In which I review THE LAST OF US 2 without ever playing it

I loved The Last Of Us— I bought a PS3 basically just so that I could play it, and I called it the best game of 2013 after I beat it. If you’re not familiar with that review– and why would you be, since I wrote it seven years ago– you might want to give it a quick read before you read this. Also, I intend to spoil the hell out of the sequel, so if you’re going to read this you should probably have either already beaten the game or not plan to play it. Lemme throw a separator in here to help you out:


If you didn’t read the previous review, here’s the important parts: I really connected with this game as a dad, and that resulted in 1) paternal feelings toward Ellie that made the part where you play as her, and thus get killed over and over and over again, really emotionally difficult, and 2) totally understanding why the game ended by forcing you to gun down the scientists who were trying to find a cure for the Cordyceps fungus– because it would have killed Ellie, and there’s just no universe where Joel would have ever allowed that to happen.

I got all kinds of whispers and rumors about this game before it came out that made me feel like playing it– especially right now, with all the other shit going on in the world and in my life– was not going to be an emotionally sound decision. Kotaku called the damn game a “misery simulator.” I don’t need that. But … damn, it was the sequel to what is still one of the best games I’ve ever played! Made by the same people! How do I just ignore this?

I decided to watch a Let’s Play on YouTube instead, which would provide me with the game’s story– in this case, most of what I cared about– and allow me the ability to either 1) buy the game if I decided that’s what I wanted or 2) nope out at any time. And so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching a couple of half-hour episodes a day as they’ve been being released, and up until last night I was more or less still secure in my decision but also thinking eeeh, I probably could have bought this, but never really coming close to the point where I needed to. Plus, it’s violent as hell, to the point where I don’t want my son exposed to it yet, so I’d only have been able to play after he went to bed. This decision worked for me, is what I’m saying.

Well, the guy I’m watching isn’t as into the story as I am, and after having to watch him complain through one of the quieter parts in the denouement at the end of the game, I decided fuck it and went ahead and Googled the spoilers for the rest of the game. And this is where I’m exercising my nope the fuck out option and not even watching the rest, because despite having watched probably 90-95% of it the game has somehow saved a good 2/3 of its assholery for the final minutes.

Huh. I haven’t actually spoiled anything yet.

Here’s the thing: The Last of Us 2’s central thesis is that every decision you can possibly make is going to lead to loss and heartache. That there are no good people, that there is no forgiveness in the world, that where forgiveness does exist it is a fatal mistake, and there is no way, ever, to do the right thing. That the right thing is in fact an illusory concept from the beginning. It’s going to come back and bite you in the ass eventually no matter what you do. Literally every decision any character in this story makes leads to pain. Every single one. There are two moderately sympathetic characters, neither of which are playable, and both of them are put through utter hell. The two protagonists, Ellie and Abby, are both repeatedly shown to be awful people, and I think Ellie absolutely gets the shorter stick in that regard, so if you, like me, came into this game predisposed to like her as a character because you viewed her as a daughter … well, be prepared for the game to hurt you for that as well.

Every decision every character makes in this game leads to the death of their friends and family members. Every single one. And in case you’ve picked up elsewhere– because I haven’t talked about it yet– that revenge is a major theme of the game, be aware that the game shits on its characters both for seeking revenge and for not seeking revenge. Both are terrible mistakes. You cannot escape them.

I, uh, don’t need this in my escapist fiction right now. There’s a place for depressing entertainment out there, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that your average Holocaust movie is told with a lot more hope for humanity than The Last of Us 2. There is nothing but nihilism here, nothing at all, and I don’t need it.

The gameplay looks to be about exactly the same as the first one, by the by. That’s a recommendation; if a semi-stealth shooter with absolutely gorgeous graphics is what you’re looking for and you’re capable of ignoring the story you probably will have a good time with this. I can’t; or at least I can’t with this particular series. I’m not even watching the last couple of episodes now that I know how it ends. I’m fucked up enough from reading about them; I don’t need it in my head. I’ve got enough real emotional stress right now without letting fictional misery in.

Turn, turn, turn

My stress level has been through the roof lately, to the point where putting more than two or three words together even on here requires a lot more psyching myself up than it ever used to. And when I say “ever,” I mean dating back to my first blog, so we’re going back like fifteen or sixteen years here.

The one thing that has been keeping me sane the last few days has, no shit, been woodworking videos. They are astonishingly calming. I can’t get enough of them, and I’m going to have to be careful to not accidentally buy a lathe before school starts:

In which pew pew pew

Six days to no more glasses.

Here’s the … fun? Yeah, let’s go with fun– thing about planning completely optional eye surgery during a global pandemic: I have so much other shit on my mind right now that any sort of holy shit something terrible could go wrong and I could go blind I’m going to go blind anxiety just doesn’t even have time to penetrate. Because, well, if, I dunno, the machine explodes or some shit during the surgery, and I’m permanently blinded, well, then I guess I don’t have to worry about shit like returning to work any longer, now, do I? And considering that in… shit, seventeen years of teaching– is that right?– I have never once managed to make it through the first month of school without getting sick for a couple of days, it is fair to say that I am considerably more frightened of COVID-19 right now than I am of any shit going wrong during my five-minute eye surgery. That’s gonna be fine.

I just need to not die after the surgery.

There’s a School Board meeting on July 13th– the same day as the surgery, as it turns out– and rumor has it that more information about this reopening plan is going to be revealed and/or voted on there. I think there’s also some sort of virtual townhall planned in the next couple of days. But right now, nobody knows anything except for the part where what they have planned right now is not going to work. I will have every 8th grader in my building in my math classes next semester. Every single one. Here’s what Indiana’s current infection stats look like:

Note that unlike a lot of states, Indiana doesn’t report all at once, so our number creeps up over the course of the day, and the day’s not done yet. While we’re not Florida or Texas by any stretch of the imagination, our numbers are definitely creeping back up again, and I don’t see that changing by next month.

It’ll take all of a week, tops, before there’s an 8th grader who tests positive in my building. And that will have been a kid in my classroom, by definition. When you toss second-order exposures on there (I don’t know if that’s a technical term; what I’m getting at is Jimmy’s little brother testing positive, but not Jimmy yet) it may not even take a week. We had a positive in March right around when school let out and this had barely started yet.

I keep wanting to write a more academic, reasoned defense of why schools can’t reopen yet, and the fact is I can’t get past the part where I don’t feel like I should be endangering my family so that other people can go to work. If I was actually doing it for education, that would be one thing, but if anything has been made fucking undeniable about American culture in the last three months it’s that schools are looked at as daytime child care and not much fucking else. Go ahead, try and find someone making a genuine case for reopening schools for any reason beyond “parents can’t handle their kids being at home.” You will, to put it mildly, be challenged in this effort. There’s occasional lip service paid to educational inequity and how not everyone has internet access, but that’s generally paragraph nine of the twenty-paragraph article and the rest is all about balancing either an Essential Job with staying home or existential angst from having to be on Zoom while you answer the occasional math question. And I get it! I do! I had to do the same thing with my own kid from March through June, and I only have one of them!

I just don’t think your child care issues are a reason to risk my family’s health, to say nothing of my own, and if that makes me selfish, well, I’ll find a way to live with it. Because the more we find out about this motherfucker the worse it looks, and even with a good chance of everyone coming out alive on the other end I’m not interested in a fucking chronic illness for the rest of my life either. Sorrynotsorry.

Damn near all of us need to be staying home, and while we’re staying home the fucking government needs to get off their asses and start sending people money to pay their bills while they’re home, and if your answer to that is but Republicans then fine, let’s bring the fucking guillotine back and see how fast they change their fucking minds. I’m not in the mood to be civilized about this shit any longer. Enough of this shit. We’ll be over three million fucking infections by tomorrow. Enough.

It’s quiet uptown

There has not been much to today, and the highlights of yesterday were pork chops, mashed potatoes and lemon cake. I am listening to something called Little Simz on Spotify (related: I have a Spotify account now) and grooving to it.

I have a couple of longer posts bubbling, but I think they need to bubble a bit longer. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.

It’s my birthday

… my first one without my mom. 44. And, frankly, it has already been a rough day and I’ve only been up for about an hour. I didn’t get to sleep until about 2:30 in the morning last night because I couldn’t shut my brain down.

Every time I say things like “I probably won’t be around much today,” it leads to a 6,000-word essay, but it’s still pretty likely that I won’t be around much today.