There’s no denying that post-apocalyptic survival horror game The Last Of Us was one of 2013’s greatest gaming triumphs, both critically and commercially. Its experimental approach made giant leaps forward in the use of gaming as a medium for storytelling. Still, the game’s gripping tale would not have been done justice without its knockout voice acting performances and compelling score.
In celebration of this, a one-night-only performance of scenes from of The Last Of Us was staged in a theatre in Santa Monica in mid-2014. At the helm was the game’s original writer and creative director, Neil Druckmann of Naughty Dog. The audience was treated to live performances of selected cut-scenes by the original voice actors: namely Troy Baker (Joel), Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Annie Wersching (Tess), Merle Dandridge (Marlene), and Hana Heyes (Sarah). Between the various scenes, songs from the game’s soundtrack were also performed live by a band led by composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
In an effort to take the performance beyond the theatre and bring it to a wider audience of gamers worldwide, Naughty Dog made the performance available free of charge as a livestream on YouTube (where it can still be viewed in full). This has been widely regarded as a good move. Unfortunately, the gesture was tarnished by the fact that the livestream was cut short for home viewers while the in-theatre audience was given an exclusive, previously unseen performance many fans would have loved to witness: a scene between Joel and Ellie which takes place many years after the conclusion of the in-game events.
Despite its conclusion leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth of some, the event has nevertheless given its fans something special. Perhaps more importantly, it has paved the way for other projects to make similarly experimental approaches in extending game audio beyond the game. Many would put theatre and gaming on opposite ends of the spectrum of entertainment, but this event showed that that does not necessarily have to be so. Bringing the acting and music from a game to a live audience allows gamers to experience the now-familiar material in a different context, giving it more meaning, more depth, and ultimately making it more powerful.