The Last Of Us Doesn’t Give A Damn About Gender Specifics
I’m surprised I’ve seen little to no chatter regarding gender roles and sexuality within The Last Of Us. For the sake of SPOILERS please don’t read ahead, however those of you have played the game please feel free to voice your opinions and have an argument in the comments section below, as I’m sure we all have something to say regarding Naughty Dog’s latest block-buster.
The basic story of The Last Of Us is one littered with every old cliché under the sun. Man loses everything he loves, gets lumbered with sassy counterpart who, after a rocky start become inseparable friends on a journey of self-discovery and danger. Add the mix of standard third-person shooting, ‘zombies’, crafting, levelling-up and on paper you have the most bog standard game ever created. However, the thing about The Last Of Us is that every section, every scene, every step has been meticulously designed and tweaked into enveloping the player to the word’s surroundings. It’s been created in such a way that every tiny little nuance adds to the experience of The Last Of Us, to make it an outstanding game. While all these points have been well documented in many of the title’s 10 out of 10 reviews, I have noticed no one seems to have brought up the rather subversive style of gender roles and open sexuality that the game freely displays.
I am not saying this is a negative, or even necessarily a positive thing, but you only have to spend a few hours on gaming’s journalistic side of Twitter to catch a glimpse of someone voicing their strong opinion on feminism, race or sexuality and realise that these are very touchy subjects in the gaming community. While most people have opinions, sadly it is the extremists of both sides who garner the most attention, which often leads to a myriad of arguments that rarely end in understanding of each other’s points and sadly never will. Most the time they become an exercise of creative opinion-giving, masquerading as fact, and gang heckling with people taking an over-assertive approach to undermining views, as apposed to explaining the issues/goals/personalities as whole. People like me sit in-between the extremes, saying nothing due to the threat of backlash or the often aggressive retorts received when voicing because, like most alternative music scenes; the core is often splintered off into multiple sub-sections of social thought that often contradict each other’s opinions, although still being based on the same basic fundamentals.
Regardless of my white 18 to 30 year old shame, the conversation at hand relates to how The Last Of Us is full of strong women who lead groups of militia that you encounter throughout the game. Marlene leads the rebellious group – the Fireflies, Maria runs the only ‘safe’ location you find with electricity resources, crops and animals, and Tess is/was very much the butch of her and Joel’s relationship (as well as being feared and respected within the Boston encampment). Add the ‘princess’ Ellie (who is far more than a trope could ever belittle) into the mix and you can begin to understand that The Last Of Us has a stronger cast of female authority figures than most games.
The game also perpetually mocks present day social norms, with Ellie making references to advertisement models look like they are starving themselves, that the only thing teenage girls had to worry about are boys and what shirt matches what dress. It’s a question I often ask myself when looking at gender roles, as despite demand for equality in many areas of life, no one seems to want to streamline our base functions. However, if the world had gone to shit and everyday was geared toward survival, would anyone really care for make-up or body accentuating clothing? Would the world become merely groups of survivors that are hard, lean and non-consequential toward each other’s ‘roles’?
The only real male groups you meet are hunters, in which the leaders are scarce and thus are conveyed as directionless savages – David, a would-be hebephile who leads a bunch cannibals and Bill, a loner. What makes this interesting is that all male groups are either morally broken or break the mould of normal convention. Bill constantly brings up his partner Frank who left him high and dry, only for Joel to later find out that he was hording supplies, got infected and eventually committed suicide. The lesser attribute is explored after this section of the game when Ellie finds one of Bill’s porno magazines… a gay porno magazine.
The simple fact that The Last Of Us explores gender relinquishment in a postmodern society is something I personally have never seen before, especially as we have been ridiculously over-saturated in zombie games over the past ten years. And to be honest, it is one of the only games that truly spoke to me in the way I perceive the often (very) murky opinions of sexuality. Granted, men are perhaps painted a little too harshly in the game to consider it completely fair, but then again some people see Joel’s final act of the game a sign of man’s ultimate ‘win’. Regardless of opinion, Naughty Dog needed to prove a point and I believe that point was that it just doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if Joel was a seven foot tall raging homosexual with both sets of genitalia and a bone through his nose, because in the world of The last Of Us human relations are devoid of today’s social handicaps. Joel and everyone else in the game are simply set as incredibly broken human beings. The Last Of Us is a beautifully told story of interaction where despite having prevalent gender, sexuality and ethnicity roles, they are almost completely irrelevant, and that’s perfect.