Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s entry covers one of the most intense and moving games of the last decade, whose characters are so powerful that we cannot help but to analyze their roles individually—and one of whom fits perfectly within June’s celebration of Pride Month.
#21. THE LAST OF US
JOEL, by Daniel Pereira
The Last of Us has no heroes who encourage others to do the right thing. The game’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic America is the result of everyone left surviving out of personal gain. In a world too far gone, the need to promote the greater good is no longer needed. Instead, individuals enact their own selfish desires to ensure safety from the horrors beyond the city walls, and within it.
Joel is no different from the bandits that are slaughtered in his path. Despite holding the honor of being the playable character, Joel is not a good person. He is someone who has had his whole world taken from him in the blink of an eye, and he continues his days surviving with the only intention of being seeing another morning. With nothing left to live for, Joel spends his remaining days as a smuggler and scavenger for hire, allowing him to take whatever he wants whenever. His criminal line of business is responsible for the events that take place in The Last of Us, because without it, he would not have been asked to smuggle Ellie.
Up until he met Ellie, Joel was in an irredeemable place, and one can certainly argue that he always remains irredeemable. Throughout his years since the outbreak, Joel has had to murder, steal, and betray those around him for the selfish desire to survive. Unlike others present within the story, however, Joel’s one redeeming quality is his love towards his daughter who passed away on the night of the outbreak. From the way he talks about her life, to the watch she gave to him on their last night together that he still wears, Joel’s single humanizing feature is his daughter’s love.
As seen in his interactions with Ellie throughout the story, Joel’s single-minded selfishness remains at the forefront of their adventure as he continuously reminds her that he is only escorting her for the payout at the end. Despite her many attempts to connect with him on an emotional level, he never lowers his walls until a brush with death requires Ellie to utilize everything she has learned from him and become the primary caregiver.
The realization that someone else in that world would go out of their way and care for another on the brink of death was enough to bring out a new side of Joel that he had not seen in over 20 years. The selfless act that Ellie embarked on just to ensure Joel’s survival brought forth a father-like passion that solidified the character development that Joel had been resisting up to that point. From then on, players witnessed a shift in Joel’s personality that embraced Ellie on a familial level, bridging the connection between her and his daughter Sarah.
In the closing moments of The Last of Us, Ellie asks Joel a question relating to the serious events that had previously conspired. In that moment, Joel chooses to lie to Ellie instead of admitting the truth about the horrors he committed to spare her life. The final moment of The Last of Us is truly poetic, as it serves as a reminder that, despite playing the character of Joel, gamers were only there to witness the journey of two survivors struggling to get by. The lack of player choice in the end reinforces the ideology that Joel is his own person, therefore making his own decisions. Despite having a change of heart and embracing Ellie as his own, Joel’s selfish instincts never changed.
In a world too far gone, no good people are left.
ELLIE, by Rhain Radford-Burns
But what about those whose only experience is within a world that is too far gone?
Ellie does not want any help. When saved by a girl named Riley from a fight with a group of young boys, she became angry. “I had it covered,” she said. Within a day, Ellie and Riley become friends over their mutual hatred of the quarantine zone. Within a year, they love each other. Within minutes of professing this love, they both become infected. They decide to ride out the remainder of their lives together, until the infection takes over and kills them. But Ellie never dies.
Ellie loses her best friend to an infection that she herself is miraculously immune to, and she never forgives herself for it. After losing her best friend—the person in whom she confided, and who loved her despite the circumstances in which they lived—she lost hope and trust. In a world that has torn itself apart, people are fragile, and attachment only worsens the heartbreak of their inevitable death.
When Joel is tasked with escorting Ellie to the Fireflies to gain knowledge of her immunity, Ellie does not want to leave. She is annoyed by his churlish temper and stern personality. When Joel’s friend Tess dies, he shuts down Ellie’s attempts to comfort him. After Ellie saves Joel from being killed, he refuses to thank her and confiscates her gun. After experiencing a traumatic event together, Joel still tries to hand the responsibility of Ellie to his brother. Ellie knows not to trust Joel, and Joel makes clear that he does not want to be friendly.
But when Joel is severely wounded and on the brink of death, Ellie saves him. She bandages him and moves him to a safe place. She scavenges medical supplies and brings him food. She protects him as he protected her, despite the coldness in which he did so.
Ellie opens up to Joel and, in turn, Joel opens up to Ellie about his daughter. Joel finally allows himself to see Ellie as a daughterly figure in his life—and Ellie allows him to do so.
When offered the opportunity to turn away from the Fireflies and live in peace, Ellie refuses. She knows that she may possess the cure to humanity and that she might die in order for it to be extracted, but she continues nonetheless. She would happily sacrifice her own life in order to save the lives of others. Riley’s death destroyed Ellie, and Ellie never forgave herself for not dying along her best friend, but perhaps she could do one final good deed. She did not want Riley’s outcome to occur to humanity.
When Joel takes away her chance to sacrifice herself, Ellie knows that he is lying. She recognises that he lied to her about the events at the Firefly base and, despite her wish to rid herself of the survivor’s guilt that she carries with her, she accepts Joel’s lie—because she knows that if this man is forced to lose two daughters in his lifetime, he will never recover.
In a world too far gone, goodness is difficult to find—and Ellie represents it profoundly.
Thanks for joining us as we look back at two of the greatest characters in gaming. Next week’s title is vastly different to The Last of Us in so many ways, but just as enjoyable to play. Tune in next week as we enter the final quarter of our 50 Favorite Games.