Playing a game like The Last of Us can really make you look at yourself. It can make you think about how you deal with certain situations within you own life. (Note: the are end game spoilers throughout)
The problem with mental health, is that is effects everyone differently. No one person’s experience can be a template for another. It effects how you react to even the most mundane of things.
Games should be an excuse to escape from the mundane reality. Yet sometimes they can draw you in and question everything. They can have a profound effect on your state of mind.
There are so many ways to escape reality when you need it. Yet many of those are passive and your thoughts can creep back in. Gaming is different.
Playing video games forces you to engage in a way no other medium can. You can’t switch off and zone out like you can with Music, TV or Film. Nor is it easy to put down for a short while like with a book or magazine.
Even going for a run, whilst great for body and mind, doesn’t require your full focus. You can still let those darker thoughts in.
With gaming, you brain is active, even if you are playing a simple game. You are still having to process little things, such as what buttons you press and when. At the most basic level you are doing things, so your brain must focus.
Gaming allows escape in many ways, you can be anything. Most importantly you can be anything but yourself.
You can play something like Tetris with no real story or background, or get deep into a game like The Last of Us, which has an involved story and really makes you question the decisions we make.
You see, escapism doesn’t always have to mean switching off from your problem entirely. Escaping into a world that can make you question you own morals can have a positive effect.
It allows you to see things from another angle, through another’s eyes. It isn’t you, therefore you escape yourself for that brief period.
The Last of Us is a great example of how I could escape my own issues and see it from the point of view of the character. The writing and performances within the game allowed me to go through a whole spectrum of emotions, all focussed on Joel and not myself.
Yet the ending throws a huge curveball, showing that my choices and my decisions made within the journey. Well, they had little impact on the outcome of the main protagonists. I had little control in what Joel chose to do.
Actually I had no control, I lost all control. I had to watch a broken man do something that on the face of it, should be condemned. Yet it had me thinking about what I would do in a situation like that?
It is very easy to look from afar and say you would make a certain decision. I mean sometimes things look logical and we are all sure where our morals are. But that is from afar. It is different when in an actual situation.
By wresting control away from you at the exact moment it does, The Last of Us keeps you in the moment. You aren’t in control, but you are now in the situation as it happens. For a brief moment you cannot take a cold logical look at things.
Again, this is why the writing from Neil Druckmann and co is so powerful. Whilst the game play itself is decent. It is with the pacing of the journey that draws you in and makes you feel empathy for the characters like no other game within its genre.
Yes I game to escape. I game for fun. But I also game so I can grow and learn. I have been gaming since my formative years and it has shaped me for better of worse. It can effect me as much as a well written film or book. Because of the active nature of gaming, it can play with your emotions in a much more effective way. Especially if the writing is done well.
I’m not even sure of the point I am making here. However something popped into my head and it got me thinking about The Last of Us and the lasting effect it had on me.
It may be because I am a father (sorry I don’t like that phrase. It’s not some sort of quantifier), but I have two children and seeing how Joel lost everything, but had the chance for redemption really stirred something inside.
I would do anything to protect my children. No matter the cost. I get it is very, very unlikely it will come at the expense of human existence. That is a metaphor though for how we live our lives, the lessons we learn and how it effects the future decisions we make.
Games are a powerful medium and The Last of Us is one of the best every at making us look inside.