The very beginning of The Last of Us is heartbreaking. It shows loss of one’s child in a brutal and incredibly emotional way, and, according to the game’s Creative Director Neil Druckmann, part of that emotional surge we get when we watch Sarah die in Joel’s arms is because we actually play as her for a few minutes.
Speaking with GamesRadar, Druckmann explained that the original opening of The Last of Us was to be told through Joel’s eyes. Players were “going to hear this scream at a neighbour’s house” and run to check it out, only to be attacked by a zombie version of the neighbor. However, during a brainstorm session, one of the game’s designers mentioned that he “can tell what’s going to happen before it happens,” prompting the idea to play as Joel’s daughter Sarah at the start of the game.
And all of a sudden, that became a lot more intriguing. It let us build the fear of seeing the apocalypse from a kid’s perspective instead of the adult’s point of view. And as a kid, you’re kind of being lied to and you’re trying to be protected. And I think through interactivity it lets you connect with Sarah really quickly. I think in a movie it would be very challenging to connect with her on such a level. But somehow, seeing you with the stick moving her, I think, is the magical thing about games. I believe as you start thinking as Sarah, you start seeing the situation as Sarah.
Essentially, playing as Sarah allows players to almost instantly build a relationship with her, making her death only several minutes later all the more impactful. Druckmann noted that this helps players “feel Joel’s pain,” which enabled them to instantly “create empathy with this guy.”
If you have gotten to play The Last of Us (and I hope you have), let us know your thoughts on the beginning of the game. Did you find Sarah’s death emotionally powerful?