Critical Thinking: The Last of Us

[The latest installment of Critical Thinking with M and Em]

“OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Are you a gamer, Em?”

“I am not a gamer, no.”

“Neither am I.”

“Yes, I know.”

“You know but they don’t, most of them anyway. Which is important since—”

“Since we are talking here about a video game adaptation to a TV series. Yes.”

“The best one ever, no less.”

“It would pretty much have to be, wouldn’t it.”

“Now, how would you know that, being the non-gamer you claim to be?”

“Well, I feel that the movies, TV, the entertainment industry as a whole has been one long attempt at a video game adaptation for years now.”

“OK. But how can you say that after telling us that you aren’t a game—”

“You can not be a gamer, M, while still being aware of video games. I have played video games. I’m not some cave-dwelling luddite, right? I have a general sense of the aesthetics of video games especially these types like The Last of Us. I feel confident enough in that awareness to say that I believe somebody like Michael Bay is not a film director so much as he’s an adapter of video games for the big screen. How’s that?”

“OK. But you’re no gamer.”

“I am not, no. But I do think it’s important to point out that while we’re not gamers, you and me, neither of us necessarily look down on gaming as a hobby or pastime or whatever you want to call it. Have at it, I say. No judgement. It’s not like I’m off reading the Russians while you’re Grand Theft Autoing.”

“You might be dating yourself, Em.”

“With the video or literature reference?”

“A toss-up.”

“Fair enough. I am old. Older. Let me just say—”

“To all you young punk gamers out there. In my day—”

“That when I’m winding down in front of a screen, looking to be entertained, I want to do it passively. I want to be led. I want it to filter over me. I don’t want to be any more actively engaged than the occasional yelling at the TV at some ridiculous plot turn, yeah?”

“Sure. While some game, you Crown.”


“Now that’s out of the way.”

“What do we know about gaming anyway?”

“Right. Point two.”




“The Walking Dead, blah, blah, blah. I could care less about zombies. I don’t get zombies. The genre baffles me. Slow-moving, grunting and squalling monsters that aren’t really that hard to kill except when there’s a mass of them. These ones—”

“In the Last of Us, just in case that’s not obvious. Did we mention that already?”

“I don’t know. Put it in the title. The Last of Us zombies don’t even eat your brains! What’s the point of having zombies if they’re not feasting on brains?”

“George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its critique of mindless consumer cultural. Or was that Invasion of the Body Snatchers?”


“Whatever, right? Fine. How many variations on the same theme can you have?”

“Do you need.”

“Do you need, right. I say, You’ve seen one zombie movie, you’ve seen them all. The threat level’s the same. It’s just the production values and curlicues that change.”

“Now, to be fair, neither of us are really horror movie or TV fans.”

“That’s true. So why are we wasting everyone’s time talking about this?”

“Well, those were just a couple disclaimers. To establish our critical parameters.”

“Critical parameters? Fan-cee.”

“In other words, we may not be the best judges of something like The Last of Us.”

“It’s not really up our critical alley, so to speak.”

“A show outside our critical parameters.”

“Duly noted.”

“What I really wanted to talk about in terms of the show is its antagonist.”

“The villain of the story, yeah. Who is?”

What is?”

“What is.”

“OK. Today’s bit of Critical Thinking asks: Why is the fungi always the bad guy?”

“That’s the only reason you wanted to do this, isn’t it. For that line. It isn’t even that good of a line.”

“I thought it was a good line.”

“You thought it was a good line or the fungus infecting your brain thinks it’s a good line? I’m talking with some fungus-controlled brain right now, aren’t I. Trying to muscle in on our space here. Do fungi ‘muscle’ so much as sprout hyphal networks?”

“All good questions, Em. None of which get asked on the Last of Us.”

“Why would it?”

“Why would it what?”

“Why would it be asking those questions? It’s a zombie show!”

“But it might make it a more interesting zombie show, don’t you think?”


“Well, for starters, why does this particular fungus infection turn people into zombies that go around biting other people? In nature, the ant or insect infect by the cordyceps fungi—”

“Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, for the lay person out there.”

“It just goes up and bites down on a plant and waits to die. Then it blossoms into a spore spreading carcass.”

“That wouldn’t really make for very exciting viewing though, would it, M. Infected people going around and just biting on the nearest thing and then slowly decomposing into a fount of spores. Not really Must See TV. On the other hand, think about this. It’s the carpenter ant that is one of the species that gets zombified by this particular fungus, right?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“And don’t the carpenter ants, aren’t they like leaf and forest refuse collectors in the wild? So this fungus just uses their instinctive drive to gather leaves but kills it before it does. What if, in this case—”

“The Last of Us case.”

“Yes, the Last of Us case, the fungus is just tapping into a basic human instinct to get the job done?”

“What basic human instinct is that?”

“Murderous rampaging. Stripped of any social control or conditioning by the fungal infection, we just go around doing what comes natural to us. Killing other people. So, in the end, it isn’t the fungi that’s the bad guy, we are, us humans, and our insatiable bloodlust. How about that? Mind blown?”

“And the fungal spores spraying indiscriminately into the air, infecting anyone nearby including you, Em.”

“I am concerned though with this softness you’re displaying toward fungi here. With the inevitable war that’s coming, whose side are you going to be on, eh? Man or Mushroom? Are you a Man or Mushroom, M? The audience wants to know.”

“Hey, look. Don’t be laying your martial mindset on me and the mushrooms. Ours is a much more entwined and symbiotic point of view, OK? It’s not all about mortal combat and competition to the death. That’s what I’m talking about here. The fungal infection could’ve taken a much more interesting angle on the show. Instead of turning everybody into vicious serial killers, maybe the fungus activated the cooperative aspect of our nature, yeah?”

“But then, it wouldn’t be a show about zombies.”

“It didn’t have to be a show about zombies.”

“But it was adapted from a video game with zombies.”

“Then, adapt a show from a video game that explores the collaborative dynamic at work in nature.”

“There’s video game like that?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a gamer.”

“We’ve established that.”

“But maybe I would be if there was a game like that.”

“A game like what? I need more details.”

“A game that doesn’t lionize a quick trigger-finger. A game not pixelating blood and gore. A game that builds community instead of a high body count. An emphasis on collaborative interaction rather than individual achievement. Give me a game that builds an emergent whole from a collective effort as opposed to one that crowns a king of the streets, of middle earth, of the planet Osrog.”


“Give me a video game—”

“—and subsequent big screen or television adaptation—”

“—that rewards new ways of thinking, new approaches to problem solving and world better…ing, a new type of humanity. Give me a video game that challenges our better instincts and stops glorifying everything that titillates the sordid, decadent, wretched and ignoble, organ-feasting side of us.”

“I love it when you rail and end up standing on the desk.”

“I don’t even remember getting up here.”

“You say that every time. While you creak and groan back down into your seat, let me just say that I’m sure there are video games out there like that.”

“Name one.”

“I don’t know. The Sims?”

“Name anoth—”

“No. I’m not playing that. The thing is, conflict sits at the heart of drama, as I’m sure you’ve read or heard.”

“But conflict doesn’t ha—”

“Blah, blah, blah. Tell it to Shakespeare. We can’t even manage to work collaboratively, collectively and peacefully in real life—”

“IRL, as the kids say.”

“Why on earth would we want to operate like that during our off-hours?”

“That’s just defeatist and small-min—”

“Whatever, M. It’s just reality. And the real lesson we should take away from all this chitter-chatter of ours is that we shouldn’t be wading in on stuff we don’t know enough about or, when it comes right down to it, don’t give a shit about. Video games. Zombie movies.”

“But that’s our thing!”

“We just wind up looking like idiots. Self-indulgent idiots at that.”

“I don’t know self-indulgent so much as self-loathing.”

“Worst review ever.”

“Nah. I’m pretty sure we’ve done worse.”

“Name one.”

“Let’s not wallow in our failures, Em.”

“All because you got high and came up with the Why are fungi always the bad guy? I knew it. I said it.”

“The Last of Us. New epidsodes airing every Sunday. Check your local listings. That’s a wrap for us, not the last of us, hopefully.”

“Oh, would you—”

“I’m M with my co-host Em—”

“You suck. We suck.”

“And this is Critical Thinking.”

“Is it?”


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