Directors Bruce Straley and Neil Druckman were surprised by claims of sexism in The Last of Us.
While The Last of Us’ protagonist is easily the character of Joel, the arguable star of the show is his younger protégé Ellie. Skillfully brought to life by actress Ashley Johnson, she possessed a spirit and likability that helped lend weight to some of the game’s more dramatic (and traumatic) moments. She also exhibited no small capacity for ass-kickery, aiding Joel and holding her own in more than a few dangerous situations over the course of the game.
Ellie’s character for some, however, was still a bit too much of a damsel-in-distress, a criticism that confused the game’s creators at Naughty Dog. “We were surprised by some of the criticism of our use or execution of the female roles inside of the game,” said Bruce Straley, game director for The Last of Us. “I think we did an extraordinary job of creating strong characters – men, women, black, white, gay straight. We’re just trying to create completely fleshed-out characters.” For Neil Druckman, the creative director behind the game, such criticisms strike him as being particularly odd. “There have been a lot of articles pointing to the positive aspects of the women and other characters,” said Druckman. “I think that there’s a little bit of a sexism valley, for lack of a better term, like the uncanny valley. The more progress we make, the more those problems stand out.”
Personally, we’re on the side of The Last of Us being pretty pro-women, overall. Setting aside the fact that you get to play as a very capable Ellie at one point, the game also boasts characters like Tess and Marlene, both of whom are strong, take-charge women. Conversely, you could make the argument that while survivalist Joel may be the physically stronger of the two, Ellie exhibits far more emotional and moral courage over the course of the game than he ever does.