Spoilers for Invincible and The Last of Us 2
I was surprised to find out that the Last of Us Part Two was so hated, because I loved it. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of depressing stories. Maybe it’s because I watched a playthrough of both games in the span of 3 weeks. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t get the time to get super attached to the characters like the people who waited years between the first and second game did. Whatever the reason was, I was baffled by all the hate such a brilliant game received, and I spent hours watching video essays compiling the good, the bad and the ugly of every part of the game, but even after that, I still couldn’t find a good answer as to why some despised it and others didn’t (although there were some main reasons).
However, if I had to summarize one thing that divided the fanbase and gamers all over the world about The Last of Us Part Two, it’d have to be the way the creators tore at gamers’ heart strings over and over again.
From Joel’s murder in cold blood at the beginning of the game to the ending when Ellie is left alone, unable to even play the guitar anymore -- one of the only things that brought her peace, this game is a chronicle of despair that details the ugliest parts of humanity against an apocalypse setting. Senseless violence is riddled throughout this game, and the only act of violence gamers really wanted, which was killing Abby -- Joel’s murderer -- and getting sweet sweet revenge, was left unfulfilled. I personally was glad with Ellie’s choice to spare Abby and retain her humanity, but a lot of people wanted to see her become a bloodthirsty monster without remorse (for some reason).
Now enough of my thoughts on the game, what does this all mean? The violence depicted in this game is nothing really outstanding, especially compared to other games such as the Mortal Combat Series, which take gore and violence to an all new level, but it is important nonetheless. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sad after watching a piece of media before. Not just a sort of crying sad, but a deep embedded sadness that stuck with me for a while, to the point where the ending just pops up in my head every now and then and I think about it. I was disappointed in all the characters' actions. Everything in the game that happened ended up being worthless in the end, and this whole revenge quest still ended up with Joel dead but left Ellie even more saddened and alone than she could have ever been in the beginning.
The fact that all the fighting, towns burning, beatings, stabbings, shootings and torturing left us with no resolution, no happy end and amounted to essentially nothing but two lost fingers and an empty farm house, really just broke my heart. All of that, for absolutely nothing. It’s heart wrenching, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be another part to this story any time soon, but that’s what hooked me onto it. If this story was just simply Ellie travelling across America to find the killer of her father-figure, killing them, and then going about her merry way back home, not only would this endless cycle of violence continue, but it’d also be much more forgettable than this painful ending.
TLOU 2’s ending was good, because I enjoyed watching Ellie spare Abby and break the cycle of violence that would’ve inevitably come back to haunt her, just like it did to Joel. In my mind, Ellie made the right choice, just far too late in her story. This ending was a brilliant one, but at the same time it was extremely saddening, which made it stick with me, and as writers, we can take notes from this. I think it’s safe to say that most stories have a happy end where everything is tied up with a silver bow and all the protagonists are happy, even though life rarely ends up like that. Doing the opposite of this, and giving your characters a sad end is not only unexpected (most of the time), but also a tad bit more realistic than the perfect cookie cutter ending that most movies try to sell to us.
Now I’m not saying that you should absolutely destroy the hearts of your readers in your next book, but I’m also not saying not to. Subversions stick longer with an audience, however, if you subvert their expectations too much (let’s say, going from a heartwarming story of a father-and-daughter bond between a gruff man and an optimistic young girl in your first game, to a depressing revenge tale with the brutality of humanity on full display in the second), you might end up with a lot of hate from your audience. But there is a way to do this right and get everyone to enjoy your story.
Take the show Invincible for example. In the last episode of the show, Omni-Man (a.k.a Nolan Grayson) takes his son, Mark, who also happens to be the titular Invincible, through a world of pain to try and convince him to abandon Earth and fulfill his destiny of being a Viltrumite - who are basically space colonizers. He beats him mercilessly, kills the people he tries to save, destroys the nearby city without so much as flinching, much less showing effort, and shows Mark just how worthless and easily destroyed the lives of his ‘fellow’ humans can be. After a particularly gruesome subway scene, and watching a building he tried to hold together collapse in his arms, taking several people along with it, Mark still has to endure more beatings as his father pounds his fists into his face.
After it all, Nolan -- referencing all Viltrumites’ immortality -- asks his son what point there is in saving the Earth, as he will outlive all his friends and loved ones and have to watch them die. When he asks him what could he possibly have 500 years from now, Mark simply responds ‘You. I’d have you Dad.’ showing that even after everything his father has done to him and put him through, he still loves him and has hope for him. And after that, Omni-Man leaves, shedding a single tear before he exits Earth’s atmosphere.
The hundreds upon thousands of deaths, millions of injuries, billions upon trillions of dollars of damage and the unmeasurable trauma that has been impacted upon the world at large, is left unresolved, since Omni-Man just left. Even if he did remain, or returned later on, what would be the point? There is no one strong enough to fight him anyway. But this scene is a tear-jerker. I was genuinely surprised that Mark still had hope for his father after everything that happened to him, and the fact that there is no repercussion or resolution for anything Omni-Man has done definitely made this episode feel more impactful to me. In fact, it is my favourite of the series so far (at least the first half of it).
So there you have it. Senseless violence, when used correctly, can pull at your reader’s heart strings and pull them into your story. If done incorrectly, you risk dividing your fanbase or even making them hate your decisions. Leaving your story unresolved (more in the case of TLOU 2, since Invincible leaves much to explore with the tension of Omni-Man’s inevitable return in season two), can be a good choice that can saddens your reader or frustrates them to the point of unreasonable rage. Be careful when using this tactic, as it definitely isn’t for everyone. It can be tricky to juggle giving your readers a hopeless sense of loss while also satisfying their need for a conclusion, not to mention that there are several less risky ways to make your story memorable. Remember to always use the right methods for your story, which may or may not include a devastating end for your protagonists. Whatever your choice may be, consider having a not so happy ending this time around. You may be surprised with the results.
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgemental and more accepting place for people everywhere