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Finale Fireworker
Member
(09-16-2014, 05:11 PM)
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Be sure to check out new updates! Updates are their own, self-contained, posts. You can find them linked below.

May 23rd, 2015 Update - Left Behind Set Analysis and Feminine Sexual Development
March 28th 2015 Update - Andrew's Arcade
March 2nd, 2015 Update - Todd's Steakhouse

First and only warning for spoilers: Any effort to examine the depth of a text necessitates consideration of its entirety. No spoilers will be tagged after this brief introduction.

For those who have completed The Last of Us, this thread is about giraffes.

"In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative (or literary) aspects such as theme or mood." --Borrowed, for ease, from Wikipedia

This thread serves two purposes. The first is to catalog where and how giraffes appear throughout The Last of Us. The second is to open a dialog about what they might mean or represent in the context of the story. In my playthroughs I have found about a dozen separate instances of this motif, but it is possible there are more. I encourage anybody who finds more examples to contribute them to this thread.
----------

The Last of Us is a story mainly about humanity. Throughout the game we see how people have their humanity tested and are asked as players to interpret at what threshold characters have left what makes them human behind. If there is an endpoint - a point where people can lose their humanity and become something else - then there must also be a standard from which to fall. There is, then, a point of innocence.

Innocence is not an easy trait to describe and its use can mean different things in different categories or discussion, be they religious or sexual or something else, but my own definition of innocence is to be resistant to external factors that would otherwise impact you adversely. When a person reaches the point where they can no longer resist being changed by external factors that test them, their innocence is lost.

The character arcs of Joel and Ellie intersect this way, with Joel regaining his innocence (albeit temporarily) and Ellie losing hers. Both arcs intersect at the emotional nexus of the game, and arguably its most memorable moment, when our two characters overlook a herd of giraffes.

It is my own interpretation that giraffes serve two major purposes in The Last of Us.
1. They represent innocence.
2. They foreshadow loss.

Below I will cite the examples of the motif I have found and briefly explain how they accomplish that.



Our first giraffe appears immediately upon the player first gaining control of the game. In the corner of Sarah's bedroom sits a stuffed giraffe, the exact model of which will appear many times again. The innocence and imminent loss represented here is self explanatory as the remainder of the prologue unfolds. Joel, unlike Sarah, is not a child unspoiled at the beginning of the game. We see him having to gun down his neighbors to protect his daughter and we see him encouraging Tommy not to stop for a family beside the road. But what Joel loses after the prologue is hope, hope in other people and hope in things ever turning out okay. When Joel loses Sarah he also loses his innocence.



In the slums beyond the Boston QZ, we see a filthy young girl clutching her equally filthy giraffe. This young girl, like Sarah, is also blonde and wearing white - a color associated symbolically with (of course) innocence. They both also share our symbolic giraffe. While Sarah herself was innocence embodied before the infection, this girl is innocence embodied afterward. It is soiled, it is tested constantly, and holding on to that innocence can be a sad and pathetic thing to witness. Like Newt in Aliens, we see the resolve of a child as she clings to remain undestroyed by the world she lives in. The slums outside the QZ are also an area where Tess is well known and holds a lot of respect and influence. This giraffe forewarns the imminent loss of Tess.



The next giraffes do not occur for sometime, well after Joel and Ellie have met Bill and are making their way through the infected area of Lincoln, Massachusetts. The first is at a clearly failed evacuation point outside Lincoln High School, which is a half-step to the big emotional reveal of this chapter.



As you go deeper and deeper into the area of Lincoln where Bill "never goes", you reach a doggy door that only Ellie can fit through. This portal, accessible only by a child, leads into a house with a small child's bedroom. On the book case there is a small photo of two giraffes. Shortly thereafter Joel, Ellie and Bill are chased by infected into a house where they find Frank and his seething suicide note. The journey into the infected area of Lincoln represents Bill leaving his comfort zone - an area where he knows and controls everything around him and remains cushioned by his xenophobia. Finding Frank validates Bill's biggest fears. But it's finding Frank's harshly worded note that breaks Bill. His figurative defenses are penetrated, his emotional walls come down, and we see Bill try his hardest not to cry. Unable to wall himself off from the external any longer, Bill loses his heavily-guarded innocence. (In fact, all of the barricaded Lincoln is a metaphor for how Bill barricades himself from emotions that could hurt him. Leaving his fortress is opening himself up to that pain. He is a literally and emotionally a guarded character.) The giraffes, of course, also represent the loss of Frank.



Pittsburgh is a long chapter, but when Joel and Ellie meet Henry and Sam the giraffes appear immediately. Pittsburgh as a chapter illustrates how two surviving children, Sam and Ellie, cope with the world around them. We learn what their lives are like, what they're afraid of, and how badly they wish for normalcy. The first giraffe is placed, as you might expect, in the room where they first meet.




Very soon after - separated by only a flight of stairs - the player comes to a toy store, a location with ties to children that need not be explained. Here we find the most amount of non-living giraffes ever depicted in one place. But there are two in particular that stand out:




The fallen giraffe where Sam picks up the toy robot he is not allowed to take.

And the giraffe that sits proudly upon the Savage Starlight board game, the comic book series that Ellie loves and adheres to.

The symbolism here is that Sam, who is allowed nothing in his backpack, is not allowed a to be a kid. His older brother Henry believes that "Someday they'll come a time where kids can just be kids again," implying he believes now is unfortunately not the time. Sam is the downed giraffe. While Ellie, who has a backpack filled with joke books, comic books, and even the toy robot Sam wanted, still holds on to some semblance of what constitutes a childhood. She still approaches things with wonder and with enthusiasm. Endure and survive.



There is a final giraffe in the sewers, in the children's classroom where Joel and Sam are separated from Henry and Ellie. In addition to the continued foreshadowing of the fate of Henry and Sam, this giraffe sits at a place of great loss - particularly of children. It's a symbol of the unfortunate naivety of Ish and his colony and how their comfortable innocence was much more fragile than they ever thought.



We don't see another giraffe for a long time, but when we do its at a scene of high emotional release. In Wyoming, Ellie runs away from Joel after learning he doesn't care about her the way she had hoped. She flees to an idealistic ranch house - untouched by the ravages of the infection - and hides in a child's bedroom. Here she muses how easy children used to have it and had much less to worry about. She then confronts Joel about wanting to get rid of her the whole time.

This giraffe is the first one to fall out of pattern with the others, but still fits with the overall purpose of the motif. The giraffe here - as always connected to children - is tied to the drama that unfolds. Here Ellie's expectations of her and Joel's relationship comes undone. The loss this giraffe represents is the temporary loss of that relationship. The obligatory and objective relationship Joel had will Ellie dies. But a new one quickly forms and he accepts how much Ellie does mean to him. Joel regains some of the humanity he shut himself off to after the loss of Sarah. This is the turning point for Joel's character growth.



There is only one giraffe in the winter portion of the game. When the player assumes control of Ellie in the snow-blinded town, she sneaks in and out of multiple old shops. A pet store, an A/V shop, and... an arcade. In the back of the arcade, possibly the old prize area, sits a lonely giraffe. Players of the game, especially after Left Behind, do not need to be told the significance of arcades. One of Ellie's most personal memories is "playing" an arcade game with Riley, experiencing a game as two children would have before the infection. As far as the player is ever concerned, there is no location more sentimental or symbolic to Ellie than an arcade. This importance alone justifies the placement of a giraffe, but this is also the last building Ellie can enter before her character-changing run-in with Dave.

Winter is cold and dark and is the part of the game that finally breaks the child in Ellie. She is not the same afterward.

Cut to spring in Salt Lake City.



Joel and Ellie are both noticeably different when we rejoin them in Utah. Joel is softer, asking Ellie what's wrong and wanting to teach her to play guitar when everything's all over. Our softer, hopeful Joel has found some of his old self through Ellie, but is distressingly unaware of the darkness that now plagues her. His blissful ignorance is part of his regained innocence, because optimism is never a trait Joel had exhibited up until this point. The flaw with Joel's innocence is that it's entirely self-serving. It's unsurprising that a person capable of what Joel has done (especially in winter) would have difficulty returning to a pure state of humanity. He is a survivor, after all, which has necessitated protecting himself above all others. Still, our first giraffes appear on an advertisement for the zoo shown above.

Then comes our famous scene.




There could be a whole thread made about this scene. I'm sure there have been threads already. At this point, Joel and Ellie have officially become more like each other and less like themselves. Ellie is now cynical and driven by the mission. Her experiences have hardened her and she's not thinking about her future with Joel anymore. She says that when it's over they can go wherever he wants. Joel tells Ellie they don't even have to keep looking for the Fireflies, they can just go back to Tommy's and be a family. This scene is our look at their respective transformations. But while this scene is about Joel and Ellie sharing a quiet experience together, mirroring their first real interaction on a roof in Boston, this scene is much more crucially about Joel. After this scene Joel is finally at a point where he can accept the picture of Sarah from Ellie. He admits he doesn't want to run from the past anymore. Joel is whole again. These giraffes are Joel's innocence resurged. This is especially communicated when Ellie goes down the stairs but Joel holds back to watch the giraffes leave. He holds onto this moment, but Ellie doesn't.

As the giraffes disappear we are warned that this moment may be short lived. And it is.




Our last giraffes cover what I imagine for many is the most emotional part of the game. Joel attempts to flee the hospital with Ellie in his arms, repeating his attempts to save Sarah. When he is blocked escape by armed Fireflies, he cuts through the pediatric waiting room. Giraffes are all over the walls as well as the stuffed giraffe on the floor. In a way, the motif is leading Joel where to go. They are directing him towards what he wants. Joel is fleeing again, with his child in his arms, and the terror that possesses him over the idea of losing a daughter again must be insurmountable. These giraffes are Joel's desperate innocence as he repeats his most tragic moment. These giraffes are, to me, more powerful than the famous overlook scene. While they foreshadow the death of Marlene and any efforts the Fireflies are making eradicate the infection, they're also the sand slipping through Joel's fingers.

This is it. It's get out with Ellie or die trying. His future, their future, and his chance at ever being normal again are calling him out of the hospital. Right or wrong, he succeeds. Joel's new self-serving innocence, in the end, prevails.

----------

There are two more giraffes in the game I will catalog when I replay Left Behind. They fill the arcade games where Riley and Ellie stop to play. Although they are part of the big-picture narrative, I excluded them for now to maintain focus on the primary campaign.

UPDATE: You can find an analysis of Left Behind, including the two giraffes, in the update linked at the top of this OP.

----------

A few of these pictures may be replaced with better ones as I come across the opportunity to take them. But any NEW giraffes will be given an update indicator at the top of the thread. I'm interested to hear what other fans of the game have to say about the symbolism present throughout the story.

A visual motif is very rare in video games, even successful narrative works. I am hard pressed to think of others. This thread could also be a great place to discover and examine other literary motifs that have found their way into video games in the past. If there even are any of this capacity.

----------

An excellent reply on the importance of Joel and Ellie's encounter with real giraffes being the turning point of their character arcs. (Post #32)
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 11-20-2015 at 04:34 PM.
smashism
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(09-16-2014, 05:14 PM)
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This thread is excellent. Great read.
banagher
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(09-16-2014, 05:20 PM)
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I've played through the game numerous times but i really appreciated seeing some of the giraffe motifs that i've missed.
AsfaeksBR
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(09-16-2014, 05:28 PM)
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It's on the details that lies the greatness of a piece of art.
This thread just showed how much Bruce and and Neil cared about this game, and also how many people completely missed this in their playthrough.

Amazing. Simply amazing!
Mr.Marston
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(09-16-2014, 05:28 PM)
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Originally Posted by smashism

This thread is excellent. Great read.

I second this.
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 05:33 PM)
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A lot of people often ask what makes the difference between art and entertainment. It can be hard to explain, and some people don't think there is or should be a difference, but it's this kind of content that helps me "know it when I see it."

The Last of Us is gaming's natural evolution to literature in the tradition of FFVII, RE4, and BioShock. Of course among others. The Last of Us should hopefully continue to change gaming into a widely accepted art form.
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 09-16-2014 at 09:53 PM.
HardRojo
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(09-16-2014, 05:35 PM)
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Great read.
Many people only watched the famous giraffe scene and moved on. Glad to see someone made the effort of finding other instances. Giraffes were definitely a motif of the game.
PeskyToaster
(09-16-2014, 05:38 PM)
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Damn good job man. A beautiful read. Gaming really needs more of this academic side if the storytelling aspects are to flourish. It's what books and movies have but gaming doesn't. Once again, fantastic read.
xrayregime
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(09-16-2014, 05:45 PM)
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Great, great thread.
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 05:46 PM)
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Originally Posted by HardRojo

Great read.
Many people only watched the famous giraffe scene and moved on. Glad to see someone made the effort of finding other instances. Giraffes were definitely a motif of the game.

That scene got so much attention. News articles and YouTube uploads and forum conversations. But so many people just say "wow, that's beautiful, like the brontosaurus scene in Jurassic Park" and move on. It's important people realize (and discuss!) why this scene is so impactful. What does it mean in the context of the entire game?

Originally Posted by PeskyToaster

Damn good job man. A beautiful read. Gaming really needs more of this academic side if the storytelling aspects are to flourish. It's what books and movies have but gaming doesn't. Once again, fantastic read.

Thanks, man. And to everybody who's complimented the post. Hopefully this sees some more traffic, but I'm super thankful for everyone's praises.
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 09-16-2014 at 09:54 PM.
Ramrock
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(09-16-2014, 05:48 PM)
Man... awesome thread!!
schadenfood
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(09-16-2014, 05:50 PM)
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Fantastic post! I've played through the campaign five times and I missed pretty much every stuffed giraffe mentioned, including the one in the very first room with Sarah.

Always amazed at Naughty Dog's craftsmanship. This post does a fantastic job illustrating their finest work yet.
Cotrip
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(09-16-2014, 05:51 PM)
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Amazing "research" you did here. Nice job, OP!
PensOwl
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(09-16-2014, 05:52 PM)
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Whoa, never noticed this. Great job, OP.
Senoculum
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(09-16-2014, 05:53 PM)
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Also a motif in Resident Evil!
dancingphlower
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(09-16-2014, 05:53 PM)
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Holy cow I never noticed all of these other instances of giraffes! Just the big reveal.
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 05:55 PM)
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Originally Posted by schadenfood

Fantastic post! I've played through the campaign five times and I missed pretty much every stuffed giraffe mentioned, including the one in the very first room with Sarah.

Always amazed at Naughty Dog's craftsmanship. This post does a fantastic job illustrating their finest work yet.

What Naughty Dog is fantastic at, among obviously lots of things, is environments. That naturally translates to set dressing. Between BioShock and Last of Us there were no games I can think of that really nail how perfectly a video game world can be intertwined with its narrative. Games allow you to be in a story, and there's no better way to absorb a player than with atmosphere. Like Rapture, the world of LoU uses its locations, views, and sets to tell you smaller stories that contribute to the whole piece of literature.

It carries the condition of deliberateness. It's not just "a cave" or "a shop" and other locations for utility that games usually have. The ranch house is just one example of how the set is dressed deliberately to lend to the moment and the story. The ranch house could be their house, their life, their quiet American farm with the untouched chessboard on the living room coffee table. But it's not.

Originally Posted by Senoculum

Also a motif in Resident Evil!

Truly gaming's greatest masterpiece. The symbolism of that giraffe getting sucked off is so emotional.
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 09-16-2014 at 09:55 PM.
Raptor
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(09-16-2014, 05:55 PM)
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This game is pure greatness!!

Nice thread.
Vaga
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(09-16-2014, 05:58 PM)
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good read :)
loaf of bread
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(09-16-2014, 05:59 PM)
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Carrying Ellie through the hospital is probably the most emotional I've ever been in a video game.
NearRivers
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(09-16-2014, 06:03 PM)
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"Giraffic Park" is also playing at the theatre in the prologue.
gadwn
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(09-16-2014, 06:07 PM)
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Amazing thread. Played the campaign around 100 hours and I never noticed that connection.
Toku
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(09-16-2014, 06:11 PM)

Originally Posted by smashism

This thread is excellent. Great read.

Agreed. Wonderful read, thank you OP.
Ricky_R
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(09-16-2014, 06:12 PM)
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Nice read.
adamantypants
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(09-16-2014, 06:14 PM)
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At first I went, giraffes? WTF?



Well done OP. This is fantastic.
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 06:38 PM)
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Originally Posted by NearRivers

"Giraffic Park" is also playing at the theatre in the prologue.

I have heard this, but when I took a screenshot of the Austin theatre to look at it afterward I didn't see it anywhere on the marquee. Where is it?
Sir TapTap
Banned
(09-16-2014, 07:10 PM)
Oh wow, I noticed the giraffe doll in the little girl's arms and a couple others but had no idea it went this deep. Brilliant stuff, kudos for finding those shots. Great write up on it too.
Revolutionary
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(09-16-2014, 07:11 PM)
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Wow. Have to admit I totally looked past the giraffe imagery. Good writeup.
SystemBug
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(09-16-2014, 07:14 PM)
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Brilliant write-up! You should upload this outside GAF
SolidJum5
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(09-16-2014, 07:14 PM)
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I enjoyed reading this. Well done, OP!
EGM1966
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(09-16-2014, 07:15 PM)
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Great thread. In the interest of discussion I'll add I think it's important to note the significance of the Iive Giraffes vs the toys images seen up until that moment.

The living Giraffes signify that not only is hope, and a certain innocence alive in Joel again, but they underpin his developing sense of proactive life in this new world. He remembers Tommys camp, adjusting to the new world after the infection instead of trying to lock yourself away from it. He is imbuded with a sense of a new natural world order and one in which he and Ellie could have a place. Crucially the Giraffes cement on Joel the idea of life after the mission.

But for Ellie the magic of the moment isn't quite enough. She has been too violated and is locked into a search for finality. Nothing exists beyond the end of the mission and she turns away from the promise of the Giraffes.

Seeing the Giraffes living in the wild we understand Joel is ignited with a strong sense of purposeful existence with Ellie. The motif has come alive before us.

But of course the moment is fleeting. When next we see Giraffes they are merely images again, the life has gone from them and the promise of a hopeful future with it is in doubt as Ellie's fate hangs in the balance and Joel's ultimate test of humanity vs survival approaches.
Tidus_Great
Banned
(09-16-2014, 07:16 PM)
good thread

I now want a giraffe stuffed animal :)
Klendathu
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(09-16-2014, 07:17 PM)
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Spotted and snapped a fair few giraffe toys but clearly missed a load and certainly missed a few of the pictures.

Brilliant work, OP.
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 07:18 PM)
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Originally Posted by SystemBug

Brilliant write-up! You should upload this outside GAF

I'm trying to establish a brand on GAF first. All my threads are/will be artistic analysis of games ranging from fun facts, catalogs like these, and personal interpretations. Honestly I thought I would have done many more by now, I have several queued up on BioShock, but I work six days a week and am in school now.
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 09-16-2014 at 09:55 PM.
semiconscious
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(09-16-2014, 07:30 PM)
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very well done op :) ...

this game was put together with a lotta love/care. really hope whatever sequel might be coming is allowed to remain in the oven till good & ready...
KongRudi
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(09-16-2014, 07:45 PM)
When the romans and the greeks discovered Giraffes, they tought it were a unnatural hybrid between a leopard and a camel, and called it Cameleopardilis. :)

There is also a constellation named after that:

Spacecraft Voyager 1 is heading in that direction.. :)

If that star-constellation is drawn on the main picture at http://www.savagestarlight.com/ I think my mind might explode..
henhowc
(09-16-2014, 07:46 PM)
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never noticed all the giraffes
d00d3n
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(09-16-2014, 07:56 PM)
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Great work detailing all the giraffes in TLOU, OP. I don't have anything to add, but researching this obviously took a lot of time, and the work should be applauded.
HueyFreeman
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(09-16-2014, 08:00 PM)
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What an awesome thread - can't imagine what this board would be like if it consisted entirely of threads as well researched, knowledgeable, cogent and insightful as this.

I had honestly not picked up on it as a motif other than the finale.
Revan
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(09-16-2014, 08:20 PM)
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This is one of the reasons why I love GAF...

Fan-fucking-tastic thread OP. Incredibly well done sir.
DustyVonEric
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(09-16-2014, 08:23 PM)
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Well done, OP!

Amazing read and analysis
tassletine
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(09-16-2014, 08:31 PM)
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Brilliant thread for a great game. Thanks.
NickatNite
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(09-16-2014, 08:37 PM)
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Fantastic Job
Nasbin
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(09-16-2014, 08:43 PM)
Beautiful thread.
HercRaato
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(09-16-2014, 08:48 PM)
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Wow great thread. Great read and analysis.
Yaphett Kotto
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(09-16-2014, 08:49 PM)
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This is truly an amazing analysis and some great research, man. I wouldn't be surprised if the TLOU team address your thread because of how thorough it is. Absolutely remarkable.
infovore
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(09-16-2014, 09:15 PM)
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Not sure this is really a connection as opposed to a coincidence: Peter Adamson, of the "history of philosophy without any gaps" podcasts, has a thing about giraffes.

I'm trying to recall similar motifs in other games and drawing a blank. But that is likely just me at the wrong time of day. Someone must have done that kind of thing before, right?
Finale Fireworker
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(09-16-2014, 09:26 PM)
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Originally Posted by infovore

Not sure this is really a connection as opposed to a coincidence: Peter Adamson, of the "history of philosophy without any gaps" podcasts, has a thing about giraffes.

I'm trying to recall similar motifs in other games and drawing a blank. But that is likely just me at the wrong time of day. Someone must have done that kind of thing before, right?

Visual motifs are much more common in cinema than anything else (maybe comics as well) because they allow for the visual opportunity for symbolism. The Film School 101 example of this would be the use of the color red and roses in the film American Beauty.

I'm inclined to believe the Game School 101 example is The Last of Us.

Originally Posted by KongRudi

When the romans and the greeks discovered Giraffes, they tought it were a unnatural hybrid between a leopard and a camel, and called it Cameleopardilis. :)

There is also a constellation named after that:

Spacecraft Voyager 1 is heading in that direction.. :)

If that star-constellation is drawn on the main picture at http://www.savagestarlight.com/ I think my mind might explode..

You can bet I'll be looking into this ASAP.
Last edited by Finale Fireworker; 09-16-2014 at 09:29 PM.
HabeeNo
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(09-16-2014, 09:30 PM)
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Thread of the year contender easily, great job OP!
Finale Fireworker
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(09-17-2014, 02:18 AM)
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Originally Posted by Revan

This is one of the reasons why I love GAF...

Fan-fucking-tastic thread OP. Incredibly well done sir.

Posting threads like these are why I even applied for a GAF account. This is the only place I could post something like this and get honest interaction with other fans, positive or negative.

Originally Posted by EGM1966

Great thread. In the interest of discussion I'll add I think it's important to note the significance of the Iive Giraffes vs the toys images seen up until that moment.

The living Giraffes signify that not only is hope, and a certain innocence alive in Joel again, but they underpin his developing sense of proactive life in this new world. He remembers Tommys camp, adjusting to the new world after the infection instead of trying to lock yourself away from it. He is imbuded with a sense of a new natural world order and one in which he and Ellie could have a place. Crucially the Giraffes cement on Joel the idea of life after the mission.

But for Ellie the magic of the moment isn't quite enough. She has been too violated and is locked into a search for finality. Nothing exists beyond the end of the mission and she turns away from the promise of the Giraffes.

Seeing the Giraffes living in the wild we understand Joel is ignited with a strong sense of purposeful existence with Ellie. The motif has come alive before us.

But of course the moment is fleeting. When next we see Giraffes they are merely images again, the life has gone from them and the promise of a hopeful future with it is in doubt as Ellie's fate hangs in the balance and Joel's ultimate test of humanity vs survival approaches.

I'm putting a link to your post in the first post because it's excellent.

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