The Scribble Tape Mystery Of The Last Of Us

Candy Box was a collection of ASCII art filtered into exploitative accumulation systems. When it was Farmville it was a five-headed hydra, an abomination, but we forgave it in Candy Box. Why?

Maybe it was the sense of discovery.

We knew nothing about Candy Box. It was a link that was shared and clicked on. Then it was a ASCII version of Doctor Who exchanging lollipops for Candy. Then it was a quest to kill goblins. Then it was a farming simulator. We peeled back the layers together, on social media, on blogs, on tumblr. We discovered it together in post-modern barrage of tweets and chinese whispers.

"Wait, how do you cover your sword in chocolate?"

"How many lollipops are you farming per second?"

"There's a dragon?"

"You have to fight Satan?"

It awakened a nostalgia buried so deep I had forgotten it even existed. Days spent rummaging through my Uncle's 200 strong collection of pirated Spectrum games. They didn't even have covers, or cases for that matter. They were just cassette tapes with names scratched in biro.

Horace Goes Skiing

Hunchback II

Way of the Exploding Fist

Castle Master

As the tapes slowly bleeped and screeched primitive loading images onto my Dad's colour CRT we had no real idea what was next. What to expect. All we had was rumours, whispers in the playground.

We were explorers


At one point during The Last of Us demo, Ellie — the teenage girl you're escorting through a town — stops for a second over a broken arcade machine. Covered in dust. Unplugged. Unplayable.

"I wish I could play it," she says.

As I sit down to play The Last of Us for the first time it occurs to me that I know very little about this game. I have no idea what to expect, really. In a media landscape saturated by asset drops, developer diaries, early access previews, trailers, it feels strange to be loading up a big budget video game, weeks from its release, knowing next to nothing about it.

It feels... a little bit like playing Candy Box.

I know there is a man, the main character, the protagonist. I know there is a girl, who accompanies you. I know it is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. That's all I know. In this day and age The Last of Us is about as close as a 'AAA' game can get to being nothing more than a name scribbled on a cassette tape, waiting to be played.

Is Ellie my daughter? I don't know. Are 'the infected' some kind of zombie? Are they the reason the world I'm in is in tatters? I don't know.

The Last of Us feels like it's about discovery.


The section of the game I'm playing is set in an abandoned town, ravaged by time and some sort of post apocalyptic event. I've been given time to explore, time to breathe in this broken down, rusty version of the world we live in. In most video games this kind of silence is a full stop, the end of something. But in The Last of Us violence is punctuation — hard, short, brutal, sparing.

The Last of Us is a deliberately paced process of accumulation. A scramble for resources, a series of discoveries. There is, of course, shooting in the game. You can and will aim a cursor over the heads of enemies and pull the trigger. There is a memorable sequence towards the end of the demo, violence as a full stop. Hanging upside down, in a cleverly laid trap, your perspective is shifted to the point where you don't know which way is up. It's a brilliant subversion of the 'turret' trope in third person shooters where the player, in a fixed position, must ward of hordes of enemies for a specific period of time. It's restrained, tense and memorable, but it wasn't my favourite part of The Last of Us demo.

The town had a record store. It didn't sell CDs it sold vinyl. As long as we've been listening to music we've been nostalgic about vinyl. I suspect, in the same way, our generation will be nostalgic about arcade machines, games like one Ellie wanted to play but couldn't.

Ellie talks again, it makes her sad that this music that will never be listened to again. She flicks through the record sleeves. It reminds me of rummaging through cassette tapes with no idea what I was about to play, what to expect.

And that reminds me of The Last of Us. A game that feels like the vinyl in the record store, or the arcade machine Ellie couldn't play.

The Last of Us: it's like a Candy Box, or vinyl we can't listen to. A modern day scribble-tape mystery.


    I'm sooooo on the fence with this. While this helps me lean the right way, I'm keen to see what the reaction and consensus is on it when it arrives...

    (but cool metaphor Mark! 4 stars)

    Last edited 20/05/13 1:21 pm

    I actually read this expecting a big reveal that Candy Box was somehow a viral marketing campaign for the Last of Us. Never have I been so wrong...

      Exactly what I was thinking! "OMFG it's all connectedddddd!?!??!"

    I have boxes of pirated (not by me) c64 disks. Literally over a thousand. I do not pirate. I do not condone it BUT every now and again I go through these disks and see whats on them. I write down (in a book) what is on the disk? Why? Because in addition to copyrighted games I have found type in basic programs. Cracking demos and am looking for the lost 'holy grails' of c64 gaming. Maybe one day I will discover one and make a rom. Maybe not but it is fun.

      Just quietly, I don't think anyone would give a shit if you pirated a C64 game/application.

    The way Mark wrote about the game makes me want to play it, but the limited PR I've been exposed to puts it forward as just another third person shooter trying to be philosophical about human nature while you run and gun everything that moves. It's a game I'm really going to have to wait for reviews on.

    On the other hand, I would pre-order "The ScribbleTape Mysteries" right now if the screen somehow transformed money into a game.

      I expected Uncharted: The Walking Dead: The Movie: The Game

    Ive been told that the enemies arent zombies they are people infected with a fungus or parasite (cant remember which it is). Its a real thing that infects different types of bugs and small wildlife but not people, the story is based on what wold happen if it did

      This, is think.

    In medias res is a pretty decent tool for discovery - one of my personal favourites. Better than amnesia, at any rate. But it seems that device relies heavily on the protagonists being their own characters, because it defies the self-insertion that so many people (who I totally cannot relate to) seem to look for when playing games. (Which is probably why so many games go for the amnesia angle; so you can suspend disbelief at not knowing anything already, where a character IN the world would know.)

    Actually, on that knowledge-imparting thing - one of my favourite techniques I've seen in some RPGs for revealing/enquiring about in-world lore without making your character look like an idiot is to phrase the question to the player as something that we might ask, not knowing anything, but having your character ask intelligent questions which state an assumed knowledge, and ask to clarify a specific detail, or how it relates to something at hand. Clever!

    I think the first example I really noticed about it was in the original Mass Effect, when one of your dialogue choices is, "Protheans?" which kicks Shep off asking about how this particular precursor artifact was found, or how it survived 50,000 in its current location or something similar, which informed me handily about the Protheans just by virtue of asking, but didn't make Shep sound like an idiot who has no business being an elite special forces officer. I've seen other examples since, and I always really appreciate the touch.

    when i'm hyped about a game i usually will watch trailers and keep up to date on every little thing about it. however i haven't read or seen anything about it since the E3 gameplay.

    an action like this could be seen as foolish, as i don't know whether the game is gonna be good or not, however i feel that this is a game i shouldn't know much about, as your article explains, it's a mystery and i think it should be kept that way.

    Why are kids in zombie movies/games so dumb? That kid in 'The Road' was infuriating! Ellie at least seems somewhat capable, but even so if she is talking all the time that is going to screw things up for everyone.

      Thankfully after watching the E3 demo, I noticed in the combat sections - or when Joel shushes her prior to a potential one - she does actually keep her mouth shut or hisses warning whispers to him as alerts. Seems like a savvy kid. :)

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