Friday, March 18, 2016


Now Playing: Gustavo Santaolalla - The Last of Us Main Theme

I got the urge a couple days ago to rewatch a few scenes from The Last of Us. I can't remember what I was looking for exactly, but I ended up rewatching like 70% of the cut-scenes. (I know, I might as well have just replayed it, but I've got way too many games to finish as it is. Can't add anymore to the pile).

Anyways, a lot of the key scenes that occur right before the end of certain sections reminded me of something from my creative writing class.

I found some of the commentary creative director Neil Drukmann did along with the lead actors, and he emphasized the thing that's been on my mind since I first played the game: in the game's narrative, scenes cut and jump to the next season whenever Joel and/or Ellie are put in a situation of heavy emotional or physical or mental (or all three) strain. The player gets hit with the weight of a powerful moment, seeing them at their lowest. Then immediately that cuts to the next season.

You don't see the aftermath of such a crippling or terrifying or heartbreaking moment. You move on, and the story moves on.

The funny thing, that's the sort of narrative choice my professor once criticized.

I'm trying to remember this properly--I might be fibbing a few details--but I recall workshopping a story that did something sort of similar.

If I'm not mistaken, it was in an urban fantasy story where two girls--two young witches--nearly kill someone by accident. One seriously harms him and the other one nearly kills him.

It was basically the climax of the story--they're trying to haphazardly do damage control after the first girl loses control and then they're trying to get out of such a dangerous situation without anyone coming after them. There's some conflict between them and there's the possibility of outside danger too.

But all of this happens all at once--girl hurts victim, second girl nearly kills him by accident, they're angry at each other, they're running out in fear, and then scene break. One page of a climax, then it cuts. After that scene break, they're back at home, still shaken up, but not speaking to one another. And it ends.

Again, if I'm remembering correctly, that was the scene that made my professor say the writer had backed away too early, too quickly.

The scene needed to keep going, in her opinion. As it was, we didn't get to see the two girls fight over it, we didn't get to see how they deal with their actions (whether internally or externally), there were no visible consequences shown to the reader.

Her advise to the writer had been to go back to that moment and write out exactly what happened next. Stay in the moment no matter how much it hurts. Show those consequences.

I'm trying to think of that within the context of The Last of Us. The game doesn't shy from a lot of heartbreaking moments and it really delves into the uglier aspects of these character's lives--but at their lowest points, it cuts. It shows you a hint and then it keeps going.

But it doesn't feel cheapened or sudden. I'm not going to pretend the writing in the game is perfect--because, again, nothing is perfect--but that's one structural choice I think works perfectly. I'm not left wondering, "how did they deal with this next?" Nor am I left thinking there aren't any consequences.

It's more prolonged than that. The cuts don't feel like someone's covering your eyes and making you turn away from the horror. It feels like one final punch that just, I don't know, knocks you out. It's the last of the pain not the beginning cut short.

It's one of those things that this story can make work whereas all others would fail. And even though I have some guesses, I doubt I have any real idea of how it does it.

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"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.