Teresa & Video Games: Countdown to TLOU #14 (Geeking Out)

That tingly, makes-me-squee excitement is back! I feel like Ellie in her helmet as she's about to launch into space.

Teresa & Video Games: Countdown to TLOU #14 (Geeking Out)
Ellie living her space dreams in a scene from 'The Last of Us, Part II' (2020)

I'm writing this on Day 14 of 15 in the TLOU countdown (which, the way I've been doing it, should've been called a 'count UP'), but it's not going out until after midnight, so...TODAY is the big event!

I was going to write a couple of additional pieces between Thursday's newsletter and now, but I got caught up in playing TLOU 2, which I wasn't even planning on playing (I was only going to replay the first game and "Left Behind" to refresh myself, since that's the ground S1 of the show is covering), but I got so jazzed playing the other two games I didn't want to get off the TLOU train.

And I'm glad I did! I'm glad I'm this excited! I've said this before, but it's been a long time since I've geeked out this hard over an upcoming...anything.

And I realized yesterday, when I got to Ellie's birthday trip to the Wyoming Museum of Science and History, Ellie and I have that in common! We both love space stuff, have vivid imaginations, are completely un-self-conscious about liking the things we like, and have adulthoods trying their damnedest to take those qualities away from us.

SPOILERS for The Last of Us 2 and "Left Behind" --

It's my favorite moment in The Last of Us 2: during a flashback section of the game where Joel takes Ellie to what remains of the Wyoming Museum of Science and History to show her dinosaur bones and space stuff as a birthday gift (since dinosaurs and space travel are two of her favorite things when she's 15), there's a moment where Ellie selects a space helmet from a display, sits in a re-entry capsule, and Joel gifts her a cassette tape he's somehow managed to rustle up with the countdown for Apollo 11 on it. He asks her to close her eyes while she plays the tape.

As she listens to the countdown, already freaking out over being able to sit in a real NASA re-entry capsule, she imagines the feeling of being catapulted into orbit, and we see it with her as the lighting changes to reflect transitions from the museum capsule she's in, to the burst of flame at liftoff, to the sudden rush to black, the only light coming from the moon and distant stars.

Close-up of Ellie with her eyes closed imagining a video game. The health bars for two characters, "Angel Knives" and "Blackfang" are overlaid above her head, and there are arrows and player buttons overlaid at the bottom of the image.
Ellie playing a video game called 'The Turning' in her imagination in 'Left Behind' (2014)

It was a moment that was already poignant, because we were being shown a tender father-daughter moment between Ellie and Joel in a flashback knowing that Joel had since been killed.

When I first played TLOU 2, I hadn't yet played the DLC, "Left Behind." Now that I have, the re-entry capsule scene is made even more poignant, because I see that it's a callback to the arcade scene in "Left Behind" where Ellie is disappointed because an arcade game she wants to play is broken. Riley tells her to close her eyes and imagine the game, narrating what's happening while Ellie imagines her moves in response.

[I noticed another "Left Behind" callback in my recent playing when Dina and Ellie are in a store that has Halloween stuff in it, Dina points it out, and Ellie makes a comment like, "I've never really liked that stuff." This seemed like an offhanded comment before, but now reads differently when compared to the scene between Riley and Ellie in the Halloween store.]

Joel and Ellie laying back in a NASA rover in a museum. In the foreground, Ellie is wearing a space helmet and a tank top as she smiles at the gift of a cassette tape for her Walkman. Joel smiles in the seat next to her. He has dark hair and a salt-and-pepper beard and a blue t-shirt. Sarah's watch is visible on his wrist.
Joel and Ellie in a scene from 'The Last of Us, Part II' (2020)

What's great about the re-entry capsule scene and the arcade scene is that we see what a vivid imagination Ellie has. Not only is she a geek about things like video games, comics, dinosaurs, and space, but she can do a lot in her head. She's had to. Being born into an apocalypse means that many experiences can only ever live in your head.

Other experiences, however, are all too real. Two people she loved dearly encouraged her to close her eyes and use her imagination, seeing the best in her. Both of them knew Ellie deeply and knew exactly what to do to make her happy. Both of them died because they loved her and were trying to return to her.

That's not really why they died, of course. Riley died of a bite from a stalker. Joel was murdered by the daughter of the surgeon he killed to save Ellie. Neither of these deaths were Ellie's fault, but each big death she's experienced--likely going all the way back to her parents--has chipped away at the person capable of imagining things that make her happy.

As she continues her journey, consumed by a need for vengeance against the woman who took Joel from her, her vivid imagination becomes warped by trauma, and it eventually serves up the very worst imagery thanks to PTSD.

Ellie has her back turned to the camera as she comes upon the large statue of a tyrannosaurus rex in an overgrown wooded area. She has brown hair in a ponytail and wears a light colored tank top, jeans, and a backpack.
Ellie sees a dinosaur in a scene from 'The Last of Us, Part II' (2020)

As a woman in her early 40s, I've experienced my share of loss. I haven't experienced nearly as much trauma as Ellie, but I grew up in a lower-class home with parents in a volatile, dysfunctional marriage. When I was a kid, sci-fi and fantasy were as much about an escape from that as it was fodder for my budding creativity or a genuine interest.

My love of sci-fi stemmed from my love of space, and the idea of space travel in general. For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by space. My school projects were always space-related. Space Camp was one of my favorite movies growing up. I loved going to places like the Hall of Science in Queens, and the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan.

My first intense sci-fi fandom was Star Trek. By 6 or 7, I was already obsessed with episodes of the Original Series, but when The Next Generation came out, my geekiness was turned up to 11. I filled notebook after notebook with TNG fan fiction (usually centered around Data, my favorite character). I'd be at friends' houses on Saturday nights, and they knew that at 8pm they needed to find me an available TV for an hour so I could watch the latest episode the second it came on. I crushed hard (no pun intended) on Wesley Crusher, and even tried to join the Wil Wheaton fan club.

A scene from the 1990s TV show, 'Alien Nation,' based on the film of the same name. 

Alien Nation was my next obsession. Again with the notebooks full of fan fiction. I tried dressing like a Newcomer for Halloween, and my sister made me a great looking spotted head to put on, but it was made out of papier-mâché and it rained while I was trick-or-treating, causing my head to cave in. And when Alien Nation was cancelled after one season, I did what any self-respecting, 11-year-old geek would do: I got 50 whole signatures on a petition I made on a piece of loose-leaf, and I wrote a letter to Barry Diller (co-founder and then-CEO of Fox Broadcasting Company) begging them to keep the show on the air. Now, I'm not saying that the five TV movies they released after the show was cancelled were released because of my loose-leaf petition, but I'm not saying they weren't.

Lost, The Whedonverse, the work of Neil Gaiman, comics (especially anything by Brian K. Vaughan), fiction by Jonathan Safran Foer, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica--I was a fan of plenty of other stuff, but these in particular were all things that I consumed voraciously and that I loved viscerally. I burrowed into these worlds and wrapped myself up in them as if they were warm blankets.

Promotional image of the cast of 'lost.' The whole cast is standing on a beach. There are 14 cast members.
Promotional image for the show 'Lost'

My mother died in 2006. I was 27 and smack in the middle of my Lost obsession. My continued love of Star Trek helped me grieve, as I didn't cry at her bedside when we turned off her life-support, but I cried buckets watching the TNG episodes, "The Offspring" and "Sarek," both of which are about the relationships between parents and children. Though my mother was gone, I still had my dad, and I was still in New York surrounded by my entire support system, so I was able to hold on to my geeky pleasures while mourning my mother at the same time.

The last time I truly geeked out about something deep in my soul was around Spring of 2011. While I'd been a "Whovian" for years before then, it wasn't until I found "my" Doctor in Eleven (played by Matt Smith) and "my" companions in Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) that I was at PEAK Doctor Who fandom. So much so, that I was willing to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to trek into Manhattan from Queens to stand in line for 8-10 hours to get into a preview screening of the Season 6 premiere where Smith, Gillan, Darvill, and showrunner Steven Moffat were going to be doing a Q&A afterwards. I went to Doctor Who events and theme parties, bought so much merch, and talked Who constantly. I'd think about it and literally vibrate with excitement, I loved it so much. Doctor Who evoked wonder and possibility in a way I needed.

Rory (Arthur Darvill), The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) in a scene from 'Doctor Who.' They are standing in front of the TARDIS (a blue police phone box). They are all white. Rory is a man with medium length brown hair wearing a blue and white striped shirt and a black hoodie. The Doctor has thick dark hair in a pompadour and wears a tweed blazer over a blue buttondown with a bow tie. Amy has long red hair and wears a black jacket.
Rory (Arthur Darvill), The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) in a scene from 'Doctor Who'

Then I moved to Los Angeles in September 2011. My Doctor Who obsession came with me, but started fizzling to the level of a "regular fan." My life in a new city was difficult. I was essentially homeless for my first year, sleeping on couches or in spare rooms, and living out of suitcases until I could afford an apartment with a roommate in October 2012. It's hard to indulge in geeky pursuits when you don't have a reliable place to watch, read, or keep stuff.

My dad died in 2014, after about eight years of dementia, and he was now 3,000 miles away. I had to fly back to New York to go to his funeral after being told about his death, which was a very different experience than I'd had with my mom, who was lucid until the very end, and whom I got to see take her last breath.

While I'd found the beginnings of a new support system in my new city, met the woman who'd become my wife a year after I arrived, and continued to love all sorts of geeky shit, I didn't have that visceral, makes-me-giddy geek love for a long while after my intense obsession with Doctor Who dissipated. So much had happened, and life just got more and more complicated.

I wondered if this is just what "getting older" is. Does that kind of excitement have an expiration date?

I came to miss it. That feeling was gone, and I missed its bubbly effervescence. Though I've since been into Supergirl and Westworld and the comic book series, Saga, as well as non-genre stuff like podcasts about starting businesses, or reading about the advertising industry, or learning everything there is to know about Bad Robot (I geek out about companies, too, aparently), and recently quad roller skating, I'd lost that pure, boisterous, unadulterated excitement that I used to have whenever I've fallen in love with something.

Until now.

Ellie and Joel stand in front of a statue of a tyrannosaurus rex in an overgrown wooded area. Ellie has her back to the camera. Her brown hair is in a ponytail, and she's wearing a light tank top and a backpack. Joel is standing in profile looking at her. He is a white man with short brown hair and a beard. He's wearing a blue t-shirt a watch, jeans, and a backpack.
Ellie and Joel visit a dinosaur in 'The Last of Us, Part II' (2020)

That tingly, makes-me-squee excitement is back! One of my favorite writers is adapting one of my favorite video games into my favorite storytelling medium, and from everything I've seen and read about it (which has been a lot!), it looks like it's going to be amazing.

And I'm grateful because, to be honest, the past couple of years have mostly been a shit-show. Despite the fact that The Last of Us is a dark story about a post-apocalyptic world, its quality, its heart, its characters--its existence--just make me really happy.

I feel like Ellie in her helmet as she's about to launch into space.

** There's one more piece coming after this before this newsletter goes monthly--because you KNOW I have to write a review of the first episode after all this, right? So, keep your eyes peeled for that, as well as for the deets on what to expect from this newsletter (and my other online presences) in the future. **