Naughty Dog surprised by backlash over The Last of Us gender roles

Creative director Neil Druckmann and director Bruce Straley discuss unexpected fan reaction to post-apocalyptic action game.

Naughty Dog creative leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley have discussed in a new VentureBeat interview the unexpected fan reaction to The Last of Us as it relates to gender roles.

"We were surprised by some of the criticism of our use or execution of the female roles inside of the game, and some of the backlash that we got from it," Straley said. "I think we did an extraordinary job of creating strong characters--men, women, black, white, gay, straight. We're just trying to create completely fleshed-out characters. Yet somehow we were used as a soapbox or something for people to stand on and say that there are still problems with the industry."

Druckmann added that the industry may be approaching a sort of "sexism valley."

"There have been a lot of articles pointing to the positive aspects of the women and other characters. I think that there's a little bit of a sexism valley, for lack of a better term, like the uncanny valley," Druckmann said. "The more progress we make, the more those problems stand out. I get that people are going to want to pick things apart."

Overall, Straley said it is important to have discussions about sexism in games and gender roles in the industry.

"It's good to have the conversation. We agree about all of those things. Every single one of those inequalities in the industry," Straley said. "We need to have that discussion and we need to be more mature about our approach to the medium. It was just odd, the way it felt like our game was being used in that way. I mean, think of all the games you could use instead of The Last of Us."

Lastly, Druckmann addressed The Last of Us' three-week sales total of 3.4 million copies. He said Naughty Dog began the project building the game it wanted to play and not knowing if the game would be a commercial success. He said sales of that level also speaks to the viability of games with female leads.

"Also, how popular Ellie ended up being says a lot about whether games can sell with a female protagonist," Druckmann said.

This validates Druckmann's comments from December, when he said there is a misconception that games with girls or women on the cover will sell fewer copies than those with males. Naughty Dog was even asked to push Ellie to the back of The Last of Us box, he said, and the company refused.

Naughty Dog will share details on the first The Last of Us downloadable content later this month, before revealing the game's alternate endings at PAX Prime in September. For more on The Last of Us, check out GameSpot's review.

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Discussion

1100 comments
DeltaForce324
DeltaForce324

god its like one giant circle jerk and all the morons are in on it

kishen95
kishen95

Dont worry about it Neil, your game is perfect.

Chizaqui
Chizaqui

Don't buy or play the game if all you are going to do is complain about the empty facets of your life. The Last of Us is a piece of art. Some will like it, others won't. It's not a welfare program that you can legitimately stand up and call sexist. 

beardface21
beardface21

Sexism?  Gorey violence, sure I can agree with it being graphic at times, but sexism was something that was not present in this game.  

People just need to complain I guess.  

ernelson1976
ernelson1976

Behind the scenes, I imagine the writers of The Last of Us are mostly saying, "This is bullshit." Because it is. If other companies want to waste their time making every subgroup happy by appeasing their ideological demands, let them. No one seems to get how creatively stifling all this is--when you've got to worry more about offending people than writing a good story. I get people's concerns about discrimination and diversity, but do we really want all our characters in games to conform to some uniform PC stereotype of what people should be? I don't.

PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

Why isn't anyone thinking of the old people? I won't play TLoU until the main character is atleast in his mid-80's.

OmegaAxl
OmegaAxl

Adol will you moderate me?

Garnog
Garnog

Well, let the complaining whiners make their own games... they seem to have sufficient time on their hands. I'd like to play a game with them called 'STFU'.

Double_Wide
Double_Wide

Don't worry Naughty Dog, the Last of Us sensible people are just as surprised.

Darth_Ultima
Darth_Ultima

There is this thing called confirmation bias.  It applies here.

cripgame
cripgame

Really? Ellie was by far the best character in the game, if not any game yet. She was both emotionally stronger and more likeable than any of the male characters, despite exposure to violence and death from a younger age. Tomb Raider is another example of a game that really tried to do female characters justice. Instead of pointing a finger at developers who try to create strong female characters, why not point it at those who don't? As a guy, I find it refreshing playing a game with a cool female character. It could also bring in more female gamers, who might feel alienated by the "dudebro" mentality of the industry, or the assumption that they only want to play shallow motion games. Gaming should be as inclusive as possible, because a bigger market means better games for everyone.

FlyingAce1016
FlyingAce1016

Ummmm this blacklash really doesnt fit the last of us at all, stupid people will be stupid I guess

csward
csward

I played "The Last of Us" and I am very confused as to where the sexism is.

Sigh, it seems like the femi-Nazis will only be happy if the female protagonist is a butch flannel wearing obese lady with a double barrel shotgun or something. I mean come on..

dmdavenport
dmdavenport

If anything is a stereotype, it's the kick-ass female protagonist.

simon1812
simon1812

those whiners should be thankful they dont have to find out for themselves how much they would change in the face of a catastrophic event like the one described in the game.


it had happened before, plagues, natural disasters, wars, u name it. read history books for crying all loud.

geosurface
geosurface

This is the first I'm hearing about anyone complaining about "gender roles" in The Last of Us.

Odds are, if you're the type of person who ever thinks about, let alone complains about "gender roles" in anything... you need to STFU and be disregarded by as many people as possible.

The game was fantastic and it portrayed people pretty realistically. If anything, it suffered from the same affliction movies, books, and games have had for the last few decades... which is the affliction where they feel compelled to misrepresent women as being much stronger and more badass than they actually are. The game had a very mild case of that by modern standards, though, and most of it can be chalked up to a post-apocalyptic environment hardening everyone.

Then again, Ellie was a tiny girl and only 14... she'd also lived her entire life in the relative safety of a quarantine zone, and yet she's taking out hundreds of full grown men like she was Rambo... so yea, scratch that actually. It had a pretty solid case of the feminist bullshit syndrome just like everything else does these days. And yet they still complain? There is no pleasing these people. They are terminally aggrieved. The best thing for society is to ignore them completely.

BarraKas
BarraKas

imagine if they played good old Duke Nukem lol

subsmoke1
subsmoke1

I sincerely wish that Naughty Dog would just tell these liberal whiners to piss off. This game sold over 3 and a half million copies, probably more by now. They're not in a position that they have to bend over for feminists. Besides, the two woman characters in this game are portrayed as being strong and tough. They are not stereotyped at all. If that aint good enough for you then you probably wouldn't have been happy with it no matter what.

Downloadpilot
Downloadpilot

"Gender Roles?" Are we... still talking about The Last of Us?

m4a5
m4a5

Ignore them. Just because they are insulted doesn't mean they have a right to be...

astral171988
astral171988

Damn feminists! At least leave the video game industry alone. Seriously, nobody even thought about oppression of women in games until these people pointed it out. Majority of gamers play games to enjoy them, not to oppress women or demean them in anyway. We just like a good story.

blueboxdoctor
blueboxdoctor

Well if we're being honest about this game it's not like any of the characters were anything overly new, especially since they were thrown into a zombie setting that has far overstayed its welcome these days, and a lot of the scenes (with the exception of a few with Joel and Ellie) were predictable.  The point is, most of the characters were thrown into stereotypical roles.


As for the whole portrayal of women in games, it's like the cool thing now to go after any game with a strong female lead and pick her apart, ignoring all the male stereotypes (just look at Booker in Bioshock Infinite, he's one of the most boring characters around and is just there most of the time to wipe away some debt, he barely even cares he's in a city in the sky).


Basically, if you look hard enough it's easy to find fault, and if you look for something specific it becomes even easier.  You can argue Joel has to save Ellie at points, but you know what, she's a 14 year old girl, and if she were a 14 year old boy Joel would still have to do some saving because a 14 year old can't be as controlling in a fight (especially with the brutal hand-to-hand combat in the game) as a grown man.

Also, can we look at how awesome Tess is and how she seems to be the one dragging Joel around everywhere and seems to be just as good if not better at surviving/street smarts than he is.

Rayrota
Rayrota

So having Ellie, a small, emotionally strong, brave, reliable 14-year-old girl, in the game is sexist against women? Really, femibitches?

Tangsta03
Tangsta03

Yeah I don't think the game sold 3.4 million copies in 3 weeks because there are female characters in it. Nice try.

Spectralfire0
Spectralfire0

So... in this game's case the characters fit their traditional gender roles.  If they had thrown in a badass female protagonist (someone like Ridley from Alien) that would be just fine too.  However this game is just maintaining status quo in terms of gender roles which is pretty much normal.  Am I missing something?   

beardface21
beardface21

@cripgame I put Ellie right next to The Boss from MGS3 as best female characters in my gaming history.

LtReviews
LtReviews

@geosurface

Carolyn Petit wrote an article that was critical of the last of us for it's gender representations.

Here's a quote from it

"But these stories about men--usually white men, usually violent men, often angry or emotionally distant men, whose lives are impacted by the violent deaths of women--are so prevalent in games today, and you can't tell such a story while simultaneously subverting the framework these stories follow, at least not if you adhere to that framework as closely as The Last of Us does."

Yeah....it was a really, really bad article. 

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

@subsmoke1

It's starting to get obnoxious that every woman has to be strong and tough.

Doing it for the sake of doing it or to please an angry mob is disingenuous and hardly empowering women.

dmblum1799
dmblum1799

@Rayrota 

Ellie at the start isn't allowed to have a gun. She *becomes* strong but that's because you shepherd her - at the early parts of the game she's treated like a little girl. 

CaveManCobb
CaveManCobb

@Spectralfire0 The game did have Tess and Marlene. Tess is a badass and does all of the talking and Marlene is the leader of the Fireflies. Add Ellie into the mix and the bitches are bitching just to bitch.

csward
csward

@LtReviews @geosurface Ah yes, Carolyn Petit, always drumming up controversy where there is none to be had.

Has Gamespot got rid of her yet? I bet "transgendergamereveiews.com" needs more writers..

rinnis
rinnis

@dmblum1799@Rayrota 

 I'm sure she would have been treated the same way if she were a 14 year old boy. what father wants to see a kid killing people? He wants her to be able to be a kid. Sam doesn't have a gun either.

Rayrota
Rayrota

@dmblum1799 @Rayrota So the game is sexist because she DEVELOPS into a stronger character instead of being Little Miss Whoop Ass from the start? So basically femibitches don't understand good storytelling? By the way, when you're introduced to her, she comes at Joel and Tess with a KNIFE thinking they were intruders. Pretty strong out the gate, don't you think?

Khasym
Khasym

@dmblum1799 @Rayrota I agree with ChrisJ2004 dude. And I haven't even played the game. Even in the promo stuff, I haven't seen Ellie be anything but a strong survivor character. She wasn't wah wahing the way CD had Lara Croft doing in the early levels of Tomb Raider. And if EVER there was a character that epitomized the strong female heroine, Croft was it.

geosurface
geosurface

@csward @LtReviews @geosurface This is one of the many problems with "diversity" (which, btw, has zero upsides despite the PR for it) - once you've hired someone who is a designated preferred class, and I "diverse" (read: not a white heterosexual male, the people who actually invent nearly everything) - you can never fire that person no matter what, or you've transgressed against diversity and you've breached politically correct protocol. You are instantly sexist/racist/homophobic no matter the circumstances. Lovely times we live in, eh?

CaveManCobb
CaveManCobb

@rinnis @dmblum1799 @Rayrota Its not because he wants her to be a kid its because he doesn't trust her with a gun. "I'm glad I didn't get my head blown off by a god damn kid." but when he sees that she can handle a gun he gives her one.