In a recent interview, The Last of Us showrunner Craig Mazin said that the original game contained the “greatest story ever told” in the history of video games. Not only is this statement silly, but it also continues this weird pattern of people trying to rewrite history to make Naughty Dog’s original PS3 adventure one of the most important pieces of interactive art ever created, even though it’s completely unnecessary to do so.
I am not a successful Hollywood writer or producer. (Not yet, at least!) But still, I do have two pieces of advice for anyone in the business. Number one: Treat the people you work with kindly and respectfully. Number two: Don’t claim the film or show you are working on or adapting is the “Greatest Thing Ever.” That will always end poorly for you. Yet it’s precisely what The Last of Us showrunner Mazin, best known for his work on the 2019 series Chernobyl, did in a recent interview with Empire about the upcoming post-apocalyptic HBO show.
“It’s an open-and-shut case: this is the greatest story that has ever been told in video games,” said Mazin in the soon-to-be-released February 2023 edition of the magazine. For Mazin—who is co-running the show alongside the original game’s writer Neil Druckmann—the reason this is the greatest story ever told in a game is because of how grounded it is.
“They didn’t shoot anything out of their eyeballs. They were just people,” explained Mazin. “And that, in and of itself, is remarkably rare in games. The fact that they kept it so grounded, and really made you feel – I had never experienced anything like it, and I’ve been playing video games since 1977.”
Ignoring the fact that there have been plenty of grounded games released in the last decade— many of which didn’t contain spore-covered zombies or main characters gunning down armies of nameless thugs—Mazin’s comment sounds desperate. It seems like an attempt to elevate The Last of Us above other games, suggesting that this dark, gritty tale of survival is “art” and most other games aren’t even close. It almost feels as if Mazin is worried people won’t give The Last of Us a chance and so he’s trying to oversell its narrative to convince folks that this latest prestige piece of television is worth watching even if it’s based on a video game.
It also continues this odd trend of people trying to contort The Last of Us into something bigger, more essential than it really is. Let’s be clear here: I like both The Last of Us and its sequel. I think they are a bit too long and the combat isn’t always fun, but I do enjoy the stories told in these games. I like these characters a lot. But Mazin and others don’t seem satisfied with The Last of Us just being good. (And these are good games!) Instead, these games have to be elevated far above almost every other game released. The Last of Us can’t just be a great game with a fantastic cast. No. It’s literally the greatest story ever told in a video game. It’s all so silly and pointless.
It’s silly because…really? I don’t need to tell you that most people will take umbrage with the statement that anything is the greatest of all time. And it’s pointless because The Last of Us doesn’t need to be the greatest story ever told in video game history to warrant a TV show adaptation. It’s a well-written narrative about found family and survival that I think a lot of people can relate to, and I’m genuinely curious to see how Mazin is able to translate it to the small screen while expanding on it, too. We don’t need to be told it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Just make something you care about and tell this popular story in a way that feels right to you as director and showrunner. That’s more than enough. I promise.