The Last of Us was without a doubt the best-reviewed game of 2013. GTAV’s record-breaking sales snatched the headlines, but it was Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic heartbreaker that continued to prove that the world of video games could tell stories just as moving and complex as Hollywood. For those unfamiliar with the PS3 title, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a survivor barely hanging on to his humanity who is charged with transporting a young girl named Ellie, who may be the cure the world’s been waiting for. Much like the Uncharted series, the title is a mix of action game staples such as shooting, stealth kills, hand-to-hand combat, and problem solving with lush cutaway scenes. The result is an engrossing game with better acting than Dawn of The Dead and better action (and pacing) than an average episode of The Walking Dead. So what’s the problem?
On Valentine’s Day, (apparently Sony didn't think Fanboys had anywhere to be other than downloading content that day) The Last of Us: Left Behind was released as a $14.99 DLC. This was great news for me as I just finished my campaign (I got on the bandwagon late) and was fiending for more Clicker shanking like I was Courtney Love fresh out of the methadone clinic. I downloaded the DLC to the dismay of my wife who had grown tired of my constant death at the hands of various infected, and completed it in only a few hours. The gameplay was much of the same with a few cool twists like human and infected battle royals, but the story was what really drew me in. Left Behind told the story of Ellie months before meeting up with Joel in the main campaign, and we get to see how she lost her innocence… not that kind of innocence pervert.
SPOILER ALERT: Through a series of flashbacks we see Ellie kiss her best friend Riley, revealing that she is a Lesbian… or Bi… or maybe just a confused 14 year old? It didn’t matter, this revelation added yet another layer on top of an already rich character. Most importantly, it made sense within the context of the storyline unlike when Marvel was like um Shatterstar and Rictor are going to be gay now because Northstar is lonely. My wife called it from the beginning, pointing out the dialogue was clearly about lover’s remorse, not a sisterly quarrel. "These girls eat their own..." To which I replied, "No way, they are just good friends!" I was naïve and kept telling her she was reading too much into it, and then they kissed and danced to the sounds of, “I got you babe.” Holy Tomboy Sports bra, Batman! It wasn’t some shock value Britney/Madonna kiss, it was as innocent as a kiss can ever be. Being that they are so young was somewhat unnerving, but it was a sweet moment, and handled tastefully by the developers.
Then it hit me, this game is hugely popular, video games are hugely popular, how long until those homophobes get a hold of it and turn a great story into a conspiracy to “gay up” America? Not very long, IGN, Joystiq, Gamespot, the message boards were all littered with douche bags who saw it as either a publicity stunt done for shock value or were just turned off that yet another character (There is a gay male in the original game, but it’s so in the background it doesn’t really resonate) was gay. Give it a week, and I’m sure major outlets will notice it and maybe even the extreme right will call for the DLC to be taken down. Crazier things have happened when it comes to gays in America.
To the credit of other gamers who understand that Naughty Dog was simply using this game to show real life variations, they took to the message boards to defend the decision and Ellie’s sexuality. Video games are a male dominated genre, and while it’s always been funny to bust on Todd for being Princess Peach’s gay bestie, taunt those who choose Dan on Street Fighter for fighting for the real pink team, and tease anyone who played Mike Tyson Punchout and lost to the Queer punch of Don Flamingo, real gays in video games have never been put in the role of a protagonist like Ellie. We all like to make jokes, racist jokes, gay jokes, women jokes, "you own an Xbox One" jokes, and it’s usually done without malice. However, when the jokes are done and a real character is outed, it makes people uncomfortable, and I commend Naughty Dog for bringing this discussion to light on such a huge stage.
Ellen Page was said to be the inspiration for Ellie’s character design, and she ironically came out the same day. It’s no coincidence, what it truly means is that everyone needs to open their eyes, and embrace that this is now the world we live in. Actors, musicians, athletes, these are all people who used to be blacklisted for opening up. Their intent isn’t to “turn people gay,” it’s to help others like them to be comfortable in their skin. If a Lesbian gamer is hiding her true self and doesn’t have anyone to talk to or anyone to look to for strength, she can look at a character like Ellie and not feel weird… well if she’s going around knifing people in the eye she should feel more than weird, but you get my point. It’s just a video game character, but we all know games, comics, novels, they represent so much more to the Fanboy and Fangirl culture, they are inspirations.
It’s not on me to make you agree with Ellie’s sexuality, or to debate if she really is a Lesbian or just someone who found love with someone who happened to be a girl (Google Sheryl Swoops, it happens). I’m just asking that you show some tolerance. In all honesty, gay or straight, Ellie could probably kick all of our ass, with one arrow and no medkit, so chill the F**k out and be proud that women in video games are developing in more ways than just bra size these days.
Further Reading: The Death of Nintendo