The Last of Us Part 2: The Line Between A Good Story and Social Justice

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***Minor spoilers detailing the leaks are discussed in this article.

If you’ve been following any gaming news lately, then you’re probably aware of the recent controversy surrounding The Last of Us Part 2, the highly anticipated sequel to 2013’s The Last of Us. Earlier this week, a disgruntled employee working for Naughty Dog Studios released information detailing the game’s plot and footage of gameplay and cutscenes. The leaks were spread all across social media and many fans (myself included) have been left feeling disappointed and alienated. To call this situation a clusterfuck would be an understatement.

I won’t go into too much detail but I’m a huge fan of the first game. I thought the gameplay was great and the story was amazing. Watching the main characters Joel and Ellie grow and develop this father-daughter relationship was easily the biggest highlight, its overall theme of blurring the line of what we consider to be good or evil amidst a post-apocalyptic world was such a poignant philosophical statement. I honestly think it’s one of the best games to come out this past decade and is definitely one of the few video games I have a genuine emotional connection to. With that, it set itself up perfectly for a sequel, all the trailers, and gameplay that showcased the follow up looked good. We’d be playing as Ellie this time around, the story seemed to take a darker tone and they were introducing a ton of new elements with the movement and combat. Despite the numerous delays, I was still looking forward to what might be the PS4’s last AAA title until the next-gen consoles come out later this year.

Now imagine my disappointment when I saw the leaks. I don’t want to give too much info away but if you’re interested then, by all means check out Reddit, Twitter, and other sites that fully detail what was shown. Essentially many fans are upset with the direction the story is allegedly taking, I say “allegedly” because the info that’s been leaked isn’t exactly indicative of the final game. Mind you, these are major plot points that have been ruined but they’re not given any context into how they’ll fit into a 10–15-hour long game. I’ve had story elements spoiled for me in the past many times with movies such as Avengers Endgame, yet I still felt the emotional impact when I eventually saw the movie. I’m certainly not saying that I agree with the direction Naughty Dog is taking the narrative in, however, I’m not on board with them killing off major characters and switching the perspective of the game to that of the main antagonist and widdling the plot down to a lazy revenge story according to the spoilers. It undermines and throws away the deeper themes and motifs that the first game introduced that would have allowed the sequel to build upon. It's a concern that voice actor Troy Baker acknowledged in an interview, stating that fans should go in with an open mind and that he wants fans to be challenged with their ideas of what they think the sequel is. While I can understand where this is coming from, it still doesn't excuse the fact that the decisions made will make still make fans feel alienated. It’s comparable to the travesty that was Game of Thrones' final season. Taking everything that loyal fans loved and destroying it right in front of them. With that being said, I still remain somewhat optimistic. Mainly because of earlier Naughty Dog titles such as the Uncharted series and the aforementioned Last of Us 1. They're a studio that knows how to craft compelling stories equal to or even better than some films, so I do have a little bit of faith. For all we know, these poor decisions in the story may have an equally good one that overshadows it. We also got to keep in mind that this is still a video game, there’s still a ton of gameplay elements like the combat, exploration and so forth to still look forward to.

There is now also the issue of why the dev even leaked this info in the first place. According to numerous reports, namely a piece by Kotaku, the workplace culture at Naughty Dog leading up to the release has been described as toxic. Long work hours and unpaid overtime are the key points to keep in mind here. An approach that the company has done for some time but has come into question with regards to the worker's livelihood and sanity. Therefore, as a result, an upset worker felt the need to ruin key plot points with final test footage of the game. Certainly doesn’t help that the numerous delays of what is essentially a finished product ready for shipment playing a factor in the frustration as well.

What really has me concerned though, and what I want to actually focus on is Naughty Dog pushing an SJW agenda with the Last of Us Part 2. The bulk of the controversy seems to stem from the developer and more specifically, creative director Neil Druckmann’s insistence on forced inclusion that has fans questioning how detrimental it could be to the game’s overall narrative as according to the leaks. Challenging the audience by subverting expectations in the story is one thing, but pushing social justice politics into the equation as a way of defending lazy writing? That right there presents a huge problem.

Naughty Dog is a studio that prides itself on inclusiveness. Druckmann has stated in several interviews that he pushes for diversity in his stories, which I have no problem with. Genuinely speaking I’m more than happy to see a studio explore diversity in their games. As the average twenty-something-year-old who grew up in the GTA, I’ve witnessed progressiveness in terms of diversity, sexuality, gender unfold before my very eyes and I’ve welcomed it with open arms. I certainly have no issues with a developer or filmmaker or writer wanting to include a strong feminine protagonist or an LGBTQ+ character in their story. Both of which are to be showcased in TLOU 2, the main protagonist Ellie has been confirmed to be a lesbian after speculation in the previous game’s expansion Left Behind. There is also the inclusion of a supposed trans character acting as the game’s central villain, again not something that I have an issue with. It’s these two aspects that have unfortunately plagued TLOU 2’s hype, allowing for homo/transphobic fans to rebuke the game, considering it dead on arrival.

I’m not phased by what these characters identify as, as I said before I’m more than happy to see developers include diverse characters but rather my issue lies in the way Druckmann is handling them in terms of the game’s narrative. Justified by the leaked info, it seems that Naughty Dog is sacrificing the story in an attempt to allow Druckmann’s own personal biases and agenda to take over rather than to tell a compelling story that can be inclusive without pushing an agenda. It’s something that I believe needs to be criticized because what they seem to be doing and Druckmann’s overall response is only going to fuel these phobic fans even further, and I’m certain that somebody reading this is going to automatically label me as homophobic or sexist because of my critique but hear me out at least.

Neil Druckmann has been accused of forcing what many call a social justice agenda. It seems that he can’t keep his own personal politics outside of their games, something that he defended when a Twitter user asked him to keep his views to himself. Even his friendship with controversial critic Anita Sarkeesian, a person whose views on video games and representation showcases her sheer lack of ignorance towards them, have also come into question and had some sort of influence on Naughty Dog’s direction. His response to his views seeping into games such as Uncharted 4 and of course TLOU 2 are completely juvenile. In a now-deleted Instagram story post, he essentially claimed all fans who won’t buy the game as bigots and sexists. I understand calling the actual phobic people whose jaded views hinder them as bigots, but grouping fans like myself who are concerned with your personal beliefs souring what could be an excellent story? Give me a fucking break.

There are ways to be inclusive in your games without jeopardizing the game’s narrative. A number of Bioware’s games such as the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series have certainly proven this point. Regardless of what the player does, the story still remained strong and was still the central focus. I could list a myriad of other games or films that showcase inclusivity but my point still remains, you can be inclusive without sacrificing the narrative. You can still show representation without putting the overall plot at risk. With the case of TLOU2, these characters’ representation is going to be the result of one person’s insistence to showcase his personal beliefs entirely, and putting the main story of human survival and perseverance, the things that made the original so invigorating, completely on the backburner. Robingaming made a video that perfectly sums up this Naughty Dog Agenda that I highly encourage you to check out, as he does elaborate on key points that I address here. Namely Druckmann’s “you’re with us or against us mentality” when it comes to him defending the company’s choices. You can’t have any sort of objective criticism, and if you do you’re a phobic bigot.

Now despite all of this blabbering and as much as I rant, I want to see The Last of Us Part 2 succeed. This is a game I’ve waited nearly seven years for, and to see it get destroyed because of personal politics over actual story breaks my heart, yet I’m still optimistic. I still have hope that the few sane people over at Naughty Dog who had to toil with a person such as Druckmann, whose work tactics and personal politics have resulted in one of gaming’s biggest controversies, can deliver an experience similar to the first game. So until the game releases this June, I’m keeping quiet before I come to my final conclusion.

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