

However, every game story is limited by the performance and gameplay it’s attached to. Again, most of the time, both games excel in this regard. Yet, there are times when the gameplay takes a really comical, glitchy or just plain weird turn, and the seriousness of the whole thing is brought crashing down.

All games have glitchy moments, instances when the logic of the game’s mechanics baffle us, or a sensible story beat is tripped up by a gameplay pothole.

But, when the Last of Us does it, it’s so much more jarring.

A game that insists that it is dark and brooding looks ten times more comical when gameplay takes a wacky wobble. A story that is serious to a fault is thoroughly (if temporarily) undone by the faults in the game code. When a game narrative plants its feet firmly and declares, “I am meant to be taken 100% seriously!” appears so much more ludicrous when the game around it slips over and pulls its pants down.

To prove this point, here are a few examples from my recent playthrough of Last of Us Part 2.

First, an early example of a guard’s inability to spot the obvious. This was something that occurred in the first game. Whilst in direct line of sight, you have a brief moment to get hidden again, before the NPCs rub their eyes in disbelief and seek you out. They can not (or will not) spot your companions however…

Later on, a similar situation occurred with another patrolling NPC, but this time they had definitely seen me. Losing sight of me briefly, they opted to wait. And wait. And then wait some more, perhaps hoping I would reveal myself. If only they had leant forward slightly.

The infected are usually more reliable, in my opinion, but on occasion they put aside their violent behaviour for a more cautious approach. This zombie was determined to avoid being blown up, even when I stood directly in front of them, waving my tasty human flesh right in front of them.

And there was also little moments like when Abby decided to have a little dance before opening a safe…

These are by no means the only examples of goofiness in these games. This does not make the Last of Us a bad game. On the contrary, glitches and goofs in a great game are precious gems. What I am saying, is that this is a game that tries so very hard to be super serious, which makes this moments so much more ridiculous and immersion breaking.

There have been plenty of serious games that have been undone in similar ways. There are also many loved games that worked because they leant into there goofier aspects deliberately, allowing us to forgive them as they delivered a serious game around them. The Resident Evil and Metal Gear games often do this, handing us a grim story with one hand whilst waving a silly flag with the other.

To be fair to the Last of Us, and double down on my continued adoration despite these blips, here is a clip showing my favourite moment with the second game.

Exploring an apartment building (a totally optional venture) I went to use the workstation to upgrade my weapons. Something I have done before. This time, the game provided me with the one and only jump-scare involving the workstation.

Impressed, but also confused by where my attackers came from, I decided to reload. Once I learnt their hiding place… a mischievous thought crept in – what if I left a bomb outside the door? Will the moment still happen? Is it scripted?

The video shows the result. Needless to say, I was impressed. Both by the games confidence to only use this scare once, the set up for this event and the subtle story behind this groups actions.

Final Thoughts

The occasional blooper in a game does not ruin the experience. On the contrary, they can make a game more beloved. A game rife with errors can be comedy gold.

In a game that insists on its complete, 100%, whole-hearted seriousness though, is really working all too hard against its nature. Games are fun, silly and prone to mistakes, and a game that tries to press on in spite and ignorance of this can look ten times sillier.

Thank You For Reading

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Author: Rufus Scott

I am a long term Gamer, a full-time History Teacher and a part-time geek. I enjoy writing about the positive aspects of gaming, especially when it comes to education. My posts are sometimes nostalgic, occasionally irrelevant, largely meant to provoke further discussion. I'll sometimes punctuate these whimsical ramblings with a random comment on gaming and/or teaching.

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