The Last of Us and Feminism

(So I was writing this and it started out coherent in my head but it sort of spiraled into a rant and then it got impossible to edit, so I'll release it in two parts. There was a pretty obvious break in the style and overall point of the piece anyway.... so yeah, this part is the "whiny rant" part.)

While there is still no release date for The Last of Us 2, I feel it's a good time to finally throw my worthless opinion of the game into the ring. The Last of Us didn't change my life, but just to be clear, that's more of a critique of my life than the quality of the game. I loved the game, like so many others, and it certainly moved me in spots, but I'm not one of those people that will rant and rave about how perfect it was till the day I die.

 It is pretty great though...

It is pretty great though...

I actually didn't want to play it at first, despite it obviously being a really high quality post apocalyptic title. It looked great, I liked the unique take on the zombies and it was getting rave reviews, but... the people who were playing it really put me off. It was released amid the build up to Gamergate, when there was a lot of social issues around gaming being brought to the foreground. Since The Last of Us put so much emphasis on the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and because it also had so many strong female characters, it's little wonder that it got picked up and carried as a mascot for what all games could and should be like.

I stayed out of the whole Gamergate cluster fuck, I could see points on both sides and to be honest the whole thing bored me. I started playing video games as a kid to get away from people, so social issues and games don't mix for me. This is primarily because the outside world ceases to exist once I start gaming. As much as I wanted to play this game though, I read countless articles about how it was a feminists dream but how it was somehow still sexist, how people were offended that the two main characters were white, about the horror of two female characters being (metaphorically) put into refrigerators, and I even skimmed through a forum argument between two chicks about what specific type of pedophile David is.

No thank you, I ain't having any of that shit.

 I don't care what age cateogry he's attracted too... I just want to fucking kill him!

I don't care what age cateogry he's attracted too... I just want to fucking kill him!

So I rolled my eyes and played something else... Dark Souls, if I recall correctly. So I didn't actually play The Last of Us on the PS3, and it wasn't until I got a PS4, where the remastered version came with the console in a special deal, that I finally got to play it. I played it and I loved every minute of it, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that it was nothing like people had claimed it to be. The relationship between the characters was key to the narrative, sure, but it wasn't this emotional bonding wankfest that everyone made it out to be. Each character in The Last of Us is deeply broken and troubled in their own way, and each of them having to overcome their fears in order to move on is part of what makes the story great. It had plenty of female and homosexual characters as well, and it never made the slightest fuss about them, which is exactly the way that it should be.

I think that The Last of Us got swept up in this wave of social action and touted as something that it totally isn't. Sure, it can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but a feminist tale it most certainly isn't. Blame it on the ludonarrative dissonance if you want, but your characters literally murder their way across the United States. You shoot people in the face, stab them with scissors, rip them to shreds with homemade explosives, torture them, burn them to death and stomp on their heads. By the end of the game you've got a kill count that's so high it's no doubt left both Joel and Ellie as gibbering, homicidal maniacs. Also, if it's such a bastion of equality, why do we only murder human males and no human females? I don't actually have a problem with any of this mind you, except that last part which strains credulity, and it only really becomes a problem if you're trying to pass the game off as something that it isn't.

 They're a great, but complicated, duo. There doesn't have to be more to it than that.

They're a great, but complicated, duo. There doesn't have to be more to it than that.

If you simply take it as a post apocalyptic story about two broken people who find one another and form a relationship, then it's all peachy. No need to try and shoehorn it to fit your political agenda, just let it be what it is - it's bloody good at that.

This is always the difficult part of the discussion, where I reveal that I'm not one of those people that runs with the herd and spouts the same old popular opinion for fear of being socially ousted. I'm not a Feminist *gasp* but I'm not a fucking Nazi either *double gasp!*  

 Too many shocking reveliatons!

Too many shocking reveliatons!

I'm a storyteller, I have to maintain neutrality so that I can view all situations as objectively as possible. Obviously I can agree or disagree with certain things, but I'm usually trying to stay out of the action so I can observe and analyse the situation better. I need to be able to entertain any and all ideas, good and bad. So I'm sorry if this rustles your jimmies - but that means not picking a side. Telling me that a story is Feminist is about as appealing to me as saying it's a Skinhead story, they're both extremes and I don't particularly like the crowds that either group draw. 

I will probably still listen/read/watch the story though, eventually... maybe?

I don't care that The Last of Us has so many female characters, I also don't care that so many of them die, but I'm damn appreciative of how well written they are. Playing as two little girls wasn't a problem for me, that's something interesting that I haven't done before. Bill is such an complex character, I'm actually glad that he survived despite how much of a dick he is. Sam and Henry, that gets me every time, not because they're black but because they're so damn realistic. 

 And I'm cool with that, because she's well written and interesting... and voiced by Ashley Scott from Jericho.

And I'm cool with that, because she's well written and interesting... and voiced by Ashley Scott from Jericho.

All I'm after is a great story, and that's something that The Last of Us delivered.

Being "diverse" isn't a selling point for me, it's not a good enough reason to pick up a game, or any kind of story. A diverse cast of characters is great, but only for what they can bring to the story, it's not simply great in and of itself. Give me diverse, or give me all white or all black, all male or all female, all straight or all gay - all I care about is the story that's being told. 

So that's the long of it, while the short is that I'm sorry that it took me so long to play this game. As is so often the case, the white noise surrounding it was just that - noise. It's a fantastic game and I really look forward to the sequel, and I'm confident that Naughty Dog will bring their customary attention to detail. I'm really hoping that they focus on the toll that the first game took on both characters, instead of simply bowing to social pressure and making it all about the lie that was told...

...but I'll get to that later.