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The Lasting Impact of The Last of Us’ Unconventional Ending

The Last of Us is a game that left a lasting impact on the gaming world with its thought-provoking ending that left players questioning the morality of the choices made throughout the game. Released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3, it quickly gained recognition for its unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre by challenging the conventional narrative structure and ending. In this article, we will explore the impact of the game’s ending on the gaming world and the reasons why it continues to be a hotly debated topic among gamers even 10 years after its release.

The Unconventional Ending

The Last of Us’ ending stands out from other games in the post-apocalyptic genre by defying the norm of providing a straightforward and conventionally satisfying end. Throughout the game’s 15-hour campaign, the lines between the protagonist and antagonist blur, and players are left with ambiguous endings that refuse to provide a clear statement or outcome. The game chooses to land on a place of uncertainty that challenges the typical narrative structure, where the good guys are the good guys, and the bad guys have been vanquished.

Most strikingly, the game’s ending has its main character, Joel, arguably doom the world and then lie about it to Ellie, the game’s other protagonist. Joel chooses to intervene and stop the surgery that would kill Ellie, who is immune to the virus that has caused the apocalypse, to create a cure for humanity. This decision is morally divisive and has left many players questioning the morality of the game’s choices. The game ends with Joel lying to Ellie about what happened, leaving her in a place of uncertainty and reinforcing the ambiguity of the game’s ending.

When the game was released 10 years ago, the unconventional ending left players anxious, pacing back and forth, desperate to talk to someone about its startling ambiguities and contradictions. To this day, it remains one of the most provocative and talked-about endings in game history. It has sparked countless debates and discussions among players, critics, and fans alike.

The Game’s Approach

The Last of Us is unique in the post-apocalyptic genre in its approach to storytelling. It focuses on its central relationship while foregrounding a fairly conventional, linear narrative structure, leading players to believe that it will conclude in a traditional way. However, the game’s narrative choice in 2013 was something players valued, and The Last of Us has its own story to tell, with players only able to make a few moments of choice over how brutal they can be in the game’s ending.

At the time of release, some players were uncomfortable with Joel’s killing of certain characters he arguably didn’t need to kill, with the tension between the player wanting to do one thing and the character demanding to do something else. This created fascinating discussions around whether this is a flaw or part of the game’s power.

The game’s approach betrays a reliable trust that you would ordinarily place in such rigidly constructed narratives. Despite having “the same post-apocalyptic scenario” as other games, The Last of Us stands out in its approach, which is felt most saliently at the game’s conclusion, where it pulls away from more conventional endings in the genre, such as those found in Gears of War 3 or the Resistance series of shooters on PlayStation 3, both of which end with near deus-ex-machina solutions to the world’s problems.

The Last of Us isn’t concerned with presenting a lore dive or impressing players with clever fantasy epidemiology. Instead, it delivers a sad ending to a game that takes place at a decidedly human scale, rather than a grand cosmic one. The game’s conclusion didn’t wish to dazzle players with its impressive world-building or wow them with its depiction of clever fantasy epidemiology. Instead, it focused on the game’s central relationship and the moral ambiguities that come with difficult choices that players have to make throughout the game.

The Role of Moral Ambiguity

Moral ambiguity is a central theme throughout The Last of Us, and it challenges players to question their actions throughout the game. Many players have taken different stances on the game’s protagonist, Joel, and his decision to doom the world by saving Ellie’s life. Some regard Joel as a morally ambiguous character who acted out of love and the desperation of losing a daughter-figure. Others view Joel as a villain, who chose to doom the world by denying humanity a chance of a cure.

For some players, the game’s ending serves as a reminder that not all choices made in games or life are clear-cut, and sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. It challenges players to consider the consequences of their choices and to question whether they would have made the same decision in Joel’s shoes.

However, others have criticized Joel and the game for the brutality on display, questioning why the game needed to be so violent and whether the journey was worth the emotionally tolling ending. These criticisms have sparked debates around what motivates players to make morally ambiguous choices in games and whether the game’s message is ultimately meaningful or pointless.

The Lasting Impact

The Last of Us’ ending continues to resonate with players and critics alike ten years after its release. The game’s tendency to challenge players with morally ambiguous choices has become a staple of modern games, where players are often immersed in post-apocalyptic scenarios that force them to question their actions and their impact on the world.

By defying the norm of providing a satisfying and straightforward ending, The Last of Us has inspired countless debates and discussions around the moral implications of the choices we make in games and in life. It continues to be studied and analyzed by game designers, critics, and players, and it has become a benchmark for storytelling in games.

In conclusion, The Last of Us’ ending’s lasting impact is a testament to the power of storytelling in games. It showed that games could offer more than just simple entertainment or escapism, but rather challenge players to question their actions and make difficult choices. Its influence can be seen in the modern gaming landscape, where games are increasingly challenging players to make morally ambiguous choices in post-apocalyptic scenarios, making The Last of Us a defining game of the last decade.

Samuel Park
Samuel Park

Samuel Park is a talented Korean-American sports journalist with a passion for covering a wide range of sports. A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles' journalism program, Samuel has made a name for himself as one of the most insightful and engaging sports writers in the industry.

His favorite sports include baseball, soccer, golf, and tennis. He has a keen eye for detail and is known for providing insightful analysis of the latest news and events in each sport.

When he's not busy writing about sports, Samuel enjoys spending time with his son Oliver, playing soccer together in the backyard. As a proud Korean-American, he also loves cooking up his favorite dish of bibimbap to share with family and friends.

With his depth of knowledge and engaging writing style, Samuel Park is a standout in the world of sports journalism.


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