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The Last of Us and Pittsburgh: Real Game Worlds

(A longish essay for Paste about The Last of Us and its construction of Pittsburgh)

I learned to take photographs in Pittsburgh. Its topography taught me how to compose a complex image: houses clinging to hillsides, bridges across rivers and valleys. Uneven and winding terrain meant that no matter where I looked, there were always multiple layers and levels of things going on.

It’s where I learned to see.

Pittsburgh is not a place that sees itself often on a screen (a local film office and state-wide tax credits have created certain eras where that is not entirely the case). Living here for 13 years I’ve seen its obsession with its image, a cyclical repetition of the same themes (we’re not smoky! most livable city!) every decade or so since the urban renewal projects of the 1950s: the “Renaissance”. There was a second renewal plan that started in the late 70s called “Renaissance II”, and I think now we’re in the middle of…IV?

That civic obsession trickles down to an individual level, leading the more media-obsessed of us to look for our city in films like Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Dark Knight Rises. Though in the latter it was playing Gotham City, the point is that both films were shot here. There were physical cameras here, capturing images of the city. We play a game, see whether the city that is constructed through cinematography and editing lines up with the city as it exists.

It usually doesn’t. Still, there’s a concrete relationship to the place of filming that often takes precedence over a different, more abstract feeling of the place, of the city as lived versus the city as seen on-screen.

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October 2013
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