When the action has no reason to exist: why 'The Last of Us' seems to me a master class on how to adapt the narrative of the video game to a passive medium

play for the first time ‘The Last of Us’ during its release over a decade ago marked a turning point in my longstanding relationship with video games. So far, the huge ‘Metal Gear Solid’ had been the only title capable of arousing in me emotions similar to those that a good film provokes, but Neil Duckmann’s work built the definitive bridge between interactive and passive narrativesonly to be overcome by his bleak ‘Part II’.

With this starting point, it is understandable that his jump from the console to the small screen was marked by some of the fears and mistrust that completely dissipated after the extraordinary contact in his first episode directed by the coshowrunner craig mazin. But, since then, the chapters, the dramatic twists and the tears have followed one another until leading to a season finale that already allows a final verdict to be given: HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ it is extraordinary.

And it is that what has been achieved by the Druckmann-Mazin duo at the hands of Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey —as well as a magnificent selection of filmmakers— not only rises as the best adaptation of a video game to television or cinema that we have been able to enjoy to date, but also as a master class on how to play with the elements that separate both means to provide the viewer, whether neophyte or connoisseur of the original, the best possible experience.

Of narratives and points of view

Leaving aside absurdities such as the homophobic outbursts and other paraphernalia characteristic of alt-right trolls that have circulated through aggregators and social networks since the beginning of the series, one of the main criticisms without sociopolitical bias directed at the production has been focused on her lack of action compared to her playable counterpart. A fact that is totally obvious, but that is closely linked to the intelligent adaptation process carried out.

Although it should not be necessary, and despite the fact that rivers of ink have flowed in recent years defending the alleged growing proximity between cinema and videogames, we must remember that both narratives continue to be radically different no matter how much they drink from each other; which implies that many elements end up lost in the translation.

One of the biggest limitations that a video game brings under its arm happens, with few exceptions, due to his corseted point of view. As a general rule, throughout the gameplay we see ourselves tied to the control of one or several characters without being able to detach ourselves from them to focus on NPCs —non-playable characters— until one cutscene interrupt the game.

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This also influences the “planning” of the interactive sections, whether they are in the first person or, in the case of ‘The Last of Us’, in a third person who places the camera on the shoulder of a protagonist who will constantly turn his back on us. Thus, any opportunity to enhance the drama through facial expressions is lost – I repeat, except for the cut scenes—; resorting to the work of voice actors to remedy the deficiency.

In contrast, non-interactive audiovisual narratives allow much more precise manipulation —because, make no mistake, it is—, allowing position the camera to direct the audience’s gaze and amplify the emotional impact through close-ups and other details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

On action—or lack thereof—


Likewise, the raison d’être of the action in both formats is practically the opposite. In a video game, the one known as gun playis mainly used for connect dots of a story that will unfold in greater detail during the cut scenes. However, on many occasions, the playable passages take advantage of conversations and dynamics between NPCs and playable characters to establish and strengthen their bonds, and to advance the narrative.

One of the best and brightest recent examples of this is found in the fantastic ‘Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy’ by Eidos Montréal although, if we focus on the case of ‘The Last of Us’, it is de rigueur to stop at the section in which Ellie and David underpin their relationship. In the original, the hatchling and the perfidious villain cooperate to fend off a horde of infected in a set piece tremendously intense which, in addition to fulfilling its mission of entertaining, establishes the dynamic of trust between the two.


This sequence ended up being discarded in the cathode version of the same arc in what is a decision as controversial as it is correct. The traditional narrative of the series does not need the action to evolve through its acts, and this has resulted in a greater weight of the dialectic that, on the other hand, has not been at odds with keeping the essence of the base material intact. Because let’s remember ‘The Last of Us’ has never been shot, infected and I craftas much as these ingredients are essential for its proper functioning.

'The Last of Us': all the most important differences between the HBO series and the Naughty Dog video game

This gap between Naughty Dog’s ‘The Last of Us’ and the production of ‘HBO’ has allowed those of us who know the story of Joel and Ellie to be able to distance ourselves from both survivors to explore other points of view like those of Bill, Henry, Sam or the one created for the occasion Kathleen in some of the best episodes of the season; balancing fidelity and respect with a necessary renewing look.

Although perhaps the greatest achievement of this exemplary adaptation is that it has made me feel the urgent need to buy the remake of the video game for PS5 after having finished it in its original form and in its remaster for PS4 and despite having the shelf with a good handful of new titles waiting to receive a chance; besides, of course, make me wish all the more for a second season destined to turn the fandom upside down once again how to make the same decisions as the magnum opus of Naughty Dog.

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Peggy McColl

Mentor l NY Times Bestselling Author. Hi, I'm Peggy McColl, and I'm here to deliver a positive message to you!

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