By Paras Vora
20 years. It has been two decades since a special strain of mutated Cordyceps fungus emerged and started infecting humans, subsequently taking over their brains and turning them into ‘The Infected’, also known as ‘Clickers’, because of the sound they make. Since then, the United States Government, and the military — or whatever is left of it — has placed most of the cities under martial law, establishing Quarantine Zones in several major cities. Each zone features numerous checkpoints where civilians are scanned and tested for infection; any survivor found with even the slightest trace of the disease is euthanised on-site, or kept in an isolated prison. Outside the quarantine zones, nature has reclaimed much of the land lost to humans in recent centuries, resulting in startling contrasts of green and grey in America's abandoned cities.
Joel, a smuggler, trapped within a quarantine zone in Boston, sells weapons and drugs on the black market, often trading through barter in ration cards for goods, supplies, or favours. An occurrence of the event leaves Joel with a promise made to a lifelong friend, that he will take care of a young girl named Ellie as they try to escape from the quarantine zone and travel across the country in search of the ‘Fireflies’, an organisation which aims to restore modern society and find a cure for the disease, without the help of the US Government. On the road, they encounter scavengers, hunters, and other dangerous and cruel survivors looking to exploit the weak and gullible to better their own situations; many groups see Joel and Ellie as an opportunity. The pair constantly battle with these abhorrent groups, as well as hordes of the Infected, as they make their way across the country to the Fireflies. Joel must protect Ellie very discreetly for she has a bite mark of the infected, from when she was initially with the Fireflies and could not escape with her friend, Riley, when they were ambushed by a bunch of Clickers. She loses Riley to a remorseless demise before finding shelter in a nearby town.
*Sound of a console turning off*
The game The Last of Us is one of my primary means of solace in this lockdown period. It’s not only entertaining as all games should be, but the main reason it exudes maximum comfort is that it reflects our current pandemic scenario. I have spent the better part of this period on this game, abusing my PS4 to new lengths, lulling me into a sense of security of how the world outside is still not as bad as what’s portrayed in the game, that there’s still hope for salvation. My reason for writing about the game’s backstory before a legitimate introduction was simply this — hope. In the game, despite the odds being against them, Riley and Ellie make the best of it right until the very end. That peace that they found in each other and enjoyed until their last moments, is an indication of the silver lining in every situation.
While it’s moronic to hunt for one in literally every situation, hope is, in the end, what keeps the world moving. That hope is what reassures me that this isn’t absolute, there’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel and soon I will be sharing anecdotes with my friends, making light of the incidents we all went through. As cliche as it sounds, unity in times of distress is what makes the world go round, and thus, not even human-flesh-eating- nasty-horrifying-vile-disturbing-horrible Clickers can scare us (okay, maybe a little)! I realise that we could be a lot worse off right now, that we’re still miles away from mass hysteria, and a total apocalypse that would lead to a dystopian reality, where killing is the only way to survive. The other thing that piqued my fascination was the imaginative gaming Ellie indulges in, with instructions from Riley. It convinced me of the power of the mind, as a tool for evil as well as idle entertainment, that could turn out to be a great consolation.
*Takes a deep breath and prepares to partake in a mind game of my own imagination*
First, I will choose my character — the unstoppable, hobby-driven, sword-wielding, yet contrastingly quiet and composed, Ace of Hope. I am at the edge of the Isolation Temple. A newly formed place, still undergoing its evolution, taking me by surprise each time it increases a level by 15 points, making it extremely difficult to overcome. My opponent, the fungal and yet lethargic explosion of sadness, Lock of Despair, steps out of the temple. He is a dehumanising, demotivating, wielder of a sword named Sorrow, growing tower of horror, which extinguishes your will and brings you to your gloomy and mundane end with whatever little time you have left. He is out to get me to submit to the prosaic state of mind and a lifestyle of neglect. The anguish tune kicks up as he surrounds the arena and tries to chase and fight me.
No amount of awareness can prepare me for the battle that follows.
It begins as he rushes towards me. He throws a double ‘punch of inertia’ towards me, I fail to jump up in time, and he lands the blow on my face. I fall flat on it, reducing my energy gauge. I’m in need of some strength and motivation so I take a healing potion brewed out of a ‘balanced meal and water'. I regain my strength and stand up. He throws another 'punch of inertia' but this time around, I’m ready. I jump up, land behind him, quickly slash him with a masterful attack — a strike of ‘engaging hobbies’, enhanced with a spell of ‘productivity and vigour’. I cut him wide open, diminishing his health by half, with a critical hit. The hit had a secret added touch — the bonus of ‘enthusiasm’. He spins around and counters with a slash of his sword, empowered by the punches of ‘indolence’ and ‘dormancy’. They connect perfectly and leave me overcome with a heavy sense of fatigue. The melancholic aura of the surrounding place silently nudges me to accept defeat and I almost give in.
Then my ears start ringing. Slowly at first, incoherent chants surround my mind. And then it increases until I’m able to make out the voices of my social foundation — my family, my friends — everyone cheering me on to not lose will and providing me with the inspiration I did not know I needed. I struggle to my feet, with whatever fight is left in me, and I drink another healing potion, this time, enhanced with the chants of love and motivation, ambition and optimism. I look at Lock of Despair right in the eye, and raise my sword for a final blow of judgement, shining bright with endurance. I charge towards him and pierce right through his lugubrious core and diminish his health to zero. Thereafter, proceeding to the next level and defeating the evolution was easy. I realise that I am not alone in any endeavour of my life. That thought fills me with all the hope I would need for my future opponents and battles, and I finally breathe the fresh air of relief.
I hope, the next battle of the lockdown will be the final one. Otherwise, I will just have to keep swinging and enhancing my sword with extra hobbies, patience, optimism and hope — tedious, yet doable. That’s all folks!