A reader accuses Naughty Dog of being too sympathetic towards the protagonist of The Last Of Us Part 2 and the crimes she commits.
One thing I find profoundly sad about the times we live in is that people constantly dismiss Superman as ‘boring’ and ‘unrelatable’ because he has a strict moral compass. His most recent movie appearances portray him as a sombre, conflicted character who sees helping other people as a burden and is only one bad day away from being a tyrannical psychopath. The idea of someone dedicating themselves to helping other people is apparently seen as too unbelievable and I think that says a lot about us as a culture right now.
This bring me to the subject I wanted to talk about today: Ellie from The Last Of Us Part 2. Specifically the sequel because her characterisation in the original makes perfect sense given the situation and she’s portrayed as a fundamentally good person who, just like Superman, is ready to sacrifice herself to help others.
In the sequel though she already starts off bitter and angry, for reasons that are revealed much later on, despite the fact that she has a girlfriend and has found a safe, stable community to be a part of. I’m not going to spoil anything about the game but there’s something that happens quite early on that is then used as justification for her becoming even angrier.
Once the triggering event happens Ellie immediately sets out on a 30 hour (The Last Of Us Part 2 is an unnecessarily long game) rampage of revenge where she abandons any sense of moral integrity. This is something that is completely accepted by everyone around her, including her pregnant girlfriend, none of who try to stop her and most of who actively try to help her – even though the mission she’s on is incredibly dangerous and would clearly never be embarked on in reality.
Because this is a video game nobody tries to talk sense into her in any serious fashion. What’s worse though is that nobody tries to understand why the target of her vengeance did what she did or indeed what the whole incident was about – even though there are several moments in the game where it would have been easy to find out. Worse, it’s obvious to you, as a player, that the motivations of Ellie’s enemies are perfectly justified, or at least far more so than Ellie’s.
Ellie murders and tortures her way through almost the entire cast of characters, killing not only without remorse but with the hypocritical insistence that she, and her camp, are the good guys and it’s the others that are the morally corrupt ones.
Now there are some obvious real-world parallels here. Naughty Dog has said the game is partially inspired by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but it’s not specific to that and works as an allegory for any long running feud where both sides have long since lost the moral high ground. I get that. But it doesn’t work, at least not in terms of Ellie.
It doesn’t work because you’re supposed to like Ellie. The game clearly does and although you sense that Naughty Dog’s writers are trying to be even-handed they obviously like Ellie too much as a character, despite her actions and position being completely indefensible (no doubt because many also worked on the first game).
Kratos from God Of War (another Sony game, oddly) is often described as the most evil anti-hero in gaming but his character in the early PlayStation 2 and 3 games was so thinly written, and meant as an obvious power fantasy for teenage boys, it’s hard to take him seriously. Which is what made the PlayStation 4 game so impressive, as it deconstructed the character and made him react to the terrible things he’d done.
Ellie is completely different though. Her games are much more grounded and she and her other supporting characters act like actual human beings (which Kratos literally isn’t). Even within the context of surviving a zombie apocalypse, and having Joel as a father figure, there is nothing to justify her selfishness and complete lack of empathy.
Joel’s influence as a bad person is often cited as an excuse for Ellie being as bad as she is and yet he is not shown to do anything nearly as vindictive as Ellie, and always talks about the things he has done as a regrettable necessity. This is all on her and she should not be celebrated in way. Ellie is not what anyone should aspire to be, she’s what you should try to avoid becoming.
I suspect this was the point Naughty Dog was trying to make but it becomes muddled in the overlong screenplay and far too sympathetic characterisation. The unfortunate thing is that in other aspects The Last Of Us Part 2 does very well in showing two sides of a conflict and having you controlling and interacting with characters from both sides.
If there is some attempt to redeem Ellie in the third game I will despair. Just because you liked the character in the first game doesn’t mean you can still treat her as a spunky, likeable teenager in the sequels after what she’s done. And I’m saying that more to Naughty Dog than I am to anyone else because I don’t think they realise just how much damage they’ve done with their portrayal of such an irredeemable monster.
By reader Goto
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