As with any entertainment medium, if video games want to progress, they shouldn’t feel the need to shy away from more mature topics and subject matter. This sentiment was tested Yesterday when PlayStation absolutely stormed it at Paris Games Week with a conference that expertly balanced showing new aspects of familiar IPs, as well as out and out surprising us all with new reveals like Guacamelee! 2. Audiences were left stunned at the very end of the showcase however, due to The Last of Us: Part II’s particularly bleak cinematic trailer.
Awkward shifts in tone had already made themselves known earlier on in the night when a trailer for Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human fared into the equally-uncomfortable territory of child abuse. David Cage is no stranger to controversy of course, but PlayStation’s disposition to venture into darker topics was really solidified once Naughty Dog’s highly anticipated sequel reared its head by way of a brutal torture scene.
The scene in question depicts the capturing and stringing-up of a woman who is forcibly questioned for information, before the captors unnervingly decide to “clip her wings”. Bones are then preceded to be broken, before said sufferer is eventually rescued, but there’s no denying that it was a particularly bleak note to end on. This sparked online debate about whether games have gone too far this time, but really, it’s my belief that why this trailer garnered much backlash is due to a significant lack of context.
The initial tease for Last of Us: Part II at last year’s PSX avoided such controversy, largely due to its familiarity. Ellie and Joel appear next to each other with the former strumming away on an acoustic guitar. The world is devoid of hope, but fans of the original game are readily expecting such imagery. This second trailer however features no such familiar characters, leading the majority of people to question what game they’re even watching the trailer for until the words “Last of Us: Part II” spoil the screen.
Thanks to this lack of familiarity, we have no idea which of these two factions we should be rooting for, not knowing whether the horrific act we’re witnessing on screen is justified or not. It’s uncomfortable viewing, and understandably so, but you have to feel for developers Naughty Dog. At present, I’d be very surprised if the game was even halfway through development, leaving their hands tied to merely show what they have rather than a “perfect” tease that’s more indicative of the final product.
I have no doubt in my mind that the torture scene showed off will appear in the final version of Last of Us: Part II, but when experienced in this way – in the correct context- I have every faith that Naughty Dog will implement it in a manner that makes more sense. Should video games continue to explore some of the darker sides of humanity? Absolutely. Just as long as any horrors are contextualised appropriately. Like it or not, this isn’t always possible in a conference trailer.