culture, gaming, literary critique, literature, thought piece

[video game][opinion] Why I Think “The Last of Us: Part II” Will Be Forgotten

Why will The Last of Us: Part II most likely be forgotten? Why should it be forgotten? I think TLOU:P2 lacks the necessary elements to appeal to a universal audience. I haven’t played the first part or the second part, and I don’t intend to because the genre is generally unappealing to me. However, after reading the summary, watching clips of game play, reading reviews and responses, as well as noting various positions taken by the creators at Naughty Dog, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of reasonable critics respond negatively to the narrative structure and content. Like similar trends we have seen in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Terminator franchises, The Last of Us: Part II exemplifies how revisits of older franchises are characterized by dismissive attitudes toward world building, disrespect toward original characters, ideological propaganda, and poor writing.

Watching Skill Up’s review, Angry Joe’s review, Pewdiepie’s reactions… Reading the comments of the audience… What fascinates me most is how most people find the story to be restrictive and preachy. Sounds familiar? It is. For some reason, woke material borders on preachy. Some people see it as propaganda. I propose it is the expression of what Jung and Freud called the Devouring Mother.

What is the Devouring (also known as, Tyrannical) Mother?

“The devouring mother, one of the many aspects of the mother archetype, is one of the most fascinating archetypes lurking in the human psyche that can apply to any of us – female or otherwise. Having spawned her children, found her mate or simply turned around to prey on her existing family or circle of friends, the devouring mother is much like a co-dependent; high on the drug of assistance she smothers her children with an excess of love; stifling their very growth and suffocating those around her, even resorting to child abuse to get her way. The Devouring Mother comes from a place inside of us that is afraid to be alone; afraid of solitude in the guise of loneliness… afraid of herself. Having served others for so long she becomes obsessive, controlling… even violent in her need to assert her control on the rest of us. Much like the darker aspects of the sacred feminine such as the femme fatale ‘female trickster’, she uses her ‘rule’ as her ultimate identity and lets it feed her ego, forgetting that a mother – as well as guide her children – must also know when to let them find their own way and control their own destiny. The Devouring Mother can also be those who hide behind our followers. Devoid of real connection with ourselves we become shadows, wallowing in shame and pushing those around us forward yet to our own gain rather than theirs. The Devouring Mother becomes strict, critical and manipulative… and ultimately feared.”

(Lauren)

It is hard to imagine how something so wonderful as an encouraging, compassionate mother can become manipulative and critical, yet it can happen. This shadow moves not only within the individual psyche but also society as a whole. I theorize that preachy commentary and narratives are symptomatic of societies imbued with the energy of Tyrannical Mother. Stories like The Last of Us: Part II become conduits for morals and socio-political viewpoints, which although potentially harmless or even beneficial, end up antagonizing the audience if poorly done. Who likes to be preached at? Not me!

When moralist urges overwhelm aesthetics, they end up repelling the audience, which results in the cultural work eventually losing its attraction and perhaps its universal numinosity. Anyone know Lang’s fairytale books? His preachy late-Victorian tales, while holding some historical and literary value, never took root in the public consciousness like Tolkien or Lewis did in later years. Perhaps this was because, like most ideologically driven material, the expiry date was shorter due to the relevance being inherently linked to a specific historical period. If a story is targeting a current issue too specifically, it can lose its universal messages and end up becoming stale.

Jordan Peterson notes that today, “the dynamic that is being played out in our society right now is that there’s this – and it’s related in some way that I don’t understand to this insistence that all forms of masculine authority are nothing but tyrannical power. So the symbolic representation is tyrannical father with no appreciation for benevolent father and benevolent mother with no appreciation whatsoever for tyrannical mother.” (Jordan Peterson – The Tyrannical Father and the Devouring Mother)

In short, Peterson sees in our society (educational and entertainment) as only having two representations out of the four – the masculine as the Tyrannical Father and the feminine as Benevolent Mother. He sees this imbalance as destructive to creativity and natural growth:

“But the standard pathology with Mom is ‘she did everything for you’. What’s left for you to do? Nothing. Including never leaving. […] That’s the motivation for the woman who’s nothing but protective mother. […] You just keep them infants, and they’ll never leave. […] It’s so comical watching the feminists – postmodernists, in particular – rattle on about the absence of gender reality and act out the archetypal Devouring Mother at exactly the same time. For them, the world is divided into predators and infants. And the predators are evil and need to be stopped. And the infants need to be cared for. Well, that’s what the Mother does, but adults are not infants. […] First of all, you can’t protect people. You can only make them strong. That’s it. […] And then they can protect themselves. But then they don’t need you – and that is the underlying pathological element of the Devouring Mother.” 

(Jordan Peterson: Female Pathology (The Oedipal Mother))

I would like to push Peterson’s theories even further. I wonder if the societal projections that only these two types (Tyrannical Father and Benevolent Mother) exist are a way to mask the presence of the negative energies and purposes of an evolving Devouring Mother. Perhaps there is an ongoing ideological push that is attempting to not only hide the benevolent aspects of masculinity (achieved by eradicating history, delegitimizing logic and rhetoric, etc), but also to obfuscate the very real Tyrannical Mother who is attempting to normalize her ideological position in our society (achieved by censoring creative products, sanitization of the entertainment space).

One position that many moms the world over take is anti-war, or even anti-conflict. The image of the mother waiting for her children to return from the World safely is iconic, and this compassionate, pro-peace maternal energy flavors many moralist tales that explore the theme of ‘violence begets more violence’. Some famous novels which explore the futility of revenge include The Iliad (Homer), Hamlet (Shakespeare), The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas), Wuthering Heights (Bronte) and so on. Here, there may be some kind of finger-wagging on the part of the author, but for the most part, this is subtle and left up to the reader to decide. On the other hand, the video game has always typically been linked to a sense of agency for the player (however artificial it is), which should allow us to interact with concepts of revenge in other different ways. Perhaps we can decide not to take revenge. Perhaps we can take revenge and see how it turned out badly.

This is apparently not so in the closed, restrictive ending of The Last of Us: Part II. Like a toxic mom, the game appears not only to finger wag at us (See! This is why violence is bad! You just had to kill a nice doggie!), but it also attempts to force emotions for characters, ignore previous plot and character facts, and restrict options in order to shift the narrative. The fact that the narrative never allows the characters to voice or explore the fact that Abby’s desire for revenge cannot outweigh or be more just than Ellie’s desire for revenge reveals a blinkered viewpoint – an ideological and emotional narrative that refuses to get messy or complex. It speaks to either logical breakdown, sloppy planning, or disingenuous motivations. At best, this kind of writing reminds me of bad fanfiction, written by very young women who have had no real experience with rape or violence. They tend to overegg the pudding, so to speak, like the worst kind of Gothic romances.

Is it important to understand that losses happen on all sides of a conflict? Certainly. Is it important to understand that both sides of a political or social conflict can be good people stuck in bad situations? Sure. However, it seemed to me like the writing and implementation of the ideas was so poor as to be detrimental to the whole point of the story. Recognizing how arbitrary the story is undercuts the potential of the narrative. The organic quality of finding truth is lost as it is forced down our throats.

“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins had it right. What narrative springs to mind when I think of the “violence begets violence” theme? Naruto (and Naruto Shippuuden) is forefront. I recommend you rewatch Naruto and Pain’s conversation during the attack on Konoha (see below). The entire arc surrounding Pain shows a great way to approach the age old problem of justice and compassion. Something that the writers of The Last of Us: Part II seem to have missed. Although the message of The Last of Us: Part II is universal, it will most likely be forgotten. The real question is whether it will take Part 1 down with it.

Works Cited

Lauren. “The Ruler Archetype: 3 Types of Matriarchs.” Fractal Enlightenment. https://fractalenlightenment.com/34400/life/the-ruler-archetype-three-types-of-matriarch 

Peterson, Jordan. “Jordan Peterson – The Tyrannical Father and the Devouring Mother”, Bite-sized Philosophy, Oct 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jM2fpm6fnA

Peterson, Jordan. “Jordan Peterson: Female Pathology (The Oedipal Mother)”, Davie Addison, Mar 17, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=128&v=EPAfS8-wm8g&feature=emb_logo

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