This post will have some light spoilers for one of the characters in The Last of Us, but nothing about the ending or any main plot points.
Hey, did you know there’s a gay character in The Last of Us? I didn’t, until I got an email about it. I had just started playing the game, which at that point I found a little boring and samey, and I was pretty surprised by the news. I asked my straight friend about it, and he had no idea who I was talking about.
I kept playing, mainly to get through the game so I could have a conversation about it. And then I – after what seemed like an eternity – made it out of Boston and into the meat of the game. That’s where I met Bill.
Bill’s kind of a jerk. He’s the first character you meet once the story gets going; a guy living on his own in a town outside of Boston, where he’s rigged all sorts of traps to keep the military and the infected away from him. He was used to living at least a somewhat solitary life, and his people skills were… lacking. I still wasn’t sold on the game at the point where I met him, and his level – for lack of a better term – is the first introduction of the tried and true video game mechanic of red herring goals and escalating threats leading to a boss battle. I was really ready to be annoyed at the game.
And then we found Frank.
Bill referred to Frank as his partner. My ears perked up. Was this like when my mom says she’s hanging out with her girlfriend? Or is this like when I say I’m hanging out with my girlfriend? Okay, sure, Bill was pretty sad about Frank, but they lived in a post-apocalyptic Massachusetts. If he’s not saying boyfriend or husband, it’s probably because he means partner in the boring sense, like partners in crime or business or something. Right?
Thankfully, Naughty Dog decided to throw in a little bit of pornography. As Ellie and Joel are riding out of town, she shows him the gay porn magazine she lifted off of Bill. Gay confirmed! Well, mostly. Like I said, my straight friend still missed it. As an aside, I’d also like to know the deal with Merle and Ellie’s mom, Anna. Sadly there were no issues of On Our Backs laying around to hammer the point home. But I digress.
Anyway, suddenly Bill’s anger and lack of trust made a little bit more sense, not that there needed to be much explanation in a world where an overzealous military and fungal-infected zombies are running around. But the revelation added to his character, and certainly increased my goodwill towards the game, without really tokenizing him.
All things considered, I’m fairly happy with Bill’s existence and portrayal in the game. It’s not a big reveal, nobody turned it into a bullet point on the press release, and the character isn’t treated any differently by the narrative just because he’s gay. That’s exactly the kind of inclusion that I want in all games. Once we actually get it in all games, I think I’ll be a bit more on board with the kind of subtext that is so subtle that people still miss it. But, like I said, overall Bill is a positive gay character in a AAA game release. You don’t see that very often.