Relax, It's Just A Game - In Defense Of Naughty Dog (Opinion)

This has been a very interesting year. COVID-19 has locked things down. In the US, we are in the middle of another civil rights movement in support of #blacklivesmatter. Now, the #metoo movement has come to gaming, and rightfully so. In all of this, a side of gaming has surfaced and it is pretty ugly. With the release of The Last of Us Part II, there have been a lot of language laden, homophobic, hate driven message directed towards Naughty Dog, Neil Druckmann, and some of the voice cast including Laura Bailey who portrays Abby in the game. A good portion of these comments have also included threats of violence as well as death threats, not only directed towards the above mentioned, but also their family.

For those that are not completely current on the backlash for The Last of Us Part II, it started a few months back when there was a big leak of parts of the story of the game. People immediately jumped on Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann with a lot of hate at the direction they were taking the franchise, even though they didn’t know the full story. That hate has been ratcheted up. First, people did not like that Ellie was a lesbian. For those that are truly upset about this, I would suggest going back and replaying The Last of Us and its DLC, Left Behind. They were not shy about Ellie’s orientation in the story. Furthermore, I applaud Naughty Dog and Neil for showing a very organic and natural relationship between Ellie and Dina. For those that don’t like seeing a lesbian relationship in a game, I would ask why you don’t agree with this?

Finally, there was the backlash against Abby, both for her muscular look and her involvement in a major plot point in the story. Women come in all shapes, sizes, and muscular builds, and they should be celebrated for this. We don’t always need a Lara Croft or Tifa as a model for what a female character in a game should look like. Secondly, every series needs a moment that will move the story forward beyond the same formula, much like movies do the same thing. Take George Lucas for example, he didn’t play it safe by making Darth Vader be Luke’s father.

What is baffling about all this is how much harassment of Naughty Dog there is versus the amount that Square Enix received for Final Fantasy 7 Remake received. Final Fantasy 7 Remake did a lot more to change a cherished game than Naughty Dog did to keep The Last of Us following the story they set forth. With Square, they received constructive criticism but nothing that was on the level of Naughty Dog.

Neil received quite a few tweets that were extremely homophobic and anti-semetic, and in some cases, there were comments that wished death upon him. In the case of Laura Bailey, who portrays Abby, she had people even threaten her family, including her daughter. This harassment should NEVER take place in any environment, whether it is in the gaming community or in public. Let alone, wishing someone physical harm and death upon family members. In this day and age, there are people that could take those wishes seriously and try to carry them out. Someone’s physical safety and mental well being should not be the target of threats.

Neil came out to say that if he had to do it over again, he would still make the same game. To hear this is definitely refreshing. In this day and age of cancel culture and bullying, these types actions could deter a studio from making the necessary leaps in a story to advance the narrative further. The formula needs to change a little so that everything advances along and doesn’t become stall like so many franchises out there have become.

For me, people just need to understand that this is a game. There are games and franchises that I am a huge fan of (Uncharted, Horizon, Final Fantasy), and there have been times I have not agree with the choices they made, especially with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. In no way would I even think to issue death threats, threats of violence or call a member of the voice cast or dev team cruel, anti-Semitic, and homophobic things. I will absolutely give an honest opinion on any game that I play and review. It seems like people cannot separate life from the game. Developers pour their hearts into these games to give us fans and players something that is memorable and enjoyable. These bullies that do succeed in getting a publisher to stop taking risks are taking something away from people that truly need games like The Last of Us Part II. For some, it is seeing a lesbian protagonist, which is rare. With others, like myself, the story of the game is helping them heal from the loss of a loved ones.

Games need to evolve with the times, both in story and representation. Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann set out to do both. To me they accomplished this in ways that myself, as well as others, never could have imagined. The story was able to pull out emotions without being obvious about it. The ability to do this is why I love story/player driven games. Gamers need developers to take risks. These risks sometimes lead to failure, while other times they lead to real gems that will stay with gamers for a long time. So before you go to make that next social media post, please stop with the hate and provide constructive criticism. That will go a lot further in the eyes of developers and fellow fans a like. Like I end every episode of the Crashing Game Night podcast: “Be excellent to each other, and stay frosty.”

Matt Diorio (CGN Host)
Matt Diorio (CGN Host)
Editor/Podcast Host/Content Creator