Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Year Made: 2013 on PS3 / 2014 on PS4
Platforms: Playstation 3/Playstation 4
Price: PS3 - $19.99/PS4 - $49.99
Content Areas: Social Studies, Language Arts, Geography
Suggested Age Level: High School, University
Play Length: 20-30 hours
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Medium
The Last of Us is a game grounded in the realities of the apocalypse. The story is one we have heard before: a reluctant hero is tasked with protecting humanity's last hope. Yet, as this pedestrian story unfolds the brilliance of the game and the deft touch of its developers come through. What could have been a standard action game is revealed to be an intimate character study of two people: Joel and Ellie. Players control Joel throughout the game. Joel is a gruff, terse Texan whom voice actor Troy Baker called “a man with few moral lines left to cross”. Joel escorts Ellie across a United States ravaged by a fungal growth that infects and controls its victims. For the biology teachers, the fungus is based on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This outbreak has led to a decaying martial law in a few, scattered, major cities. Outside of these zones, the survivors do what it takes to survive.
The Last of Us is however an action game. It is violent and brutish but in a way that does not play these traits for thrills. Each enemy encountered is situated within a context of survival. Joel is no superhero and fighting within the game is between people who are more scared than skilled.
It is this violence and occasional language that makes The Last of Us a challenging fit for the classroom. As teachers, we are presented with a new challenge in an old argument when using games in the classroom. Unlike traditional media, such as books, video games require the active participation of the consumer. The death of Piggy in Lord of the Flies can be skipped by turning the page. Eyes can be closed during a gruesome movie scene. Games, however, keep the moment in limbo until the player takes action. Our profession will need to work through issues such as these as games continue to gain presence in the classroom. There will be games that divide the profession, in each new media there will be The Catcher in the Rye and to dismiss The Last of Us for its harsher aspects means losing out on a premier example of digital storytelling.
It is the quieter moments of The Last of Us that make it a fit for the classroom. In an abandoned house that reflects the world before, Ellie discovers the journal of a girl. “Boys? Movies? Is this all they had to worry about?” she asks. As snow falls through the collapsed roof of a shopping center Joel struggles to explain to Ellie the idea of a coffee shop. These moments are prime classroom opportunities to kickstart creative writing exercises as students try to assemble the events that lead from the world they know becoming the world Ellie knows. In a language arts class students could play The Last of Us and read post-apocalypse literature such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. Comparing Ellie and Julia from The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker could be fantastic assignment in media analysis.
Social studies classes could hone in on the social decay of The Last of Us. Just past the opening credits of the game, players have an opportunity to wander post-apocalypse Boston. Students could explore the city and draw real-world parallels to post-Katrina New Orleans or investigate how martial law works in the U.S. The game could also serve as a companion text to Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, which explores how the natural world would reclaim cities in the wake of human disappearance.
The Last of Us is a hallmark of modern gaming and any teacher interested in games as a medium for storytelling should take the time to experience the game. For teachers interested in game design, or for those who have students aspiring to be game designers, the documentary Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us is a fascinating look into how modern games are made. Be sure to watch it.
Educational Rating: 5/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility,
Overall Rating: 8/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)
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