KSD: Bridging the worlds of videogames and cinema often proves an exacting task given each respective medium’s dissimilar language, values, and history within culture more broadly. However, videogames owe a lot to over a century of film form and storytelling, and it would be erroneous to assume that the medium exists in a cultural vacuum that should be delineated apart from a rich tradition of artistic practices. I typically refer to an insightful essay from Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman that defends the potential for videogame expression through reshaping the language of cinema, and I’ll cite my own thoughts on how movies can afford videogames greater depth and context with existing themes and styles. The question of how videogames invoke cinema still remains a topic worth parsing out in greater detail by theorists and commentators greater than I, but it’s the foundation with which I closely examine two seemingly distant texts.
Perhaps the most affecting AAA title in recent memory, with a tightly wound narrative calcified by solid performances from Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, Naughty Dog’s 2013 effort The Last of Us evinces a cinematic quality often ascribed to games, but rarely interrogated thoroughly. Moreover, I’ll propose now that the game’s plot, organized around seasonal change, also bespeaks an episodic television structure, but that thought opens a new argument entirely. So if we talk about The Last of Us and its cinematic forebears, many audiences often identify analogous post-apocalypse travel narratives like John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, or Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of P. D. James’s Children of Men. The comparisons make sense, as certain visual elements, character relationships, themes, and narrative beats overlap. Instead, I’ll point to a less obvious but absolutely relevant kindred spirit: John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece The Searchers, a towering Western at the height of its genre.