Experienced Points: In The Last of Us, Joel Had It Right

By Shamus
on Jan 6, 2015
Filed under:
Column

Here’s a spoiler warning for Spoiler Warning: This week our play-through of Last of Us will come to an end. Which means it’s time to talk about the ending. On the show I do the conversational version with the other hosts, but my column this week is the slightly more organized version.

Analogy time: Let’s imagine there’s some movie where a passenger airliner loses an engine. The hero immediately lands the plane on the highway, which kills somebody. Everyone is like, “The hero saved the lives of 100 people, so it’s okay that one person died.” But then some jerkass like me comes along and points out that he didn’t save anyone, because planes can continue to fly if one engine malfunctions. Does that mean that the hero is guilty of manslaughter because he should have just landed the plane properly at an airport? We end up arguing about what the author intended. Was the writer saying our reckless hero panicked and performed a needless emergency landing? Or was the plane really going to go down, regardless of how planes work in the real world?

You end up with two different debates taking place, but they keep getting their wires crossed. One is an ethical debate about the kind of risks you can take when 100 lives are at stake, and the other debate is about how planes work. But if we don’t agree on how planes work then the ethical debate doesn’t make any sense and some people will be arguing that the engineering doesn’t matter because the story is really about the ethical debate and so we go in circles until everyone gets mad.

So maybe it’s unfair of me to analyze Joel’s actions based on the logic of the real world and not on the logic of his world. On the other hand, I think the ending would have worked better if the science wasn’t so muddled. And I think it was muddled because the writer wanted to blur the line a bit to avoid having Joel perpetrate an objectively evil act.

I don’t know. It’s an interesting conundrum.

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  1. Thomas says:

    I don’t think Joel’s wrong because he wanted to save Ellie from the Fireflies, I think he’s wrong because he doesn’t hold any value of damage greater than that risk. He would kill women and children to save Ellie from the fireflies, and we’ve seen that he very happily kills doctors. In an apocalypse.

    And ultimately he doesn’t even care about what Ellie wants and Ellie thinks. He only cares about what Ellie means to him and he will go on killing ultimately hundreds of people to preserve that new status quo.

    Joel commits the “kill one person to save 100” thing that you were basically condemning. But for him it’s “kill 50 people to save 1” and he does it every day.

    The fireflies as an organisation aren’t good people, but you’re dehumanising them and not thinking about the value of their lives, because you only see them from Joel’s point of view, and he deliberately dehumanises everyone around him to justify the murder he commits

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      The fireflies as an organisation aren’t good people, but you’re dehumanizing them and not thinking about the value of their lives, because you only see them from Joel’s point of view, and he deliberately dehumanizes everyone around him to justify the murder he commits

      Shamus does point out this is the problem with the ends justifying the means – the Fireflies did the exact same dehumanization Joel does, because they think it’s worth it to take one life to save humanity.

      But if they start there, what’s to stop Joel from taking their lives to increase the chances someone who actually has a good track record of keeping people alive *and* isn’t trying to start a revolution?

      You know, for example, the government probably has some pretty good doctors – Joel and Ellie just need to find a city where they won’t kill her on sight.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “And ultimately he doesn’t even care about what Ellie wants and Ellie thinks.”

      Keep in mind that she is still 14.Yeah she is a very likable character,but she is still a kid.And what a kid wants is often not the best for them.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        Also, at least from what I gather, Ellie wasn’t told the entirety of the operation and the (If not guaranteed, then presumably very likely) death incurred by the operation.

        I mean, is there a course in the military that covers brain surgery and such in enough detail to determine the results of attempting to cure the fungus from someone?

        Or did Marlene explain it in detail before they smuggled her out?

    • Isaac says:

      the fireflies didn’t care about what ellie wanted either

      • SougoXIII says:

        That’s what makes it so frustrating: The finale is a clash of assholes. The Fireflies were portrayed (especially at the end) as a bunch of incompetent morons who can’t be trusted to hold a door, let alone create a cure for humanity. There’s no decent explanations for them to be so aggressive and dickish to Joel and Ellie. The writer clearly made them that way so Joel have some lea way on his selfish act, so that the player can go and pretend that he’s not a monster. It just ruin the entire ending for me.

        • Isaac says:

          To be fair they have been fighting the government and the military for a long time and the antidote was going to be a huge victory for them and possibly humanity. It makes sense for them to not let anything or anyone get in the way of achieving something lots of their people have fought and died for.

          • SougoXIII says:

            That would make sense if Joel and Ellie were to display any sign of resistance before the Fireflies knocked their lights out. The Fireflies can’t even pretend to be nice and reasonable even though it would cost them nothing and they would likely benefits from it (It is strongly hinted that Ellie would volunteer herself from their research anyways, something Marlene should have picked up on since she’s one of the people closest to Ellie.)

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          “Lee way” is space to maneuver a ship downwind from where you are, BEFORE getting into danger. Leeward is downwind, upwind is weatherward, or windward. (Sorry for nitpicking, but nautical stuff is filling my head these days..)

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            And a linguistics major would counter that you’re being prescriptive since “leeway” is the only one of those terms that has a generalized meaning outside of its nautical origins.

            • Andy says:

              You could also argue that since “lea” means “grassland” or “meadow, ” “lea way” could be creatively construed as “plenty of open space around.” But that may be going too far afield. Into the weeds, as it were.

  2. Kylroy says:

    I think this falls under my general rule of “Don’t mistake ruthlessness for competence”. In the real world, we’d have to weigh the Fireflies claims of what they can do against their track record (not good). The author can know the truth, but in the real world we can’t.

    For another example of somebody tackling an author’s moral dilemma that isn’t as clear-cut as the author hoped: http://www.zompist.com/cold.html

  3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Sounds somewhat like the plot of Flight.

    I lost interest in the LP after about 3 weeks (it’s just not my genre of game), so I have to rely on the text of the column. I’m not certain Joel did the right thing for the wrong reasons. I always liked the concept Mordin had in ME3 about not hiding behind aggregates. If I could work that into my research ethics classes, I would. It seems the Fireflies are doing the hiding. “Yes, we’re doing a horrible thing to this person, but on the grand scheme of the universe, it’s really a good thing.”

    The problem is that if you do the little horrible things, you defeat the purpose of doing the big good things. This has been dealt with in a number of stories -“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” “The Lottery,” I think there was a Babylon 5 episode devoted to it, maybe two. Virtue, as Aristotle argued, is a cultivated habit. Cutting open a health human brain is a viscous act which cuts against the cultivation of virtue, and thus renders the creation of a virtuous society impossible.

    Joel’s vices may render him unfit for a virtuous society, too, (I don’t know, nothing in the first 3 weeks struck me as terribly vicious) but in opposing the Fireflies he at least demonstrates the virtues of loyalty, courage, and steadfastness. Virtue doesn’t require that society survive in order to be virtuous -fiat justitia ruat caelum and all -so the persistence of the plague can’t be held against him.

    The worst that can be said of him, it seems, is that he didn’t ask whether Ellie wanted to make the heroic sacrifice (whether that is virtuous is another debate, but the invocation of the doctrine of double effect would allow us to wave our hands and move on), but she was -I understand -incapacitated at the time.

    • Kylroy says:

      “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” always annoyed me. Assuming the outside world is anything like the one we live in, the people who leave are simply asking to have the cost of their lifestyle concealed more effectively.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Aye – more recently we did see Joel torturing in a cutscene, with the strong suggestion he was no stranger to such.

      (And whilst the gameplay perhaps isn’t really constitutive of true character — and there’s no doubt a separate polysyllabic argument to be had about whether or not it should be! :D — obviously gameplaywise it’s more like fiat josh…)

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It’s that classic variation on the trolley problem thought experiment. Is it morally justified to flip a switch so that an out-of-control trolley that was threatening to kill five people standing the track instead diverts to a different track and kills one person? Most people say yes. Is it morally justified to kill a healthy person to save the lives of five people who need five different organ transplants? Most people say no.

      • Daimbert says:

        More interestingly, most people also say “No” if asked to simply push someone in front of the train to stop it, despite it being the exact same trade off (1 life for 5).

        • PeteTimesSix says:

          Maybe its just me, but the difference in both cases is that unlike the train switch flip scenario where youre just deciding which of the two groups of people get the short end of the stick (why are you even standing on railroad tracks anyway) you are actively putting someone who was in no danger in harms way.

        • Akri says:

          If you’re only looking at the numbers then both situations are the same. However in the first instance killing the one person is a side-effect of diverting the trolley, while in the second instance killing that person is done deliberately. That distinction matters to some people.

          Plus if we treat the situation a bit more realistically, and assume the one person isn’t incapacitated in some way, it’s possible that the trolley won’t actually hit them. You can try and warn them of what you’re doing, and they might be able to make it out of the way. You might divert the trolley with the hope that all six people will be able to walk away relatively unharmed.

          But I think the real question we need to be asking is “why the hell are all these people just standing around on trolley tracks?” Do we need to have a PSA about this?

          • Ivan says:

            The problem I always have with these thought experiments is the same one you’re detailing; I can’t just take them at face value. I don’t think you could set up a scenario where the choice to kill one verses kill many will clearly be the only possible choice. There are always details that people will use to try to avoid the choice entirely, or at the very least muddy the water so that it’s not purely a numbers game, (like one person will be more able to dodge a trolly than 5). Though part of this is an unwillingness to confront the dilemma, I also feel like any conceivable scenario is inherently unrealistic and you would never get that “pure” scenario where it’s clear that innocent lives will end and it’s clear that your choice determines only how many.

            Regarding The Last of Us, the thought experiment obviously starts to break down once you start to examine the context.

            A bit off topic but, I guess this is a good example of inside verses outside the box thinking. Personally I could never really understand what the box was, at least not in a way I could communicate to other people.

            • Daimbert says:

              The issue here is that these are experiments, and so as such will have to be a bit artificial. You never get, say, a perfectly contained area to apply your gas pressure calculations to in real life either, but that doesn’t mean that those experiments don’t produce interesting data about real life. In the trolley case, we’re trying to narrow the question down to what considerations of utility. So we make the experiment so that those people aren’t on the tracks of their own free will, and you have a choice: intervene to save 5 at the cost of 1, or let it go and have 5 die and have 1 live. So sure, in real life this situation would never really arise … but in the experiment, it does. So the best you can argue is that people are, in fact, bad at reasoning ethically in these situations … but that’s not really proven to be true.

              • Ivan says:

                I understand what you’re saying but I’m still finding it impossible to not be distracted by the details.

                Right now I’m trying to consider the original scenario (divert trolley onto track with one person or allow it to continue on to the track with 5) verses the fat-man scenario (push the fatman onto the tracks killing him and saving the 5 or stand back and do nothing allowing the 5 to die).

                I’m going to outline this just to help myself and maybe post it anyway even if I come to understand.

                In either scenario all the people are innocent (they are on the tracks through no fault of their own) and only you have the power to change the situation. In the OS (original scenario) my choice determines how many people die. I would argue that because I have the power (relevant ability and knowledge) to change the situation that I am in some way responsible for the outcome in some way. Therefor choosing to do nothing does not relieve me of responsibility, but I will note that whatever I choose I am not responsible for anything in the magnitude of murder.

                I am not responsible for murder because while my premeditated decision ended life, I did not have the ability to not end life. But I suppose this has more to do with my beliefs on what laws and morals are for. Our society makes exceptions for murder, like in the case of self defense and while it feels cheap to fall back on established rules of society as a defense, I’m going to do it for the sake of time. In any case I bring up self defense because it is clear in such situations that someone is going to die and while I am in no danger on the trolley any decision I make will cause death. The only question is how much death.

                Now trying to decide how much death to cause is an impossible question because it requires me to place a value on life. Do you value life based on it’s ability to contribute to society? If so then Healthy adults and the elderly (with their wisdom gained from age) would be valued above children and the sick. Or do you value life based on it’s potential to contribute to society? Children now have the greatest potential and the elderly have the least. The able-bodied are now only slightly higher than the sick, though it depends on the severity and length of the disease. Education also becomes a major factor, and well deciding what exactly benefits society the most would be heavily debated and I’m sure there is plenty to argue about when considering something as nebulous as “potential” and even the needs of society. At the end of the day though this can be ignored if you envision yourself as looking at a computer monitor where people are represented as blips on a screen and you only see one blip verses five, but you still know they cannot avoid the trolley.

                Even now though this isn’t enough to assuage the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that these are all people and it is impossible for me to value their lives even when I know nothing about them. So even now it’s still not as simple as 5>1 or “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Even so I would still pull the lever because it is less wrong to allow 5 people to die than one.

                Now for the “Fat-Man” scenario. I’m slowly getting better at distancing myself from the distractions so I’ll just use the “Fat-Man” as shorthand for “some person with properties (which I do not posses) that can stop the trolley before it kills the other five. I say that I do not posses these properties because the scenario as it was given is ambiguous enough to allow me to jump in front of the trolley instead, thus complicating the dilemma with weather or not I am willing to sacrifice myself, which seems to be beside the point.

                I guess I was successful at avoiding distraction because now I can answer this one as well. Pushing the Fat-man in front of the trolley would be amoral because I believe it is fundamentally wrong to use another human being as a tool. This no longer becomes a question of the value of life, now it is a question of what would society be like if we accepted “Sacrificing the Fat-man” as a rule. Well this would allow for human life to be treated as a resource which I believe would result in the loss of humanity (that everyone has an equal right to exist and to some extent choose their own destiny) as a virtue and result in practices like slavery for instance. “Sacrificing the Fat-man” means valuing life based on how useful it is to society right now and ignores and intrinsic value that life has, where “Sacrificing the Loner” means valuing life based on potential. So I guess my answer reflects my philosophy more than my morals.

                There is still one aspect to the “Fat-man Scenario” that I have not addressed. How responsible am I for the outcome. Well again, I cannot abstain from choosing because we already assumed that I have perfect knowledge of the situation and in my ability to change it (so as to avoid being distracted by the details). I believe that using another person as a tool is a greater evil than murder and I would want society to judge me as such. Therefor I could not have prevented the deaths of those five people and I cannot be held accountable for them.

                “Phew”… Feel free to respond to this wall of text but don’t expect a response. I’ll give one as I can but these mental exercises can be exhausting.

                I went through all that to try to understand the value of the experiment, which I think I did. I think the main obstacle to these ethical dilemma experiments is presentation. Their meaning is quickly lost in the constant game of telephone we’re all playing, and understanding the intent of the experiment is essential to working through it. In any case, my disbelief in the practicality of such experiments prevented me from looking past all the details that could fundamentally change the question that is being asked, thus making a problem that at first seemed unsolvable to become much simpler.

                Also I think I just wrote some freshman’s essay for their philosophy class, so you’re welcome, unless of course your professor copy/pastes the whole thing into google search and finds it here, in which case you should have known better :P

          • Daimbert says:

            Sure, it does matter to some people, but the trolley experiment aims at a specific moral view that we seem to be intuitively sympathetic to: utilitarianism. Which says that what is moral is that which provides the most happiness overall, which provides the most of that sort of utility. Having 4 more people alive at the end of the action seems to obviously provide more utility, and the original trolley case seems one where most people do draw that obvious conclusion. And yet they resist it in the second case. The reason could be what you suggest, or it could be that they have to personally interact with the person in that case, or any number of reasons … but the contrast is interesting.

            And has been studied. I think other experiments have been run to try to find out if what you suggest is the case is really the case. Interestingly, the reason you gave was the reason I gave for not doing either; I’d have to take an action myself, and that would make me morally responsible for the deaths, whereas if I let the train go, I wouldn’t. There are problems with this reasoning, of course …

  4. Steve C says:

    This situation reminds me of the ending to Ender’s Game. Felt like the author was trying to convey something deep and meaningful but ultimately fell flat due to how the author handled the details in both cases.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      It was a long time since I read Ender’s Game, and I don’t completely remember my reaction to the ending, but know I liked it. I’m not sure Card intended us to think that Ender faced some dilemma and did or did not handle it badly, I (today) read it more like a comment on how the adults in the story treated the children and the Buggers.

      In a way, that Ender is the protagonist is a feint in order to pull off the twist, and his own decisions aren’t really the point. It is well known that others like him exist (his siblings, most notably), and that while he’s somewhat unique, he’s also just the next in a long line of failed experiments.

      Both the reader and Ender are manipulated into thinking we’re experiencing this hero’s jurney, but really it’s just a machine designed to produce a result. We think it’s all about the misunderstood boy wonder, but maybe both Ender and ourselves should have considered the bigger picture.

      Maybe I’m giving Card too much credit here, and I’m not really taking the various sequels into account. I don’t see it as a straight “protagonist faces moral dilemma, makes choice” anyway.

      • Felblood says:

        That’s actually the point.

        Ender is asked to make the moral choice to destroy the alien homeworld, but he’s told that it’s only a simulation, to get him to go through with it. It’s a trick for the grownups in his life to get what they want, while blaming him for the consequences.

        They needed his technical skills to get the job done, but after his older siblings turned out so wrong (one too merciful to kill an enemy, one too cruel to care about the lives of his own men, both failures in the genetically engineered military officer department), they didn’t trust his moral judgement.

        While Ender is left to wonder whether he helped to perpetrate a justified genocide, the audience is supposed to be questioning the morality of his teachers and guardians, in tricking him into doing what they felt was necessary, rather than asking his opinion.

    • Duffy says:

      I’m honestly a tad confused about your comment. In the book Ender has no idea he’s actually leading a fleet and losing real people, he thinks it’s all a training simulation. He comes up with a strategy to beat the ‘game’ and end the cycle of training. That strategy just happens to be genocide (I feel like their was some indication he also did it in hopes of flunking out for being so ruthless), he didn’t know it was real thus their was no ethical dilemma. If anything that was the intent of the setup by the adults, remove the ethical concerns from the picture. The adult characters are the only ones who could have been facing an ethical dilemma.

      • Mike S. says:

        Though Ender’s subsequent history shows that he thinks he’s morally culpable. Which isn’t to say he’s right.

        But you can see where a self-aware supergenius might well think he should have figured out what was going on, even if that’s not remotely fair.

        (And of course in practice, he was at the very least saying to hell with his training to lead humanity in a war for survival, after being told that he’s the last and only hope our species has to not be made extinct by aliens. Who can blame him, but still.)

        Ender, like a lot of Card’s characters, has a big helping of Christ figure, and this is one of the less subtle examples: he takes the weight of the sins of those who made him what he is onto himself, is more or less destroyed by the process, and then goes on to transform it into a redemptive mission.

    • Steve C says:

      Replies seem to be focusing on the characters within Ender’s Game. I was talking about the author. IE take a step back and out of the story to look at it.

      The author of Last of Us set up a moral dilemma where the audience is supposed to both sympathize with the main character while simultaneously condemning his actions. But due to the details of the moral dilemma you could objectively say there was a ‘right’ answer. If a writer advocates a ‘right answer’ it has to be one that the audience agrees with. If the reader doesn’t agree with the author then there is no big payoff at the end and the entire story falls flat at the climax. The writer wanted to blur the line a bit to avoid the protagonist perpetrate an objectively evil act. The ending would have worked better if it wasn’t so muddled by blurring things. Something that was supposed to be deep and meaningful ends up fumbled at the end.

      Same thing with Ender’s Game. (Check the forums for my posts about Ender’s Game. I’ve gone into details about this in the past.)

      • Mike S. says:

        As you see it, what did Card believe was the right answer in Ender’s Game?

        • Steve C says:

          Card’s ‘right answer’ was that you can create innocent murderers who remain innocent after atrocity. That war is righteous and noble even in unnecessary genocide. I don’t agree with that premise nor the contrivances Card used to get to that point. Ultimately he undermined his own story.

          AKA “The ends do justify the means when the stakes are high enough,” which is a similar moral to The Last of Us especially if your takeaway was that the writer was trying to say that Joel was wrong.

          • Mike S. says:

            I’m not sure that Card is holding out an actual right answer for what to do if one believes, on incomplete information (as information in a war always is), that a superior opponent intends genocide. Humanity on reflection defines xenocide as the ultimate crime, and Ender basically agrees with them despite not really being culpable.

            And even before that the whole process was one of using up children, from an author who frequently invokes the biblical quote that for anyone who harms children “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

            The end of Ender’s Game, and Ender’s ongoing sense of duty to the remaining queen, doesn’t suggest to me that the genocide was righteous or noble, or that the military who trained Ender was innocent. (As I recall, their discussions among themselves re Ender and Battle School made it clear that they didn’t think they were.)

  5. krellen says:

    In classic literature, a tragic hero is an otherwise virtuous character that is undone (usually killed) by a single flaw. Joel is the opposite of this, being a cold, cruel man who is undone by a single virtue.

    So basically, Joel is a tragic villain instead?

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      A redeemable villain perhaps? Not that he neccesarily does redeem himself, but that he has the opportunity.

    • Purple Library Guy says:

      Well, if the two opposed classical genres are tragedy and comedy, then technically it should make him a comic villain. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite right . . . ;)
      Antihero?

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Keep in mind that in the classic sense, “comedy” wasn’t necessarily something humorous, it just encompassed anything with a happy (or non-tragic) ending.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Joel’s still a tragic hero, assuming you accept TLOU as a tragedy (I’m not sure I do, but for the sake of argument). If Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a quintessential tragic hero, Hamlet is also undone by a single virtue: “moral cowardice”.

      Hamlet hesitates to kill his uncle Claudius until he’s certain the man was guilty of his father’s murder, and Hamlet’s also trying to determine if his mother was involved. It’s his various schemes to learn the truth that tip off Claudius to Hamlet’s suspicions, so that Claudius then tries to kill Hamlet before he kills Claudius, and almost every character ends up dead as a result of their schemes and counter-schemes.

      (The one time Hamlet has Claudius unaware and at his mercy, Claudius is ambiguously confessing to his crimes in prayer, and Hamlet doesn’t want to kill him if his soul has been cleansed–it would be sending him to heaven. That might seem ridiculous to a lot of modern people, but it could have been a legitimate concern for a Renaissance European mindset.)

      • Felblood says:

        To be fair, Hamlet has just been visited by a ghost who confirmed that this worldview was both accurate, and the reason the Hamlet’s father is now in Hell.

      • Kylroy says:

        The abridging necessary to make the play take less than four hours sadly removes the counterpart to Hamlet’s “moral cowardice”: Fortinbras. Where Hamlet refuses to take action without certainty, Fortinbras blindly plunges ahead; at one point he’s described as marching his army to war over a strip of land to small to bury the dead from the resulting battle.

        Granted, he does almost all of this in the background, and he *does* end up effortlessly annexing Denmark at the end of the play, so maybe he was supposed to play up how useless Hamlet was.

  6. Purple Library Guy says:

    Well. I don’t normally do this, but I must say I agree with everything in your column. I can’t find a nitpick, I’m just absolutely down with this.

    • MichaelGC says:

      I had to search and search, but I found one!

      Shamus Young has been writing programs for over 30 years, from the early days of BASIC programming in the 80’s to writing graphics and tech prototypes today.

      Since the actual early days of BASIC programming were in the 60s, this should actually read “from his early days of …”

      *Ahem* Yes, sorry – I obviously had to work quite hard to find that …

  7. SmileyFace says:

    When I played the game, that’s pretty much the way I felt, and I enjoyed the game even though I saw the ending through a different lens than the author might have intended. The ending, rather than being bittersweet and about Joel sacrificing humanity’s best hope for his and Ellie’s personal happiness, becomes about Joel finding peace for him and Ellie at all costs, in the face of a bunch of zealots so obsessed with putting the world back the way it was that they’d throw away its best hope. Different, but not necessarily worse.

    • Yep, I also didn’t really feel that much of a disconnect in the final fight (I’d played Joel as an anti-guns strangler – not out of place considering his history with guns and the issues with noise & survival – so the final fight was one of infinite ammo and lots of fireflies burning from my flamer as Joel decided he wasn’t going to walk away, snapped, and started shooting) so, for me, the deep cut (of the story end) was the final lines.

      When Joel decides to lie when Ellie asks him if he’s going to tell the truth (which she feels is a lie – she’s not completely unaware of what happened to get them to where they now are considering how they went into Salt Lake City). The broken trust of that final moment and the resignation on Ellie’s face as she weighs that realisation. This is the reality, going forward, of a far from solid relationship. “Okay” *cut to black* *credits*

  8. SlothfulCobra says:

    I wouldn’t say you’re wrong in this case, but it’s interesting to make the point of “In practice, people who perpetrate murder in the name of good tend to end up as shockingly prolific murderers” when the bulk of videogames are always focused on saving the world by slaughtering hundreds of dudes.

    Videogames can desensitize you to death really quick.

    • Vermander says:

      You could argue that in most cases the people you are slaughtering in video games are armed enemy combatants of one sort of another. So you’re either killing them in self defense, or at least they willingly took up arms against you and understand the consequences (especially since most of them immediately attack the second that they see you).

      • acronix says:

        That’s basically my take: in most videogames, all the enemies are set and (in a way) brainwashed to fight you until one dies. Even if the game provides a non-lethal option, all the killing you do is pretty much self-defense by default.

        • SlothfulCobra says:

          Well that all depends on what game you’re playing. Sometimes you’re killing mercenaries who are just in it for money, sometimes it’s soldiers serving their country, sometimes it’s monsters, sometimes it’s criminals, sometimes it’s native peoples, and sometimes it’s cops.

          Either way you end up with a big body count.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          Heh. Actually having baddies with a sense of self-preservation would be even more of a literal game-changer than making firearms as lethal as firearms usually are….

      • Veylon says:

        It would seem that – by this logic – it would be wrong to kill conscripted enemy soldiers. Most of the people fighting in World War II (among other wars) were doing it under threat of punishment by their government.

        Relatedly, what do you think the chances are of there being a game where the goal is to escape a lost – but still active – war and sneak back home and hide there until your country surrenders?

        • Vermander says:

          Regardless of the enemy combatant’s motive it’s still self defense. It’s not hard to argue that you are justified in killing someone who is actively trying to do the same to you. Conscripted soldiers will still kill you if they get the chance, and since it’s video game they are unlikely to just run away or surrender peacefully.

  9. Otters34 says:

    That’s the most damning part of all this. Joel isn’t doing something good because h’s become a better person, he’s just a little smarter and empathetic than a pack of outlandishly hasty buffoons.

    Meaning all we learned on that big trek was…the Fireflies aren’t too good at this rebellion thing OR biology OR being alive OR making sound ethical and moral decisions. What a waste. I guess that authoritarian regime will have to wait until some actual contenders show up.

  10. Vermander says:

    I feel like there have been too many games lately with self-sacrificing martyrs as the protagonist. I’m starting to get sick of having to make agonizing choices that result in bittersweet endings. Sometimes I just want to feel like I won.

    • acronix says:

      I blame this on some new and strange (or perhaps not so new) notion that ‘bittersweet’ is smarter/more fulfilling/plain better than ‘happy’ as far as art and stories is concerned.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Much like the gruff/noir/dark/gritty hero reboots of a few years ago (yes, yes, still going on in movies because they lag behind a bit), it’s a sign of the times. We’re still in an unstable economy, wars are brewing all over the place, etc. Media and art are -partly – mirrors to society and culture. We’re, as agroup, still plenty downtrodden, depressed, unsure, and we don’t see the great golden hope/American Drem as something attainable. Similar to early 20th century, really.

  11. shiroax says:

    Any reason this couldn’t have gone up NEXT week? Instead, you spoiled Spoiler Warning. That is so meta.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    “Analogy time”

    Nope, nope. There’s no need. I read the spoiler part, and let me give you my take on this.

    Never mind the scumminess of the Fireflies. Never mind what Joel did prior to the end of the game. Never mind the fact that Ellie is an innocent child.

    Joel made a choice to save someone who was about to be murdered. Everyone who might be offended by this choice would already be a shambling mindless monster or a coldly intelligent murderous monster at that point in time. So, as the only sane, intelligent, and conscious person able to decide, by default Joel made the socially acceptable choice.

    End of discussion.

    • Otters34 says:

      Whose society? Ours or the game-world’s people’s? Serious question, by the way.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Basically this.This society is not our society,yet the game constantly presents us with stuff expecting us to agree with joel because thats what would be best in our world.

        Joel not giving a gun to a kid?Thats sensible in the real world.Nevermind that in this fictional world,ellie was practically born into a military school,and already knows as much(if not more)about survival than joel.

        The only difference here is that fireflies have been presented as incompetent in the fictional world.

        • Otters34 says:

          The dang bugs LIGHT UP at night, the time when being visible is the worst possible choice. I can’t believe the symbolism didn’t hit me earlier. Even their metaphorical side is plagued with bad decisions.

          And yes, that’s basically why I asked. Obviously to OUR society killing members is abhorrent, something to be done only if it saves other lives right then.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Also: what Daemian Lucifer said.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        The punchline was that because I was defining everyone other than Joel and Ellie as monsters, and Ellie was temporarily incapable of social interaction, Joel briefly existed in a society comprised solely of himself. Thus his decision was unanimously approved by all involved and by definition accepted by the entire society in question.

        Less jokingly, I am 100% serious about agreeing with that specific decision, I was just being flippant about the fact that “social acceptance” of Joel’s actions only makes sense in the context of us as an audience approving or disapproving of his actions as protagonist. In the game, Joel has a bunch of weapons and an innocent girl to care for, and a bunch of obstacles in the way of his goal. To Joel, some of the monsters shamble and some of them are scientists who are trying to persuade him that murder is okay, but they’re all trying to murder Ellie. Since Joel is not aware of the audience, he has only himself to rely on for moral guidance in such a situation. Besides which, we gods are assholes for putting him in this situation to begin with.

        So every single sane, intelligent, conscious, non-asshole person in the world at that time made the unanimously socially accepted decision to kill all the monsters, and I applaud Joel for killing dozens of murderers to save a young girl’s life. And if you disagree, you are merely an asshole god who should not have forced Joel to murder scientists because you are the real monster. ;)

        • Otters34 says:

          Never played the game, but thanks for your more detailed response.

          EDIT: Though Joel has never really needed any excuse beyond the vague catchphrase of “necessity” to kill others of his kind, so I kind of see him as a monster too.

  13. Exasperation says:

    This reminds me of the end of a Bruce Willis movie I watched on Netflix that I can’t recall the name of. The premise was that telepresence robots had been developed that provided full sensory feedback to the user, and people were spending all their time plugged in to fake bodies, etc. At the end, the protagonist is given the option to destroy the robots (killing all active users via the feedback) or keep things as they are. He figures out a way to destroy the robots while buffering the users against the feedback; yay him, I guess? But then it cuts to a news report about the effects, with no casualties occurring, and it just completely took me out of the moment. Think about it; simultaneously, all vehicle operators fall unconscious worldwide, as do all surgeons, cooks (hello, kitchen fires in every restaurant!), emergency responders (the near-total reliance of the police/fire/rescue on telepresence was established earlier) and so on. An optimistic assessment is that millions of people will die, and yet somehow there isn’t a single casualty? That was one that really made me angry with the writers.

    • Merlin says:

      Surrogates, right? A thoroughly blerg film, not good or bad enough to be terribly memorable. How widespread was the use of robo-bodies, do you remember? If it’s near-universal, losing your bus driver might just mean that he crashes a bus full of robots. Lots of property damage, but not necessarily a huge body count.

      It’s certainly not as ridiculous a “Great job, hero!” moment as Fast 5, in which the line “You’ve got every corrupt cop in the city chasing you!” is used as a green light to cause huge pile-ups and crash through buildings all over Rio De Janeiro in the middle of a workday. It’s cool, I’m sure only bad dudes got crushed to death. Thanks, Vin Diesel!

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It is surrogates.Still a better movie than the gamer,yet oddly enough,gamer is the one that got the most coverage.

      • Exasperation says:

        The use of surrogates (thanks for reminding me of the title) was near-universal, but it’s less the buses I would be worried about than the airplanes – even if none of them is carrying people, you’re going to get 9/11 style disasters in a large fraction of cities with airports. Plus, since every car on the road crashes, you’re going to have a real hard time getting anywhere to deal with the problems that are caused by all the accidents, fires, etc. Even assuming a miracle occurs and nobody dies immediately, you’ve lost a large percentage of the world’s transportation infrastructure and are going to be looking at mass starvation worldwide (especially in major cities) because the food just can’t be distributed properly.

        • Ivan says:

          Would you say it would be like 911 times one-thousand?

          • Exasperation says:

            To answer seriously: it’s really hard to wrap your head around how large of a disaster it would be. If 1 in 2,500 (.04%!) of the people affected died in a freak accident as a result (out of control car through bedroom, plane lands on them, having open heart surgery/in ICU, etc.), that would still be a death count in the multiples of millions (assuming a world population about the same as present-day).

    • silver Harloe says:

      Surrogates. I liked it, even though it had flaws.

      My problem with the premise was the ‘one surrogate per person’ law and people still driving around places. Why not just buy a surrogate to leave at work (either because your work involves manufacturing or to show up at meetings) and others to leave at designated social interaction locations and then switch between them? Eliminating the commute would be a real game-changer for society, even more so than the puerile relaxation of assault rules.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I hated Surrogate’s treatment of the technology. Something like that would have real potential for positive benefits but the movie focuses on the negative. Those with chronic illness, disabilities, disfigurements and so forth could enjoy the experience of walking around perfectly normally in fully capable bodies (Second Life is popular among many disabled players for this reason). People who don’t feel like they were born in the right body can get a different one (they showed one guy using a female surrogate but mostly treated it like a joke). Various kinds of assault would no long be an issue. Spread of disease would be much easier to control. Discrimination based on attractiveness could potentially be much less of an issue.

        You’d have a workforce with the mental abilities of people with unlimited physical stamina. You could integrate assistant programs that guide people’s actions to be more physically precise than they could manage on their own. You could have services based around people temporarily jumping into your surrogate to perform a skilled task for you (should be easy enough to set up a temporary access system. Many offices use this for remote troubleshooting).

        Surrogates could have a real democritizing effect on society. But the movie goes the predictable movie scifi route.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      That ending sounds very much like focus groups didn’t like the original one during test screenings… reminds me of “I am Legend” — oh, how I hated the ending, and how it destroyed the entire movie!

      That said: Leaving it at “kill everyone or don’t change anything” is also a very contrived false binary choice. Story-wise, the better resolution would be “save most people, but don’t solve the problem completely (just mostly), at great personal cost.”

  14. Hal says:

    I haven’t played the game, so I have no idea how the fungus is transmitted; I’m assuming it’s a traditional zombie vehicle and comes from physical transmission (bites, scratches, etc.) In that case, it’s pretty silly to say, “She’s the only person in the world who is immune!” You really wouldn’t know until you were bitten, right?

    In any case, let’s put my degree to some use here. If Ellie is the first/only person in the world who is immune, that means it’s a genetic trait. If the mutation is in her immune system, examining her brain is going to tell you very little. You’d take a blood sample and analyze that. It’s also likely the case that the mutation is in such a part of her immune system that you can’t pass on (otherwise, other people could be immune.) The only possible way that would be feasible would be the way HIV immunity is being passed on: Bone marrow transplants, not a reasonable method of sharing immunity.

    The other possible case is that the genetic trait is from the cells/tissues that are infected by the fungus. Since she still has samples of it inside her, it’s likely that she resists the part that allows it to take over the system and spread uncontrollably. There’s nothing you’ll learn from killing her that you wouldn’t learn from a biopsy; you might even get away with genomic analysis from much less invasive samples.

    I guess this is what it’s like when writers with no specialization in your field try to write stories that revolve around said field. It ends up coming off as nonsense. (I’m sure you’ve written about this in some manner before. Probably about plot holes and narrative collapse.)

    • guy says:

      It’s spread by both bites and airborne spores, though the spores are only released in meaningful quantities from zombies that have become immobile and shifted into a spore-releasing state. Presumably, there are other immune people, but none of them have been identified. Ellie is the only one so far and it appears unlikely that they’ll obtain any more.

      For reasons which are spectacularly unclear, the Fireflies think the secret to her immunity lies in the fungus in her brain. Not her brain itself, and not the fungus in her bloodstream, only in her brain.

    • Primogenitor says:

      My head-cannon explanation is that Ellie has a “good” fungus infection that is ONLY in her brain, and that is blocking the usual “bad” fungus from taking over.

      This is similar to how “good” gut microbes out-compete “bad” ones, and the “good” ones only survive in de-oxygenated environments but the “bad” ones are widespread e.g. on skin.

      So if you want the “good” fungus, you’ve got to go to the only place it is, which is inside Ellie’s brain.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Still, the “good” fungus would have to be very widespread in the brain to protect all of it, so you’d think a simple trepanation would be good enough to get access to it, and maybe you’d need to do the same to your inoculation patients. But that’s so far from a fatal surgery that we’ve been doing it for almost 10,000 years survivably.

        • guy says:

          Well, I would grant that I could imagine them needing to extract important bits of the brain. Theoretically, the answer they need could lie in the fungus-cerebral tissue interaction in the parts of the brain that normally get taken over. Some of those are pretty centrally located and they all perform important functions. Even a group that could extract a cure from studying the samples could very well not be able to get them without definitely causing crippling brain damage and very likely killing her.

          However, it’s positively insane to jump to doing that so early. Ellie is their only test subject. Even from a purely pragmatic standpoint, there is no possible way they’ve completed every conceivable experiment that requires a live subject.

          I mean, here’s what I can think of doing: full-body imaging with every technology they can muster over a period of weeks to see if she’s got any fungal structures in her and how they change over time. Repeated fMRI scans to see if the fungal infection has resulted in any oddities in brain activities. A more detailed study of her immune system, to see if there are any antibodies they don’t recognize or are associated with countering rare diseases. Injecting her with fungus recovered from a zombie to see exactly what happens when more shows up. Pulling all their old treatment experiments out of the vault to see how they interact. Dosing her with various drugs that affect brain function to see what happens.

          Then there’s ones that could be done with a live or dead Ellie. Starting with fully sequencing her and the fungal DNA and comparing it against as many zombies as they can get to see if there are any anomalies.

          Also, they should draw lots to pick the poor bastard who gets injected with fungus extracted from Ellie’s bloodstream. If the difference is in the fungus, it stands to reason that the fungus in her blood would also be different, and someone injected with it should also become immune. If that doesn’t work, they should make very sure they know exactly why it didn’t before going after the brain fungus.

  15. LadyTL says:

    I always felt Joel was in the right because (if I am remembering correctly) audio logs mention that the Fireflies have dissected the brains of other immune people and couldn’t figure out a cure so what made Ellie the magical one where they could?

    • silver Harloe says:

      Wow. You’d think more people would bring that up. That undermines everything in support of the FF.

      • guy says:

        I’m pretty sure they didn’t have any previous immune people. They almost certainly did cut up zombies, but Ellie is the first immune test subject.

        • ACman says:

          Then why is the first move “Quick! Dissect her brain!!!

          Its moronic. Make tissue cultures, check antibodies, sample blood, sample cerebral fluid.

          Dissection is something you do to a reproducible lab animal. Not to a golden goose to see how it works.

          How do they know it’s a mutant strain in her brain without a sample? If they have a sample why are they cutting open her brain, do they think they need to open her skull make it spore and propegate? Are they so incompetant that they cannot study it, say, using aspergillus as an expression system? Is Ellie like a Little Sister out of Bioshock and they need to harvest her Eve?

          Joel has killed hundreds of bandits at this point to protect Ellie/His investment. A few incompetant – to the point of malevolence – medical researchers is only marginally worse IMO. And what happens if they cure the fungus (hah!) and the next bird flu happens? They gonna start vivisecting people? “This subject has particularly interesting sputum… Open its brain!!!!”

        • LadyTL says:

          http://thelastofus.wikia.com/wiki/Surgeon%27s_Recorder This is probably the audio log I was thinking of and the surgeon does mention past cases. The problem is it is vague as to past cases of what but the jump to brain surgery seems to imply they had other immune people since they had an attempt at a vaccine in the past.

          • Alexander The 1st says:

            There’s also Joel’s early-game annoyance at their insistence that Ellie is immune and could bring about a cure – earlier in the series, IIRC, Shamus was pointing out how it shows that he’s long beyond believing that she’s immune and could bring about a cure because it’s entirely possible this type of claim has been made a ridiculously amount of times over the past 20 years…and yet no cure has been found and/or made.

  16. lostclause says:

    So my two cents on the science (based on Shamus’ column since I haven’t seen the ending yet), it’s a pretty weak justification for killing Ellie. Shamus is right that you can get a lot of stuff safely, including brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid samples. Killing Ellie should be an absolute last resort, probably years after they began the experiments at least. Hell, you could sequence Ellie’s entire genome without too much trouble in case the it was a genetic factor that granted immunity.

    Even if they had fewer facilities than today, if they can carry out a sterile autopsy to get uncontaminated microscopic samples, they have other options.

    The idea of a ‘mutated’ fungus is actually quite interesting and clever. A non parasitic version might be inhabiting Ellie and out-competing the harmful variety, similar to how your normal gut bacteria can prevent harmful bacteria from flourishing. Very clever, but if that’s the case you only need a sample of the fungus to culture (we know the fungus can grow outside of humans) and then inoculate the population with so killing Ellie is just as ridiculous.

    On the other hand, I acknowledge this is fiction. Sometimes you want to create a scenario even if it means bending the rules.

    But Marlene’s insistence that Ellie would consent is perplexing. Obviously it’s against all medical ethics but if she’s so confident then why not ask? And if she’s so cynical why not take precautions to lock down Joel until the deed is done (or have a gun at his back the whole time)? Okay, she knows Joel and might think him more or less amoral, but after a year with Ellie it should have occurred to her that Joel might be unhappy about this.

    • Isaac says:

      “Obviously it’s against all medical ethics but if she’s so confident then why not ask?”

      cuz she’s scared that ellie will refuse

      “And if she’s so cynical why not take precautions to lock down Joel until the deed is done (or have a gun at his back the whole time)?”

      She’s in a building that is filled with her bodyguards who are all heavily armed and trained.

      “Okay, she knows Joel and might think him more or less amoral, but after a year with Ellie it should have occurred to her that Joel might be unhappy about this.”

      She acknowledges this in the cutscene before the final level of the game

    • JackTheStripper says:

      Taking the amoral side of things, I was ready to start the shooting spree the moment she ordered them to kick me out without paying me shit.

      • Isaac says:

        Its not like Joel could do anything with the original payment (a shipment of guns). His smuggling partner is dead and I doubt that the Fireflies were willing to use their resources to help him move it all the back to Boston.

        • Merlin says:

          I encourage you to try this approach in your daily life and let us know how it plays out.

          “Well sir, I’d pay for my groceries, but you’re probably going to waste your income on cheap beer, and your company is going to waste it on lobbying my senator with fancy dinners. So really, there’s no point in me paying you for these. See ya!”

  17. Nytzschy says:

    Stalin’s purges, The Crusades, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and Hitler’s attempted genocide were all plans enacted by ostensibly smart (given the prevailing wisdom of the day) people who thought they would be doing good for the world, but who ended up killing millions without achieving their goals.

    That’s, uh, a lot of complicated history to conflate so simply. It’s distracting, and I think it detracts from the central point of the article. Just to take the Crusades as an example, they didn’t fail to achieve the original goal of putting Jerusalem under Christian rule; they succeeded, and then they failed before they could achieve the victory condition of making it 50 turns with control of Jerusalem. “Doing good for the world,” while implicit in the idea of putting Jerusalem in Christian hands based on the values of the Crusaders, is an incredibly wishy-washy goal, so vague that it’s meaningless.

    Taking the goals out of these projects out of context and calling them “doing good for the world” renders them incoherent, especially in the case of the Holocaust, which was definitely not about doing good for “the world,” but specifically about advancing the so-called Aryan race at the expense of the others, especially the Jews. “The world” the Nazis wanted to benefit definitely did not include, say, the Slavs.

    I more or less agree with the central point that the plan to kill Ellie for the cure breaks down upon examination, so that Joel probably can’t be said to be doing the most wrong thing possible by killing them, but the historical analogies used are downright distracting. Implying that the Nazis were somehow well-intentioned but went awry by justifying the means by the ends has some seriously unfortunate implications, as well, not that I actually think you’d endorse it when stated that way.

    • Corsair says:

      The Nazis thought they were doing good for the world by eliminating inferior beings who were taking up valuable space and resources from the real people. In their eyes the Holocaust was little more than clearing a field of weeds so you can plant crops.

    • Mike S. says:

      While this is a nit, the original original goal of the Crusades was to save Christian Byzantium from Muslim encroachments, with getting Jerusalem back for Christianity more of a stretch goal. :-)

      (That ended with the Crusaders sacking Constantinople in 1204.)

      • Shamus says:

        In any case, I think Nytzschy is right that that entire paragraph was problematic. The examples were too muddled to support my argument, and I don’t think I needed to cite examples for “Doing bad in the name of good.” It was a distraction supporting a point that didn’t need support.

        Ah well.

        • Alexander The 1st says:

          If it’s any consolation, it looks like you added it originally to help point towards just how bad at science the Fireflies were.

          Each time the groups mentioned wanted to achieve their intended goals, their means didn’t become justified by achieving it.

    • Richard H says:

      I liked the Great Leap Forward example, tbh, because that was an ostensibly good idea (kickstart heavy industry) with an absolutely terrible execution (smelt down the tools people used to feed themselves). The other ones, I agree, were poor examples.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    People keep saying that the government in the last of us is oppressive and bad somehow,yet through all the areas we visit,we find out that if the fireflies were there,it went to shit(gangs everywhere,zombies roaming around,and the few remaining regular people starving).If the government was there,its a livable place(no gangs,just your average crime,zombies only on the outskirts and isolated places,regular people having all the necessities needed to survive).

    Yet we are to believe that because the government is so cautious about infection that they are willing to shoot on sight if someone beeps their thing,without checking if its a false positive,they are evil?Because they try to placate the masses by telling them there are no zombies anywhere near the safe zones,they are evil?Maybe they are(doubtful),but at least they are competent.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Hitler’s attempted genocide were all plans enacted by ostensibly smart ”

    Hitler wasnt smart,on the contrary,he was an idiot.Luckily for him(unluckily for everyone else),he was a charismatic idiot.

    • ehlijen says:

      Sadly, that’s not true. He made it from ex-convict with nothing to undisputed dictator of germany in 7 years.

      An idiot would have been unlikely to achieve that. His downfall was a result of him insisting he was qualified in areas he was not, not because he was generally dumb.

      • Isaac says:

        The main reason Hitler become the dictator of Germany was because he was a charismatic idiot who told a lot of angry people what they wanted to hear. Weimar Germany was not a fun, peaceful place and some Germans were looking for anyone to blame. Hitler just took advantage of that.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        “He made it from ex-convict with nothing to undisputed dictator of germany in 7 years.”

        Yes,due to his charisma.You dont need to be smart in order to gather masses around you so fast,just need to be a good speaker with an appealing presence.

        “His downfall was a result of him insisting he was qualified in areas he was not”

        Hence why I say he was an idiot.

        • Veylon says:

          If he was so incompetent, then why did he have so many victories? His enemies were surely competent, where they not? Then why did so many of them end up being killed, imprisoned, discredited, or banished?

          How were the smart leaders of France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Baltics doing in 1943? Were they laughing at the incompetent man’s silly blunders? I don’t think so.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Because he was surrounded by a bunch of competent generals.When he listened to them,germany won.When he didnt,germany lost.Hence why so many of them tried to kill him so many times(aside from being charismatic,he was also one very lucky bastard).

            • lucky7 says:

              Even BEFORE World War II. During his time in WWI, he had a nightmare about being buried alive. He woke up, got out of his trench to use the loo, and the trench blew up behind him.

  20. Tizzy says:

    I am really surprised by Shamus’s analysis. I agree with most of the points that he made, but I got the impression that this was precisely what the writers intended.

    I never played the game, only watched it, and maybe when the season wraps up I’ll have the occasion to revisit my opinion, but initially at least, I did not see any dissonance.

    In my interpretation, the writers had a pretty nihilistic angle: humanity is screwed (the last of us, remember?), and their main point was to demonstrate how fragile our civilization truly is. One major catastrophe and everybody is reduced to behaving like animals, and not because they enjoy it (raider-Joel); or abjectly submit to a totalitarian regime for a futile sense of security. As for the fireflies, they have clearly no idea what they’re doing: a bunch of terrorist halfwits fighting the wrong war. The luminaries of our age, the real idea people who could help humanity out, are either dead or can’t make themselves heard.

    Joel’s actions are perfectly justified: those clowns had no chance to ever do any good with Ellie, they’re way too incompetent. Joel remains a tragic figure, forced to lie to preserve Ellie from the disappointment of how useless the fireflies (who represented all of Ellie’s hopes) really were. Also, wanting to preserve her from having to make a choice that would be too difficult for her.

    Now, if this was really the writers’ intention, I still don’t want to let them off too easy. The last act is extremely contrived in order to make that happen. The fireflies are made more brutal than strictly necessary, and too obviously clueless. Also, the writing abuses the two key ingredients of drama: poor communication and imminent events. Like spices, these are great ingredients only when used in moderation.

    Here, a momentous discussion is never truly discussed by the stakeholders, and the decision to operate is made in a rush. This needless rush, necessitating immediate and violent action on Joel’s part, is stretching the bounds of credibility, completely spoiling the overall effect. Too bad, because I really like the story and message. (If indeed that’s really what they intended).

    • Abnaxis says:

      The rush is what bothered me the most about the ending as well. Like, even if I accept that the scientists have no idea how to get what they need from Ellie without killing her, the next step would be to experiment on infected people until you figure out a way to non-lethally extract the fungus, not shrug and heedlessly kill the only damn immune person in the world off hand.

      The Fireflies’ actions are much more harmful to the long term survival of humanity than Joel’s actions are in response to their incompetence.

    • RandomInternetCommenter says:

      My feelings down to every single point, and excellently articulated. Thank you for posting this.

    • Michael says:

      This! This is the main problem with Shamus’s column. He claims that there is only one “proper” interpretation of the story, and thus the story is badly written because it can be interpreted differently. IMO, the writers meant for that to happen- there are supposed to be different interpretations, and the whole “Fireflies are terrorists” thing was done on purpose as another moral exercise. That’s why I think The Last of Us has an amazing story.

      Then again, I’m an optimist, so maybe I’m attributing to genius what could be attributed to incompetence

    • Duoae says:

      I have similar thoughts on this too but from a slightly different angle:

      Shamus
      To be fair, this isn’t really part of the story. If the author says the stupid Fireflies can (somehow) get a cure by killing Ellie, then that’s how it works in this world.

      The thing is, the author doesn’t tell you what the fireflies can and cannot do. The player experiences the story and the world from Joel’s (and to a lesser extent, Ellie’s) point of view. Given the information from the story we cannot say anything about the fireflies’ capabilities beyond what we can infer from our real-world knowledge and what is presented to us in the game.

      On the one hand I agree that the fireflies are consistently presented as incompetent and I also agree with Shamus that the real-world tests that could be performed were ignored in the game and I also agree with Tizzy that this process was rushed.

      On the other hand the whole sequence was breaking my own credulity thresholds due to my own (probably incorrect) understanding of the Ellie puzzle. What with the brain/blood barrier already broken by the fungal infection and the (supposed) mutation by the fungus in Ellie (as opposed to her being immune) then the doctors/researchers only needed to take blood samples from her and not do invasive surgery on her in order to get samples of the fungus.

      We have at least one corroborating piece of evidence for this since the infection detectors of the government in the first city only take blood samples and they detect the infection in Ellie.

      So, all in all, I don’t know if we can really ever know the writer’s intention but the case they build for Joel’s actions and the player’s actions was, for me, entirely justified because I was right there with Joel against their stupid-ass decisions.

      The lying to Ellie a few beats later… well, it seemed to me that she didn’t believe Joel but trusted him anyway. A reflection of her own character growth throughout the game.

  21. Isaac says:

    I don’t think that Joel dooming humanity is the point of the ending. Its been 20 years since the infection started and while the Eastern seaboard of the US isn’t perfect its still in better shape than it was (i.e. Tommy’s dam). If anything, its bandits who are the main problem. What I really think is the crux of the ending is how Joel and Marlene both betrayed the trust of the person they cared about the most: Ellie. She wanted to help out humanity but neither of them gave her that choice and they robbed her of the chance to get past her survivor’s guilt. Now, she’ll never know what really happened in the Fireflies hospital.

  22. WhiskeyLevantine says:

    Hilariously, the plot-gameplay divide that you guys on Spoiler Warning have been talking about all season with the raiders is something that also delegitimizes the point the writers are trying to make with the ending. Let’s say it’s not an issue that they’re destroying the one immune case they’ve ever found. Hell, let’s say it’s a sure thing that if they harvest Ellie’s brain they can have a reproducible and easily manufactured cure that can be administered uniformly and without any chance of the cordcyeps mutating to become immune to it. Even with all these ifs, it basically comes down to that a cure really won’t be all that useful.

    The spores caused the Last of Us world to collapse, but at this point they really aren’t that big a deal. From the city at the beginning of the game, Joel’s brother’s community, and all of the incredibly large bandit covens, it’s clear that it’s perfectly possible to keep large population centers safe from infection. Honestly, cordcyeps isn’t half as tough to contain as the vast majority of real world epidemics. The real problem in The Last of Us? Raiders. 70% of your time in the game is killing these large, highly aggressive gangs, and like we see in the chapter where they attack Joel’s brother’s community, are the real danger to societal stability and regrowth.

    So cure the spore-zombies? Sure. Awesome. But it won’t really fix that world.

    (completely unrelated, but something a couple people have brought up and sounded off on: Ellie is only about fourteen or so. The game and the writers don’t really portray her like that, and due to circumstances she’s obviously had to mature faster than children in our world, she is still a child. We don’t let children make life changing decisions for themselves, because a lot of times they simply aren’t wise enough to. All of which is to say that, while not a great thing to betray Ellie’s trust, Joel isn’t committing a great sin when he lies to Ellie at the end. The game positions it so we’ll think it is, but really it’s not like he can’t just tell her the truth when she’s older and is a more stable and mature person able to make informed decisions. This is a big thing that parents are for. Hell, it’s illegal in our world for kids to have sex at fourteen, something that doesn’t kill you (most of the time…). Is it really so morally weird that Joel wouldn’t let Ellie kill herself for science, however morally compromised and involved he may be in the situation?)

    (also, I have no idea how this got so long. My apologies.)

    • SougoXIII says:

      The raiders in this case, cannot be taken seriously. They’re just there cause the designers ran out of ideas for their video games enemies. If you have to rely on raiding an already limited supply of people and resources after 20 years of society collapsing then you should have died a long long time a ago.

      • Ivan says:

        I got an idea, zombies.

        But in all seriousness, It might have gotten tedious (the raiders sure did!) but I bet that could be avoided with a bit more zombie variety and exposition. Replacing 90% of the raiders with zombies would have also reinforced the point that infection is still a very significant problem and that curing it would actually be a great victory for humanity.

    • Isaac says:

      thats why i dont think that the ending is really about the cure. i think that its about how marlene and joel betrayed ellie’s trust.

    • MikhailBorg says:

      The pointlessness of the zombie cure is hinted at in the very beginning of the game. Joel’s daughter isn’t killed by zombies, but by a military man who has gone kill-crazy with his orders and a soldier willing to just follow them.

      If all the zombies evaporated tomorrow, the society Joel and Ellie live in would still be pretty screwed.

      • Ivan says:

        That’s a pretty good point, and though it’s a minor nitpick I got the impression that it was fear rather than blindly following the rules that caused the soldier to shoot.

        I mean with all the chaos and so little information on what was going on, all the soldier (probably) had to go on was that this was an extremely dangerous disease that needed to be contained at all cost.

        The result is pretty much the same though.

  23. Joe Informatico says:

    From the article: “Now, as presented, this was an evil act on the part of Joel.”

    Just my read of the ending, but I don’t think the game actually takes sides. I think the writers were smart and left it ambiguous enough to let the players decide for themselves. I’ve seen enough arguments for both sides (Joel did the wrong/right thing) to see that. Maybe the “Joel is an evil bastard who doomed humanity” side is larger, I don’t know, but I don’t think the “Joel did the right thing” argument is a fringe view by any means.

    Now, I guess you can interpret Ellie’s final reaction as disagreeing with Joel’s choice. Maybe she would disagree with it. But she’s coming from a place of major survivor’s guilt over the deaths of Riley and others–maybe she would be willing to end her life for the slim possibility it could help others. But that doesn’t mean she’s right either.

    A game that inspired arguments over its interpretation of its climactic moral action (as opposed to mere fanwank theories like ME3’s Indoctrination Thesis). That’s pretty amazing, eh?

  24. JackTheStripper says:

    I had absolutely no problems with murdering the Fireflies, and I was pressing R1 to shoot Marlene the moment Joel seemed to hesitate (unnecessary in the end since there was no player choice involved). Seriously though, if they take my only family and intend to kill them, I’m gonna fight back. What else were they expecting me to do?

    Another point to the incompetence of the Fireflies: Why even tell Joel you were gonna kill Ellie? Of course he’s not letting you do it. And supposing Marlene didn’t know about Joel’s change of heart, the last conversation she had with him before the fight started was clear proof that Joel wasn’t going to accept her decision, so why leave him completely alone on that whole floor with a single guard? To top it off, she didn’t even bother offering to pay Joel anything. If Joel had remained indifferent to Ellie’s well-being, he could’ve started killing people and taking hostages just to force some payment from them.

  25. Atle says:

    Joel seems attached to Ellie like a father to his only child and daughter. Try asking a father, in general, to give up his only child. For whatever cause…

    And remember, he’s already been through that pain before, so it’s very obvious he cannot suffer that kind of loss again.

    If he gives up Ellie to a better cause, I think he could not go on living himself. The alternative is to contiune to do what he’s best at: Protect his only family and daughter by killing those who threaten her.

  26. Zak McKracken says:

    The main problem here is that moral dilemmas (at least ones that are as clearly pronounced as this one) are always contrived.
    You will never stand on a bridge going over a railway with a trolley on the loose, having a heavy guy in front of you and some innocents behind, with just a second to act but already being absolutely certain that the people further down the track could in no way be warned or made to step off the track in time, and that, while you would not be able to derail the trolley, the dead weight of the guy in front of you definitely would (even though you have no idea how he would fall)…

    Even if someone ever actually was in a similarly clear dilemma, in all likelihood they would have little way to be certain that this was the case. Also, more likely than not, there’s always a creative solution to dilemmas, where you reduce the chance of success a little in exchange for reducing the ethical cost a lot.

    … of course video games use exactly the type of simplified image of real-world causality that makes it much easier to construct such scenarios, and in my view at least (though I haven’t played TLoU) that breaks immersion because these are the situations that highlight just how unrealistic the simulated reality is.

    In the real world, only fanatics are absolutely certain that one course of action will spell doom, the other will solve all problems, and there are no other options. They’re usually wrong.

  27. Alaska says:

    Let’s ignore how incompete the fireflies are and just assume they really would have been able to create some kind of cure or vaccine from examining Ellie’s brain tissue, in my opinion it still would have been a bad idea to let them go through with it.
    Like Shamus said they aren’t the good guys, they are terrorists, they are opposed to the government. Joel helps them because they have his payload, not because they are the ones with the best intentions. Would they give a vaccine over to the official so that it can be produced on a wide scale and distrubed to everyone? Hell no, they would use it as a powerful incentive to join their cause and to undermine the government. With the advantage of immunity they could even risk to use spores and zombies for biological warfare.

  28. Galad says:

    Goddammit, now I have to go watch all 20 or so episodes of this season’s Spoiler Warning that I haven’t watched. And here I was planning to waste it away at Saints Row 4 :)

  29. Off topic, but I saw your twitter sidebar thingy regarding monitors.

    My advise, hold of getting a new monitor for now.
    In March the first monitors that support Adaptive-Sync will appear.
    Adaptive-Sync is an extension of the DisplayPort 1.2a/1.3 standards allowing dynamic refresh rates.

    Adaptive-Sync is also known under the AMD name FreeSync and is a open standard equivalent of Nvidia’s G-sync.

    A Adaptive-Sync monitor will most likely support 30 FPS to 144 FPS and will be able to change frame rate per frame, so the graphics card can go down to say 119 FPS if 120 FPS is too much during intense graphics stuff.
    A monitor without Adaptive-Sync would drop from 120 Hz to 60 Hz (effectively 120 FPS down to 60 FPS).

    it is tempting with IPS panels (or other non TFT panels) or super wide screen monitors or even 144Hz monitors. But even if I did have cash to burn right now I’d hold off until the Adaptive-Sync monitors are available (March the first from Samsung should appear, others should follow shortly).

    AMD’s page about FreeSync / Adaptive-Sync http://www.amd.com/en-us/innovations/software-technologies/technologies-gaming/freesync

    Here is the key info from AMD’s FAQ at http://support.amd.com/en-us/kb-articles/Pages/freesync-faq.aspx
    All AMD Radeon™ graphics cards in the AMD Radeon™ HD 7000, HD 8000, R7 or R9 Series will support Project FreeSync for video playback and power-saving purposes. The AMD Radeon™ R9 295X2, 290X, R9 290, R9 285, R7 260X and R7 260 GPUs additionally feature updated display controllers that will support dynamic refresh rates during gaming.
    AMD APUs codenamed “Kaveri,” “Kabini,” “Temash,” “Beema” and “Mullins” also feature the necessary hardware capabilities to enable dynamic refresh rates for video playback, gaming and power-saving purposes. All products must be connected to a display that supports DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync.
    I’m pretty certain that all future/new GPUs from AMD will support Adaptive-Sync as well.

    The cards/hardware able to do Adaptive-Sync for games is probably of most interest to people.
    But do not sneeze at the hardware that “only” support Adaptive-Sync for video, if you watch a lot of video then you m,ay have seen stutter or issues when video framerates is not a multiple of the refresh rate. 24 FPS video need some trickery to display smoothly on a 60Hz monitor for example.
    With Adaptive-Sync you may be able to do 24Hz directly or a multiple of 48Hz and video should be smoother.

    I have no idea if the AMD GPUs in Xbox One or PS4 also support Adaptive-Sync, ditto with the new iMac which also has a AMD GPU.
    Nvidia is being stuborn due to their own G-sync.
    As far as Intel and others go, Adaptive-Sync is part of the DisplayPort standard, is open and is royalty and license free so the likeliehood of wider support is high. And Nvidia will eventually follow suit or end up behind the rest, they probably will try to milk G-sync for what it’s worth first, I have no idea if latest Nvidia GPUs are able to support Adaptive-Sync (in theory a driver update is all that is needed).

    Also note that the Catalyst Omega drivers that AMD released this xmas has Adaptive-Sync support enabled, so if you have the right hardware then all you need to do is plug in a Adaptive-Sync monitor this spring at it’ll work.
    Pretty smart if you ask me, “Build it and they shall come”, with the hardware there and the drivers rolled out display manufacturers has a guaranteed customer base from day one so supporting Adaptive-Sync is a no brainer.

    Adaptive-Sync also obsoletes vsync in a way in that now you get the syncing but also the responsiveness when not using vsync.
    So the old annoying “mouse” (input) lag should be a thing of history with Adaptive-Sync.

    I wonder if the Oculus Rift or other VR displays will also be able to take advantage of Adaptive-Sync in some way?

  30. Kian says:

    I was on Joel’s side as well, but I didn’t even care about the gross incompetence. Let’s give the Fireflies the benefit of the doubt, and assume they would succeed in extracting a cure from Ellie’s brain.

    How likely are they to share that cure freely, instead of say, using it as leverage in their pointless war? How likely are they to even be able to mass produce it? Logistic issues alone would be a nightmare, and they don’t seem like the type to be able to handle the task effectively.

    The first thing that would happen if they got a cure is the “government” (what pretends to be one, anyway) would mobilize to demand that they hand the recipe for the cure over to them. In the ensuing fighting, the cure would probably be lost.

    So yeah, even if you give them every advantage, the writers give us no reason to side with the Fireflies.

    • straymute says:

      The kicker to me is just how bullshit Marlene’s speech is at the end of the game. If the Fireflies actually wanted the cure to save humanity above all else they would just give Ellie to the government at the start of the game. They risked Ellie and the cure a million times over just so that the Fireflies could have a monopoly on it.

      All those hypothetical scenarios Marlene put out about Ellie possibly being murdered, infected, or raped were thing SHE exposed Ellie to, not for the sake of the cure, but for the Fireflies.

  31. Mechaninja says:

    I’m late to the party.

    I had no interest in this game, but my brother convinced me to read a book called, “The Girl With All the Gifts.”

    The description of this game parallels the book, but … there is more. If you are at all interested in an end that is almost completely awfully wrong while still being possibly the only solution with any kind of good outcome, then check it out.

    It is also about 30 years after the zombie apocalypse. And the zombies are caused by that fungus that makes ants into zombies.

  32. PowerGrout says:

    Too lazy/No Time to Read…

    “Now, as presented, this was an evil act on the part of Joel.” But that’s like, just your interpretation man.

  33. MrGuy says:

    I can’t think about the Fireflies and their approach to medicine without being reminded of a sequence from Catch-22 starring two doctors (apologies – quoting from memory):

    “It must be spinal meningitis! Though there’s no reason to think so!”
    “Then why do you say it’s spinal meningitis? Why not, say, acute nephritis?”
    “Because I’m a spinal meningitis man, not an acute nephritis man. Now, get me an operating room….”

  34. A few things:

    “We see them stage terrorist attacks and it’s clear they’re just as willing to murder for their cause as their foes.”

    What? When was this ever established? I played through the game twice less than a month ago and I never saw anything in-game that portrayed the Fireflies as needlessly callous towards human life. They were barely portrayed at all honestly. Which is why…

    “When Joel finally meets up with them, they find him trying to save Ellie from drowning. He’s clearly no threat, yet they demand he stop (thus letting her die) for no real reason other then they’re just pointlessly cruel and stupid. They beat him up and are clearly itching for an excuse to kill this guy who has just spent the better part of a year doing them all a massive favor.”

    THIS happy horseshit was so frustrating when it happened. I suffered a lot of the game’s horseshit that you guys lasered in on during your run because it honestly really is just another dumb shooter, but THIS moment broke me. It’s execution was so dissonant, forced and amateurish. It was so ham fisted, I really didn’t have a reason to care about the issue at that point. Joel’s actions were no longer morally questionable or even relevant at the point, because the events that caused the situation were so blatantly and brazenly false.

    That said…

    I really would like to see a sequel to this game focused entirely on Ellie dealing with the emotional aftermath. It really would be intriguing to portray someone in her situation, let’s say years later after Joel dies. A woman having to carry the weight of Joel’s actions on her shoulders in a world she could have saved, struggling to deal with the fact that deep down, she’s grateful to Joel for saving her and keeping her from having to make that sacrificial decision herself. Call it The Last of Me. :P

  35. Dork angel says:

    I really liked the bittersweet ending and thought it was perfect given the story. I totally understood where Joel was coming from and in his position would probably have done the same. His daughter was killed by people who thought they were doing the right thing and he was unable to protect her. Now he has finally bonded with Ellie (and her with him – I liked how where you play Ellie protecting an injured Joel she shows she has learned some of his skills as they travel) there is no way in hell he is letting it happen again if he can help it. The story is his journey from grieving father to bitter survivalist/killer to where he will sacrifice everything (even living with the lie) to protect his surrogate daughter.

    A comments were made on the number of people he killed but he had no option. The few “dubious” murders taken in context of the world they lived in are understandable. From the story’s point of view I will accept that the surgery was necessary for a chance of a cure (just a chance mind). Bringing in out-side game knowledge to justify an in-game characters actions doesn’t really work. It’s interesting to discuss out-side the game but I think in game we have to believe what the author tells us unless he presents clear evidence to the contrary.

    Incidentally I hear rumours of a Last Of Us movie but I fail to see what they could add to the story and everyone who has played the game already knows the the twist at the end?

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