What happens when humanity disappears? (The Last of Us Part 2)

With guest host Paula Deming!

The world has collapsed in grim action game The Last of Us Part 2. Humanity is barely getting by, whereas all the plants and animals we previously pushed to the brink of extinction have rebounded, reclaiming the planet as their own. But is this how Earth would really look without the pressures of humankind? We ask environmental writer Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, what happens to our cities, our art, and our pets when we kick the collective bucket.

Links and episode transcription below.


Find Alan Weisman at Homelands.org

Read him on the same subject

Follow Paula on Twitter!

Listen to Death By Monsters, a comedy podcast

Or maybe This Game Is Broken, a board games podcast

Sixth extinction already underway (The Guardian)

Mammal diversity will take millions of years to recover paper

Human induced species loss

Without humans earth becomes a new Serengeti


SFX clips from The Last of Us Part 2 by Naughty Dog, played by MKIceAndFire on YouTube

Music: Soundtrack from the same game by Gustavo Santaolalla

Afternoon by DreamHeaven, used under Creative Commons via Pixabay

Episode Transcription:

Alan Weisman, environmental writer: We all know that we are perpetrating the sixth major extinction in the history of the planet because we’re literally pushing other species off the earth. But life is a formidable presence, and I expect there’s going to be something there. I just don’t know exactly what.

Brendan: Hello and welcome to Hey Lesson. The podcast where we ask smart people, silly questions about video games. I’m Brendan Caldwell and I am here to underhandedly teach you things through the lens of popular games. Today we’re talking about The Last of Us Part 2 a revenge story set in a post-apocalyptic United States, where humankind is hanging by the threadiest of threads. Nature has reclaimed all of our cities, but what we want to know in this episode is: what would really happen to planet earth if humanity was wiped out? Well, we’re going to talk to an environmental writer who authored a book about exactly that, later, but first we’ve got a guest co-host with us, please say hello to Paula Deming.

Paula: Hi, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here and sneakily, well, I won’t be sneakily teaching anyone, anything, uh, but I’m happy to be complicit in the act.

Brendan: I think you’ll teach people things. Don’t undersell your knowledge of the post-apocalyptic world.

Paula: I’ve lived in it for about, I’m going to say 50 hours now at this point, you know, I’m a slow gamer. So I think I spent more time in the game than many other people, according to the internet. So I’m pretty experienced now.

Brendan: You are also a good person to talk about this game because you’ve been playing it very recently as well. You’ve been streaming a play through, right?

Paula: I have been, I literally finished the game last night, so less than 24 hours ago, I’m fresh. I’m raw. Just like the characters in this game.

Brendan: Raw from all the trauma of it.

Paula: Oh my God.

Brendan: For people who aren’t caught up with the games biz, can you please tell them: what is The Last of Us Part 2?

Paula: The Last of Us Part 2 is a sequel to the first game, the Last of Us. Uh, so basically what has happened in this world is a kind of fungal, I guess, fungal-driven disease (it’s passed through like spores) has gotten out and infected people and turned them essentially into zombies. And as a result, society has essentially collapsed. And so about half, I would say, I don’t know the real numbers, but I’m gonna guess a large number of “people” – putting that in quotes – still on the planet are infected, or zombies. And everyone else is a person just trying to survive in this society that is fully broken down. And in this second game, the consequences of choices made by characters in the first game…. What’s the saying? “Come home to roost”? I don’t know. Did I make that up? I’m not sure. You know, someone who is negatively affected by the choices in the first game comes after those characters now in the second game. And I don’t know how spoiler-y I should or shouldn’t be here.

Brendan: We’re going to try and avoid spoilers as much as we can. I suppose you could tell us: what is the player doing in it, like, moment to moment.

Paula: So moment to moment, you are traipsing through… most of the game you spend in the city of Seattle, which barely even looks like Seattle at that point. Um, you can kind of see the space needle, and some big landmarks, but it is completely overgrown. You are moving through tall grasses and forests and wading through water and going through completely broken down buildings, trying to get past infected. And also other humans who want to basically kill you on sight, as you are enacting a revenge plot, essentially. So you’re sneaking around, you’re reading notes left by other people about how they needed to escape. You’re finding supplies that are left around, you’re fashioning your own weapons and supplements, if you will. And…

Brendan: Supplements. Like vitamins.

Paula: Pills, you know, you take pills to upgrade your abilities, to do things.

Brendan: Of course.

Paula: Vitamins. Exactly. Just your multi-vitamins.

Brendan: And you’re doing a lot of killing, I suppose, along the way, as you go.

Paula: A lot of killing. Yeah. Apparently you can stealth through a lot of the game, but, uh, I didn’t find that that worked for me very often. I got spotted an awful lot. Yeah, you do a lot of killing both of infected zombie-like people, but also of the other factions of humans who, under the stress I think of this collapsed society, have kind of turned to their more base nature and to survive kind of lash out at anyone and anything that they don’t know or recognize, or that feels different.

Brendan: You said that you’re battling through all sorts of ruins, basically the ruins of Seattle. In the first game, the collapse comes in about 2013. And I don’t know how many years this is set later, but by the time the second game rolls around, nature is everywhere, it’s overgrown everything.

Paula: Yeah. I was thinking about how quickly it seems to happen. So I believe the second game is about four years after the first game, four or five years, I think. And yeah, I feel like nature has taken over even more and actually wonder how realistic that is. Would nature overgrow that quickly? To the extent that it really has in the game?

Brendan: Well, I’m glad that you asked Paula, because this is something we’re going to go into. Before we go deeply into it ourselves, we’re going to hear from a clever person who might know more about it than we do. I spoke to Alan Weisman who wrote a book called The World Without Us. It’s about how the planet would change. If the human species suddenly and inexplicably vanished. He published this book in 2007. Uh, and for reasons that should be quite obvious, in the hellyear 2020, that book is getting some more attention again. Here is what he had to say when I spoke to him about the world of The Last of Us Part 2.

[Expert interview begins, slow atmospheric music, rainfall]

Abby (sound bite): Is this frequency currently in use. This is Abby from Santa Barbara. Is anyone out there?

Brendan: Alan Wiseman, could you please introduce yourself for our listeners?

Alan Weisman: Well, I am a writer and a journalist I’ve written about just about everything, but over the last 20 years or so most everything I write turns out to be about the environment because everything is based on the environment.

Brendan: You wrote a book a few years ago called The World Without Us. And it was about what would happen if humanity basically disappeared.

Alan Weisman: It was actually about something else and something much bigger involving humanity being right here. But I ran into this problem that, uh, except for people who are already very concerned about environmental problems and believe that these things are happening, most people don’t want to read environmental books. They just find them depressing and scary and, and I can completely relate. I don’t like to read them either. I realized that if I played a thought experiment and just imagined: what if homosapiens just disappeared? Went poof…

Abby (sound bite): Can anyone hear me? Hello?

Alan Weisman: …and just left, you know, behind what we had done. That would be the total sum of our environmental impact. To try to figure out, okay, so what would happen next? What would we leave behind that would continue to act on the environment? And how long would it take for nature to remove all of our traces or heal all of our scars?

Abby (sound bite): Is this frequency currently in use, hello, this is Abby from Santa Barbara. Can anyone hear me?

Brendan: The developers of a game in 2013, The Last of Us, they listed your book as an influence. So they obviously took inspiration from it. For instance, in the video game, there’s flooding everywhere. You know, the characters are using boats. There are, instead of streets, there’ll be rivers where streets were. Is that something that will happen? Or that would happen?

Alan Weisman: We think of our cities as being these huge permanent, you know, indestructible things. But, um, one of the first things that I learned was… if you’ve ever been to Manhattan or if you’ve seen it in a film, you know, it’s basically this flat grid that was superimposed upon what was originally a very hilly Island. When they superimposed his grid, they flattened these hills and they buried all these rivers. I mean, Central Park used to be a marsh that flowed directly to, uh, the East river and lower Manhattan. I mean, there’s something called Canal Street and it’s because there were once visible streams there. So I spent some very productive time crawling around underneath Manhattan and Brooklyn with subway engineers who showed me some of the 800 pumps that they have to maintain constantly because that water had to go somewhere. So they are constantly pumping water up. And then out of the city, into the sea…

Ellie (sound bite): How does anyone stay dry in this city?

Alan Weisman: If the power were to go out (and power would go out very soon if humans disappeared) then those pumps would turn off. So within 36 hours, the subways would fill with water. And then if you stand in the New York subway, there’s always these tall columns that are holding up the ceiling, which is actually the street. And within 20 years those steel columns would corrode enough that some of them would collapse. And then the weight of the collapse would tear down others. And then pretty soon, you know, Lexington Avenue in New York would become the Lexington river and New York would start to look like it used to look. Only, you know, these rivers would be flowing through canyons of buildings that would all also be in the process of deteriorating very quickly.

Jesse (sound bite): Looks like we’re swimming.

Brendan: There’s a scene in the game where you’re in a forest, you find yourself in a forest in a place that was once Seattle. And you realize that this is Pioneer Square in Seattle. If you look at Pioneer Square today, there’s a few trees dotted around. Sure. But in this game, you know, so many years later it’s become a fully fledged forest. How quickly do trees and plant life took over?

Alan Weisman: So here’s what happens in the fall, in Northern hemisphere cities. Leaves fall off of trees and then they blow around and they end up in the gutters of streets. And there are street maintenance personnel who keep those gutters clean. But without people, suddenly those gutters wouldn’t be cleaning. Then in the spring, seeds are going to be blowing around and those seeds are going to find this nice mushy leaf fertilizer growing in the gutters. And some of them are going to land in them. And they’re going to set down… they’re going to germinate and they’re going to set down roots. Another thing that happens is that seeds will blow into cracks in concrete sidewalks and concrete streets, or birds will fly over a big bridge and they will s*** out a seed. So that seed will lodge in between two steel plates and it’s covered with excrement. So it’s got its own fertilizer. And the next thing you know is that some Balanites tree’s roots are tearing apart the George Washington bridge. And it’s really remarkable how powerful nature is. And within five years, we’re going to be seeing seedlings of trees starting to turn into saplings. And within, you know, 50 years, you’re going to start seeing a forest regenerating. Manhattan Island used to be a forest and it will happen again.

Ellie (sound bite): Okay, “you are here”… hospitals… cut through the park.

Brendan: One of the characters in this video game, he loves coffee, but obviously the world has collapsed. He can never get it. What would become of a lot of the foods that we enjoy like that, like the fruit and veg, will it just grow wild or will it disappear?

Alan Weisman: Well, you know, what we don’t know is what the climate regimes are going to be anywhere in the world. Because we have meddled with the atmosphere so much that it’s all up for grabs, which means that a lot of our coastal cities, including New York and Shanghai and London, which is really a coastal city, they might be a lot warmer. And so anything that’s not above ground, you know… if there is any green coffee bean around, it might germinate. Um, but it’s really hard to say, I know that in the coffee growing areas of the world, um, East Africa, and then South America, such as Brazil and Colombia, that, uh, because of climate change, now coffee is just getting harder and harder to grow. And, and there’s, there’s fear that there’s going to be some real scarcity in the future.

Ellie (sound bite): What are you drinking?
Joel: Uh, coffee.
Ellie: Where’d you get that?

Alan Weisman: Um, yes. The fruits though, you know, they will find their temperate zone. They will continue to germinate. The seeds will spread. Birds will spread them as they always do. Um, but the way that we know fruits that we buy in our markets, a lot of them are gonna revert to their wilder, gnarlier versions. Carrot will revert to something called Queen Anne’s Lace, which is which originally was, it’s a pretty white flour, but that root is kind of small and ungainly and not very tasty. I mean, the one thing that I can tell you is that there will be plants. There will be fruits. There will be something that resembles what we call vegetables because other creatures will eat them. God knows they eat the ones in my own garden right here. Um, they just may be different ones and in different places than the ones that we are accustomed to.

Joel (sound bite): Damn, I miss coffee.

Brendan: Part of the book says that the descendants of our pet dogs will die out. But some feral house cats will remain. Why is that? Why do the cats win?

Alan Weisman: Because the dogs are, um, basically a very, very domesticated, tamed down version of wild animals, which depending on what continent you’re from were wolves or dingoes, uh, or coyotes. When there are no humans to protect these creatures, those other animals that I just mentioned, plus other big carnivores, such as, mountain lions or which are also called cougars, they’re going to come back, they’re going to proliferate. Um, and the dogs just, aren’t going to be able to compete.

Abby (sound bite): Hey girl.
Manny: There’s my favorite girl.

Alan Weisman: But you take even a well-fed cat and you let that cat go outside and it immediately reverts into its hunting behavior. For some reason, it did not get tamed like dogs. It’s simply added us as one more food source. That’s the only way to describe it. I mean, you know, if you’ve ever owned a cat, try to call the cat. Cats don’t care what you want [laughter]. And those cats have proliferated so well in the United States, they live happily in houses. Of course, they live happily in alleyways of cities when they don’t have a home in the suburbs and in woods, they are stealthy and very excellent hunters of songbirds. At least a billion birds in the United States alone perish each year because of, um, either domesticated cats who can still hunt or feral cats. It’s a real plague on the ecosystem, and they’re going to do just fine.

Owen (sound bite): Wanna go see the rest of the fish zoo?
Abby: You think there’s more to see?
Owen: Of course!

Brendan: There’s plenty of other wildlife in the video game. There are deers and hogs and so on. There’s even like a famous scene in the previous game were the characters see a herd of giraffes in what was once Salt Lake city, uh, the idea is that they’re descendants of zoo animals. Is that likely that to happen, like an African animal finding its place in the United States or in other countries?

Alan Weisman: It’s possible. The giraffe is, um, a fairly adaptable animal in terms of climates. You know, I’m frankly not sure, you know, climate change right now is drying up a lot of the watercourses in the Western United States. Would there be enough water to nurture giraffes? Frankly, nobody knows those answers, but if there were enough water, it is possible that giraffes could survive. And that would be a reasonable habitat for them. Um, and again, you know, nature is pretty able to provide. It’s just amazing how nature hangs on. I mean, we all know that we are perpetrating the sixth major extinction in the history of the planet because we’re literally pushing other species off the earth, but some species survived through. Those are our ancestors and that’s why we’re here today. Life is a formidable presence and I expect there’s going to be something there. I just don’t know exactly what

Joel (sound bite): The hell was that?
Ellie: Just some animal.

Brendan: Do we need a game like The Last of Us 2 to simulate the disappearance of humanity, or are there abandoned places in the world where we can easily see for ourselves what would happen?

Alan Weisman: Well, there are certainly many places where we can see it. One of the best examples is the Korean demilitarized zone without humans. In what was this ravaged landscape – because it had been this horrible war zone – it has, within half a century, reverted to wilderness. And it’s now one of the most important wildlife refuges in all of Asia. It’s home to many endangered species. Some of which, you know, might be extinct without it. On the Eastern shore of Cyprus was a resort that was built in the early 1970s called Varosha. And they had this tragic civil war in the seventies, and that resort, which belonged to Greeks, it ended up on the Northern or Turkish Cypriot side. And they put barbed wire around it. They wanted to keep everybody out of it. And Varosha, in the meantime, has just gone to seed. Some of the streets are now fields of flowers. The grand hotels crumbled, the windows shattered, there are animals nesting inside. Concrete is a human achievement, a quick version of the rocks that it takes nature millions of years to metamorphose and forge. And the oldest buildings that we have built are going to be the last buildings remaining on earth. You know, like St Paul’s cathedral, which is right across the street from the Twin Towers that came down. St Paul’s survived that plane demolition. And it’ll be one of the last things standing in Manhattan. Might be underwater though.

Lev (sound bite): We built bridges high up. It’s how we get around the flooding and… you people.

Brendan: What would last longer according to experts, the Eiffel tower or the Statue of Liberty?

Alan Weisman: Well, the Statue of Liberty, definitely. The Eiffel tower is made out of iron and iron oxidizes pretty fast, you know, relatively. So unless people are maintaining it… You know, it’s the maintenance people of the world who really hold our world together. Not these politicians. I didn’t interview any politicians for The World Without Us, because they do a lot to tear our world apart. They don’t do much to hold it together. So the Eiffel tower would oxidize. And it would eventually crumble. The Statue of Liberty is actually made out of copper. Copper develops an oxidized patina that actually works as kind of a protective shell. Um, so copper and bronze statuary are… Bronze statues will be among the last things left on earth, which is kind of beautiful, if you think about it. I’m also married to a bronze sculptor. So I get a lot of good cred at home for assuring my wife that what she does will be as eternal as things come in the human world.

Abby (sound bite): If anyone can hear me, please reply… please answer.

Brendan: That was Alan Wiseman, the author of The World Without Us. If you want to hear the whole unabridged interview, you can support us on Patreon. Our experts always have plenty of other interesting stuff to say, and we can’t always fit it into those 15 minutes. So if you want to hear the whole interview uninterrupted, you can support us with $2 a month to become a Hey Lesson subscriber, or as we call them, a Fact Rat.

Paula: A Fact Rat. It’s so cute. I’m picturing a little rat scuttling around for facts, twitching its little nose.

Brendan: That’s exactly what it is. They’re just scurrying by, on the floor, around the skirting board, trying to find a little morsel of knowledge.

Paula: And then occasionally popping up and going, um, excuse me, did you know? And then they tell their fact.

Brendan: This is exactly what we are at Hey lesson. Um, there are some other tiers based on other animals, but we won’t go into that right now, Paula.

Paula: Yes.

Brendan: As a wanton murderer of the post apocalypse…

Paula: Oh gosh. So much guilt.

Brendan: …do you think earth is better before or after the downfall?

Paula: Well, I feel like earth is better after. Is the *world* better? No, but I think the planet earth itself is better. I mean, it’s obviously kind of healed itself in a lot of ways from the damage that humanity and technology did to it though. You know what, I just realized you don’t see many wild animals in the game. No, I’m trying to think now. I know in the first game, you see, like there’s escaped zoo animals and, and in this game there’s like a zoo animal section as well, but I’m trying to think. There are horses. But I’m like going through the wilderness – well, the wilderness, what was a city that is now totally overgrown – and I mean… That’s probably just like a technical thing. The game was like, well, we don’t need to put like frogs in here every two seconds because we also need to animate a bunch of, you know, people shooting arrows at you. But I’m realizing, I feel like I should have seen more bugs.

Brendan: You just weren’t keeping your eye out. You were too busy, scrambling around trying to get health kits.

Paula: I was too busy stabbing people in the neck with my shiv to notice the wildlife around me. Now let that be a lesson for everyone.

Brendan: I can think of a couple of instances where, where some animal, there’s one point where you’re going through a museum and a wild boar, kind of like jumps out at you.

Paula: I blocked that out because it scared me. Yeah, you’re right. There is the wild boar.

Brendan: And I don’t know if it’s emblematic of anything or if it’s just a boar.

Paula: Yeah. Is that meant to mean something? There’s definitely like moths and butterflies and that I think is very meaningful in the game. Definitely uses that as a motif.

Brendan: The moths, what do you mean? Like they appear, they flap around people as you do a murder?

Paula: Well, no, not exactly. Like they’re marked for death. [Laughing] The moths! The moths! I’m going to die soon. Um, one of the characters we play, Ellie, sketches moths a lot in her book and in the loading screen it’s like moths, and there’s a moth on her guitar that she plays. And so I think it’s a thing that probably makes her think of her loved ones. And so the game kind of uses that and sprinkles it in. And there’s a specific section of the game too, where I noticed more, uh, in the rooms that we were in, there were more like moths flying around. Do I consider moths wildlife? No.

Brendan: Yeah they are!

Paula: But I totally forgot about that boar. There’s the zebra that they, uh, at one point, some characters have to free a zebra who is, uh, caught up in some barbed wire. Um, but again, that’s kind of an escaped zoo animal.

Brendan: I’m guessing that if it’s been years since the zoo actually existed, it’s probably like the offspring of…

Paula: That’s a really good point.

Brendan: It’s a third generation zoo animal, but now it just lives in Seattle.

Paula: It has, it has. That’s really interesting. I didn’t think about it that way, but you’re totally right. And that the way that, um, with humans less involved, they’ve continued to, you know, those zebras did not need the zookeepers to keep them alive and help them propagate, you know, they’ve done that on their own. All that to say, I think the earth itself is better for the fall of humanity.

Brendan: What about the plant life? Where was the most oppressively overgrown part of the game for you?

Paula: See, I keep thinking back. This isn’t overgrown, this isn’t really an answer to your question, but I was thinking about oppressive nature. I keep thinking back to this one section in the middle of downtown Seattle, there’s like, there are Rapids and that’s not really overgrown plant life, but just like Rapids running through the middle of town in the middle of the city. And if you fall in those you’re, I mean, you’re dead. You’re not surviving that. And you can get through it by like jumping from like a wrecked car in the middle of it to a fallen piece of concrete to the next building you want to go to. But that is certainly an oppressive… just having Rapids running through town.

Brendan: It’s like having the Niagara falls, like the river leading up to the Niagara falls, just going through the middle of the high street.

Paula: Yeah, exactly.

Brendan: There’s one area I remember that has a kind of a picturesque valley, but then you realize it’s not a natural valley at all. Right. It’s just a, it’s just a big bomb crater that’s become overgrown. My question is, is all this kind of just set dressing? Is it just trying to look good or is the game trying to make some deeper point?

Paula: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I mean, it certainly does look good. I mean, it’s a beautiful game and the views, I mean, there were times too, you know, I’d come out to a little like overlook area and just be like, wow, let’s just look at the view that we have right now. Like this is really beautiful. I feel like they’ve gotta be making a point with it. Isn’t it interesting that we see this as the apocalypse – it’s post-apocalyptic – society has fully collapsed and yet look how the earth itself is thriving. It is completely reclaiming all of the technology that we’ve imposed onto it. And growing back over and taking those things back, you know, vines and plants growing all over these concrete skyscrapers that we’ve built and making a new home in a new place for moths to live and thrive.

Brendan: Ha ha ha.

Paula: Meanwhile, the people are, you know, living in just, in many ways, squalor and killing each other, except for the one society that has started to reform that has decided it wants to go back to really appreciating and respecting nature. And when you’re in that area of the game, that’s really interesting because they have, rather than trying to… so many people in this game are trying to just continue to live in the old buildings they used to live in and kind of work around the fact that they don’t have electricity. They don’t have running water. They have to deal with, you know, the fact that all the windows are broken out and they don’t really have a way to, you know, fix all this stuff. Then there’s this one group of people who have kind of reclaimed a little Island and are like, have gone way back to the way humans used to live before we had a lot of this technology, you know, they’ve built themselves, you know, kind of like huts and they farm and they kind of use the land, uh, in a way that we used to before we had all this technology. And that seems… it’s… Hmm.

Brendan: Does that seem, like, more sensible?

Paula: Yeah. In a way it’s more like, I mean, those people themselves were not very sensible. Let’s be clear. This game is about terrible people, but…

Brendan: Mmm.

Paula: But yeah, when you think about it, that’s probably what you should be doing in a scenario like this. Maybe stop fighting it so much. The world has changed and we have to adapt. You can see the plant life… that nature around us has adapted to how the world has changed and it’s thriving. And perhaps people should be adapting rather than trying to force the modern way that we are used to living into this new scenario where it doesn’t really work. Maybe we need to adapt and live more in harmony with nature.

Brendan: I’ve got a, I’ve got a question. Okay. Have you got a dog or a cat?

Paula: I have two cats.

Brendan: How did you feel about Alan Wiseman, the man we spoke to, telling you that fluffy will survive the end times, but you might not?

Paula: I think he was spot on, like, yeah. I mean, it’s so true that these cats will, they don’t need me. I mean, they think they need me because they know I’m the source of their food. But if I wasn’t there to feed them, they’d figure it out. They wouldn’t just sit and wait for my dead body to reanimate and feed them. They’d be like, all right, I guess we’re going to eat these grasshoppers now. And then we’re gonna, you know… I fully believe it. They don’t, they don’t need anyone. And they’re quick to let you know.

Brendan: They just need you to open the door basically.

Paula: Open the door, occasionally give me a pet, when I feel like it, when I want it. Yeah. I totally buy that. I was like, yeah, that’s right. My cats would survive.

Brendan: Did you play the previous game? The Last of Us?

Paula: The first game? I did play it. Yeah.

Brendan: How does this one compare to that?

Paula: In general, or in like a nature-taking-over kind of way?

Brendan: Did you enjoy it more or did you enjoy it less or have you, did you feel like: Oh, I’ve seen nature… having taken over already. Like, what’s this doing?

Paula: Let’s see. I think I enjoyed it about the same as the first one. It made me feel a lot of the things that the first one made me feel. But I really enjoyed just from a gameplay standpoint, I really enjoyed getting to play as different characters than you do in the first one. Um, and getting to play around some of the things. I was like: Oh yeah, I remember how to do this. I remember how this sniper gun works. I remember about trap mines. I remember about Molotov cocktails. I remember about being stealthy. But then you have new things. Oh no, there’s a new kind of infected I have to deal with. Oh, there’s a new character who has a really cool automatic rifle that I really liked playing with. Um, that felt so weird to say…

Brendan: After all of your pontificating of the end of the world and humanity is not acting well.

Paula: Gimme that automatic rifle! Um, I mean, in the video game, I want to be very clear. I don’t want one in real life. Um, yeah, it’s interesting. I guess part of me is I’m still processing the second game a little bit, but I enjoyed them the same. And I think probably… who knows, who knows how everyone feels, but if you liked the first game, I feel like you would like the second game. It’s not much different.

Brendan: You said you like playing as the, you know, different characters in it. One of the big characters you always play as is Ellie, who is a, she’s the girl who you’re kind of transporting across the country in the first game. But in this game you play as her much, much more often. But this is also a heavy, kind of grim revenge story from her perspective. She’s quite a rough person, isn’t she?

Paula: Yeah, she is. I kind of say this jokingly when I was playing it, but I actually really mean it. Um, man, she– everyone in this world needs therapy, but man, she needs it. It’s just, there’s no way. I mean, society really has fallen apart. The world these characters live in is just grim, unrelentingly tragic, and there’s no way for them, any of them, to process it. And so yeah, you go through and… you watch her kind of deal with the ramifications of what she’s doing and whether or not she feels justified in what she’s doing in the moments where she thinks she’s right, in the moments where she questions it, and then kind of pushes it aside and soldiers on. Um, but yeah, it is. It’s rough. And it’s funny, there are a few moments – and I’m glad that the game did this – that they have the character… like you kind of stealth up on someone and you take them out in a way that’s kind of graphic. And then the, uh, the character actually goes like: “Oh man.” And I’m like, yeah. That’s how I felt too. Yeah, that was rough. We *did* just shove a knife in that person’s neck, and now there’s blood everywhere. Yeah. That was rough.

Brendan: So you kind of feel like, you’re glad that she at least acknowledges how horrible, how vicious she’s just been.

Paula: She’s not a total monster. She’s not unfeeling. You watch it affect her more and more as the game continues. And I think ultimately that’s a little bit of what the game is about, is how the cycles of revenge perpetuate themselves and how they kind of break you.

Brendan: Finally, not counting the fungal zombies, do you think that The Last of Us Part 2 is a plausible vision of what a future without humans, or with few humans, would look like?

Paula: I think… from a nature standpoint? I think so. Yeah. I mean, if you think about, you know, just a few months ago when people were first kind of really going into a lockdown right now and there are pictures of – I live in Los Angeles – and you know, there’s a picture that circulated that was like: wow, look how clear the air in LA is right now! And there’s this beautiful picture of the city. And everyone’s like, Holy moly… And that was from like one week of people under stay-at-home orders. And then of course there were a lot of hoax memes and things, you know, like, “Oh, the unicorns have come back! This is what it looks like when people are gone!” But to an extent, I think that’s true… other than the unicorn part. I think that nature would heal itself. That’s how it works. That’s how, you know, the world has existed for the thousands and thousands of years that it has. Um, so I think from a nature standpoint, yeah, I think it is. Is it plausible from a human standpoint? I would like to believe that people would be kinder to each other in this sort of a scenario than they are in this game. I want to believe that not everyone would turn into a murdering monster of a society. Right? Surely we would not all just turn into pockets of a hundred people willing to brutally murder any stranger on sight. But I mean, it might.

Brendan: Might also depend on the country. We don’t in the world of The Last of Us. We don’t know what’s going on in France or Australia or whatever, do we?

Paula: Yeah, we’re just on a, in The Last of Us Part 2 we’re just on the West coast of the United States.

Brendan: The rest of the world might be very, very civilized and good.

Paula: If only we could get there, but airplanes don’t work anymore. We’re going to take a little rowboat across the Atlantic. [Laughter] Disaster.

Brendan: Okay. Well, that is sadly all we have time for, I’m afraid. You’ve been listening to Hey Lesson with me, Brendan Caldwell and our guest this time. Paula Deming. Thank you very much for joining us, Paula.

Paula: Oh my gosh. Thank you for having me and letting me ramble on, in my very fresh thoughts on this game.

Brendan: I’m sorry that I couldn’t let you ramble on a little bit more about it in a spoiler-y way, because you must have quite a lot of pent up feelings about the things that occur.

Paula: Yeah. I got thoughts.

Brendan: If people want those thoughts, where can they find you on the internet?

Paula: Well, uh, you can see all kinds of my thoughts and all of the things that I do, if you hop on over to Twitter. You can follow me there to add Paula Deming. That’s P A U L A D E M I N G. And you’ll see there, I tweet when I’m playing games on Twitch and other things. If you like podcasts – and if you’re listening to this, I bet you do – I have two podcasts. One is a paranormal comedy podcast called Death by Monsters. It’s all about monsters, mysteries, and the unknown. And the other is a comedy panel quiz show about board games called This Game Is Broken. And those are the places you can find me right now.

Brendan: Sweet. Now that you’ve plugged your thing, I’m plugging our thing.

Paula: Do it.

Brendan: If you have enjoyed this episode of Hey Lesson, please consider supporting us. You could throw a couple of dollars our way on Patreon. If you become a regular donor, you can get extra goodies, including access to full interviews with the experts, like I said, but you can also get bonus episodes or video updates from us, as well as some other things. Just head to patreon.com/heylesson. On top of all that you can also just revel in the fact that we don’t have any ads or sponsors. We rely only on the support of our listeners. If you have any suggestions or feedback, you can email us, the address is in the description, in the show notes. Please give us some stars on iTunes and all the rest of that. It really helps us get spotted by more people, or just tell your friends and family that this is a fun thing to listen to. That’s it for now. Goodbye from me, and goodbye from Paula.

Paula: Goodbye.