The Grim Ideologies of 'The Last of Us Part II'

It’s one of the most talked about games of the year, a sort of swan song for the current generation of consoles from one of the most lauded AAA developers. So of course we here at Waypoint Radio spent nearly 6 hours carefully and thoroughly dissecting why, despite almost universal acclaim, we found the game lacking in the way it presents it’s story, the narrative and ideological pitfalls it continually runs afoul of, and some of the real world parallels that didn’t sit right with us. Rob, Patrick, and Cado are joined by special guests Emanuel Maiberg from Motherboard, and Maddy Myers from Polygon, both here to finally get it all out and put this all behind us.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xg8vdq/the-grim-ideologies-of-the-last-of-us-part-ii-waypoint-radio
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I’ve spent two weeks thinking about this thing. This may be the catharsis I require.

I watched a Twitch stream of TLOUII and couldn’t get over the obsession with violence and Ellie’s reasons for violence. The discussion about Neil Druckmann and his experiences/views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict made it click for me. People don’t share a universal hatred of things or people, not like he does. Looking forward to the next part.

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God, I couldn’t believe Druckmann actually said that when Emmanuel mentioned it. But holy shit that just sounds psychotic. Like, I’m not even saying this as a sideways way of calling out The Last of Us’s nihilistic violence, I’m genuinely disturbed as a human being.

I didn’t know of that Palestine detail before playing the game and writing my own review, so oops, I probably should done that. My bad. I read the Scars as like six different kinds of native group, Palestinian never came into my head having not read Druckmann’s interview. I think Israel might have been on Druckmann’s mind, but maybe not anybody else’s. I read quite a bit more Vietnam into this game, quite a bit of Spec Ops: The Line, not much Middle East.

But greater ethnic violence itself seems to just be an echo for Abby and Ellie’s conflict, which is entirely personal and lacking any real structural history behind it. The game just isn’t actually interested in it other than as flavor.

As for ethnic hatred being universal… I’m not exactly proud of this but I was a white American kid after 9/11 so I actually do know exactly what feeling Druckmann is conjuring. That tribalist fear and need for revenge was in the damn air back then, everybody was drinking it. Years later I knew how awful all of that was and how those feelings had been manipulated to drive us into insanity.

So maybe as a feeling it is worth exploring in an artistic medium. But not as a tragic heroism issue. It wasn’t my little personal 10-year-old me’s character flaw, it was a mass structural problem acerbated by cultural and media forces. So building a game where damnation comes from such a thing on a personal level feels twisted. You can’t bake mass hysteria and bias into a game and then blame the hero for making a wrong personal choice.

And yeah, this is nihilist as fucking hell. The game recognizes the madness and violence but also revels in them. Because if there isn’t madness and violence, there isn’t a fucking shooter game. What would you do if everything worked out nice and clean? You wouldn’t have anybody to kill and no game. I’m not sure if violence is the symptom if an ideology or the actual point of the whole exercise.

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TLOU2 as Palestine roadrage is a helluva take that I am very here for.
Also Maddy fits right in with the Waypoint crew so dang well. Please bring her back in the future!

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I don’t agree with the premise of “Ellie and Joel’s relationship tension was resolved”. Ellie had taken a tentative first step towards potentially forgiving him for what he did (and her anger was more rooted in being denied a sense of grander purpose than him going on a murder rampage).

I played through the game having read the leaks and thinking “I don’t know why she’d go this far for such a horrible father figure”, but having played out the ending, I can see her lashing out as half frustration over being denied a chance for the relationship to recover, and half an attempt at running away from truly having to grieve over the loss. She only truly stops when she finally, finally processes that he’s gone.

They never had a healthy relationship, and her quest is self-destructive at best, but I can believe that a person like that would do the things she did.

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i guess druckmann’s eternal temper tantrum about ppl being icky is why the very normal scene of his facescan model sexing a mocap lady he’s worked with for years at known sexual harassment haven Naughty Dog looks like it was shot and choreographed by a fucking serial killer lmao

fr, hate that reactionaries memeing druckmann bc they can’t get over his absolutely fucking bottom of the barrel bare-minimum liberal progressivism blots out all other discussion about him being a raw fucking creep.

edit: oops

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Wowowow, wait, what??

Every time I think I’ve heard it all about Druckmann somebody drops some random tidbit like that.

yeah Abby’s bf Owen is the likeness/facescan of Neil Druckmann, though the mocap and voice is done by someone else.

people pointing this out as fucking weird wrt the sex scene got eclipsed by gamers harassing Laura Bailey over it and her having to specify she didn’t do the mocap with Neil.

those big sony dollars goin to director deepfake boning bb

edit: also oops

That is very obviously not true. The character you mentioned doesn’t even vaguely resemble Druckmann.

there are comparison images that make it look at least vague, but either way, whoops, turns out i was trusting articles that frame theories based on writing and char design as matters of fact. I’ll leave that all up for posterity but scratch it being an actual unambiguous insert.

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I will say they’re way right that the real moral of this game is never to be nice to anybody. The main lessons I’ve taken are 1) never leave witnesses behind to get revenge on you, 2) never leave a map behind with your location circled on it, and 3) lock all the theater windows.

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I had no idea about Druckmann’s constant allusions to Palestine. Some of the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard a game developer say. I want to lock him in a room with a group of underpaid adjunct media professors and let them bully him for a week.

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I feel that the discussion about Ellie’s motivation making no sense is a bit unfair. Specially when it’s centered just as revenge for Joel’s death and not as Ellie confronting the trauma and the survivor’s guilt from the first game.

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After finishing the podcast I feel the need to explain why Ellie’s motivation made a little more sense to me because I really dislike how much the interpretations are centered around Joel. With the caveat that most of the narrative of the game doesn’t work for me.

CW: Mental health

I was also conflicted for the majority of the game, but the key moment was the last flashback with Joel when Ellie says paraphrasing “I should have died in that hospital”. Ellie believes that she should be dead and that would have meant something. So in the two moments before she goes after Abby in Jackson and in the farm she is confronted with the possibility of happiness. Her guilt about being alive is probably screaming in her head “Riley is dead, a lot of people died because you’re alive, the world is still dying and you think you can have a little happiness now, fuck no”. And that “fuck no” materializes as Abby killing Joel the first time.

Deep seated trauma is really hard to understand and one can direct a lot of anger and hate toward things, ideas and people that make it resurface before it’s ready to be confronted. For Ellie is easy to explain it as revenge at first, but over time it gets more and more confusing (for us too). In the farm with Dina is probably at its worse. Everything is telling her that she should be happy and by failing to do so she is also failing the people she loves. So even without understanding it she needs to do something and the only path known is Abby. That is why the last confrontation was cathartic to me when she realizes that it has nothing to do with Abby and lets her go. Ignoring that horrible final boss moment.

At the end Ellie’s motivation and conflict is not revenge, Joel, what was lost, what she lost, but the possibility to imagine a future for herself no mather how broken.

Also, discussions of this game’s morality can get really messed up quickly in my book. By this I mean, it’s concerning to me when people try to rationalize Abby’s or Ellie’s revenge at all. Firstly, I think it should be obvious that revenge is bad, right? On top of that, both Abby and Ellie TORTURE people to death. I get that everyone is a flawed human in these games, even these main characters, but I can’t help but question the creatives at ND. Why are we trying so hard to empathize with killers/torturers? What’s the point in trying to see the humanity of these people? Because it’s very easy for the audience to play this game and take away that: well, it seems that there’s a right way to get revenge, and a wrong way. A right way to torture, and a wrong way. A right way to brutally defend your camp, and a wrong way.

Honestly, TLoU2 reminds me of the torture that the US committed during our “war on terror.” I’m sure those soldiers thought they were justified in their actions, that this torture was worthwhile for information or at the least, they deserved it. I just hate everything about that logic, and it’s this logic that TLoU2 deals in so deeply.

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I agree that the extremity of character’s actions, particularly in gameplay, make trying to reason with character morality a ridiculous notion. Ellie is an interestingly evil character in a vacuum of just the cutscene parts, but things go way over the top when you factor in her bodycount during gameplay. Trying to make the gameplay parts tonally closer to the cutscene parts has only made the gulf between them even wider.

cw: mental health

Larsen’s point about Ellie’s actions being a hyperfixation to escape confronting grief is how I read it too. The aforementioned point during the final fight where she momentarily flashes back and realizes “oh, this isn’t going to bring me any true satisfaction, and I’m just not alright” was, even if not a literally relatable situation to my real life, conceptually relatable to a moment I had a few years ago where I realized my brain chemicals were not stable and I needed to stop chasing highs of positive/negative life events to try and “control” it. It’s a weird parallel to draw, but that’s probably why the ending worked for me on that level.

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The Cult of grumpy dad requires SaCrIfIcE!

This game is basically an attempt to spray a “liberal” coat of paint on a disgusting conservative foundation… The real question is: was this meant to be satire or the whole development was REALLY this tone deaf?

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