In the article Get Real: Narrative and Gameplay in The Last of Us, author Scott Hughes makes an analysis of the impact of gameplay mechanics in narrative driven games using The Last of Us as a case study. Hughes acknowledges the success and critical acclaim of the game stating that it is in many respects an entertaining game with many great features (Hughes 150). He claims that the immersion of the game is broken in two distinct ways. The first being that clunky gameplay systems such as an unrealistic inventory system and having superhuman abilities detract from the immersion to the point of ruining the story (Hughes 151). While I disagree with Hughes on this point, my disagreementlargely stems from a difference of opinion on what is worth nitpicking in games. The main point I wanted to address would be in his discussion of the players vulnerability in comparison between narrative points/cutscenes and gameplay. Hughes argues that throughout the game Ellie is portrayed in narrative scenes as a young girl in need of constant protection from the dangers of the post apocalyptic world. Meanwhile during gameplay she is for the most part able to hold her own without the constant protection of the player (Hughes 153). He states that this confliction undercuts the dangerous feeling of the world and breaks the immersion for the player. I would argue against this and that throughout the narrative of the game there are several scenes where Ellie seems experienced beyond her years. Whenever Joel is either incapacitated or weakened in some way and Ellie always steps up to defend him. I feel that moments of vulnerability described by Hughes are actually more of a contrast to Ellie’s character instead of defining them. These moments serve to foster a bond between Joel and Ellie instead of demonstrating the differences in their ability. With that in mind it makes sense that the developers had intentions beyond convenience for the player when they made Ellie something other than a helpless escort mission. The goal of the developers was to provide a companion that, while needing help from the player, was not a mindless drone incapable of either defending herself or making simple logical decisions. I felt that by making Ellie more capable in the actual gameplay of the game, they lended even more agency to a character that was already established as a useful protagonist in the narrative.
Gazzard, Alison. “Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames.” Game Studies: the International Journal of Computer Game Research, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2011.
Source: The Last of Them