Full disclaimer: this is an opinion piece rooted in personal experience and in no way is meant to demean developer talents or narrative arcs. That being said, neck-snapping scenes: can we not?
Snapping a foe's neck in a high-intensity combat scenario in games, movies, and TV is nothing new, but this particular brand of violent shock seems to be gaining popularity in droves. Sometimes it's for a dramatic "oh my god" factor, sometimes it's meant to show the sheer strength of a character. For many, the impact is guttural and a smart technique when looking for a visceral reaction but for me? It's a little more personal than that.
Years ago, I was in a car accident with a very close friend of mine. We were hit by a drunk driver and what happened next I will never forget. My mind was really delayed when it all went down and the weird catchup that followed was so disjointing that I sometimes still have trouble piecing everything together.
We didn't even see the car, just normalcy thrust into chaos. One moment we were laughing, the next I was thrown into the below compartment of the car due to not wearing a seatbelt. The force of being knocked down didn't register to me at first, it was the sounds that crept their way in. I remember hearing the metal crunch and my mind frantically trying to figure out "what was that, what was that!?" Then I heard the random odds and ends in the vehicle being sloshed around and the immediate sound of the seat belt from my friend being let loose only to be jerked back violently.
Then I heard a snap and a wet pop. I had no idea what that could be, I could only try to figure out how I managed on the floor of the vehicle and what happened. It was so fast and so slow at the same time, I know I'll never have the proper words to describe it no matter how hard I try and no matter how many times I recount what happened.
It wasn't until I looked at her that I realised what the sound was. The seatbelt tight against her, her head subtly at an angle that looked wrong. She was dead, she died instantly.
In the years since, that trauma has manifested in different ways: intense road rage that resulted in anger that was rooted from a place of "not again" fear, an almost hatred for people that get blackout drunk even though I know that's not fair, and the inability to handle any sort of neck injury. When my husband needs to crack his neck, he'll tell me "eyes and ears" so I know to look away. If not, the reaction is immediate: I vomit, sometimes followed by an intense panic attack.
When I was in the military, we had to do a safety brief that included drunk driving and texting while driving. The video was a dramatized scene that replayed exactly what I went through. I had to be carried out by my chief and I was told to "get it together" because they didn't know. They thought I was trying to get out of the brief. I cried, I threw up, and I couldn't get into a car for a month after that.
While I'm still dealing with it, this is a topic that keeps coming up. I need to wait until movies are launched and people I know to see them in order to see if there are any neck-snapping scenes. I have to be hyper-aware in the games I play. It's weird, and it's inconvenient in my job scope, but it is what it is.
So why am I writing this now? Well, because of Naughty Dog. I received my copy of The Last of Us Part II early for review purposes and I was so excited to dive in. That excitement quickly became annoyance and frustration, only then to devolve into a sadness that I would have to inevitably skip yet another game I was looking forward to so much.
Immediately when playing, you take control of another character outside of Joel and Ellie and this is the part where players get comfy with the different combat styles and how to stealth when maneuvering around enemies. It's honestly set up very well and the mechanics are smooth. I'm not going to go into detail because of embargo but I will say that there are a lot of neck-snapping in this game if you go stealth and there are a lot of moments in the sequel that require stealth, especially if players want to avoid killing dogs and hearing those awful animal-dying sounds.
After about the fourth neck-snap, because it's difficult to play with your eyes closed, I threw up for the second time because I couldn't look away. It was then that I realised I had to hang up the hat and pass off this review. But it's so much more than not being able to review the game, it's about not being able to enjoy a continuation of an experience that I loved so much.
Sometimes, a scene like a neck-snap is imperative for the drama associated. It's a powerful show of strength and it is a dominance that people love to see in their heroes. In this case, it also goes to show how gritty the road to survival is for these characters, and I don't fault Naughty Dog one bit. That being said, I'm tired of this mechanic being used in all mediums to such an extreme. Is it necessary to have numerous neck-snaps in one episode, in one chapter of a game? A lot of times that answer is no.
So this is what happened and why I wish those creators would rely on other means of showing that same power and show of strength. As an epileptic, there are already enough warnings I have to pay attention to with entertainment, it would be nice to not have trauma revisitations added to that list.