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February 17
2014

The Last of Us: Left Behind and AAA-Gaming’s First Queer Hero?

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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.

Spoilers Ahead

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.

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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.

 

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About Sal Mattos

(Managing Editor and Writer) Sal lives in the beautiful city of San Francisco where he splits his time between playing games, watching copious amounts of television, and occasionally going outside. He has written for GayGamer and Gamezone. He studied creative writing and theatre at SFSU, and when not gaming can most likely be found on stage somewhere. You can keep up with him on twitter @salmattos

7 Responses

  1. avatar DannyChameleon says:

    One kiss does not make a character queer, however, it isn’t “Unimportant” either.

  2. avatar Simon says:

    It’s great that this kiss is in the DLC and it clearly shows how much the two characters care for each other. What irritates me though is that some straight people will love the fact that two girls kiss, but heaven forbid that they did make Joel gay those same people would act like real a-holes about it. I expect Sony told Naughty Dog not to make him gay to please the players who are ignorant.

  3. avatar Kris says:

    “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.”

    Like, yeah that’s a good stance to take in general when involved with people. but, like, can we please acknowledge a few things? That one, Ellie is NOT a real person, she is a character whose story is chosen by other people (and thus, there is also a language/pattern/imagery/weight in fiction in play here when it comes to how romance is portrayed). And two, that the vast majority of all the arguments saying, you know, “just because she kissed a girl doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian” aren’t arguments made out of concern for protecting the validity of other queer readings, they are largely arguments trying to find ways to /question the validity of Ellie’s sexuality/. Saying things like “she’s experimenting”, “she’s only fourteen how could she know what she wants”, “she’s too young”, “it’s just a charged situation”, “girls kiss each other all the time and it doesn’t mean anything” etc, are just the vast and multitude of ways that (largely straight) people are trying to DENY that Ellie could really be gay (and, ideally, to them, still straight).

    Not to mention, it’s a recurring story that frequently young queer kids are told that they can’t possibly know how they really feel, that they can’t possibly know that they are gay or bi or anything else (except for, of course, being straight). Let us also not forget that had Riley been a man and virtually everything about this DLC stayed the same, no one would be questioning it. No one would say that Ellie wasn’t /really/ straight, that she was just experimenting, that she was too young to know that she had romantic feelings for him, that this came out of nowhere, etc.

    Like, goodness, when you’re fourteen you’re in like Grade 9/10. Are we really saying that no one at that age can know how they feel romantically about someone? And let us also not forget that The Last of Us is a work of fiction. Ellie does not express romantic interest in anyone through the entire work aside from Riley. Likewise, Joel does not express romantic interest in anyone throughout the entire work but Tess. I do not see articles and debates saying that Joel is really bi and that it is harmful to develop a gay/straight extreme for him just because he was with Tess.

    There is this odd habit with people now to treat fictional characters like they’re human, but they’re not. They are constructs. And the way Ellie as a character is constructed, taking in everything we’ve seen about her story so far, points to her being gay. Saying she could be bi, or pan, or anything else, is technically true, but it’s as hollow as saying that there could be tons of trans characters in TLOU, we just aren’t shown them.

    If it’s not explicit, it’s not actually representation.

    • avatar DannyChameleon says:

      I understand what you are saying, and I am inclined to agree, but, at the risk of being the old curmudgeon, I’m not sure that a 14 year old can know that they are straight.

  4. avatar Gumba Masta says:

    Wasn’t this character’s look based on Ellen Page, who did come out recently?

  5. avatar Ty says:

    Girlies always go first, dont’t they? I wanna get a gay MALE Hero! I wanna have Nathan Drake comming out of the closet!!! No experimenting girlies!

    • avatar DannyChameleon says:

      “No experimenting girlies!”
      …as if this is somehow what is stopping
      “I wanna get a gay MALE Hero!” this.

      Do you really think that the way to achieve this is through the sexist denial of someone else?

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