The Moral of the Story

The Last of Us is likely on every gamer’s top ten list. It is arguably one of the best stories ever told in the medium, leveraging the post-apocalypse survival setting to tell an emotionally powerful tale about human nature. Trying to pick out a single moral or lesson out of the entire story was challenging given the large array of topics the game touches on. The psychological effects of surviving in an apocalyptic world, the blurring of the lines of morality, the constant threat of danger, or the loss of loved ones all provide a rich selection of potential themes. Finding a single moral became easier once I narrowed my search to a topic which related best to our everyday real lives. By looking at what was motivating the characters will to survive I was able to see a common theme across the entire story.

The Story and the Moral

The Last of Us highlights a paradox within human nature, a split which is most apparent in times of life and death. It is the divide between those who fight for their own survival and those who fight for the survival of others. From main characters to nameless extras, numerous examples of either self-preservation or altruism are shown throughout the story. The two main characters, Joel and Ellie, display examples of both. While Joel is protecting Ellie, he does so at any cost and the motivation to survive appears to stem from protecting someone he cares for. But the way he disregards all others, killing without thought, does not give credence to him still being capable of compassion. However, taking into account Joel’s past, Ellie can be seen as the only good thing in Joel’s life. As such, losing her would symbolically be the same dying himself. Viewing Joel’s actions in this light, his will to survive looks more like self-preservation. This distinction more accurately reflects how he values his own life, figuratively Ellie’s, above any other human being.

Ellie in contrast to Joel, has a desire to help others. This could be her relative innocence due her young age. The point could be made that she has yet to see the worst of the world and still believes there are people worth saving. Throughout the story, as she is forced to violence, she continues to express sadness at having to hurt people. While her innocence is worn away, and to some extent she does grow calloused to the violence of survival, she retains her caring nature. This is verified at the end of the game, after all the violence she has committed and witnessed, Ellie still demonstrates a willingness to place others’ interests before her own. This detail speaks volumes to who she is as a person and marks the stark disparity between herself and Joel. The difference lies in the value each place on a life, a divide which stems from their respective motivations for survival.

Another interesting part of The Last of Us is how the paradox shown by the main characters can be seen in the various antagonists within the game. The various nameless characters, shown in the background or fighting the main characters, also echo the split in morality. During the opening sequence of the game, as the world descends into chaos, people can be seen running and pushing others out of the way as they flee. However, others are visibly helping each other along and carrying the injured. Even from a more general perspective, looking at the factions in the game, this theme can still be seen. The Fireflies clearly support each other and additionally state they are fighting for the survival of humanity. The Hunters on the other hand, while they are a group, are individually only interested in personal survival. Taking it a step further there appears to be a direct connection between what these groups are motivated by and who they are as individuals, specifically how far they have strayed from civilized morality. While the setting of the story, with the struggle of life and death, demonstrates the effect of these motivations to the extreme it is important to note how the motivations for survival play a role in the morality of each character.

Life and the Moral

The Last of Us depicts a daily struggle between life and death, focusing on how the fight to survive can blur the lines of morality. While the struggles in our daily lives are hopefully not between life and death we are in an abstract sense still fighting to survive. It is the daily struggle to accomplish our tasks and goals, to provide for ourselves and those we care about. While our motivations in this struggle may not cause us to forsake our morals, they still play a role in shaping who we are as people. I believe we can learn a lot about ourselves and others by knowing what motivates each of us because these forces are what drive our decisions and actions on a daily basis.

I often place my personal interests over other people. There is certainly nothing wrong with this as long as I maintain a threshold. The line is crossed when I begin to become like Joel, disregarding the cost my actions may have on others. I know I am not alone in sometimes placing my own priorities first, but I must avoid seeing other’s lives and interests as insignificant next to my own. In my mind, doing this starts a descent were people become worth less and less next to my personal goals. This is where the lines of morality can become blurred. I fear in this state I would begin to rationalize questionable methods as I stop seeing value in other people. As I examine this concept and look at the world around me, I can see examples of how people’s motivations shape who they are. It plays a direct role in their daily actions, the lengths they are willing to go to achieve their goals. A part of me feels like I always knew this, as if it is a truth about human nature everyone knows but rarely thinks about. The Last of Us taught me to reflect upon my motivations, to acknowledge and be aware of what drives me to “survive” in life. Even without this lesson I do not believe I have the capacity to become like Joel, to care only for myself and nothing for others. But the tale has given me a glimpse into how others may arrive at this desolate destination, steadily shedding their morals as they fight only for themselves. For me, the moral of the story the Last of Us has to share at its basic form is this. Motivations shape morality. They influence who we are as people and the lengths we are willing to go to achieve our goals.

-Anidaan