When Sony, PlayStation Productions and the video game developer Naughty Dog decided to adapt the cult video game The Last Of Us to a tv series, they decided to start from the game’s architecture and design of the environments.
No video game has ever been adapted this way before. Usually, the adaptation process starts from the characters or the storytelling as an expedient to create a new and separate storyline, which is often unfaithful to the original; but this time, since the writing of The Last Of Us is the secret to its popularity, the show was adapted with an almost obsessive faithfulness to the game as if it was a novel.
So, for the first time, someone had to wonder where to start to recreate the feeling of playing a video game in a tv show. The answer was in the architecture pf the spaces.
PlayStation and Naughty Dog, with the production support of HBO, went to the root The Last Of Us’ essence and found their answer in the places, in the light filtering through the crumbling buildings that lean against the wildly overgrown vegetation, in the furniture consumed by grass, in the unruly backyards of the houses, and in the architecture of the abandoned countryside America.
Neil Druckmann, designer and writer of both The Last Of Us video games and screenwriter of the tv show, had already made the environment design the key component of his video game – he used the places and everything that exists within them to tell his vision of the world, depict the human brutality that comes to light in moments of crisis, the characters’ desperate need of closeness, which brings them to make extreme choices, and the crude display of fear crushing any tenderness.
The 9 episodes of the tv series faithfully follow the plot of a man and a girl crossing the US devasted by a zombie apocalypse and the developing of their relationship through constant digressions that expand the story, follow supporting characters, and explore that crumbling world. However, to these series production rules, The Last Of Us adds its particular use of the indoor and outdoor spaces to tell the heart of the story as seen in the video game – they are not a mere support to the plot but the description of how we live together but then die alone.
The house where it all begins looks nearly exactly the same as in the video game. While in the game, we dive right into the night when the chaos erupts, in the series the story starts a bit earlier, nothing else changes – doors, windows, stairs, furniture…everything is exactly the same and sends out a clear message: we found that world in its design. The backyards, the brick buildings eaten away by the plants, the steel doors and the platforms, the wasteland, and the interiors of the university and abandoned research center the characters visit.
Even the ravaged gas stations are exactly the same. What is recreated even more maniacally is the lighting of the places where there could be zombies or even more dangerous men. The light is what guides the eye of the viewer and, to some extent, shapes the places and connects specific sensations to the environments.
There are bleak landscapes, abandoned cities, rooms where the mutated fungus infecting the people has infested the walls as well; there are even graffiti someone left of the walls. This exploration game which was turned into a road tv series wants to tell the story of how the world surrounding us changes, turns good people into bad ones, makes impossible decision possible, and pushes humans different one from the other to develop relationships. The context is left to what remains, to what is left of the people in the rooms they lived in.
So, throughout the 9 episodes, we witness an incredible love story between two men, which is made possible thanks to an Eden one of the two establishes in an empty, fenced city, safe place from zombies and other humans where to grow old without any fears. It is one of those love stories that will make people talk. The symbol of these two people’s pursuit of love can be found in the urban landscape of that small empty, but quiet town; it hasn’t been devastated nor massacred like the others, it’s just desolated, a place where none of those things that torment them exist.
Going on with the episodes, we see an attic in which someone hid for a while and the drawings a kid left behind in it – probably the most intense scene of the whole episode. Thousands of past conversations linger in that attic and the way it was left shows the oppression and desperation of those people hiding there. Then, while looking for a way out in the underground of a city, the characters run into an abandoned underground kindergarten, full of toys and drawings on the walls.
It was an attempt at surviving the epidemic by resisting and remaining besieged, decorating the underground tunnel instead of finding a way out of it. These are all abandoned places that have been reused, their original and intended purpose gave in to the needs of a new world of terror. Anyone, even those unfamiliar with any notions of architecture, understand the gap between the original use and what it became of it, and consequently putting the pieces together to understand everything that must have occurred in between.
Lastly, the environments play an important role even in The Last Of Us’ reflection on humanity and the difficulty of drawing a clear line between good people and bad people. Even a terrible and harsh character who is presented as the emblem of evil, at a certain point, will have a chance to show into their past, their reasons, and their point of view, tell us a story in which they are not the villain but the main character.
And this chance comes when they find the apartment they grew up in, a deserted place that has been emptied just like the rest of the world. There, in those rooms, that person is different, they remember what used to happened there and the way they used to live in it, they change before our eyes. Being trapped in that place, they seem to awaken a different personality, the situation reveals aspects of them we didn’t know and pushes us to side with them.
The Last of Us premiers on December 15th In 2022, PlayStation launched the remake of the video game for PS5, which will be available on Windows as well starting from March 2023. All the in-game screenshots in this article were taken playing that version.