My apologies for the linkbait-y sensationalist title, but it’s worth noting that very few AAA games prominently feature queer characters in any major roles, let alone playable ones. Sure we have characters like Poison and virtual-Darren Young, but neither are protagonists in their titles, instead existing as ensemble players. Other characters are the subject of endless debate, with no canonical evidence to support any sexuality (which for most, unfortunately, means default heterosexuality). Now, of course, we can’t ignore the huge leaps being made in the indie and queer game scenes.
However, as the conversation surrounding queer issues in gaming continues to grow one of the single most frequently asked questions is: When will we get a playable gay main character in a AAA mainstream title?
Well it looks like we might have just gotten one in The Last of Us: Left Behind.
In 2013 The Last of Us gave gamers one noteworthy gay character in the form of Bill, for which they earned a top spot in our Gayest Games of the Year list, and now the team at NaughtyDog have given us a couple more. Though perhaps calling these new characters ‘gay’ is a bit presumptuous.
This past Valentine’s Day saw the release of The Last of Us: Left Behind, new DLC for the hit PS3 title. Acting as a prequel of sorts to the main game, Left Behind puts players in control of Ellie who spent most of the original as an AI-controlled partner.
In Left Behind players join Ellie and her best friend Riley as they sneak out of their boarding school for the last time. Along the way we learn more about the game’s world, their relationship…..and then this happens:
That’s right, with Etta James’ “I Got You Babe” blaring in the back, The Last of Us‘ Ellie and Riley share a kiss. The characters behave as though this is a long time coming, with Riley responding to Ellie’s “Sorry” with a smile and a “For What?”
So does this mean what we think it means? Do we have our first canonically queer playable main character in a AAA game?
It certainly looks that way.
Many online communities are debating whether a kiss between two fourteen year old besties equates lesbianism, and it’s important to not immediately dive into gay/straight extremes when discussing sexuality, and especially the burgeoning sexuality of young characters. Queer identities are vast, varied, and complicated so to simply say “Ellie kissed a girl, she must be a lesbian now!” would be problematic at best. All of that being said, though, it can’t be denied that the whole affair has a touch of pink to it. The adoring glances, the love song, the fact that the title was released on Valentine’s Day; it’s difficult to view this scene as anything other than romantic, regardless of what label one wants to put on said romance.
Back in September GayGamer’s own Sam Einhorn had the opportunity to speak with NaughtyDog Creative Director Neil Druckmann about The Last of Us, in particular the character Bill. While discussing the sexuality of other characters Druckmann mentioned that at one point the developers toyed with the idea of lead character Joel being gay. And on the subject of young Ellie he had this to say:
“Ellie’s sexuality is never explored one way or the other. So you could say she is, you could say she isn’t and there’s nothing negating either argument. So let’s say she was, you could argue well why didn’t you put it in the forefront? Well, if her sexuality doesn’t play into the story. So you wouldn’t know. So it would depend. If you played a main character that had some kind of romantic story, obviously you would need to explore it and what that means in this world.”
In retrospect, perhaps his comments served as a sly bit of foreshadowing of what was to come?
Hopefully this storyline will continue to be explored in future DLC and the inevitable sequel. Or at the very least I hope we get more fully playable Ellie somewhere down the road. As much as I love the hot daddy that is Joel, I was giddy getting to play as Ellie the entire time this go around.
Female lead in a blockbuster action game AND she’s queer? I really like the sound of that.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is available now on the PlayStation Network.