If I could name three requirements that a story must possess in order for me to put it on my insanely picky favorites list they would have to be:
1. Complex characters
2. Rich relationships
3. Moral ambiguity
Note that none of these are meant to be in any particular order, nor do they have to be separate. In fact, if each requirement stood completely on its own you would just have a very bad story on your hands. If you don’t believe me, try imagining a rich relationship between two characters without either of them being complex, and vice versa. Moral ambiguity, in my opinion, should be treated like a spice. Sprinkle enough on your characters, events, and ideas to make them think, and a heavy dose of garlic powder or cayenne pepper to make them cry once in a while. But not so much that you do a one-eighty on your characters or put your readers off.
Let me emphasize that last part a bit. While it may make sense to put a lot of spice on a character or event, you sometimes run the risk of leaving a permanently bitter taste in your readers’ mouths that often cause them to just toss away your story in disgust. This is one of the reasons Supernatural jumped the shark in Season 6 (yes, I will do an entire blog post on that subject) and The Vampire Diaries in Season 4.
Uh-huh. You heard right. I can’t stand The Vampire Diaries anymore. Or more specifically, the characters. The Error Corrector volume of it hasn’t been canceled, but the biggest reason it’s still on board—apart from telling a good story—is so I can make all the characters my personal chew toys.
But enough about sucky stories. A few days ago I watched all the cutscenes for the new PS3 game The Last of Us. And it was so—fucking—awesome. Just…just wow.
The Last of Us is the kind of story where after it’s done, you have to spend a few moments–or days–wondering just what the hell you’re gonna do with your life now. It had everything. Extremely complex characters, beautiful relationships, and spiced to perfection with moral ambiguity, especially the ending.
From the YouTube comments I’ve read, it seems everyone is pretty evenly divided on Joel’s decision to save Ellie’s life in the end. One half believes Joel was selfish to sacrifice humanity’s seemingly only hope for a vaccine. The other half believe Joel did what anyone with an ounce of humanity would have done: save the life of an innocent girl he had grown to love as a daughter, the world be damned.
Marlene was right. Even if Ellie is immune to the fungus she, like every human in the world, is still living on borrowed time. From the zombies, to the cannibals, to the soldiers, anything could take her life in the blink of an eye, while a vaccine would give the remnants of humanity hope of remaking the world into what it once was.
That being said, Joel’s choice to save Ellie gave me more hope for humanity’s future than a vaccine ever could. Joel saved Ellie for himself. I won’t deny that. He knew Ellie would have gladly given her life if there was even a chance her brain tissue could have produced a vaccine. Regardless, I have far more respect and hope for someone who wants to live for love rather than survival. Just look at the rest of the people Joel and Ellie encountered. Bill found a partner to love, but he abandoned him because looking out for someone other than himself endangered his life. And what a life. Completely alone, paranoid of everyone else, afraid, depressed. And Marlene. Any sympathy I had for her vanished when she begged Joel for her life after willingly sacrificing the girl she had come to view as her own daughter. Like Bill, she grown to value breathing over living. I also don’t want anyone to forget that nurse who called Joel a fucking animal when he stabbed the surgeon; the surgeon she was about to help carve out a fourteen-year-old girl’s brain. Fucking animal indeed.
Sure. We’ll go back to caring about each other and valuing innocent life after our long lives, security, clean water, fresh food, and creature comforts are assured to us. All that matters is that we focus on breathing. God forbid we focus on living a little, we’re dead.
If it ever came down to me spending my last five minutes on Earth with someone I love rather than years as a soulless shell bent on survival I would…
Well. I haven’t faced that choice yet, and God I really hope I never do. I can’t know for certain what I would choose. I’m only human after all. I only know what I really, really hope I would choose.
“Let me tell you something about humans, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”
–Quark (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)