CCPrime #55 - March 2018 - The Last of Us

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Kathryn
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Re: CCPrime Ep. 55 - The Last of Us

Post by Kathryn » Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:23 pm

OH NO! I would love to have read your thoughts on the game and our discussion.
alatinolawyer wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:12 pm
I side with Kathryn on a lot of her positions.
This will do, though. ;)

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Re: CCPrime Ep. 55 - The Last of Us

Post by MightyQDawg » Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:03 pm

Aww, a whole post agreeing with Kathryn disappeared? What a shame!

Seriously, though, that has happened to me several times. I make it a habit to save my submission text in another text editor window before hitting submit.

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Re: CCPrime Ep. 55 - The Last of Us

Post by alatinolawyer » Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:15 pm

Well, I don't want to disappoint the apostle of mercy and grace, Kathryn, so here goes Take 2.

Warning. If you don't like discussions that make explicit reference to theology (in particular Judeo-Christian theology) you can skip my entire post. Second, I am not trying to advocate for any religion, or judging anyone who is not religious, I just think the topics of this game invite some discussions that have similar examples in theology.
The varying responses to Kathryn's prediction that in The Last of Us 2, Joel will be presented with an opportunity to take action that demonstrates redemption really fascinating. OK, so he lies to Ellie and betrays her trust, but you wouldn't want to see him redeemed? I wonder how those viewers feel about quintessential "redemption" character in popular media, Darth Vader, who annihilated an entire planet but is redeemed because he saved his son and killed the Emperor at the end? Interesting.

Which got me thinking about redemption in general. I believe when people have such an adverse reaction to the notion that someone who acted in a morally offensive way could later on be redeemed they are struggling with the term redemption in general.
Definition of redeem
transitive verb
1 a : to buy back : repurchase
b : to get or win back
2 : to free from what distresses or harms: such as
a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom
b : to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
c : to release from blame or debt : clear
d : to free from the consequences of sin
3 : to change for the better : reform
4 : repair, restore
5 a : to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby
b (1) : to remove the obligation of by payment the U.S. Treasury redeems savings bonds on demand (2) : to exchange for something of value redeem trading stamps
c : to make good : fulfill
6 a : to atone for : expiate redeem an error
b (1) : to offset the bad effect of (2) : to make worthwhile : retrieve
When these folks are saying I don't want to see Joel redeemed, I think they are thinking of redemption as defined in definition #6.

But the history of redemption is usually quite different. In Judeo-Christian thought, redemption is something God does, not humans. We need to be redeemed, so how could we redeem ourselves? Whether in Judaism (through offerings and sacrifice) or in Christianity (through the sacrifice of Christ) the idea is that you are not capable of redeeming yourself, God does it.

Definitions 1-5 for the most part, reflect this more ancient understanding of redemption, it's transactional, erasing a debt.God buys back his people that got away. (Definition 1). God frees his people from their imprisonment. (Definition 2). God repairs and restores your brokenness through grace. (Definition 4). And God erases your debt (the wages of sin is death) through his grace (whether it's sacrificial atonement or grace motivated crucifixion).

Arguably, definition 3 is about something a person does, but note that he the focus is prospective (towards the future) and not a belief that you absolve your past sins. So in the case of Joel, if Kathryn is right and he takes an action that redeems him, we're saying that he's restored his integrity and soundness as a human being, not that he's made right the lie to Ellie.

Even with Definition 6, it only becomes upsetting or implausible if you think that the actor who has previously acted badly is the one who is atoning or offsetting the bad effect -- unless he's Darth Vader, then saving one person offsets the annihilation of a planet, right? j/k j/k

But I think The Last of Us plays with truly moral issues and questions that are found in a theological tradition, but does so in a secular setting. The end result is unsatisfying and some would say shows the limitations of secular answers to moral issues. We're in a society that has lost sight of redemption in definitions 1 through 5 as something that is done for us by God, and we focus on the individual's ability to redeem himself (I love that line from Dumb and Dumber, "just when I think you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this and totally redeem yourself!). The end result is that the only people capable of redemption are those that haven't committed truly heinous acts. Man, that's kind of depressing and terrifying all at once.

Moving on.

I was waiting for someone to compare Joel's decision to save Ellie with the quintessential decision Abraham has to make with Isaac, so I'll go ahead and make it. Joel, we have established, has lost his real daughter twenty years ago. He is still scarred by it and wears the watch he got from her and it has likely played a significant role in the hardening of his heart. Ellie comes into his life and over the course of the year he has accepted her as a surrogate daughter. And then he is confronted with a horrible choice, now that he knows they are actually going to kill her in order to try and use her brain to save others, does he let her die or does he save her (really does he save this new father-daughter relationship he has with her)? He chooses to not let her be sacrificed for the chance at saving humanity and some of us are like, eh, I understand and others of us are like, no effing way man. I'll set up the parallels between this choice and Abraham's next and explain why the secularization of society in The Last of Us makes it so much more likely that Joel will choose saving Ellie rather than sacrificing her. Again, Kathryn our patron saint of mercy and grace, leads the way here.

So old Abe is told by God in old age that he and his wife Sara are gonna have a son. He's already old by this time and Sara is clearly beyond child bearing years, so Abe is like, yeah right man, why you playing with me? But God is like, trust me, I'm promising you this and I promise you that your descendants will outnumber the pieces of sand and stars in the sky.

Abe has to wait a long time, and in the process grows impatient and has a son with someone not his wife, but ultimately he does have Isaac with his wife Sara. Then the Bible goes fast forward an untold number of years. We don't know what's happened between Abe and Isaac, but we can assume one thing, Abraham has absolutely fallen in love with his son. I mean, head over heels. When I heard Mark talk about his daughter, I was right there with him, "she's sleeping upstairs." When I think of my kids I am always thinking of what they're doing, where they're at, it's very intentional, very much aware of their life, their fragility, etc. I am probably a little guilty, like Abe and my buddy Mark, of loving our children too much.

God one day says to Abe, yo Abe, you have to take "your son, your only son, whom you love" and sacrifice him. (Note, that when the Spirit of the Lord descends upon Jesus after he's baptized in the Jordan River, God's voice says about Jesus "this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." So in Judeo-Christian theology, God DID sacrifice his beloved son, he was only testing to see if Abraham would be willing to do it).

Abraham is appalled by the choice he has to make. He has to decide who he loves more. Does he love his son more? Does he love God more? Abe ultimately chooses God.
In the Last of Us, Joel is asked to choose what does he love more. Does he love the budding relationship he has with Ellie more? Does he love "the chance of saving the human race" more? We know what Joel chooses.

This is a decision choose is set up to fail. It's a real easy test to fail, and mainly because he's not offered a good enough option B.

In the gospels, Jesus is asked what are the two most important commandments and his answers are in this order: first, love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, body, and soul. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. Lots of commentators have talked about this. One, they comment that this is a compression of the ten commandments (Commandments 1-3 essentially refer to single minded devotion to God, and Commandments 4-10 address how to behave in society). Second, and more important for this discussion is the observation that it is nearly impossible to obey Jesus's second command if you don't obey the first. You cannot love your neighbor as yourself unless you fully love God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. It is that relationship with God that allows you to be moral.

So back in The Last of Us, Joel is set up to fail. Set up. He's asked to choose between does he love his relationship with Ellie more or does he love humanity more? It's not like Abe, who knew he had to choose between his allegiance to God or his son. You cannot expect Joel to choose the shadow of "love of humanity" when there's clearly no love of God in him, as a result of his hardened heart and the apparently secular nature of this world. Seriously, where is God in a world run over by zombie like infected non-humans.

Our patron saint of mercy, Kathryn gets this at a gut level, like, it's not a fair choice, as much as we like the idea of saving humanity, our nature as humans runs against that unless we're also morally right with God and where is God in this game?

Now, moving along.

To the LIE OH THE LIE OF LIES!

We've already established that Joel is not moral. He's not guided by a strong moral compass, but rather by the growing idol in his heart that is the relationship between him and Ellie. Why does it matter so much? I think the discussion was just that she was a replacement, but a better reading has to dig deeper. Do we know anything about his relationship with him and his daughter? Do we know about the timing of her death? The status of their relationship? Why is he still wearing her bracelet 20 years later? Did he have an angry fight with her right before she did? Had he been focused on his work or something else and didn't spend enough time with her? Did he neglect her attempts to gain his attention and love -- SHE GAVE HER DAD A WATCH AS A GIFT, IS THAT NOT SYMBOLIC FOR HERE DADDY I GIVE YOU THE GIFT OF TIME NOW SPEND IT WITH ME!!!!

I suspect the narrative of Joel is that his relationship with his daughter was broken and he is riddled with guilt. His idolatry of the Ellie relationship (it has to be idolatry if he's going to choose it over the opportunity to love your neighbor as yourself, and he loves himself by surviving) is because he views it as a vehicle to atone for those past errors (oh no we're talking about redemption!!!! See Kathryn is RIGHT AGAIN!!!!) So, am I surprised that he lies to her at the very end? Fuck no.

Eric says if he really loved her he would have told her. But Eric, he doesn't love her, he loves what he thinks he can get out of this relationship, which is substituted forgiveness from his actual daughter whom he failed to love well enough in real life. When we take the path down following the commands of our idols, we don't just make one bad decision (choosing to save Ellie over humanity) we make a shitload of bad decisions (lying, covering up, stealing, betrayal, it goes on and on). The end result is bad, always bad, but usually taking your idols to their limits also show you how pointless they really are, and THEN you are ready for redemption.

So am I surprised that he lied? No.

Is it an irredeemable sin? Maybe from the point of human efforts it is, but if redemption is not Definition 4 or 6, but Definitions 1-3 and 5, then I see hope for Joel because it will be a higher power that's guiding him, even if it's not a Judeo-Christian higher power, some spiritual awakening is the mechanism by which Joel could be redeemed, and that redemption could be expressed by actions that demonstrate he is on solid footing again.
Great episode guys. I was talking to my wife about this episode, this game, and she was so enthralled. I showed her the YouTube trailer for PS3 and her exact words were "This is so cool. Great grahics" and when I said, hey maybe one day we could play it together (we don't even have a PS3/4) her response was "I would love to."

For those who may not know, she's not in any way, shape or form a gamer -- although Ephraim playing 3DS and Wii U and handing the game to her when he gets stuck on hard parts is slowly changing that. So this clearly is a landmark game if it's making her excited about buying an entire system just to play one game.

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alatinolawyer
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Re: CCPrime Ep. 55 - The Last of Us

Post by alatinolawyer » Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:16 pm

MightyQDawg wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 6:03 pm
Aww, a whole post agreeing with Kathryn disappeared? What a shame!

Seriously, though, that has happened to me several times. I make it a habit to save my submission text in another text editor window before hitting submit.

--
Eric
I just re-wrote the general ideas of my post. I know the main thrust is the same, although definitely not word for word what I had in mind fresh after the podcast.

I hit Ctl-A to select all and Ctl-C to paste before I submitted :)

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Kathryn
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Re: CCPrime Ep. 55 - The Last of Us

Post by Kathryn » Thu Apr 26, 2018 9:13 pm

Phew! I would have been pretty pissed off after losing that post, too!

tl;dr: KATHRYN IS RIGHT!! :D

Thanks for taking the time to rewrite your post, Diego. This was a fascinating dissertation on the morality and motivation behind Joel's decision to save Ellie, and then to lie to her about it from a Judeo-Christian theological perspective. Not a perspective that I had considered, but once laid out by you, I can certainly now see. Also, thanks for making me sound smarter and nicer that I actually am. :P

I love The Last of Us, which you can probably tell, and the prospect of you playing through it with your wife excites me...mostly because it means that maybe someday you will get a Playstation! ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

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