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Naughty Dog surprised by gender roles backlash

Naughty Dog surprised by gender roles backlash

Tue 06 Aug 2013 11:36am GMT / 7:36am EDT / 4:36am PDT

Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann on unexpected reactions to The Last Of Us

Naughty Dog's creative director for The Last of Us Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley have addressed some of the criticisms the game faced for its gender roles, sharing their surprise and arguing that progress is being made

"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 told GamesBeat.

Some of the criticisms revolved around female characters' roles in the drama which, avoiding spoilers as much as possible, featured a lot of traditional 'damsel in distress' elements.

"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 compared it to the uncanny valley, and argued the sexism valley meant the more progress that games made in their depiction of female characters, the more problems with those depictions were highlighted.

"It's good to have the conversation," continued Straley.

"We agree about all of those things. Every single one of those inequalities in the industry-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."

Druckmann also addressed an issue with Ellie that had been widely reported on before the game's release, namely that Naughty Dog had had to fight to have her featured on the game's packaging.

"How popular Ellie ended up being says a lot about whether games can sell with a female protagonist."

17 Comments

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

275 177 0.6
"How popular Ellie ended up being says a lot about whether games can sell with a female protagonist."
You mean... without ending up like that?
;)

Posted:A year ago

#1

Andreia Quinta
Creative & People Photographer

214 533 2.5
Popular Comment
Some of the criticisms revolved around female characters' roles in the drama which, avoiding spoilers as much as possible, featured a lot of traditional 'damsel in distress' elements
[ S P O I L E R S ]
I don't see the issue, while Joel wen't to 'save' Ellie from a surgery that would kill her, she technically didn't need saving since Joel knew perfectly well (even more so by the end scene) that Ellie would gladly sacrifice her life for the discovery of a cure through her immunity. She wasn't "in distress" because she would NOT want to be saved from her situation if it meant a cure, hence Joel lying to her in the end scene.

If anything, Ellie is as much saved by Joel as he is saved by her, after Salt Lake City Joel is on the brink of death and relies on Ellie to care for him, he would die during that autumn/winter time if not for her, she's the one providing sustenance and medication. Heck Naughty Dog even lets us play as Ellie, something I wasn't expecting.

As for Tess, she was a strong lead character, I saw her as a superior rank to Joel since she seemed to be more knowledgeable and bossing him around often. She never required rescuing and her fate was her own choice.

These recent over analysis of female tropes in games is bordering on annoyance now.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreia Quinta on 6th August 2013 7:53pm

Posted:A year ago

#2

Frank Trottier
Analyst programmer

21 18 0.9
There's a weirdness to human beings. A paradox. There is a Batman game where you can shoot a kid in the head. Violence is normal. [almost real dramatisation] You can put your hand through the viscera of someone and eat his heart, blood spilling but.. if you see a breast.. run for cover the religious authorities will destroy your life and you will lose your friends. [end almost real dramatisation] Like, people saying society is overly sexual at a dinner table eating a steak (flesh, the ultimate sin no ? ;). Wow. Double standard welcome to the jungle. Why ? Emotion, a feminine traits that makes people go crazy. Control over people and we want to control girls/women because they make us crazy. They touch that sensibility that no amount of toughness can sheild you from. Makes you look like a gay, render those muscle/brute force useless. She made you cry. That's dangerous. In some country they spill acid in their face to save honor.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Frank Trottier on 7th August 2013 8:05pm

Posted:A year ago

#3

Richard Vaught
Studying B.A. in Game Design

19 33 1.7
These recent over analysis of female tropes in games is bordering on annoyance now.
Only just? Let's face reality people. If anything negative happens to anyone of any gender, race, ethnic group, religion, sexual preference or <insert category here> someone somewhere is going to complain.
"It's good to have the conversation," continued Straley.
In the same way that it's good telling your child that their outbursts are ok after they throw a temper-tantrum in the supermarket because they didn't get their favorite sugar loaded crap cereal with the free crap toy surprise. In the same way that its good to engage in a dialog with a teenager as they irrationally try to explain to you why they should be allowed to run off with their latest skank boyfriend/girlfriend and get married.

There is ALWAYS room for improvement in character development and story telling, but it MUST be for the betterment of the story, not to meet some nebulous unachievable social agenda. There is ALWAYS room for dialog on how to make the story better, but not to appease the vocal minority.

Posted:A year ago

#4

William Usher
Assistant Editor

41 29 0.7
I guess it all depends on what you expect and want out of the game. I've heard some conversations where people argued you should have played Ellie from start to finish... or switch characters periodically throughout the game. There are some design decisions that they would have had to alter to accommodate a feature like that... but maybe next time?

Another complaint was that Joel should have been replaced with an older female lead who had to help Ellie to her destination... though I imagine the entire story would have worked differently given that both men and women seem to approach surrogate parenting in different ways (depends on the individual as well).

I thought The Last of Us did a good job of bringing the characters to life, just as Druckmann mentions. The game was neither predictable nor laden with historical "tropes". Then again, you can't always please everyone.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Rafa Ferrer
Localisation Manager

48 68 1.4
Popular Comment
people argued you should have played Ellie from start to finish
Another complaint was that Joel should have been replaced with an older female lead
Damn authors and their selfish storytelling, how dare they tell a story they came up with alone without asking how everyone likes it first. So not cool.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Johnny Hsu
Employee

11 31 2.8
Popular Comment
Ellie stabs a lot of adult males (not zombies) in the throat, but Joel didn't attack any adult females (not zombies) with shivs to the throat. So it could be sexist that Joel wasn't portrayed murdering more women.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Robert Tsao
Game Designer

8 16 2.0
At the risk of giving away a SPOILER, I will say this:

Joel is by no means a good person, and the ending crystallizes this in many, many ways. Were Naughty Dog to have gender-swapped the focal adult character into Joelle as well as leading men Tate, and Marty, with no lines or story beats altered, I imagine the backlash would've been seismic in comparison to the mild criticism the game is experiencing now.

Either way, I agree with Straley: as the medium continues to evolve, so must the criticism.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Tsao on 7th August 2013 12:09am

Posted:A year ago

#8

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

889 1,314 1.5
@Richard Vaught
Let's face reality people. If anything negative happens to anyone of any gender, race, ethnic group, religion, sexual preference or <insert category here> someone somewhere is going to complain.
Very true, even if it's not really negative, but perceived as negative. I liken it to minorities(which I am one of) complaining about other minorities dying first in a horror movie. Sure they died first but by the end of the movie all but one or two people are going to die so it ultimately doesn't matter.
In the same way that its good to engage in a dialog with a teenager as they irrationally try to explain to you why they should be allowed to run off with their latest skank boyfriend/girlfriend and get married.
I like how you added "boyfriend" to that last line. Otherwise you would have broken the internet from all the rage directed towards you for referring to women in that manner. Had you just said "skank boyfriend" no one would have really cared. And that brings us back full circle to the title of this story.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Donald Dalley
Freelance writer

50 31 0.6
As far as I am concerned, this "problem" surrounding Ellie has been a non-issue from the get-go, in that it was something needed by the media to fill their pages and something "fans" needed to sound off on-line. The sooner they get over themselves, the better for everyone.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Justin Shuard
J - E translator

42 150 3.6
And herein lies the problem with having a protagonist that isn't a heterosexual white male. Why would you ever want to risk the outcry of a minority character "not being portrayed in the absolute best possible light." You stick a white male in the game as your protagonist and nobody cares what the character does or is. Anything else and your game is looked over with a fine tooth comb, people just itching to cry foul.

You could create one the strongest female characters ever (like Ellie) and still get backlash. When Lara Croft is touched on the knee in that trailer and you've got an angry mob crying SEXISM!! Let's not actually, y'know, play the game to see what the scene is like in the context of the overall game, no we've got knees that need jerkin'.. Why would a game developer ever want to open themselves up to such ridicule?

Posted:A year ago

#11

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,150 1,063 0.5
Next up: Game writers criticized for writing actual stories with characters of any gender because fans want to control EVERY aspect of the game. Yeesh. This is getting stupid plus cheese.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Gareth O'Neill
Environment Artist (Contract)

30 23 0.8
@Richard Vaught
Let's face reality people. If anything negative happens to anyone of any gender, race, ethnic group, religion, sexual preference or <insert category here> someone somewhere is going to complain.

Agreed, I thought (from my perspective) the Last of Us was one of the few games that treat all of the characters as nothing more than Humans that did what they did based on their own background and ethical systems, Bludgeoning, Self sacrifice, Killing with sever regret and trauma. They were just humans doing what they could to survive just like The Walking Dead Series. I don't know how this game could possibly be picked to be a poster child for Sex/race/minority wars.
And herein lies the problem with having a protagonist that isn't a heterosexual white male. Why would you ever want to risk the outcry of a minority character "not being portrayed in the absolute best possible light." You stick a white male in the game as your protagonist and nobody cares what the character does or is.
This is a problem with our Politically Correct society, without going in to detail I am as average a White male as you can be, and I have sought advice and help from the UK's Equality and human rights commision before, only to be told that they can not assist me as Myself and my Comparitor were both average white males, had Myself or my Comparitor been one of the 9 categories of Minorities that they defend e.g. Different Race, Gender, Gay, Transexual, Transgender, Disabled etc I would have qualified for their help.

Essentially the very people out to bring equality for "all" were effectively discriminating against myself (Irony or what). Suffice it to say they received a Very angry email for myself with quotes from the English dictionary on what the words Equality for all meant.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Madelaine
Project Manager

1 2 2.0
I agree that bashing on one title is pointless and bashing in general is pointless either.
Still I would like to see more games where the protagonist and character played by the user is not by definition male without an option to change this. I am aware of the additional costs and changes it would cause. Nevertheless we have to keep in mind that the gaming industry is no longer for nerds and geeks only. It became a mass media and has even more impact than the movie industry by now.
Educating stereotypes of men being the heroes and women the weak who have to be saved most the time is coloring the perception of the next generation. Same about the always half named super shaped women and the always strong and six pack men in full plates.
This is far away from reality but so often sold as a "must be like this to be successful".

I think this has to be discussed. Not fanatic feminism. And I am saying this as a feminist myself.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Jakub Mikyska
CEO

199 1,086 5.5
This is just stupid. The Last of Us contained some of the strongest women characters ever portrayed in games. Sure, Joel was the lead character, but he himself was saved numerous times by Ellie or Tess. Marlene is the leader of the local Fireflies group. Ellie becomes the playable character for what's arguably the most amazing part of the game and manages to save herself (Joel would have come too late to help her).

Joel is the weak character in the game. All the women are strong and doing the "right thing". Joel is selfish all the time.

Such stupid criticism and backlash are damaging the portrayal of women in games more than anything else.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Frank Trottier
Analyst programmer

21 18 0.9
Prince and princess will always have their place. There are reasons for this. Men will, again, always have more muscle and women tend to be more sensitive. Thank god. The yin yang of life. When men have babies I'll change my mind. For now man's breasts are cosmetic at best. haha BTW I'm not here to make friends because I'm not actually into gaming and not trying to get in. Just here to shake things a bit. Maybe. Working on a raytracing engine on assembly level for the pleasure of it. The settlers on Amiga.. that was fun split screen two mouse combo. Lot's of high five moments. Now being strong all the time ? Good luck there is always a bigger shark you have to develop intuition too to get out of trouble. That's what I call "I went this way because it smelled better, that's right Gandalf".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Frank Trottier on 7th August 2013 7:38pm

Posted:A year ago

#16

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