THE LAST OF US
The world has been overrun with zombies, as usual, and the only people who survive are rugged individuals and bands of armed mercenaries. You play as an ordinary tween girl, El, tasked by a boy you love and trust with protecting a headstrong middle-aged man, Joely, who may hold within his delicate body the key to human salvation. For the first half of the game, you must use your skills to keep him safe, though eventually you trust him enough to give him his own pistol and he assists you during fights. You grow to bond with your grizzled middle-aged companion through a series of incidents, while stubbornly denying that he is nothing more to you than a surrogate for your own father. When you are gravely injured, Joely feeds you and brings you medicine, but while he is on his own he is captured and held by the tween leader of a cannibal cult, forcing you to torture and kill the cult members you capture before mounting a raid on their compound to rescue him.
In an innovative twist, you are briefly allowed to play as Joely (though admittedly only while El is incapacitated by injury). The writers have gone out of their way to present the men in this game as having their own agency and goals, a laudable change from the passive wriggle-and-squeal tropes of men in video games. Also refreshingly, no one suggests that the cannibals will abuse Joely sexually (perhaps because of his age), only that they are likely to eat him. The violence, however, is still quite shocking: especially when you play sidekick, the animations have you stabbing girls many times in the eyes, neck, and groin to disable them. The context cues of the game ensure that whenever El kills a girl, you know you are killing a human being with personal relationships to her sisters-in-arms, and one of the last human survivors of the apocalypse--all the more distressing because the game frequently requires you to kill all the girls in an area before you can progress.
The visuals, writing and music in the game are all top-notch, but it suffers from being mired in a survivalist fantasy that has always been about honoring and privileging feminine skills at the expense of masculine ones. The world of The Last of Us is designed to make technological consumerism, lawn-mowing, and high-shelf-reaching look like ridiculous, obsolete skills; mending, cooking, conflict resolution and child-rearing are the valued skillsets of the post-apocalyptic age. It gives me pause that so many of our modern fantasies are about this type of world. It seems to presage a generation of women dreaming about a world where they can be respected for their base animal qualities, without having to worry about male concerns or social pressures. I shudder to think about the position of men in such a world.