hail to the hypocrites.

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

It’s truly incredible the way that tragedy warps the perceptions, opinions, and ethical boundaries of the populous. A week ago, any civilized person in the public eye would be foolish if not blatantly idiotic to proclaim religious superiority, or to imply that we should save some and not others – and yet, here we are in the wake of the Paris attacks, as one leading Republican candidate for the most powerful individual position on the planet openly declares that we should allow Christian refugees and banish Muslims. Ted Cruz, senator from the Lone Star state, will actually be introducing legislation to ban Muslim refugees from finding haven in the United States. Over thirty states, predominantly represented by Republican governors, have come out and refused to accept refugees in their states.

Their claims are as cartoonish and ill-informed as they are bigoted and disturbing. “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz told reporters, continuing by offering the idea that the United States should have a religion test to allow Christians into the country and reject the rest. Without even bringing to light what the victims of Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, and the IRA would think about his woefully historically inaccurate comments, it’s hard not to compare this line of thinking to that of the National Socialist Party’s attitude towards Jews.

Cruz and his far right colleagues who unfairly make up a disproportionately public section of the Republican party have leaned on what they claim to be deep Christian sentiment in all their thinking, and it makes one beg the question – should religious devotion in a world leader be seen as a virtue or a red flag? Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a man who runs his very campaign on the basis of his Christian values, not only wants to ban all visas from countries that even contain a sliver of ISIS presence, but has actually gone on record comparing pre-existing medical conditions to a “burnt down house,” and that we should insure them the same way. Christianity, and most respectable religions, for that matter, are grounded in the basic ideal of the golden rule – to treat others as we would like to be treated. It’s terrifying that these men in power, and men that could be put in power, are so blind to their own hypocrisy.

Historically, while religion does motivate an excessive amount of violence and terror, there’s no real correlation or pattern that would imply that one branch of theology is particularly worse than the other. Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Atheist – there’s no real difference. The Middle East is a turbulent, violent area full of Muslims – and it’s a turbulent, violent area because of the rampant poverty and relative primitive status of its nations, not because it happens to harbor Islam. The reality is that Islam is fundamentally no different from any other world religion in its root devotion to peace and understanding.

ISIS is indeed an organization as brutal as we’ve seen in the modern era, and they’re very effective in showing us just how brutal they are – make a quick Google search if you don’t feel like sleeping tonight. However, refugees from Syria are exactly that – men, women, children trying to escape barbarism and terror at the hands of that organization. They are a self-proclaimed nation, under which women have no rights, men are subject to death and dismemberment, and children are used to harvest blood transfusions for their soldiers. Yes, the attacks in Paris were an atrocity, and truly terrifying – but it’s what these people deal with every day. There are men in this country who claim devout Christianity and yet go directly against the Gospels; nowhere in the Bible does it advocate telling a starving man or woman that “you are not our problem.” Accept them, and give them a chance – no matter your belief, we are all humans.

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It can be said that the only thing worse than seeing a parent go is never getting the chance to do so. For clarification, it’s a meditation on the nature of mortality in our lives – if you don’t get the opportunity to see your mother, father, and/or whoever so nurtured you pass, then that can only mean they had to watch you go. It’s hardly solace, but in a world where the “only certainty is death and taxes,” what really is?

A common trope is to say that some are fortunate enough to see their parents pass at a much more advanced age than others, but is length truly the determining factor in a successful and fortunate life? All men must die, so what does the length matter? “So young” is a cliche thrown about when a person passes under some predetermined age, as if there’s a set goal we should strive towards before crossing the river styx. Call it what you will, but I don’t believe that life should be measured in years or quality but in impact. We are a society, we live not to eat, shit, sleep but to teach, nurture, and love; that difference in life’s very meaning is what makes us human.

The sad byproduct of evolution is that the chaos and randomness of a million years ago has been replaced with a relatively long life that ends only when our bodies can no longer support themselves. Almost invariably, that last percentage or so of everyone’s life is one full of pain and uncertainty; it’s almost like a measuring stick or a morbid competition of who is there for you at the end. If you’ve done well, there will be a room full of confused, crushed people at the end of the hall. Irony hurts.

For those you’ve left behind, our natural inclination towards routine and always knowing who and what will be there is suddenly gone. Change is frightening, even more so going through it without someone. Nothing can be done or said to make you feel better or bring anyone back, it’s just a fact of life; everyone goes through these feelings of loss, and that looming knowledge will never makes things easier. It’s a cold reality that for a short time, your identity will be “the person who lost their dad.”

When it comes to losing those you love, there’s no such thing as true solace or acceptance. There’s moving on, there’s remembering, and there’s continuing to cherish what you had. It’s a disturbing thought, but your mother or father’s impact can be measured in the tears shed at their passing. It’s easy to say he was so young, but if he can muster that emotion with his absence, maybe he accomplished all he needed to anyway.

In memory of Dale Malisiak, a good man and a great would-be father-in-law.

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shield of bigotry.

He said they served the gay community gladly for several years but “just didn’t want to be party to a commitment ceremony” because such an event reflected “a commitment to sin.” *

At what point do we as a society cross the line between frowned-upon freedoms and absolute bigotry?

The argument made by the most avid supporters of 111 Cakery, the Indianapolis-based bakery that now infamously refused service to a local gay couple, is that they were in no way refusing the couple of their rights – go forth and be wed, be happy, and have a cake – just don’t do it here. We’re happy for you, even if we think that your happiness is abomination. 111 is not the only bakery to come under fire in the last several months for their staunchly anti-homosexual stance; in particular, a Colorado-based bakery owner named Jack Phillips claimed that he would “rather go to jail than prepare a same-sex wedding cake” after a judge ruled it unlawful to deny service to LGBT customers on the basis of their sexuality.

It’s a sign of better times that these are stories at all – it infers that the greater population is on the side of acceptance, whereas only a few decades ago it would all be swept under the rug, or the victims of discrimination themselves would be cast as the villains. Regardless, it’s truly alarming that there still exists a great many corners of the country where people can genuinely deny human rights and happiness while claiming godliness. The owners of 111 stated to the press that they were very supportive of the largely gay community that harbored their shop – that they had “many close friends with whom they still spoke” from the neighborhood, or that they had helped the local gay bars in the past. (It’s a clear parallel to the racist white man claiming that he has “plenty of black friends.”) They proceeded to mention that gay marriage was inherently sinful, and that they could not in good faith support it. In short, they hid their prejudice behind religion’s veil. “We’re okay with it, really! But you know, God and all..”

In Indiana, lawmakers are pushing to pass a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service based on religious grounds – it is a direct response by the far right to the legalization of gay marriage in the state the previous year. Indiana, as a Mid-western, blue collar state, was always going to have a stark divide, and it predictably has become the center of attention in the gay rights movement. If the law were to pass, any business would be well within their right to deny service to anyone based on religious grounds – so where is the line drawn? Will it be acceptable to not only deny a wedding cake to two women, but an black man and a white woman? If religion deems it so, is it now acceptable to deny service to black people altogether?

I repeat: where is the line drawn?

There seems to be a sense that claiming an ignorant stance in the name of God makes a person untouchable, but the reality is that they are nothing more than cowards hiding behind something that people are scared to show anything but the utmost respect towards. America aspires to stand as an exemplary beacon towards the rest of the world; it’s hard to imagine being presented as a forward-thinking nation while still looking at racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination as “okay.”

*Source: Higgins, Will. February 28, 2015. Indy Star, “Bakery that refused to do cake for gay couple closes its door”, retrieved from http://www.indystar.com/story/life/2015/02/26/bakery-refused-cake-gay-couple-closes-doors/24074691/ on 4/1/2015

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one of ours, two of theirs.

“I’m putting wings on pigs today.”

Ismaaiyl Brinsley followed that statement on his Instagram account with “this may be my final post.” Hours later, two police officers were shot in the head through the windshield of a parked NYPD vehicle, and Brinsley turned the gun on himself. That’s three more bodies in what has quietly become a scattershot, unorganized and uninformed violent anti-authority street revolution. The murders were allegedly meant to be a sort of revenge for the recent death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of what can really only be described as police negligence – he was left unconscious on the ground for several minutes without any attempts at resuscitation before medical help arrived. Eric Garner has often been lumped in with the cases of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, John Crawford and Tamir Rice as indicative of a new wave of police brutality and racism; reactions have ranged from the silent t-shirt protests of notable athletes to public crowd-based demonstrations – and of course, the aforementioned senseless violence.

While it’s easy to lump these together as proof that white cops get a rise out of killing black men (and in the case of Rice, children), the sensationalist media and what are essentially hipster protesters seem to miss that the only thing that really ties these stories together is that they happened so close together in time. Michael Brown was shot while essentially attacking a police officer; he was already a robbery suspect and was blatantly refusing simple police orders to move out of the way of traffic. Meanwhile, Akai Gurley was simply walking up a dark flight of stairs when he was shot. Tamir Rice (although it was later found that the shooting officer had been deemed “emotionally unstable and unfit for duty” in a previous job) was strolling through a park with what appeared by any bystander to be a live weapon. Regardless of reason or fault, the death of another human being is a tragedy through and through; but to lump what are clearly isolated events into reason for violence or hatred towards police officers as a whole is nothing more than ignorance and buying into hype.

Brinsley walked the streets looking for the first white officers he could find (ironically, the men he killed – Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, are Asian and Hispanic, respectively), and he approached several people, told them to follow him on Instagram, and watch what he was about to do. These are the actions of an attention-starved maniac, driven by the bright lights of internet stardom and not some greater purpose. He is a murderer who will be treated by some as a martyr for equal rights.

Being an officer in the United States is an incredibly difficult job, and these are men and women to be respected, not treated like dirt and scum – after all, very few career choices garner such hate on a day-to-day basis. To say that every cop is good or bad, racist or fair, is a generalization that is far too easy to make. The fact that the outlined events above have happened are a reason to respect officers more, not less. How often are officers faced with the choice to use force and decline to? It’s news that they do use force because on a statistical basis given opportunities, it’s rare and tragic when they do.

In the case of Eric Garner, the footage is undeniably horrific. The officers here swarm a man who is upset but not threatening; a father, not a thug. He had minor criminal charges in his past, but nothing violent or generally disruptive – marijuana possession, driving with a suspended license, or in this case, selling untaxed cigarettes. The reaction was in the wrong, and may or may not have been urged on by present racism or prejudices – regardless, it is an isolated incident in a year full of isolated incidents blown to extreme proportion and opinion by social media and the ease of accessibility the internet provides. Garner, Brown, Rice, Gurley, Crawford, Liu, Ramos, and even Brinsley are all names that should be mourned – but will unfortunately be remembered as a rallying cry for what may be more senseless “retaliation” to come.

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of lies and prejudice.

A week ago, I was parked just outside of the Hard Rock Cafe in an alley downtown at about four in the morning; the traffic lights at major intersections blinked without regard, and only a few cars headed to or from the casino still littered the streets. Saturday night and the heart of Cleveland was, predictably, a ghost town. While waiting for the girlfriend and her friends to find their way to my car, a shoddy old Ford pulled up behind me. The gentlemen within were all African American, outfitted with bandannas, baggy t-shirts, and ragged throat beards. The four men looked at each other repeatedly, sometimes opening the door and then closing it, and I swear that they were making eye contact with me through my rear view mirror. I drove off and picked up the girls somewhere else.

I would love to tell you that I have a certain knowledge of gang rituals, that I was absolutely certain that my life was genuinely in danger due to symbols and gestures – but to be frank, I was terrified due to some deep rooted prejudice that quietly exists within us all. I was terrified of four black men because they were starkly different from me.

By now, the Donald Sterling comments have been publicized, noted, analyzed, and discussed a thousand times over. The legality of the recordings are, at this point, a non-factor: Sterling is destined to ride into his twilight years a public pariah known to have a mindset that well predates the civil rights movement and modern, logical thought. However, the reactions have been eye-opening. Most notably, outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded:

“I know I’m prejudiced, and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways… If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts, we all live in glass houses.”

Predictably, Mark Cuban has come under fire (obvious comparisons to Trevyon Martin’s hoodie abound). However, he stands by his remarks, and those among us who aren’t fooling ourselves should stand by him as well: it is not a perfect world, and as a creation of that world, we are not perfect beings. Not one of us.

In a way, the Donald Sterling discussion has allowed us an opportunity to take a greater look at race relations and how far we’ve truly come; as Cuban so adamantly put, we all have our prejudices. We aren’t born with them, but we are raised and fed them by whatever culture that surrounds us. It’s not something to be proud of or wear on your sleeve; it’s simply a mark of being undeniably human. Prejudice does not, however, equate to racism. Our thoughts are generally a swirling, uncontrollable storm, but they are a storm trapped safely within our minds, and it is up to us to control them. You’re not a bad person for assuming with no forethought that a black family has no money or consistent income; you are, however, a bad person for denying them service, housing, or equal treatment based solely on that assumption.

The world has certainly come a long way as far as acceptance and tolerance are concerned; it’s telling that Sterling’s comments are as outrageous as they are. It is, however, a long and arduous process, one that will certainly be set back time and time again. We already know that outward displays of prejudice are wrong, and now is the time to eliminate the thoughts that plague us altogether – and it may not happen this generation, or the next, or the one after that. Social evolution is an odd current, impacted by the uncontrollable variable that is the world around us. All we can do is better ourselves, and hope for the best.

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an (un)happy medium.

I once read that the definition of happiness and unhappiness is simply the positive and negative ledgers on the scale of normalcy; in other words, they are fleeting, often changing and molding emotions that really only exist because we tell them to. Are you “happy” because of that girl, or simply because she is a routine part of the norm at this point? By that same token, you’re only unhappy because that definition of normal in your life is no longer there, and you preach misery as a way to cope. In short, happiness and unhappiness are directly within our control, whether it’s a conscious decision or not.

That being said, a 2013 national poll came to the conclusion that 67%, or roughly two thirds of the country considers itself unhappy. The world’s historically most prosperous nation, a country that prides itself on freedom and an oft-sold “American Dream,” somehow manages to only keep a relative small sample of its population content. Now, given that happiness and unhappiness are essentially two sides to a half, where normal is the exact middle, how can it be that the scales tip so heavily towards despair?

We as a people seem to not acknowledge or create our own definition of “normal,” and instead buy into that oh-so-American glamour lifestyle. Each and every one of us believe a six figure salary is a pretty achievable objective; most of us honestly probably just believe we have it coming to us if we work hard enough and finish school. We’ve been taught that we “can do anything we put our minds to,” the American Dream; our blessing and our curse.

It’s not wrong to dream – every day, I think about where I could be, both in a realistic and grandiose fashion. I think about how a little bit of luck could change everything, and I’m sure we all do. Hitting the lottery, fluke landing a new work position, writing the next big novel, developing the next big game – we all have our pipe dreams. However, we need to back up and realize that pipe dreams are exactly what they are: distant possibilities, lovely but not likely. We need to stop sulking on what could have been and embrace the now with an eye towards future possibilities. You may have flunked the job interview, you may have lost that girl, but it’s foolish to dwell – without resorting to cliches, sometimes things just don’t work out.

To be blunt, most of us really need to examine where we’re at and understand that we are NOT as unhappy as we seem to claim, we just need to accept normal and make a change if we can’t. Chances are, the source of your sullen thoughts is certainly survivable and simply needs to be accepted as the new normal. Live where you are, not where you feel you deserve to be.

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holiday fear.

The holiday season has a tendency to make us evaluate where we are in life, where
we’re going, and where we want to be. Oftentimes, “family” has become a term
used to describe a group of people of varying age, style, and stature that we
see and instinctively insist on spending time with once or twice a year. The
typical American family in 2013 doesn’t maintain close ties with distant aunts,
cousins, and uncles, as well they really have no need to – all they do is share
our blood.

Nonetheless,we often find it is our duty to impress what are essentially strangers. While
we typically maintain close ties with our immediate family (the definition of
which obviously varies from household to household, but the idea remains the
same), this distant relative is just oh so eager to know where you’re at in
school, when you plan on graduating, your newest job, what trouble you’ve
gotten into that isn’t so bad after all – and once you’re done, they’re sure to
oblige your belated request for an update on their comings and goings. It’s a
droll time, for sure, but one that we will have every year until they’re gone,
and then we’ll replace them in the family pecking order.

All but the most jovial of us will agree that the holidays are an extremely stressful
time – money is tight, sure, but the every-day routine is simply halted by
unruly traffic, weather, and a genuine public attitude totally unlike the other
eleven months of the year. It causes short tempers, a harsh attitude, and unnecessary
friction with those we love. Old conflicts are renewed and new battles are
born. The problem is that we tend to take these people for granted – our family
is always there for us, and always will be. It leads to a certain juggling of
priorities – we are sure to call our drinking buddies with every success, but
turn to our family as soon as we hit a patch of bad fortune. We are inherently
more capable of showing weakness to our family because they’ve been there our
whole lives; they are an unchanging constant in what could otherwise be only referred
to as chaos, a flux of changing relationships and friendships – and just as we
are more capable of showing weakness, we are also more capable of being cruel.

We simply know that no matter what we do, or what we say, our family will be there.
Grudges and hateful words are meaningless in the grand scheme of things because,
after all, we’ll be back next year to share the turkey, ham and gravy. A
certain apathetic part of us doesn’t care about the damage done, because next
year, they’ll still be there. They’ll always welcome you with open arms, and
you’ll always welcome them. It’s a horrible mindset, a subconscious thought
pattern that somehow leads us to believe it’s okay to despise those that will
always love us, simply because there’s very little repercussions for doing so.

It’s unhealthy to dwell on what we don’t have. Life is limited; you could really
count how many times you’ll see these people again in tally marks on a post it
note. Every fight, every twisted conflict, every grudge held takes a chunk of
those tally marks away. Family isn’t perfect, nothing is; but it’s only
sensible to appreciate that unconditional love.

Happy holidays.

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vague and pointless (to a point).

Spurred on by that sensation in the gut, that persistent twist of the stomach muscles, real or imagined, that lead to an inevitable sense of sheer uncertainty. It is that feeling that courses through the body when the mind is aware that drastic change, for better or worse, is coming. It is that numbing anxiousness that took over every time I made a big sale, every time I lost a job, every time I cut ties with another person for good, every time I made a decision that led to either paramount success or a colossal blunder. Those butterflies, those sinister butterflies that take over for hours, days, weeks at a time.

The difference, however, is being virtually clueless as to why they’re there.

For the first time in my life, I can stand and proclaim with absolute certainty that I’m happy about the direction my life is taking; it’s not exactly the pipe dream that our young selves undoubtedly envision, but being financially stable and having a myriad of things to your name certainly seems like a much greater accomplishment once thrusted into the real world. In short, I’m proud of my life following a relatively successful generic path.
And yet, it seems like the subconscious disagrees. A quick rundown of the goings-on in my life reveal nothing seriously out of whack, and a sense of real stability. Degree? Check. House? Check. Car? Check. Friends? Check. Successful long-term relationship? Check and check. So what is it, exactly, wrong of the above?
Perhaps it is that stability that lends itself to dissatisfaction. We as human beings are capable of being the lowest of scum or achieving the highest grandeur; we as individuals can change the world in ways ranging from diabolical to saintly by simply applying ourselves. Is it possible that the psyche is simply frustrated at its own unapplied potential? That this anxiety is meant to spur on spontaneity? I guess if I were to take the heinously self-absorbed route, it’s possible that I’m simply frustrated that I haven’t achieved those far-off childhood dreams of easy success and quiet grandeur; that I am, in fact, a tragic figure, a victim of his own pride and laziness.
More realistically, this uncertainty is a sign that life has slowed down, and after working towards an end my entire life, having all that I really need at this point in time has led to a sudden lull; wake up, go to work, come home, relax with the girlfriend, pay the bills. It’s a life I’m really, truthfully not used to, and the part of me that’s used to precious few hours of free time is suddenly stunned and confused, as if I’m wasting time when I can be working towards a greater end.
Call it a crisis?
My apologies to the dozen or so of you that will read this and expect a conclusion, but this entry reads simply as a public soul searching; I can only imagine some of you can relate. I tell myself I’m happy, but it’s clear that change needs to be made. I’m not sure how, and to be frank it may never happen, but acknowledgment is the first step to reconciliation. Something needs to be built or something needs to be torn down…just give me time to figure out what, exactly, that something is or will be.

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redundant ramblings on racism.

The case of Travyon Martin and George Zimmerman has been possibly the hottest, most controversial topic of the year. Original reports revolved around helpless Travyon being gunned down for wearing a hoodie and offering skittles; the new story proclaims that Zimmerman was assaulted by a rogue thug and gunned the young man down in self-defense. As is the norm for these situations, reality likely lies somewhere inbetween two extremes. While the event in question is tragic no matter your stance, there is an undeniable truth: the response is sickening, and in some ways may even begin to set race relations down a pre-MLK path.

Generally, the public has taken two distinct views that spawned from a frenzy of ill-fated media extremism: the first, that Travyon Martin was an innocent bystander and the victim of a racist bigot who viewed young blacks in his neighborhood as a nuisance, and used any excuse necessary to shoot him; the other view is essentially that Zimmerman was assaulted, beaten, and only shot in self-defense, and is now the victim of a sort of reverse racism.

Something about the skin color of those involved ignites a certain furor in the general public. Social media exploded with renewed interest from the second Zimmerman was declared not guilty; everyone in the world seemed disgusted in one way or another. The case has been analyzed in every way imaginable; bullet trajectory, out of context statements, even Zimmerman’s own hispanic background has been used as a case for or against both sides.

Zimmerman was found beaten and was clearly on his back at some point during the altercation, shooting upwards at Travyon. According to reports and recorded conversations, he also followed Travyon against police orders and may have instigated the attack. Either way, the shot itself was fired in self-defense, and Florida law dictates that self-defense is legal. For better or for worse, the American judicial system has come to a verdict – Zimmerman was standing his ground in the face of an attack, instigated or otherwise. The man will live as a pariah and a controversial face for the rest of his life; his actions will catch up to him.

That being said, a number of people have used the incident as a method to announce their innermost racial tendencies under the guise of moral outrage. A resounding argument is that if races were reversed, the verdict may have been different; this is a racist statement through and through, an absolute admission of some degree of prejudice and distaste towards other human beings. At the same time, there is an outcry of what can really only be described as a sense of black power – a select few are trying to distance the race as a whole from the rest of society under the claim that they are being treated as inferior. In all reality, this is also a bigot idealogy – a sort of presumption that the world is out to get you.

I am not claiming that racism on a broad scale is dead – but it is thought to be a dying mindset, and perhaps the most discouraging result of the shooting of Travyon Martin is that it has brought legitimate racial divide to the forefront. There is no reason that blacks and whites should engage in race-related conflict in 2013; we need to stop using the tragic death of a young man as an excuse to profess our hatred of one another’s skin tone and heritage. What happened was a misunderstanding between an over-aggressive member of the neighborhood watch and a young man already ridden with disciplinary and legal issues. Race does not matter, and never should have been an issue in the first place.

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the last of us: mid-game review.

The word “zombie” derives from “zombi,” a West African term from the Vodou (voodoo) tribes that refers to a corpse reanimated by no will of its own, moving without a mind or purpose. In recent times, this definition has largely stayed the same; early references in Western culture include the 1929 novel Magic Island and 1932 film White Zombie. While these and other scattered references introduced the concept to audiences, it wasn’t until relatively recently that “zombies” became a cultural sensation: driven by the George Romero and company, zombies became, rather ironically, much more than mindless scare tactics and are now a subgenre in and of their own.

Zombies as a pop culture sensation have taken many turns throughout their rapid progression into the mainstream. Romero used them as a means of social commentary, most notably Dawn of the Dead‘s drones returning to a mall and wandering aimlessly; from there, the concept took off, and legions of enthusiastic young directors attempted to morph the ideas into their own until every other popcorn movie, dollar store paperback novel, and arcade shoot-em-up involved mowing down the undead. Reasons for their insurrection vary from medium to medium; sometimes, it’s simply magic, either undescribed or mentioned in passing as a “biological weapon gone wrong.” Most commonly, a new and previously unheard of disease spreads through mankind at a torrid pace and leaves the world in ruins, with our heroes among the few that survive. The narrative is essentially the same, with little room for variation in most cases.

Naughty Dog’s latest opus, The Last of Us, largely follows that certain deus ex machina – without giving anything away, the “zombies” this time are a result of a mind-consuming fungus, spread either through airborne spores or – surprise, surpise – a bite from an infected person. In Naughty Dog’s world, the infected go through different stages, starting at simple maddened humans before progressing to admittedly unsettling creatures known only as a “clickers-” the fungus has caused the victim’s face to erupt, eliminating a sense of sight and moving in a disturbed, twitching motion that follows sound rather than sight (a clever narrative putting an emphasis on sneaky gameplay). The goal, of course, is the same – they want to bite you, or eat you, or just beat you to a pulp because you exist. While they aren’t technically corpses brought to life, these creations fit the mold – they are humans without their humanity, replaced by horrifying primal instinct.

That being said, the zombies in this case serve as a mere background to the game’s brilliantly realized world. Civilization as we know it has crumbled, replaced by a sort of Wild West that just so happens to have a bunch of nasty things in it that you would really prefer to avoid. Enough survivors remain to have a genuine society, living off of “ration cards” and staying within the confines of the city, which is protected by a militaristic government. There’s even (what appears to be) a terrorist/resistance group arisen from the ashes of a devastated world known as the “fireflies.” The explanations are quick, simple, and believable – all you need to know is essentially laid out in the opening credits after the opening segment. (On a quick sidenote, the opening twenty minutes may be the most intense scene you’ll play this year.)

The Last of Us is being described by many pundits and gaming aficionados as definitive of art in the video game medium; and, for the first time, I can genuinely agree. While titles like Shadow of the Colossus and the Bioshock series had their moments, The Last of Us is an absolute experience in hopeless humanity. It is a post-apocalyptic vision on par with The Road, Children of Men, Riddley Walker and the like – with the kicker being it is interactive, a story the player is meant to live and become absorbed in on a whole different level. Your character can find items and use them just as in any other game; however, the very simplicity and basic nature of these items are harrowing. Scissors, tape, a brick and a ladder are everyday, common items that are absolutely crucial to survival. Decayed bodies and abandoned cars litter the roads and buildings, which themselves are forgotten and overgrown with vegetation. Most notable is that the game doesn’t even call special attention to exceptionally disturbing events or make a concerted effort to guide the player; there’s no big orange arrow at the top of the screen and it’s relatively easy to get disoriented. More than once, I’ve wandered into a house only to find a body hanging, rotted and long forgotten. Sometimes, there’s a note, sometimes there’s not. Either way, it’s just an accepted event, and you move on.

The game creates a real atmosphere of hopelessness and despair and yet gives the message that we must continue on regardless; while I’ve yet to finish the game (truth be told, I probably have a ways to go), at this point I often find myself more unnerved by other humans than the clickers and infected swarms. A dying world seems to bring out the worst in people, as gangs litter the inner cities and murder any bypasser – and yet, as protagonist Joel calmly states, “I’ve been on both sides.” The game truly captures why the zombie phenomenon has gripped us so, and does it in resplendent fashion; we as Americans feel a certain level of invincibility, and the idea of the zombie is that humanity’s massive scope becomes its undoing. Essentially, that we as a society can be toppled by ourselves – and it is a bleak prospect indeed. The zombie story has been recycled a thousand times – but by making it an interactive and incredibly engaging experience, Naughty Dog has not only created what might be one of the greatest games of all time, but a genuine piece of art.

Now, I’m gonna go finish it.

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