8 (Post-Pandemic) Life Lessons We Can Learn From ‘The Last Of Us’
Like a unique, interactive blend of “The Road,” “28 Days Later,” and “Children of Men,” “The Last of Us” is an action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Naughty Dog Studios exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
Players take control of Joel, a smuggler, who is trekking across the post-pandemic world of the US in the year 2033 as an escort (or people smuggler) to 14-year-old Ellie to a resistance group called the Fireflies, who believe Ellie is very, very important.
I must tell you that if you are at all interested in video games and the narrative power they possess and the fuzzy feeling of happy happy joy joy they can imbue, then you must (YOU MUST!) play this. But more than that, the excellent crafting of the game and its foresight about what might very well happen in the post-apocalypse with this kind of ravaging humanity is so plausible it might as well be a manual for doomsday survivalism.
So this isn’t really a game review as much as a piece of art soothsaying through a cautionary tale of the future. In lieu of that, here’s a list of hard truths that will be driven home when the fall of civilization eventually does come. We might as well learn our lessons now.
The Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI) that afflicts and wipes out most of humanity is based on the real life Cordyceps fungus, which is a neuroparasite that spreads by airborne spores and takes over the nervous system of its host. It causes behavioral changes that allow the spores to spread to more potential hosts. However, the fungus saps the organs of its host, quickly killing it. In the game, infection is spread not only through aerial spores but also bites from the infected. It takes hold of its host by invading the brain, taking literal root in it, and then transforming the person into a plant.
I kid you not. The mycelium of the virus invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated, fruiting body may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. Little wonder that the name itself is derived from the Latin words “cord”, meaning club, and “ceps” meaning “head”—club head sounds about right, from the looks of it, eh?
If those infected die or are killed, the host’s body will then grow stalk-like fungal projections which eventually release infectious spores. Mother Nature has finally fought back and brought her most furious, wayward children to heel with CBI.
There are two main kinds of infected you’ll encounter in the game: Runners and Clickers. Runners are your garden variety infected, they run at you and attack when they see you.
Clickers, however, have been infected for quite some time and the Cordyceps Infection has since mutated their heads and most of their face into a thick, bark-like material that acts like a chthonic shell, covering their eyes and skulls. They are blind but emit a clicking, ticking, and groaning sound that helps them echo locate things around them. This heightened sense of hearing means they can hunt more effectively and are thus more sensitive to footfalls and general movement, even through walls. The thick bone-like covering around-
-their faces also means your fists are generally useless and punches feel just like love taps to them. You can only use sharp objects to kill these things.
But even then, Clickers aren’t at the top of the infected food chain. No, that prestige is reserved for the Bloaters. These monstrosities are like Stay-Puft marshmallow men giants that have been infected far longer than any Clicker. Their whole bodies are covered with hard bark and they also have the ability to throw spore bombs for huge damage. Though they’re rare, pray you never come into combat with one of these. But if you do, only very swift feet or a ton of ammo will assure your continued existence.
“It’s the normal people that scare me,” declares the grizzled Joel, and oh is he so ever right. The various kinds of infected in the game, when you get familiar with them, have their own Do’s and Don’t’s. But they’re pretty predictable in that all they want to do is attack you head on. Funnel them in a confined space and, with enough ammo, you can pretty much wipe out an area clean.
But men, like hunters and bandits, and other undesirables of the non-infected kind are way more dangerous than the zombies. They are cautious, they often wear armor, they have various weapons from knives and baseball bats with spikes up to sniper rifles, and they communicate with each other for strategy. Trust me, you’ll die more often in the game when you’re up against people.
Supplies like ammo and material for health kits, DIY bombs, and molotovs will always be in scant demand in the post-pandemic world, and so your life often depends on how well you scrounge and thoroughly search an area.
When supplies are at rock bottom or there’s just too many infected to deal with, don’t let your inner Rambo take possession and urge you to bust into a complex full of Clickers with just nine shotgun shells and a handful of bullets.
Ditto against a dozen hunters armed with assault rifles and molotovs. Using ye olde guerilla tactics of hit and run, silent kills, or simply sneaking through is best for continued survival; nobody will think you’re a sissy, nor will it be a stain on your honor.
There is only one mantra acceptable in the post-pandemic universe: “Breathing is good, breathing un-infected is best.”
Even if love is often a liability in furthering your chances for survival, the children who do live, are born out of, and come of age in the twenty years that the Cordyceps Virus ravaged humanity will understand survivalism, its principles, and values at an intrinsic level.
Comfortable with the grey zone of morality, the “taking what you can” as the only kind of fair play, and killing enemies as a way of life—whether they’re infected or not. You can show them you love them by teaching them to shoot and then giving them their first pistol. They’ll certainly live much longer to propagate the species.
“Boy, you guys sure lived in a weird time,” declares the young protagonist Ellie in one scene as she peruses the diary of a girl who lived in the pre-pandemic age. What to wear? Which music to play at parties?
Even the all-consuming arc of our lives that’s taken up by picking a profession and preparing for it through decades of education. “What’s a job?” Ellie again asks later, and smuggler turned reluctant guardian Joel struggles to give her an adequate answer.
They’re usually crawling with the infected and areas that ARE free of them are usually controlled by an organized military force that’s unfriendly to strangers.
Expect Runners and Clickers galore in the underground highways or tunnel roads where the moisture and the sun are conducive to fungal growth.
I won’t spoil it for you but you’ll find out exactly what this means when you finish “The Last of Us.” While I don’t approve of the ending, I understand and totally love it.
But rest assured, playing this will be a blast and finishing it a moment of pure gaming transcendence. I urge you right now to get your ass to the store and purchase this future classic. Remember: fight Cordyceps!