The clip posted above depicts Ellie, the protagonist in The Last of Us Part II (2020), locking lips with her same sex love interest, Dina. This scene was selected from The Last of Us Part II’s 2018 gameplay trailer that Naughty Dog (the game developer that created The Last of Us) presented at E3 (The Electronic Entertainment Expo). E3 is a platform for big budget videogame developers and publishers to showcase their AAA games (pronounced as “Triple-A”: a video game industry term for large budget video games)–usually by highlighting their game’s realistic violence. Interestingly, what caused the strongest fan reactions to The Last of Us Part II’s unveiling was not its gameplay, but Dina and Ellie’s lip-lock in the trailer’s cut scene.
Ellie and Dina’s kiss became cause for an online celebration as many were uncertain whether Ellie was out of the closet in Last of Us (2013), or in the DLC (downloadable content) titled, The Last of Us: Left Behind (2014). In Left Behind, a teenage Ellie kisses her female friend, Riley. After Left Behind was released, GayGamer.net asked The Last of Us’ creative director, Neil Druckmann, if Ellie was gay. Druckmann stated that when he was “writing [The Last of Us he] was writing it with the idea that Ellie is gay.” After Druckmann said this, some online fans were unconvinced that Ellie was indeed queer. They took to discussion threads on reddit and to discussion boards on The Last of Us wiki to debate whether the young Ellie was “experimenting” or officially out of the closet.
The Last of Us Part II showcases an adult Ellie in an overtly gay relationship. Even amidst a major leak of the game’s plot, fans are still excited to play the finished product. This anticipation does not mainly stem from players wanting to play as Ellie to kill her enemies but rather to experience a AAA queer narrative.
HBO will soon adapt The Last of Us into a TV program. Craig Mazin, the co-writer for The Last of Us TV series, has already promised fans that Ellie will remain gay for the show. Was a queer kiss all it took?
Queer Narratives in Games
Thank you for your post.
This made me think of Todd Harper's essay in Queer Game Studies on reading Commander Shephard's Coming Out Story through the affordances made in the progression of the Mass Effect series.
As we see Ellie's narrative expand through transmedia storytelling, I wonder how they will deal with showing her queerness and romances across the technology affordances and platforms (see Martin's article).
Death of the Author/Death of the Fan
The tension between author/developer intent and fan response/poaching (to quote Henry Jenkins's oft-used phrase) is much more pronounced whenever I teach video games (or certain pop culture texts). In games, particularly, there is a sense of ownership that bleeds into the desire to either shield feminist or queer readings of games (i.e the backlash against this very kiss/"forced" story) or to claim or prove certain identities, subjectivities, truths about characters or plots. Queer readings and engagements with games (and pop culture) is certainly not new, but I am curious about the intense desire to establish "canon" (from author or fan). Representation certainly matters and is improtant that games create rich, dimensional queer characters and plots. At the same time, the move to "X must be..." or "Y can't be..." seems to reduce queer play to reductive identity politics. There is no good resolution here, just noting the ambivalence.
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