As promised in yesterday's game review of The Last of Us, I have thoughts about the moral dilemma presented to us at the end of the game. I've been trying to process them since I finished the game, but haven't yet managed to get it all sorted in my head. Please forgive me if this blog post is all over the place.
Also, there are spoilers, duh.
The game designers did a fantastic job of book-ending images together. As you can see at the beginning and end of the film. Ellie and Sarah are both in Joel's arms, helpless. Earlier, there is a scene where Joel is trying to resuscitate Ellie after she drowns. It is a mirror to the beginning of the game, where Joel is trying to stop his daughter's gunshot wound from bleeding out.
At the end of the game, Joel is given a choice. Leave Ellie to die and perhaps maybe the Fireflies can find a vaccine and save humanity, or fuck humanity, save Ellie. You, as the player, aren't given a choice. Joel makes that decision, and you have no option but to see it through.
It doesn't even register as a difficult decision for the character. Ellie lives. That's all that matters to him.
It's perfectly in keeping with Joel as a character. He's done some horrible things to survive, and to ensure those he loves survived. He's seen precisely what humanity is. Joel loves Ellie. He does not love humanity.
That decision has split players into two camps: Fuck yes, Joel! and Aw hell, no!
I have been thinking really hard about it, and I think I fall into the Fuck yes, Joel camp. It's not done lightly, mind you. Nor without any kind of trepidation. But, if I'm honest with myself, were I actually in Joel's shoes, fuck yes, I'd save Ellie, and fuck humanity.
But let me explain both camps, so you can decide for yourself.
Aw Hell, No!
That's what the heroes in every story do, right?
In deciding to save Ellie's life, Joel dooms humanity to suffer longer with the Cordyceps infection, possibly damning them entirely to a slow extinction. His selfish decision to spare himself the grief of one more death of a loved one, thousands of innocent people will suffer.
He's by no means a hero.
Marlene, however, who made the difficult decision to sacrifice Ellie, despite making a promise to the girl's mother to keep her safe, in the quest to find a vaccine, is a hero. She loves Ellie, and still would sacrifice her in order to save humanity, in order to keep the flame of hope alive.
Sacrifice for the greater good, right? Save humanity, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Fuck Yes, Joel!
There's still a lot behind that decision, whether it was taken into account by the character in the moment or not.
The first is that humanity in this game is literally the worst! Joel himself is not a good person, something that he admits to. Whatever awful things Joel has done, there are people out there doing worse. All throughout the game, you encounter military willingly shooting at unarmed civilians—including children, "hunters" who literally hunt people down and kill them for supplies, or people who kill just for the fun of it. Then there's the paedophile cannibal, David, and his town full of people-eaters. Humanity is far from being worth saving in this game.
I freely admit that I'm a bit of a misanthrope myself, and if given a choice between all of humanity and the few friends I have, I will create mountains of bodies to save the ones I love.
Luckily for you, I won't have to make that decision (fingers crossed, in these times!). Also luckily for you, I'm wildly inept, and will probably be stopped relatively quickly in my quest to save my friends. So, there's that.
Medical ethics also plays a part in my falling on Joel's side.
Ellie expects to be waking up after her mission is complete. She promises Joel that he could teach her how to swim after the whole thing is over.
It might well have been different if Marlene had explained to Ellie what was involved, and that she would die as a result. It might have been that Ellie would have accepted that, willingly sacrificing herself to save humanity. In fact, given Ellie's personality, I'd say the chances would be high of her doing just that.
But Marlene lied. She lied to Ellie's mother about keeping the girl safe. She lied to Ellie about what was expected of her.
AND you find out in game that the Firefly researchers have killed other immune kids in this quest to find a vaccine; something that has thus far proved impossible. On one recording found, a researcher leaves a note that the whole affair is an exercise in futility.
The researchers have killed immune people in their research, for the express purposes of research. Even today, when testing vaccines that could potentially save millions of lives, there is a lot of ethical oversight. And for good reason!
Would letting Ellie die actually produce a vaccine? What if it doesn't? Are you alright with murdering a child on something that isn't a guarantee? I'm sure as hell not.
AND, with Ellie not being the only immune kid running around, maybe not finding a vaccine won't actually damn humanity. I mean, if they could just stop killing immune kids to satisfy their curiosity, and if humanity could stop killing each other for no fucking reason, the species might actually have a fighting chance.
Was it the heroic thing to do to save Ellie's life?
Was it the right thing to do?
I think so. But I get why people wouldn't. What do you think? Would you do what Joel did? Would you not? Why? I'm really interested in your thoughts behind this. Leave them in the comments!