Ryan Banfi

Ryan Banfi is a PhD Candidate in Cinema Studies at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. He is a Corrigan Fellow at NYU, and he is a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. Ryan holds a BA from the Claremont Colleges in Literature and Media Studies, a MA in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Southern California, and a MPhil from NYU in Cinema Studies. He has been published in Games and Culture, Flow Online Journal, Studies in European Cinema, and In Media Res. Ryan’s research interests include game studies, television studies, and American cinema.

Contact information:
Reb9418 at nyu.edu

Ellie’s Journal: Para-Narratives in The Last of Us Part II

by Ryan Banfi


The Last of Us Part II expands upon the game mechanics of collecting and analyzing artifacts (letters, audio recordings, etc.) in the first game, The Last of Us. This essay closely interprets Ellie’s journal (the main artifact) in The Last of Us Part II. Rather than focus on chapters (levels) or cut-scenes, this essay analyzes Ellie’s journal to dissect her relationships with Joel and Abby. This analysis will further scholarship not just on The Last of Us as many articles on this game have overlooked the importance of the paratexts in the series, but also on how video game narratives can be understood in the context of game studies.

Keywords: The Last of Us, The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog, paratexts, para-narratives, narrative, artifacts, Gérard Genette



This essay examines Ellie’s journal, a paratext in The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog, 2020). “Paratext” is a term coined by Gérard Genette to describe “productions, such as an author’s name, a title, a preface, illustrations [that] belong to the [main] text, in any case they surround it and extend it” (Genette, 1997, p. 1). Although Genette was primarily writing about literature in his book (1997), game studies has adopted his terms to discuss paratexts in videogames e.g., in-game menus and collectibles (see Aarseth, 1997; see Austin, 2021; see Consalvo, 2007; see Freyermuth, 2021; see Gardner & Tanenbaum, 2021; see Krichane, 2021; see Mäyrä, 2010; see Švelch, 2020).

In the diegesis of The Last of Us Part II, Ellie’s journal exemplifies what Genette would call a “private epitext” (Genette, 1997, p. 371). As an example of a “private epitext” Ellie’s journal provides an “interior monologue - it consists of telling oneself what one wants to tell oneself and wants to hear oneself telling oneself” (Genette, 1997, p. 395). Ellie’s journal is unique in that it extends the game’s primary narrative (gameplay and cut-scenes) by providing the player with a cognitive map of Ellie’s thoughts. When Ellie encounters a place in the game where she can write in her diary, the HUD (heads up display) informs the player that they can press the touch pad on the PlayStation 4 controller to “view” her journal entry. When the player does this, the camera switches from a third person perspective to Ellie’s POV. This allows for an intimate interaction -- one between the player and Ellie’s diary. By examining Ellie’s stream of consciousness, the player can gain intimate insights into how Ellie feels towards Abby and Joel, the two other protagonists in the series. Ellie’s various entries amount to a hidden para-narrative. I argue that the mechanics of finding and reviewing these journal entries are emblematic of the idiosyncrasies in video game storytelling, which often depend on paratexts.

This essay will provide more academic research on The Last of Us Part II. Most of the current scholarship on Part II are studies on players’ reactions to the text (Anderson, 2022; Erb, Lee, & Doh, 2021). This paper will rely on the methodology of narrative analysis to further discuss paratexts in game studies.

To construct this argument, the first section of this paper considers broader theories on storytelling in games. It then moves to scholarship on video game paratexts. Academics have considered how in-game artifacts function as para-narratives in games like the BioShock series (Irrational Games, 2007/2020; 2K Marin, 2010/2020; Irrational Games, 2013/2020) and Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013). Once a clear explanation of how alternative storytelling techniques operate, this paper will turn to analyzing the scholarship on The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013) (with an emphasis on the articles that analyze paratexts in the series).

In the latter section of this paper, this essay will investigate how The Last of Us Part II utilizes Ellie’s journal to showcase her complex relationships with Abby and Joel. According to the game’s director, Neil Druckmann, Part II is about “hate” (Gach, 2016). Ellie hates Abby, and in Part II her relationship with Joel becomes strained. Joel is loved by the fans of The Last of Us, while Abby is hated by them (Anderson, 2022, p. 5; Brown-Hobson, 2020; Erb, Lee, & Doh, 2021, p. 7; Hernandez, 2020; Tassi, 2020). Yet, as is evident from Ellie’s journal, Abby and Ellie have more in common with one another than what is shown via the main narrative.

Video Game Storytelling and Paratexts

The field of game studies is founded upon the ideology that video games must be studied differently than other media (Aarseth, 2001). Henry Jenkins comments, “If some games tell stories, they are unlikely to tell them in the same ways that other media tell stories” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 121). For Jesper Juul video games must be studied singularly. He writes,

I would like to state that I think we need to consider games as fairly formal structures that in complex ways spawn and feed player experiences. This means that we cannot afford to ignore the effect of interactivity: The non-determined state of the story/game world and the active state of the player when playing a game has huge implications for how we perceive games… We would also not consider the game to be the same object as the play since we would think of the game as an explorable dynamic system that allowed for a multitude of sequences. (Juul, 2001, n.p.; see Juul, 1998)

Juul notes that interactivity is at the core of video game narratives. Lawrence May concurs by stating that video game narratives “‘are not prestructured or preprogrammed, taking shape through the game play’ and in which elements of the game’s design enable ‘the story-constructing activity of players.’ Such emergence is possible in videogames because they function as complex systems and the interactions players have with these systems elicit ‘unpredictable narrative experiences’ unique to each player” (May, 2021, p. 2).

Games contain layers. These tiers of narrative unravel through individual interactivity with the video game. May, like Jenkins, states that video game narratives unfold through this multi-layered process as they are not prestructured (see Jenkins, 2004, p. 127). Specifically, many video game narratives are arranged around the players’ unique interaction with the items spread across the game’s map. In this way, video games hide their narratives within “the mise-en-scene awaiting discovery” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 127). Jan Švelch discusses video game menus as an interactive feature that can complement the main text (Švelch, 2020, table 1). In this way, the menu is a part of the mise-en-scene that contains part of the narrative. Many video games offer the design feature of viewing the in-game artifacts via the HUD (at times an ad hoc menu in video games). Genette notes that paratexts should not draw too much attention away from the main text (1997, p. 316, see Švelch, 2020). Interacting with menus in video games to examine the in-game artifacts is a way in which the player can engage with the game’s story but not stray too far from the main gameplay.

Years before The Last of Us was released the BioShock series, a Triple-A video game like The Last of Us, engaged with the concept of para-narratives by providing the player with audio diaries to find. When the player discovers an audio diary, a graphic of the person who recorded the audio log will appear on the edge of the screen. The player is then prompted by the HUD to play the audio diary. Playing this para-narrative is optional. Thus, the player has the choice of adding this layer of storytelling to their playthrough.

The audio diaries in the BioShock series explain the histories of its cities, Rapture and Columbia. Many academics have mentioned these audio diaries (Parker, 2017; Pérez-Latorre & Olivia, 2019; Weise, 2008, p. 1523; Wysocki, 2018, p. 7). Óliver Pérez-Latorre & Mercè Olivia state that “Through multiple ‘voxaphones,’ audio diaries of various citizens, and numerous posters that allude to Columbia’s history, it is possible to explore the city’s past in depth, both its official mythology and its terrible secrets” (2019, p. 788). Felan Parker notes that “The player gradually uncovers what happened to Rapture in the course of exploring the game world’s ‘embedded narrative’ (Jenkins, 2004), through radio communication from other characters and collectible audio diaries that both reveal important plot information and flesh out the history of the city and its inhabitants” (Parker, 2017, p. 743).

Interactive exploration simulators are designed for players to find and examine in-game artifacts. Via discovering the artifacts the player uncovers the game’s narrative. Gone Home is a prime example. Unlike the BioShock series and The Last of Us series, in Gone Home the player can “Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there” (Gone Home Website; see Drouin, 2018, p. 26; see Harvart, 2018, p. 11; see Kagen, 2018; see Tulloch, Hoad, & Young, 2019, p. 339). The Last of Us series and the BioShock trilogy have elements of the interactive exploration simulator genre in that the player is searching for details not to discover the story, but to learn more about the text.

The paratexts in The Last of Us series are unique. The “voxaphones” in BioShock Infinite give the player greater insight into the history of Columbia. Gone Home revolves around finding objects and piecing together the game’s narrative. The Last of Us Part II is fundamentally different from the other listed games not just because it is a different genre (zombie/survival-horror), but because the main storyline distracts from the more intimate narrative that occurs in the text’s background. In this way, the “backstories [of video games can be] more interesting, in fact, than the narratives themselves” (Lunenfeld, 1999, p. 14). BioShock’s para-narratives are focused on the city itself, rather than the playable protagonists’ (Jack, Subject Delta and Booker DeWitt) storylines. The para-narrative in Part II is confidential in that the player can access Ellie’s thoughts on her relationships. It is evident from Ellie’s diary that she is tormented by her respective relationships with Joel and Abby.

To further examine the paratexts in The Last of Us, this essay will turn to the scholarship on part I and Part II. This paper will note the limited discussion on the paratexts in the first game and the restrictive studies on how players read Part II’s narrative. After reviewing this scholarship, this paper will perform a close reading of Ellie’s diary to explain how it enhances the main narrative of The Last of Us Part II. This essay will expand upon the scholarship of not just The Last of Us Part II and how Ellie’s journal is fundamental in showcasing the broader complexities of “hate” in the game, but also the layers of interactive storytelling.

Studies on The Last of Us

The Last of Us has generated ample recent scholarship. Academics have examined the game as a case study in post-apocalyptic dystopias (Colăcel, 2017; Farca & Ladevèze, 2016; Pérez-Latorre, 2019), hauntology (Fuchs, 2019; Mouriño, 2020), morality (Green, 2016; Harilal, 2018), fatherhood (Hill, 2016; Vorhees 2016), gender studies (Murray, 2019; Perreault, et al., 2018), post-modern gaming (Radchenko, 2020) and in classifying bibliographical versions of the various The Last of Us video game editions (Young, 2016; see Kaltman, Mason, & Wardrip-Fruin, 2021). Specifically, scholars and filmmakers have focused on how The Last of Us intersects with cinema (Bushway, 2018, pp. 105-106; Hughes, 2015, p. 150; Wellenreiter, 2015; see table 1 for the films that have been produced regarding this subject). Although The Last of Us part I has been written about extensively, only one of the articles on the series explicitly mentions the artifacts -- the letters, audio recordings, notes and journal entries that can be collected in the game -- and it does so briefly (Green, 2016, pp. 757-758).



Behind the Scenes-The Last of Us [Making of]


Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us


The Last of Us Part 2: How Naughty Dog Created Its Most Terrifying Monster -- Art of the Level


The Last of Us Part II: Inside the Gameplay


Table 1: Documentaries on the Making of The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II. See respectively (Dan Allen Gaming, 2020), (IGN, 2021), (NeoGamer -- The Video Game Archive, 2019), (PlayStation, 2014).

The artifacts in The Last of Us series exemplify “paratexts.” They are examples of texts that can be read like “Philippe Lejeune put it, ‘a fringe of the printed text which in reality controls one’s whole reading of the text’ (1975, p. 45). Indeed, this fringe, always the conveyor of a commentary that is authorial or more or less legitimated by the author, constitutes a zone between text and off-text” (Genette, 1997, p. 2). The artifacts are legitimated by the author, Naughty Dog, as they are scattered throughout the game’s landscape for the player to locate. They are examined on the game’s fringe, as the player does not play with the artifacts, but reads them. This action of viewing and interpreting the artifacts via the HUD separates these paratexts from the main text. Moreover, Naughty Dog suggests that the player should gather these artifacts. This is evident from the PlayStation trophies that players can earn for collecting the relics in The Last of Us series [1]. Genette notes that authors often place notes in their novels to complement the main text. This has been commonplace since the 18th century (Genette, 1997, p. 320).

Michael Fuchs analyzes how the city ruins affect The Last of Us’ storyline. Fuchs describes the ruins as “hauntings” (2019, p. 67). To be sure, the relics that Fuchs dissects are not the artifacts that Joel can gather in The Last of Us part I. Fuchs is interested in the specific dilapidated buildings that the characters travel past in the U.S. He analyzes an American history museum that Joel, Ellie and Tess wander through in the beginning of The Last of Us. As Fuchs understands this museum, the images of America’s history “conjure up ghosts of the past [which] are projected into the future” (2019, p. 70). For Fuchs, this segment in the game showcases Joel, Tess and Ellie brushing past the founding fathers' ideals of a united country. This signifies an irreverence

for past events... [which] suggest[s] that the society in place after the outbreak has decided to devalue these past moments and tries to leave the related myths behind. The brief scene set in the museum characterizes post-apocalyptic America as a decidedly anti-heroic society. America has forsaken the idealization of the Founding Fathers and the nation’s foundational myths -- which begs the question as to whether this post-apocalyptic America may still be considered America. (Fuchs, 2019, p. 70)

The purpose of an American history museum is to preserve the country’s narrative -- that the founding fathers sacrificed their lives to construct a country free from tyranny (British control). These ideas and images of America are integral to the concept of the nation. Thus, the characters walking past revolutionary mannequin soldiers holding the U.S. flag without acknowledging them (nor has the museum been maintained) speaks to the character’s/public’s current indifference to the country that once was.

Before the outbreak of the “Cordyceps Brain Infection,” Joel lived happily in the U.S. with his daughter, Sarah. His indifference to the museum is ironic because the same U.S. army that secured independence from Great Britain in 1783 (thus allowing Joel his freedoms; and this is especially the case for Joel as he is white, presumably heterosexual, masculine and male (see Murray, 2019, p. 103)) is the same military that killed Joel’s daughter, Sarah, in 2013 [2] to contain the pandemic. Few escaped the quarantine, though Joel and Sarah tried to (see Farca & Ladevèze, 2016, p. 7; see Green, 2016, p. 748; see Reay, 2021).

The ways in which Fuchs understands the significance of The Last of Us’ narrative is integral to comprehend the game’s story without relying on cinematic segments or cut-scenes. Many academics have written about cut-scenes as being a “a passive mode of narrative” because they interrupt the gameplay (Ip, 2011, p. 108; see Klevjer, 2014, p. 485). Gameplay and cut-scenes make up the game’s primary narrative. Interpreting the setting of where the characters are and how they interact with their environments (or in Fuchs’ example, a lack of interaction) is key in understanding the larger narrative within The Last of Us.

Studies on The Last of Us Part II

While academics have examined The Last of Us from numerous angles, the research on The Last of Us Part II has been primarily limited to personal reactions to the playable character switch between the supposed protagonist, Ellie, and the game’s assumed antagonist, Abby (Anderson, 2022; Erb, Lee, & Doh, 2021). These cited studies are restricted in how the researchers studied their subjects’ understanding of The Last of Us Part II’s narrative. According to Valérie Erb, Seyeon Lee and Young Yim Doh’s research, “the player has to accept to take on the perspective of a new character whose personality, characteristics and goals might not align with their own preferred outcome of the narrative” if they are to enjoy the game and become invested in the game’s storyline (Erb, Lee, & Doh, 2021, p. 9). Many interviewees in Erb, Lee and Doh’s study pinpoint Abby as a character who does not align with their goals. Yet, the “artifacts” in The Last of Us Part II suggest that Ellie and Abby are alike. Both characters have comparable “goals” regarding revenge. Abby and Ellie share similar sentiments towards Joel. These claims are based on the information that is derived from the artifacts in the game.

Similar to the shortcomings of Erb, Lee and Doh’s research on players’ understandings of Part II’s narrative, Karoline Anderson forgoes investigating players’ interactions with the artifacts. Anderson’s research is contained to how players understand Joel's, Ellie's and Abby’s morality. According to Anderson “All three characters’ morally questionable acts are unavoidable during gameplay, triggering players’ heated debates about the characters’ justifications and motives” (Anderson, 2022, p. 3). Anderson’s study examines the players’ reactions to the obligatory violence in the game’s main narrative. Unlike the main gameplay, engaging with Ellie’s journal, one of the primary artifacts in the game and the focus of this paper, is avertible. In her diary, Ellie reflects upon her morally questionable decisions. Anderson’s study concluded that “The realism of TLOU characters provoked emotional arousal and increased player-character proximity. Consequently, players resolved emotional and moral conflicts through mentalizing and integrating player-character contextual knowledge, resulting in empathetic engagement as a means to reconcile moral dilemmas” (Anderson, 2022, p. 6). The players’ empathetic engagement is dependent on the players’ projection of their own understanding of the characters’ actions. Ellie’s journal contains numerous passages where she ponders about her violent activity and her quest to kill Abby. Thus, the text of Part II presents Ellie’s stream of consciousness. Players do not need to reconcile Ellie’s moral dilemma. The text provides that; only it is on the periphery. Evidently, Anderson’s study omitted a discussion on the game’s artifacts. If players did examine them, they might be able to comprehend that the “realism” in the text extends further than their assumptions as to why the characters behaved in the ways that they did.

As Part II’s main narrative unfolds, Ellie’s journal becomes full. The player can read through it as a document that complements the game’s primary story. To better understand Part II’s narrative, the player must not only find these journal entries, which the player is asked (not tasked) to do via earning PlayStation trophies, but also comprehend them by reading Ellie’s entries closely.

Ellie’s Journal

In the section “Finding Strings” in Part II, Joel tells Ellie to put her mask on due to spores contaminating the air. Spores can infect the non-infected. Ellie is immune.

Joel: I think I see a way through, but we got spores. Put your mask on.

Ellie: Do I have to? It’s just us.

Joel: What if we run into someone?

Ellie: Okay, fine.

Joel: You gotta be smart about this. You stop wearing that mask, kiddo, and eventually you’re going to slip up in front of someone you shouldn’t.

Ellie: I’ve never slipped.

Joel: You ain’t told nobody new, have you? Not Jesse or Dina or--

Ellie: Of course not.

Joel hesitates to say the following name, Cat, because Cat is a woman who Ellie was involved with romantically. Homophobic residents in Jackson, such as Seth, comment on Ellie’s relationships. Joel wants to respect Ellie’s privacy. He knows first-hand how abusive the residents can be. Joel attacked Seth for his public comments about Ellie’s sexuality.

Cat is only introduced by name once. Dina, Ellie’s girlfriend, mentions her at the beginning of the game. Dina states that she does not think that Cat is “right” for Ellie, and she admits that she’s “a talented artist. I’ve grown to like that tattoo of yours.” Dina is referring to the tattoo on Ellie’s arm. Ellie uses it, according to Druckmann, “to cover up the bite” (Favis, 2020, n.p.) so as not to indicate that she is immune. In “Finding Strings” Ellie writes in her journal that she’s

had the worst/best day of my life! Cat was finishing another session on my arm and then climbed on top of me and kissed me. I threw her off of me. I yelled at her. I thought I infected her. I mean... I’m infected... sort of. I don’t know how the fuck this shit transfers. What if she turns? What would I tell people? She’s got family.

Evidently, Ellie is sincere about her immunity with Joel and her journal. Because Ellie’s immunity has compromised her safety, she must be discreet about it. As the log is a reliable record of Ellie’s sentiments it can be read as a candid source for how Ellie feels towards Abby and Joel.

Throughout Part II, Ellie becomes hostile towards Joel because he admitted to killing the Fireflies to save Ellie. Ellie wanted to sacrifice herself for the greater good of humanity, but Joel interceded. It becomes apparent that Ellie convinces herself that Abby is the villain, even though by the end of the game Ellie realizes that Joel killed Abby’s father, Jerry, because Jerry wanted the same thing that Ellie did -- to distill a vaccine. Abby also agrees with her father, and thus with Ellie, about Ellie’s decision to sacrifice her body for the future of humanity. In the cut-scene before Ellie’s operation, Abby tells her father, “You’re doing the right thing. If it was me, I’d want you to do the surgery.”

Before Ellie recognizes the reason for Abby’s revenge, she spends her journey in Seattle (and later in Santa Barbara) looking for Abby. In the chapter, “Jackson,” in the section, “Packing Up,” Ellie draws a picture of Joel with his eyes scribbled out. She writes “W.L.F. Washington Liberation Front. Who are they? Tommy said her name was ABBY” (Ellie’s emphasis). Ellie later writes that the WLF are “former Fireflies. From the hospital…The WLF took a bunch of them in after they disbanded.” Ellie refuses to tell Dina and Jesse, the two people from Jackson who help Ellie enact her revenge, why Abby killed Joel. Ellie writes in her journal, “Should I tell Dina & Jesse about this? No. They can’t know what Joel did. They won’t understand.” Evidently, neither does Ellie as she continually contemplates why she began her journey to avenge Joel. Moreover, Ellie fundamentally disagreed with Joel’s decision to save her.

Ellie’s internal monologue is not in the center of the text. Her predicament may go unnoticed as the focus of the gameplay is using Ellie as a proxy for the player to kill the game’s enemies. Ellie’s diary highlights overlooked elements such as her reasoning for hunting Abby. In this way, the paratext questions the centrality of the text (Švelch, 2020; Genette, 1997). The game’s discussion of “hate” is not found in the gameplay but with Ellie’s own reflection of her actions. This is evident throughout Ellie’s commentary on her journey to find Abby.

When Ellie arrives in Seattle, she encounters graffiti on one of the gates with the WLF emblem and a written warning stating, “Trespassers killed on sight!” Ellie writes in her journal, “Trespassers killed on sight! How many of you are there? How many people have you killed?” (“Seattle Day 1,” “The Gate”). Ellie’s notes indicate that she is concerned with this faction’s dedication to protecting itself from outsiders. Jackson, where Ellie now resides, is not much different from the WLF’s Seattle. Jackson is fortified by a twenty-foot gate. Armed guards are aligned all along the wall (“Jackson,” “Waking Up”). As Ellie’s journal is a “private epitext” Ellie uses it to tell herself what she wants to hear. Genette notes that when examining an author’s private account, “One would have to be very naive about the inner life to assume that this exhibition is always in good faith and uncontaminated by any playacting” (Genette, 1997, p. 395; my emphasis). Although Ellie is not planning on publishing her journal, she is nonetheless lying to herself about her innocence. Naughty Dog, the true author of Ellie’s diary, implements Ellie’s “playacting” to note that the characters in the game must tell themselves stories for why they kill in the new post-apocalyptic world. Tess understood this hypocrisy in part I:

Tess: Really? Guess what, we’re shitty people, Joel. It’s been that way for a long time.

Joel: No, we are survivors! (“The Outskirts”).

As Ellie has been raised and trained by Joel, she tells herself the same stories that he told himself. Ellie is a survivor, not a murderer; an avenger, not a villain.

Ellie’s Poem

Ellie further convinces herself of why she is searching for Abby by writing poems about Joel’s death in her journal. In this way, the player is asked to interpret poetry. According to Astrid Ensslin, poems in games can act as para-narratives. Ensslin writes,

Importantly, in computer games and gaming as literary art, narrative, dramatic, and/or poetic techniques are employed in order to explore the affordances and limitations of rules and other ludic structures and processes. These artifacts challenge the aesthetic of run-of-the-mill blockbusters like first-person shooter, adventure, racing, and role-playing games. They are designed to make players reflect on conventional aspects of games such as fast-paced action, rule-governed kinetic behavior, goal-directedness, and simplistic friend-and-foe binary thought (Ensslin, 2014, pp. 6-7; see Andrews, 2013, pp. 73-74; see Chew and Mitchell, 2019, p. 876; see Mitchell, 2016, p. 2; see Stone, 2021).

Naughty Dog inserts a poem into their hyper-violent-Triple-A video game to challenge the ideology that video games are solely action without reflection. Further examination of Ellie’s writing gives insight into her violent actions and how her choices have affected her relationships and her own safety. In “Seattle Day 1,” in the section “Downtown,” Ellie’s entry, “Hebrew Calendar Entry,” contains the following poem,

When I think about Joel him,
All I see is open skin, slack jaw, insides out.
I won’t let her remember me that way.
I’d rather die alone.

Did she die alone?
Was her God with her?
Was He with you in the end?
Was he with Joel? Did I make it worse for Joel, being there?
Or was I company?
He/him More than I was with him?

Beyond faith in pain,
I want faith from pain
I want faith through pain. [3]

Ellie’s poem reflects upon the many character deaths in the series. In the first stanza, Ellie reminisces about Joel’s death. She crosses out his name as if she does not want to associate him with the latter lines describing the aftermath of his torture. Reflecting upon Joel’s murder, Ellie acknowledges the stakes of her own revenge. She can be captured, tortured and mutilated by her enemies just as Joel was.

The reference to “her” in the third line of the first stanza is most likely a reference to Dina. Dina accompanies Ellie on her quest, and she would be the most proximate person to witness Ellie’s murder and its aftermath -- which would likely be as cruel as Ellie’s brutal interrogation of Nora Harris (a WLF medic) to gain information about Abby. Ellie kills waves of WLF soldiers and hordes of Seraphites to enact her revenge. It is assumed that if the opposing factions were to capture Ellie, they would be just as harsh with her as she was to them.

This poem foreshadows the game’s conclusion. Ellie alienates Dina at the end of the game. Ellie does not want “her” (e.g., Dina) to “remember me that way.” But Dina will remember Ellie as a person who could not overcome her lust for revenge. And Ellie is in fact mutilated by Abby. Abby bites off Ellie’s ring and little fingers (on her left hand) during their final fight. Thus, Ellie’s two fears materialize.

The first line in the third stanza is likely a reference to Sarah, Joel’s deceased daughter. Ellie is curious about how she dies, and Joel never describes her death in detail. One of the artifacts in The Last of Us part I is a photo of Joel and Sarah. The picture is first seen in Sarah’s room at the start of The Last of Us. The photo is posted on Sarah’s wall. It becomes an artifact when Tommy gives it to Joel in “Tommy’s Dam” in the first game. Tommy states that he brought it back from Texas when he went to Joel’s house. He offers it to Joel, but Joel declines. Maria (Tommy’s wife) shows the photo to Ellie, who later steals it from Maria. Ellie can give it to Joel in the chapter “Bus Depot” (see Hill, 2016, p. 172). However, if the player decides not to trigger the conversation between Joel and Ellie, then Joel will remind Ellie to follow him. Ellie will then hide the photograph. In The Last of Us Part II, Ellie can examine the framed photo of Joel and Sarah after Joel’s funeral when she enters his house to grab a few belongings before heading to Seattle. Ellie cannot take the photo with her.

The photo/artifact acts as a reminder/motif of the biological daughter. Ellie becomes Joel’s surrogate daughter, and hence Sarah’s double (see Hill, 2016, p. 173; see Vorhees, 2016). The picture of Sarah may be a ghost for Joel, but it also reminds him of his love for his child. He has now transferred that adoration to Ellie (see Murray, 2019, p. 102). Much of that affection is lost in Part II. Hence why Druckmann states that the first game is about love, and Part II is about hate. Joel was unable to protect Sarah in the first game, and he failed to protect humanity’s integrity by refusing to surrender Ellie. In effect, he loses Ellie’s trust, which is made apparent in Part II. The photo of Sarah and Joel travels through the text as an object in the background to an artifact, and finally, to a framed photo that Ellie can only examine. Now the photo will lay to rest with Joel’s things. Joel henceforth becomes a memory to Ellie rather than a father or a friend. The player can see how Ellie interacts with Joel’s specter on paper -- how she thinks about him, and how her memory of him moves her to act or to become idle. She becomes the latter in the end of Part II as she lets Abby escape with Lev.

In the fourth stanza Ellie asks if she was company to Joel. She ponders if she made it worse for him by being there. This line is contrasted with the sentences/questions on whether Joel was there for Sarah or “did she die alone?” The poem also contains a contemplation about God being present in these acts of violence. Many characters in the text question whether God can exist in such a cruel world. Therefore, Ellie crosses out the word “God.” But the capitalized “He” (a reference to God) is kept unscratched. Ellie is still unsure as to whether there can be some sort of redemption through religion -- atonement for her sins. In the last stanza Ellie believes that she can have faith through the pain that she enacts upon those who wronged her. In this way, her reasoning for revenge comes full circle. And Ellie is, again, able to convince herself that her enlightenment will come from bloodshed (see Austin, 2021). Others have separated Joel from his daughter(s) twice. It is Ellie’s mission to make sure those who did this do not go unpunished.

However, when Ellie finally has the chance to execute Abby at the game’s conclusion, Ellie lets Abby go. Ellie does this because of her flashback to Joel, which is shown via a cut-scene. In that segment, Ellie talks to Joel about how she will try to forgive him for killing the Fireflies and preventing the creation of the cure. She tells Joel, “I was supposed to die in that hospital. My life would’ve fucking mattered. But you took that from me.”

Earlier in Part II, a cut-scene shows Ellie returning to Saint Mary’s Hospital (the location where Joel saved Ellie). She finds a Firefly's recorder (this is not an artifact). Ellie plays the recording.

Firefly: Most people have left already. I don’t know which group I’m going to join... I was one of the ones that wanted to go after the smuggler and the girl. They said… Even if we found her, or by some miracle found someone else that’s immune, it’d make no difference. ‘Cause the only person who could develop a vaccine is dead.

Abby’s father, Jerry, was the “only person who could develop a vaccine.” In this way, Ellie and Jerry are two sides of the same coin. They needed each other to distill a panacea. Anderson’s demise is just as important as the loss of Ellie. Joel might not have understood that, but it is evident from Ellie’s journal that she did. And her choice to let Abby leave reflects that.

While Ellie has been hunting Abby, she has also been coming to terms with what Joel did. Ellie finally understands at the end of the game that Abby is no different from herself. Abby was avenging her father, and Ellie understands that she was just as upset with Joel as Abby was. Understanding Ellie’s journal is necessary to comprehend these intricacies.


This essay has argued that the scholarship on The Last of Us Part II has been limited to researchers reviewing players’ reactions to the characters in the game. By using Genette’s theory on paratexts and how other game studies academics have enlisted Genette to discuss the fringes of video games, this essay has closely analyzed the para-narrative that is enclosed in Ellie’s diary. In doing so, this essay began the discussion of not just formal analysis on Part II, but how paratexts can enhance narratives in video games.

According to pioneers in game studies like Aarseth, Juul, Jenkins and Švelch, developing theories on paratexts and interactivity in video games can further the discipline of game studies. Publishing close readings on how paratexts operate in specific games adds another layer to understanding the game’s narrative. Exposing the public sector to critical readings of games can lead to “a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it” (Genette, 1997, p. 2).



[1] Naughty Dog entices players with trophies for their exploration. In The Last of Us, the trophy name for this quest is titled, “It was all just lying there.” The naming of this trophy indicates that the narrative was there for the player to find. They only needed to look, hence the ironic title. In The Last of Us Part II, the player can earn the “Archivist” trophy if they “Find all artifacts and journal entries.” “It was all just lying there” is a silver trophy, whereas “Archivist” is a gold trophy. The challenges to earn a silver trophy are less demanding than they are to earn a gold trophy. Naughty Dog’s decision to assign a gold trophy to the objective of finding all the artifacts in Part II states that this goal is more important than in the previous game.

[2] See Fuchs, 2019, pp. 68-89 and Murray, 2019, p. 101 for Naughty Dog’s reasoning behind beginning the game in 2013.

[3] The words that are crossed out in this text are also scratched out in the game.



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