“Joel, a gruff, middle-aged Texan with a brow more knitted than a woolen tuxedo. He is accompanied by a precocious teenager, Ellie, whose hobbies include swearing and not being able to swim. Together, they must fight off hordes of jabbering homicidal lunatics, which they call “the infected” but which anyone will recognize as zombies. Joel and Ellie are also at risk from other survivors who have abandoned their moral principles in favor of blowing people’s heads off for a jar of Miracle Whip. Life in this desolate world is nasty, brutish, and short, and it is nigh-on impossible to get a half-fat hazelnut Frappuccino after 6 p.m.
It is not the most original premise, as Cormac McCarthy would probably agree. And to start with, this feels like Just Another Video Game, following the formula of run-hide-shoot-repeat, with occasional breaks to find ammo in lockers. But as it gathers pace and confidence, The Last Of Us reveals itself to be a refreshing and remarkable game. It is by turns poignant and thrilling, scary and surprising. It could even be described as innovative, if Sony and Microsoft hadn’t bought up all the rights to that word for their E3 press conferences.”
(from Ellie Gibson’s review)
Leading the charge is Ellie. Smart, brave, sweary Ellie, who is sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable, but never a cliché. The game sets her up as a damsel in distress but then subverts the whole concept. Ellie is perfectly capable of saving herself – not to mention Joel, some other dudes they bump into, and the entire human race. Here we have a female character who is neither a helpless hostage nor a space marine with tits. This is as rare in video games as tedious bolt-on multiplayer modes are common.
But Ellie is not the protagonist. That honour still goes to a man, as critic Chris Suellentrop pointed out in his recent New York Times review. He argued that because the player only controls Ellie for a small portion of the game, “The Last of Us casts her in a secondary, subordinate role… It is actually the story of Joel, the older man. This is another video game by men, for men and about men.”
It’s true that Ellie’s role in the game is secondary, but I don’t think it’s subordinate. She argues with Joel. She has the power to challenge his decisions and change his mind. At numerous points in the game, she is the one in charge. She is the protector. At the end, it’s Joel who is revealed to be the weaker character. He needs Ellie more than she needs him. Because of this, he makes a selfish decision that will have catastrophic consequences. Then lies to her about it. What a wanker.
(from “The Last of Us isn’t the solution to sexism in games, but it’s a start” by Ellie Gibson)
“In the Same Boat, but Not Equals” by Chris Suellentrop
“The Last of Us and Grading on the Gender Curve” by Carolyn Petit