TIME assigned conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson to document the zombie apocalypse, as seen in The Last of Us on the PlayStation 4.
My approach was to enter each situation, or level, and work the scene until I was confident I’d gotten the best photograph I could before moving on. It’s the same way I work in real life. Yet, I found it was more difficult to do in a virtual reality because I was expected to fight my way through these levels to get to the next situations.
I initially played the game at home. But after a short time playing it, I noticed I was having very strong reactions in regards to my role as the protagonist: I hated it. When I covered real war, I did so with a camera, not a gun. At home, I’d play for 30 minutes before noticing I had knots in my stomach, that my vision blurred, and then eventually, that I had simply crashed out. I felt like this could well be my last assignment for TIME.
None of the game’s characters show distress, and that to me was bizarre.
Occasionally the characters show anger, though generally they’re nonchalant about the situation they’ve found themselves in.
By the time I finished this assignment, watching the carnage had became easier.
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The photos, even at their most dramatic and well-shot, are bland.
“I left the experience with a sense that by familiarizing and desensitizing ourselves to violence like this can turn us into zombies. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to engage with those involved in tragedy stems from our comfort with the trauma those people are experiencing.” — Ashley Gilbertson