I love you. But this isn’t who I am.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is generally valued for it’s technical, graphical, and cinematic achievements, as were the entries that preceded Nathan Drake’s final outing. I’m not going to talk about that. While that discussion truly deserves our attention, I want to focus on, and talk about a singular moment that occurs towards the start of the game, that doesn’t derive from any technical, graphical, or cinematic achievement. A moment that is truly left in the hands of the player. A moment that is remarkably rare, and I use that word in it’s every sense. I want to talk about why, in spite of everything it will be succeeded by, this moment stands out and serves as an anchor for understanding the human qualities and topics hidden throughout this interactive piece.
Let’s try to explain the context as swiftly as possible. Henry Avery, was an English pirate, famous for the largest heist in the 1600s, becoming a wanted man to the world. Making his way to Libertalia (a mythical pirate colony), Avery and his group, the Founders, settled and began their own society until Avery’s paranoia turned him into an enemy. His treasure and expedition would be followed by other treasure hunters in the years, starting with Cassandra Morgan, whose children, Samuel and Nathan Drake, picked up and finished it. It is here that we’re introduced to treasure hunter brothers Nathan “Nate” Drake and Samuel “Sam” Drake hot on the trail of Libertalia, driving toward an island in a storm while fighting off armed thugs.
Years before this event, while Nate is living in the St. Francis orphanage, he’s visited by his brother Sam. After helping him sneak out, Sam tells Nate he’s leaving for a job that will keep him away for a few years, before telling him that he knows where their late mother’s effects were sold.
Years later, the two are on the trail of infamous pirate Henry Avery, with plunder worth 400 million dollars. Sneaking into a Panama jail in search of a lead, it’s here that Nate finds a clue that points to the treasure being located in Scotland. In the process of trying to leave the prison, an officer is killed, alerting the guards and forcing the brothers to flee. Sam is shot dead in the escape attempt, leaving Nate so distraught that he gives up the search completely.
Fifteen years later, Nate has retired from treasure hunting and now works for a salvage company, while attempting to enjoy a normal life with his wife Elena, although he misses the life of adventure.
It’s here that our story begins. This is a true story.
I’ve lived a plentiful life. I’ve seen many, and great things. God knows that my road here wasn’t easy, as I was growing up, home to orphanage, trying to make sense of the world, to make sense of who I was and what I was destined to be. Sam, oh poor Sam… he would always be up to something, sneaking us out of Saint Francis’ under the cover of night, where we would scale fumbly over rooftops like an eager raccoon, always seeking something more, seeking a challenge, longing for an adventure.
Now, as I sit idly by in this wooden harness I’ve come to know as my desk chair, I can’t help but think of that time, a time where my adolescent and juvenile actions were seen as nothing more than nature; a time where seeking adventure wasn’t an adult decision with consequences, an action that required reasoning. The lure has been as strong as it’s ever been, stronger in fact… but I can’t, for Elena, I can’t. This life we’ve created, something simple where we can be seen as nothing more than that neighbouring couple that lives around the bend, with the thoughts of buying a dog in a year and starting a family in three to five, pfft, I don’t know what all the fuss is about… but it’s who I am now, and it’s what we’ve become.
It’s up here that I’m surrounded by them. Drowning in my past existence, they’re swallowing me whole; I can’t succumb to it, I must keep fighting for I need to let them go, I need to move on for the both of us. All this time, I thought this space was nothing more than a place to be alone, a quiet place for my work, but no… it’s much bigger than that, and now I see them. Yearning as I stand by the clearance of the attic ladder, and as I wait, longing for those ancient gates to open up and embrace my call, I hear their gentle whisper.
Everything is a reminder, a time capsule of where I’ve been, what I’ve done… but what does it all mean in the end? nothing more than photographs and aged relics it would seem… collections of dusty boxes with labels to ancient civilizations, lost cities, and ruins… nothing more than forgotten memories that have since been lost, whose only inhabitants lie within lonely moths under the cover of dust and darkness. Some are more and some are less, I wonder… was it all for nothing? I find myself asking this question a lot, but never to be answered, always left to breath; isolated from any valid reasoning, but it’s gone on for too long now. I need their answer.
They manifest themselves around me, showering me in kindness and in love. Opening up, and letting me peek inside, to see what’s left or to see what’s buried behind. I can’t take it, I can’t go on like this, it’s me or them… they’ve taken enough from me. I shut it out, ignoring their hushed tones egging me on, making me withdraw from the fight, making me forget about her, about us. The gun, it’s the way out; the light at the end of the tunnel, our final destination. I lift it up, feeling it’s cold, harsh weight sink into my palms. It’s backed me into the corner, the pain, it’s as sharp as rain but as welcoming as heat. I hoist the gun up to my chin, fastening my clutch on the trigger, waiting to do it. I think of it all, but mostly of her, of Elena.
In this we witness Nathan struggling with his inner demons, those that keep him up at night, constantly swirling him into a mixture of horror, rage, and regret. While he truly loves Elena, the changes that he’s had to go through are too great, and they’ve taken their toll on his mind, body, and spirit. He’s not the man he needs to be. No longer is he that young boy at Saint Francis’, sneaking out at night in search of the adventure with his brother at his side. As he looks back on it all, the vision of the man he was destined to be is now blurred, and he no longer knows who or what he’s become. What he’s become isn’t enough in his mind, even with Elena by his side, his love. He knows that he would do anything to protect her, but this is something that he cannot live with. It’s not him, and he acknowledges that, deep down he understands the cowardice of it all, the pain that she will evidently go through in all of the memories they share, but it’s no longer a fight, it’s a sacrifice. To him, he’s already lost the fight. He’s already lost his true love, the adventure. And Nathan takes his own life.
For those that are still unclear, the chapter that I’m referencing is Chapter 04 – A Normal Life. Now, know that the events that I’ve described above never take place in this chapter, they are completely fictitious and of my own creation based on an interpretation of mine, an attempt to delve into the psyche of Nathan Drake throughout the duration of this chapter.
In the game, Drake paces around his home’s attic, looking through old mementos of his past adventures, the past three entries in the series. Remembering the adventure, being reminded of what he loves to do. This leads onto Drake coming into possession of a toy gun, thus proceeding to him shooting foam bullets at hanging targets. It’s in my belief that for a brief moment here, Drake is back in the adventure, back in the thrill of it all, back in the life he left behind, the life of adventure. Doing what he loves.
The Uncharted series is one that I hold dearly to my heart. It’s how I grew through my teenage years and furthermore, into becoming the man I am today, and it’s what got me into game development.
Drake is like a brother to me, and Elena my sister. I’ve learnt so much from them, and that’s shaped me into me. Every time I revisit this chapter it’s always taken me back a step, made me stop and reconsider everything around me, the world, the people, the moments, all of it; it’s one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever encountered, never quite knowing how I’m going to interpret the space I’m in each time, or the story that’ll be melded together in my mind. It’s an exceptionally crafted moment in the game, and one of, if not the most impactful moment in the whole entire thing! These feelings it creates, those that make it feel like it’s really happening, that you’re Drake in that moment, that this is your reality. That’s what makes it powerful.
I hope that you know who you are, and that you follow the path you’ve made for yourself, not the one others have deemed for you. Always remember that it’s your life and you’re the one living it, so make sure whatever it is you do, it makes you happy and at the end of the day, make sure you can live with the choices you’ve made, and who you’ve become.