A reader argues The Last Of Us TV show is much better at telling a story than the game, highlighting the differences between the two mediums.
Like many, I’ve been watching and enjoying The Last Of Us Show from HBO recently. It’s one of the best series I’ve seen in years and it’s clearly going to lead to every streaming company scrambling to make their own video game adaptations. Tetris: The Movie already exists and I’m sure it won’t be long till we’re scraping the barrel with shows based on everything from Days Gone to Bubsy Bobcat.
Most of these will be flops for various reasons, as is always the case when companies try and cash in on someone else’s success, but for me the thing The Last Of Us underlines is how bad video games are at telling stories. Not only that but it seems to be an intrinsic problem with the fact that they’re a game, because the same person is in charge of both The Last Of Us show and the games.
You only have to watch a single episode of The Last Of Us to see that it’s much better written and acted than the game. There’s proper depth to the characters, actual visual storytelling, and a nuanced subtlety that is completing missing from the game version. And yet The Last Of Us is one of the most celebrated narrative video games… which says a lot about the rest.
Consider, as examples, the opening of both show and game, both of which are extremely harrowing (I’m trying not to spoil anything here). And yet when that ends in the show the first thing you see is Joel disposing of a child’s body in a very matter of fact way. That’s perfect storytelling. With no dialogue, and in mere seconds, you get a perfect illustration of how much he has been changed from the events of the opening and are left to wonder how much of the original man remains and what exactly he’s now capable of.
Or there’s the episode with Bill in it. A completely unremarkable character in the game, that’s just a simple ‘gruff but helpful’ friend character trope. I had no idea what his name was in the game and would never have even considered him in a list of memorable characters or moments. Yet in the show he’s a real highlight, not to mention one of the most sympathetic and natural portrayals of a gay person I’ve seen in an action series. In the game, I bet 90% of people never even realised he was supposed to be gay.
Although I do think it’s overrated, I’m not really criticising the game but I think it shows, once again, that the best storytelling game is still barely close to average for a decent show or movie.
The game is around 15 hours long and the show has nine episodes, so is going to be under nine hours long in total. And yet the show is able to do so much more with its time than the game, which could have been as long as it wanted, since it makes far less difference to the budget than a live action production.
The Last Of Us Part 2 is 24 hours long and it feels like a bloated mess. There’s little real depth to the characters, who all have their personalities set in stone with little justification for any changes from the first game. Most secondary characters are little more than plot devices and while they can be used in a number of interesting ways (again, trying to avoid spoilers) they never feel like real people.
I’m willing to bet that’s going to be completely different for the show, which will probably have less time to tell its story. All of which suggests something that I’ve always felt was true: video games just aren’t a very good medium for telling a story and even the ones that do seem to do a good job are easily outdone by linear media.
By reader Danson
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