Changing the industry
The Last of Us is guaranteed to win plenty of Game of the Year awards from major publications, and I’d be stunned if there was a single publication that didn’t include it as a top 3 nominee. It’s an important game, and one that seems to have that magical air of class around it. This is the kind of stuff game journalists are scrambling to kiss the ass of, because their #1 priority is “legitimizing” gaming in the eyes of traditional media. They’ll write about how “emotional” and “brave” the game is for including females that aren’t half naked, and who stand up for themselves.
Neil Druckmann, the Creative Director for Naughty Dog, wants us to believe that the characters in The Last of Us will create an opportunity to “change the industry”. He admits it sounds pretentious, but considering the praise he’s getting, I think that’s entirely possible. The game industry is constantly looking for new examples to steal from, and with the rise of the awful neofeminist movement online, smart companies are going to find ways to grease that squeaky wheel before it ruins their community message boards and their reputations.
The opportunity to change the industry is real, and those Game of the Year awards will help a lot. As we should all know by now, Game of the Year awards are becoming increasingly politicized, as the game industry itself comes under attack for being unhealthy, chauvinistic, immature, and so on. So will anybody be talking about Bioshock Infinite, which can’t even bring itself to display its female lead character on the box art because, gross, cooties? Neofeminist movement turned that into a major controversy. But look here: Ellie is actually more prominent character on the box in this game, even though she looks afraid and is following the determined-looking white male! People are heavily accusing Grand Theft Auto V of being sexist and anti-female, so it will be very interesting to see how Druckmann’s strategy of leveraging neofeminism will play out come award season. Will there be a ripple effect? He predicts there will be:
“I feel like AAA games… we’re on this cusp of at the very least seeing strong, non-sexualized female protagonists starring in games,” Druckmann said last week. “You’re going to see a lot more of those, and a lot more that are commercially successful.”
Previously I said I hate The Last of Us because it’s dishonest, and this “changing the industry” rhetoric is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote that. I saw somebody sarcastically refer to it as the Citizen Kane of gaming, and the thought alone sent shivers down my spine.
What’s so great about its accomplishments? How does it push anything forward? There’s very little discussion about the actual merits of the story, or any supposed subtext. You should know that it began as one of the most offensively misogynistic premises ever. Even though it’s celebrated as an important example of positive female characters in gaming, it was once going to be called “Mankind”, and hinge around a disease which turns all the woman in the world into monsters that you have to kill. Let me repeat that: it was going to be called “Mankind”, and it was a game about the men of the world banding together, defeating womankind by any gruesome methods necessary, and surviving on their own. That’s why it was going to be called “Mankind”. Because you’re men, and you kill women. That was the original premise of The Last of Us. Killing all the women in the world.
The result was a pitch for a problematic title called Mankind. Just like in The Last of Us, the game was set in a world where Cordyceps has leaped from insects to humans, turning the infected into dangerous monsters and bringing down civilization with them. The key difference was that in Mankind, the virus only affected women. An early version of Ellie was the only female who was immune, and Joel decided to protect her in order to bring her to a lab where a cure could potentially be created. But they weren’t able to sell the idea, especially after several female Naughty Dog employees voiced their concerns. “The reason it failed is because it was a misogynistic idea,” says Druckmann.
Wow. Just wow.
So your mission would have been to overcome and destroy females, because they have become powerful, unattractive, and hostile to men… Hmm. The only “pure” girl remaining in the world is Ellie, your little vulnerable daughter-figure who’s somehow immune to
feminism the disease affecting women. Obviously you need to protect her from the evil women roaming the streets looking to devour men alive, but moreso from the hordes of lonely men who have nothing to stick their penises into anymore, because all the women turned into monsters want to cannibalize her or something. Yee-haw, that sounds like my kind of game!!
It’s easy to laugh at the idea of “Mankind” now and dismiss it as just one of the many ideas that must get thrown around in an office, but I’m not letting it go that easily. It was the creator’s vision, and one he believed in enough to stand in front of his coworkers and try to sell. The fact that it got rejected and eventually changed doesn’t change that. It shows what kind of person we’re dealing with. I wonder what Dr. Freud would say about a man who fantasizes about outwitting and destroying the female sex because they’ve become powerful, hostile toward men, and hideous… Did somebody have mother issues?
How the hell can that same jerkoff turn around and claim that his new mission is to “change the industry” and destroy negative female tropes? Are you serious? I guess if you can’t beat women, join em!
Because it was failure — and failure alone — that transformed the most sexist premise for a game into the most cynically calculated shields against criticism I’ve ever witnessed, I don’t believe it deserves any credit for its central premise, or the way it handles all that subtle, mature, and supposedly deep character building. The Last of Us has no soul, it’s just very good at simulating one. It wasn’t the product of an intelligent artist who wanted to convey a meaningful story, or respect women, or do something interesting and original. He says it was derived from ICO, Frank Miller’s Sin City comics, and Romero’s old zombie films. Somehow this combined into that horrible, offensive, and irredeemable mess that got rejected, which then became Anita Sarkeesian’s wet dream out of focus-grouping necessity. I saw through the pretense from the first time I saw the trailer; go read for yourself.
Let it be known that I reject politically correct tropes as much as bigoted ones. Take for example the new trope of the non-sexualized badass woman who nevertheless happens to be sexually attractive, with just the right amount of dirt smeared on her features, whose only flaw is caring too much. Yawn. Does anybody fall for this? I checked, every woman in The Last of Us fits this trope: Tess, Marlene, Maria, and no doubt Ellie as she matures. We can have all the creepy, deceitful, selfish white men we want, but an evil woman? No way, that would be offensive! It’s unthinkable! Tess is “badass” but not evil, as her self-sacrifice proves. There are no dirty prostitutes, no backstabbing bitches, and no queen bees taking advantage of weak men. For a game that doesn’t mind smashing human skulls open like you’re making brain omelettes, it is hypersensitive. This new trope is nothing more than a patronizing, disingenuous, and calculated formula for clueless designers to get away with having their cake and eating it too. They still use sex appeal, it’s just self-aware now.
And I should mention, if you think “Mankind” was some freak accident of misunderstanding, keep in mind that another rejected premise was that Ellie would be mute, and you’d have to communicate to her through sign language and game mechanics alone! So much for that witty banter you all love so much! Girl power all the way, right? Let’s change the industry!
Besides all of that, there’s the matter of Ellen Page. Since the release of the game, Ellen Page has said she thinks Naughty Dog ripped off her likeness to create Ellie (duh), which Naughty Dog still refuses to admit. Isn’t that nice of them? I mean, if they admitted it, they might have to pay her royalties, but instead they just use this talented young woman’s likeness for their massive promotional campaign without permission, and then tweak it quietly after she becomes an official cast member of another game in development. Damn, you really do respect women and want to treat them fairly, don’t you Naughty Dog? Champions of equality. I guarantee the game wouldn’t have been nearly as appealing to audiences if they hadn’t invoked Ellen Page’s likeness with those early trailers and screenshots, but people ignore that too, because we want it to be the good example so badly.
I hate The Last of Us more than ever, when I really think about what it represents to the gaming industry. Screw this game. I hate its dishonesty, and its pretensions of moral superiority. I hate that it’s going to win Game of the Year awards instead of Grand Theft Auto V simply because it makes for a better game industry mascot. Anybody can whip up politically correct female tropes and make all the bad guys white males — even if they begin with something as sickening as Mankind. It’s just a thin coat of paint, and suddenly extreme misogyny turns into the “industry changing” icon.
It’s the perfection of a foolproof formula which other lazy developers will feel enticed to copy. Call me a dreamer, but I’d still like to see interesting female characters that have three dimensions, not paper cutouts like Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, born out of fear of criticism from bitchy protest groups and liberal art professors.
The Last of Us has tremendous production value, a meticulous polish in almost every aspect of gameplay, and top-notch voice acting, but none of this prevents it from earning a -2.7 rating. Its shameful exploitation of women — including a very real woman by the name of Ellen Page — is disgusting. It’s attempt to masquerade as a moral and emotional journey is betrayed by its conceptual roots as a misogynistic ripoff of ICO driven by grotesque rape undertones. It will easily fool those who want to be fooled, but I would much rather have an honest experience driven by innovative game design.
Linear cinematic experiences are justified when the subject matter and fictional world are worth exploring and reliving multiple times, but there is nothing substantial in this ficiton. It is simply emotional torture porn for parents.
(Here is an interesting article on the manipulative pacing of The Last of Us, and how it tricks the brain into thinking it has experienced something meaningful.)