What Would You Do for Your Baby Girl? Father Figures in The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite

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Both games may present wildly dystopian futures as part of their isolated narratives, but they also speak of men coming into their own with fatherhood and relationships.

 

The beauty and impressiveness of both The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite have left gamers worldwide literally screaming their acclaim.  Across the net, both games have already been singled out as sure-fire GOTY candidates, and it’s no secret why: these games are bonafide masterpieces.  With complex worlds backed by great designs and smooth mechanics, they’ve caught everyone’s attention. Graphics and gameplay aside though, what’s drawn everyone in are the game’s characters and the eventual outcomes of the stories they’re involved in.

 

Booker/Elizabeth and Joel/Ellie’s journeys both culminate in events are so startling and unique that they’ve left gamers debating their significance across the boards. What’d I’d like to do here is leave my two cents on the endings, by linking them together through one strong thematic thread: father/daughter relations.  I’ll give a brief recap of each story and ending, and then I’ll follow up with a few paragraphs on my thoughts at the end of the piece.

 

Bioshock Infinite

 

By the time we reach Infinite’s shocker of an ending, we’ve been presented with some startling news as Elizabeth reveals the game’s secrets:

 

 

Comstock,  the power-hungry tyrant who has been relentlessly pursuing Booker and Elizabeth as they attempt their escape from Colombia, is none other than Booker himself. The early baptismal scene found in the game’s opening reflects a point in Booker’s life when he was given the choice to surrender himself to God. In one timeline, Booker refuses his cleansing and ends up a washed-out has been who drinks himself into oblivion.  Overcome by his guilt for his murders at Wounded Knee, he gives up Anna (Elizabeth) to what he believes to be debt collectors in order to get himself back on his feet.  And although at the last moment he changes his mind, the two mysterious individuals and older bearded man manage to slip through a portal with his baby.

 

The older man is actually Booker in alternate reality where he had accepted the baptism and found organized religion.  With the help of the Lutec Twins, he’s managed to create a worm-hole in the space time continuum in order to “rescue” Anna from his alternate drunkard self. But despite his believed intentions, Comstock is filled with self-righteousness and hatred, and he seals Anna (now Elizabeth) inside a tower while he grooms her to be his heir who will one day forcefully rid the world of  all he believes to be unholy.  Realizing the danger that Elizabeth is in, the Lutec twins step back into Booker’s life so that he can save his daughter and defeat Comstock. Booker, in his attempt to avoid guilt, reconstructs a false narrative around the scenario, and we find ourselves back of the beginning of the game. With all this knew-found knowledge, Booker realizes what he must do to end the pain he has caused his daughter.  In a complete reversal from his former self-pitying and self-righteous selves, Booker allows Elizabeth to baptismally drown him in order to save the fabric of existence itself.

 

The Last of Us

 

Tragedy strikes Joel almost immediately in The Last of Us. As he flees with his daughter from the immediate aftermath of the cordyceps virus, he’s confronted by a military solider:

 

 

With his daughter dead, it’s easy to see why Joel takes so long to warm up to Ellie. He’s afraid that he’ll grow emotionally attached to the girl and lose that which he loves once again. His fears, however, are not enough to halt the inevitable. As the months roll by, Joel and Ellie are forced to rely upon each to survive. Together, they face zombies, cannibals, and the rigorous landscape of post-apocalyptic America. Joel saves Ellie’s hide, Ellie saves his. And a father/daughter relationship begins to develop. It’s touching, to say the least. My favorite scene that signals the direction of their bond is when Joel shows Ellie how to use a rifle:

 

 

By the time they’ve reached The Firefly’s hideout, Joel and Ellie have become an inseparable father/daughter team. So when the Fireflies scoop up, drug, and put Ellie under without her consent, Joel gets pissed. Joel knows that the only way humanity has a chance is if Ellie dies, but he can’t let himself give her up.  She’s all he has left; she’s become his sole purpose for existence.  With  Ellie’s life on the line, Joel embarks on a murderous rampage through the hospital in order to rescue his “baby girl.” He will not let his “daughter” die again, there will be no repeat of the past; even if it means the death of humanity. Even if it means denying Ellie’s wish.

 

Ellie and Joel manage to escape, but as they make their way back through the jungle to a former safe haven, there’s trouble in the air.  Ellie is weighed down and depressed, and any observant gamer will be able to tell that it’s not merely due to the fact that she was unconscious for so long.  Her deep intuition is telling her that Joel isn’t being truthful.  And sure enough, when she confronts him about the Fireflies, he flat out lies to her face.  It’s clear that Ellie wanted to help mankind, but Joel’s desperate need to hold onto that which he held dear ultimately outweighed not only his obligation towards the world, but Ellie as well.

 

 

Who’s the Better Father?

 

I’ve never had a child, so I can’t say that I honestly feel the full impact of the choices made by Booker or Joel, but I don’t think it’s too difficult to say who comes out on top as a better father.  It’s clearly Booker.  Despite the fact that Booker’s troubles begin when he kidnaps/abducts his daughter, he eventually manages to overcome his own self-pity and sacrifice himself so that his own daughter (and the universe) might be rid of pain.  If only we could all be so selfless.

 

Joel, on the other hand, is too human in the end.  It’s difficult to blame the man; he went daughterless for 20 years, regained a semblance of that which he had lost, and faced the prospect of losing it again.  But his rescue of Ellie is not one motivated by love.  Rather, it is a selfish act driven by the ego.  If one doubts this, one only needs to re-watch the ending video.  Ellie takes Joel’s response with a sad knowing shift of the eyes. She’s been robbed of her purpose by her father; and yet her purity wins out. She manages to forgive him regardless.

 

So…two fathers, two daughters. One heroic dad, one selfish man who dooms mankind. Am I off the mark, or do you agree? Please leave your thoughts below!

 

 

 

Responses (16)

  1. Sean Guitrau says:

    What I got from Joel was that he cared for Ellie just like he would his own little girl. In the end she knew it was a lie that their was no cure and others like her. To me it seemed that she wanted Joel to tell her it was ok to believe the lie. She knew it was selfish and wanted assurance that what happened was ok. I would have done the same, humanity is lost and what little remains is living by a thread. I say in that world you protect your family and self over others that wouldn't risk their lives for you.

  2. I think you nailed it, to be quite honest.

  3. Nolan Donnelly says:

    I don't think Joel was too selfish. Seemed to me he just didn't deem humanity as worthy of her sacrifice, and judging by the previous 15 hours of the game, its hard to argue otherwise.

  4. Aaron Ploof says:

    Perhaps, but I doubt this was what was going through his head when he decided to save Ellie. Honestly, I think it was purely driven by the ego: fear.

    Joel was selfish. He cared even more about himself than what Ellie would have wanted. His guilt is evident at the end, and when Marlene says, "She would have wanted this, and you know it."

  5. Dani Ocampo says:

    Yes, Joel was selfish, but I would have done the same.. Screw humanity lol.

  6. I mean, Booker is the ideal image of a father, but, lets be honest, Joel is a real father, any father would do what Joel did, we're humans, and we depend on interaction, communication and love… Also, I wouldn't had saved the humanty from The Last of Us.

  7. Rift Heilagr Reilous says:

    Joel is definitely the better father, and The Last of Us is definitely the better game.

  8. Rift Heilagr Reilous says:

    Aaron Ploof I disagree, but not entirely. I doubt Joel was considering all of humanity when he made the decision to save Ellie. Instead, he was considering nothing but Ellie; everything else was completely unimportant to him. Losing her would certainly be a fear of his, but I think he was driven by love rather than anything as base as fear when he made the decision to save her. He may not be a shining example of humanity, but he does become a shining example of fatherhood: Joel would literally not trade Ellie for the world.

  9. Rift Heilagr Reilous says:

    After all, what is love (oh baby d–) but an extreme form of selfishness?

  10. I don't really think Booker proved to himself as a father, he knew he was her father at the end of the game. Still, I enjoyed Bioshock Infinite more than The Last of Us.

  11. Aaron Ploof says:

    Love is the ultimate opposite of selfishness. Surrendering the ego is selfless, and it was Joel's ego that desired Ellie's companionship. He definitely didn't save her for her own sake.

  12. Aaron Ploof says:

    The Last of US is the better game. As for why Booker is the better father, it's because he died to fufill a purpose greater than his.

    Joel selfishly screwed Ellie out of her desired purpose. That's not fatherly to me.

  13. Aaron Ploof says:

    I think, the definition of a father…a father doesn't lie to his daughter and take away the only reason she has left maintain purpose in her life.

    What is is a life without meaning. Without purpose, man is nothing but a walking shell. At the end, that's all that Ellie's been reduced to. I'd rather be dead having fulfilled my purpose than be a walking shell of my former self.

    Of course, Ellie didn't exactly get a choice, and that's where things become complicated.

  14. Aaron Ploof says:

    But Joel knew that Ellie would have given up her life. His hesitation when Marlene throws the question at him is evidence enough.

  15. Anna Childree says:

    I really don't think Ellie had a " knowing shift of the eyes," dude. I think the implication was supposed to be that she believed him. Joel was being selfish, yes, but I don't think he figured it would work, so why should Ellie die for nothing? NONE of their other "cures" had worked, so what made this one different? They had lost contact with the rest of the world, who was to say whether or not anyone else had been in Ellie's same position? Bitten but no signs… I just don't think Joel believed that humanity's plight was on Ellie. She deserved to live as normal of a life as possible and she hadn't gotten a chance to do that. There was so much more to that story than you're telling/seeing.
    And it seemed to me that Booker didn't voluntarily drown, it seemed like he was forced by the 3 of them to be drowned…

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