How Well Does Ellie’s Joke Book Fit Into the Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland of The Last of Us?

The Last of Us - Ellie's Joke Book

One of the things that really impressed me back in the 16-bit era was when videogame characters started having idle animations. The first time I saw Sonic start tapping his foot and glaring at the camera impatiently, I almost wet myself. At that point in time, I had never seen Mario do anything like that.

The idle animation is something that’s evolved quite a bit since the 1990s, and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us provides an excellent example of just how far this simple idea can be taken. There are points in the game where if you stand idle for long enough, Ellie will take out a joke book and start reading off some godawful puns. In fact, if you manage to listen to all of her jokes, you’ll earn a Trophy.

Here’s a video montage of the whole shebang, in case you’re interested:

Now, I absolutely love that this is here, because it’s this clever bit of character development that’s completely optional. Ellie struggles to understand the humor behind some of the jokes, because she’s either too young or the punchline requires knowledge of things that were common before the outbreak but have since fallen out of use. But she often laughs anyway, because she’s a kid and she knows she’s supposed to. At one point, she even screws up one of the jokes, which actually feels brilliantly in character for her.

Still, there’s a part of my brain that completely hates it.

See, you’re traveling through this desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland, where you’ve just murdered a bunch of people who were planning on ambushing and most likely killing you to take all your stuff, then all of a sudden it’s “Joke Book Time.” It’s one of those shifts in tone that hits like a brick to a fungal-infected face.

On the other hand, Ellie is a fourteen-year-old kid. She would try to lighten the mood with a bad joke here and there, right? Well, I can’t decide. It feels weird to go from these brutal scenes of murder to these brutal scenes of bad joke telling. But at the same time, I can think of several times when  my teenage self had thrown down some completely awful jokes at horribly inappropriate times.

I don’t know if I love this or hate it, and that’s driving me a little bit crazy. But the fact that I’m thinking so hard about it is either a testament to Naughty Dog’s fantastic ability to develop its characters, or just my own tendency to over-analyze pretty much everything ever.

Damn it, now there’s another dichotomy I’ll be thinking about for the rest of the day.