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The Parent's Dilemma: Playing The Last of Us The Proper Way

by Kyle Hilliard on Jul 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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It took me longer to play The Last of Us than most around the Game Informer offices, because I had a personal insistence on playing the game under the proper conditions.

Before the game released, I was discussing it outside of work and my expressed hesitance to play it. I’ve been a big Naughty Dog fan for quite some time. I have fond memories of Crash Bandicoot, the Jak & Daxter series is among my favorite games of the previous generation, and I enjoyed all three Uncharted games. I was confident I would appreciate The Last of Us based on the developer’s pedigree, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to play the game properly. I don’t mean that I would be holding the controller upside down, or facing away from the television. I was worried the conditions I would be afforded to experience the game – in a house with a child and limited play time – would distract from the tension and story that The Last of Us promised to deliver.

My favorite way to watch a movie is in a theater. It’s not because of the large screen, superior sound system, or the anxiety that envelopes me when people are quietly chatting during the previews and I fear they won’t stop their conversation when the movie begins. It’s my favorite way to watch a movie because it’s the most absorbing way to watch. Pausing the film for bathroom or food breaks is not an option. No one is talking (as long as everyone is acting like polite human beings), and the chairs are just uncomfortable enough where I don’t find myself drifting to sleep during the climax of the film – something that happens 100-percent of the time when I watch movies at home. I am even forced to turn off my phone. The theater is excellent at eliminating distractions and demanding your complete focus. It’s the equivalent of wearing horse blinders while watching TV, but without all the confused questioning from roommates or significant others.

I don’t mind playing most games with distractions. I take breaks frequently, pause games mid-cutscene to eat in fear of surprise quick-time events, and quickly turn games off the moment the baby wakes up from her naps. For The Last of Us, however, I didn’t want to play this way. Normally I might try to get in a nightly 30 minutes on a game, but for Joel and Ellie, I only played when I knew I could devote at least two hours to the game. I even opted out of playing in my living room with the larger TV in favor of a small darkened room where I could sit closer to smaller TV. It was much more intimate.

Playing this way meant I could only play about once a week, but it was worth it. After sitting in a dark room watching the credits roll in a silent house, with quiet snoring from a fast-asleep baby coming from the monitor and my phone switched to silent and placed face-down, I am confident that I made the right decision. Anything less would have felt like I wasn’t playing the game as Naughty Dog intended. In a dark room, it’s also much easier to hide the tears that might appear during a few key moments, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.