On Living the Apocalypse in The Last of Us Multiplayer

I don’t think that I have much else to say about The Last of Us proper. People continue to play it and they keep getting pointed to my longish rambling bit about it (thanks to the people who are doing the pointing), but I don’t think I’ll follow up with anything about the plot or the game for a little while. Maybe.

I do want to say something really quick about the multiplayer for The Last of Us. Initially, I wasn’t even aware that there was a multiplayer component–it took a few days until someone clued me into it via twitter.

I can say that it works and is a clever mix of the stealth gameplay of the single player game with straight-up deathmatch multiplayer. The first couple weeks had some frustrating moments–queuing as an individual often pitted me against premade groups, which meant I and my rag-tag group got rolled pretty quickly about 50% of the time, for example. Thankfully, someone took notice of that and fixed it and now I play two or three matches a day, which is some kind of record for me because I’ve not played a console multiplayer game with that kind of frequency since the Call of Duty: Black Ops launch week.

The gameplay of TLOU is based, almost crassly, in brutality. It feels like that old Hobbesian chestnut about life being nasty, brutish, and short is being shouted in my year by a forty year old man every time I get downed by a shotgun to the face only to have an enemy stand over my prone body, flip it over, and blast my skull apart from literally inches away.

These are called ‘Special Executions,’ like they were handcrafted just for your viewing pleasure by execution artisans in a studio far away. And they were, I guess.

As you might know, I am from the American South, and I currently live there (here). The servers for The Last of Us seem to group much more tightly by region than other multiplayer console games that I’ve played. Being a console game, every teenager playing the game after 4:30pm has a microphone. I get to hear a lot of boring cursing and explicit threats of sexual violence, but I also get to hear their voices.

They have southern accents. They sound like people I grew up with. Sometimes they’re inflected upward, young, unbearably young to see the kind of violence that’s depicted in the game. Other times they laugh about the kind of killing they’re doing, this strange animal giggle while they watch their dressed-up, silly-hatted survival alter ego literally stomp the life out of another silly-hatted person.

I spent the entirety of The Last of Us listening to a southern man justify killing to himself and others. The multiplayer has me listening to southern kids gleefully murdering one another, and I have these flashes of post peak oil Atlanta, these kids wandering around in these tight-knit packs, doing the same things.

The game, once again, turns me back to Cormac McCarthy. In some interview, he talks about walking with his son and looking over and imagining fire over the hill and wondering what he would do. In the wake of the end of things, what do you do with your life? That thought ended up producing The Road, but I have a similar thought about the kids playing the last of us. These people simulating the brutality of living a life after the end of the world and taking joy in it–it makes me imagine fire over the hill.

I don’t have any conclusions. It just makes me fill strange.

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