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.

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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.

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"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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