In response to the New York Times’ review of The Last of Us, Naughty Dog user interface designer Alexandria Neonakis wrote a rebuttal challenging claims that the game is male-oriented.
In his review, critic Chris Suellentrop called Naughty Dog’s smash hit “another videogame made by men, for men and about men” and described Ellie a “sometimes powerful female character.” Neonakis, however, asserts that The Last of Us is first and foremost a game about mutual relationships, and as a female gamer and game designer, not at all a product that feels manufactured exclusively by and for men.
Please note that Neonakis’ responses openly discuss the ending of The Last of Us, so spoilers do follow.
“Ellie’s power comes from her bravery, ingenuity and determination throughout the game,” Neonakis wrote. “It was also shown in her ability during the game’s final moment to accept Joel for all of his flaws and forgive him, because she understood that he needed her more than she needed him. She was ultimately the hero of this story. She’s powerful the whole time, and it had nothing to do with wielding a gun or physical ability. In an industry that more often than not represents women as either a damsel in distress or a male character in a female body, this was a triumph in storytelling and representation.”
Despite that players spend more time controlling Joel than Ellie, Neonakis feels that playtime isn’t the source of value, but rather the quality of that time spent as Ellie.
“As “Ellie’s fight with David was the most important experience I’ve had playing a game,” she stated. It felt like an apology for all the superficial, weak female characters in games, along with all of the people in my own experiences who told me I couldn’t do this and I don’t belong here.”
“Her journey from a damsel in distress to a fully capable and complex character is made clear through the relationships she develops with Joel,” Neonakis added. “Likewise, Joel’s growth could not have happened without Ellie. This was not a game ‘about men.’ It was about a mutual relationship and about how people need one another.”