The Last of Us Revisited
Having finished my second play through of Dragon Age Inquisition and with Dying Light being delayed in the Uk by a month, I decided to revisit The Last of Us on PS4. It’s a great game with some well fleshed out characters, many of whom are great women characters. But I couldn’t help but notice something during the game itself; none of the NPCs you face are women. To me this felt strange.
The Last of Us is set in a brutal world where life is as valuable as what ever is in your back pack. As Ellie and Joel make their way through a broken america they often come across groups of bandits, who attack on sight. The combat itself is slow and brutal with stealth take downs taking quite a while as you choke the life out of some poor sap. But as a I played I noticed that none of the bandit aggressors were ever women. Why not? the fight for survival and resources isn’t a gender driven thing, so why are we only shown men doing so?
To me this didn’t make sense in the world that Naughty Dog had created. From the very start we see strong women such as Tess and Marlene basically boss Joel about, he’s the muscle while Tess is the brains. They made a good team while they lasted*. But that’s not to say Tess was hands off, in the time your with her she’s shown to be just as ready to kill as any man you come across. So the thing is Tess can’t be the only women in this world who does her own killing, surely across the world there would be women prepared to get their hands dirty in the name of surivival
It’s heavily implied through-out that both Joel and Tess had done some pretty nasty stuff in their past to get by, Joel had been a bandit and Tess had shown no qualms with killing unarmed men before. So why aren’t other women being just as bad? Women who’ve been infected by the fungus are very common, with their faces being disfigured out of all recognition so you can barely tell what gender they were. But no women bandits, are they just not a thing?
What I think it comes down to is how brutal the game’s combat is, people get chocked to death, stabbed, decapitated and shot to bits. The physical hand to hand combat is some of the most brutal I’ve seen with punches having weight and crowbars and planks doing real damage to your foes. At times the violence made me uncomfortable as a player, and I think that feeling would have been amplified if it had been a women I’d been choking instead of a man. After all in a one on one fight between two roughly similar sized men, the result is any ones guess. But if it’s 200 pound men versus a 90 pound women that’s something a bit less “Fair”.
I do realize that this piece could be read simply as “Let me beat up women” That in a way is only half the point, the other being “Let women beat me up.”. By cordoning off the in game violence to only male characters (And the Ellie sections of the game) It seems to be coddling women away from the harsh realities of that world, taking away their agency in a world where respect comes from the barrel of a gun.
I found this issue to be an interesting quirk of the game. In other post-apocalyptic games such as Fallout 3 and New Vegas, some of the bandits you fought were women and seemed entire fitting in the game (Hell there is even a perk devoted to kill members of the opposite sex). Of course the Fallout Universe is a bit more Mad Max and wacky compared to The Last of Us’s The Road style of end of the world scenario.
*in some ways The Last of Us could have been a more interesting game if Joel had been the one to die at the start.