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.
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!