The Last Of Us Part II is a video game. By nature, video games are not movies, books, sports, or anything else they can be compared to. Video games are a whole lot more than that. You can be a young woman killing a lot of people. You can be a sentient cup. You can be a spiky-haired cool dude with a large sword. You can even be a mean goose.
What I mean is, video games are multifaceted. They have so many more possibilities and permutations than any other art form, except maybe art itself. So, you would think the discussion around them would be nuanced, varied, and in-depth. Well, as I’m sure we all know, that is not the case. Video game discourse is frequently toxic, angry, misogynistic, racist, and downright abusive. If you’re like me, you probably think this is odd. Why are our beloved toys a vitriolic pool of hate and anger?
The Last Of Us Part II is an especially contentious video game facing a very loud backlash. Released to mostly glowing reviews, it has a critic score of 95 on Metacritic. There are a handful of reviews that don’t have scores (which therefore don’t affect the aggregated Metacritic score) which are the most critical. But the overall consensus is mostly positive.
However, if you look at the user score for the game on Metacritic, it’s currently at a 4.7 out of 10. Just a few days ago it was at 3.4. Clearly, there is a loud group of people who aren’t happy and have a weird outlet for that anger. And that’s OK! Lots of people have lots of opinions, including some of my colleagues. This is alongside our own review’s 10 out of 10. I’m not taking issue with different opinions. In fact, I am defending them. I want to see a more nuanced and healthy discussion.
But The Last Of Us Part II has faced an overwhelmingly loud backlash from a small group of people and tells us a lot about the often sad state of video game discussion. The first thing to note is that this backlash seems to have made no difference. It obviously comes from a loud minority. The Last Of Us Part II sold 4 million copies in 3 days, making it the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive ever. The question is, why was there such a backlash in the first place?
Well, it clearly reflects the state of discourse in the majority of online arenas at the moment — the black and white nature of most discussions. You’re either left or right. You’re either a democrat or republican. You’re either a millennial or a boomer. You’re either wearing a mask or you’re a moron. (That last one’s mostly true).
There is an absolutism that has been present in online discussions for a while now and doesn’t allow for any nuance. Whoever shouts the simplest thing the loudest often wins. And that is what we see in discussions now. The reality is, however, that there is one side taking video games very seriously — and not in a way to elevate them as art, but rather to build barriers to what they should and should not be.
There was one line I found in an essay contributing to The Last Of Us Part II backlash that stated: “What really has me concerned though, and what I want to actually focus on is Naughty Dog pushing an SJW agenda with the Last of Us Part 2.” I’m not going to discuss whether that statement is true or not, because it just clearly isn’t. Imagine describing social justice as some conspiratorial agenda, and then ascribing it to a video game — no, I don’t understand it either.
The point is, the side of a discussion that vehemently hates something is often taking it too seriously. That is definitely the case here. I believe that The Last of Us Part II is clearly pushing the video game art form to new levels, which deserves to be seriously discussed. However, I don’t believe it, or any game for that matter, has a hidden political agenda.
I mean, hundreds of people make our beloved triple-A video games. Hundreds of people colluding to influence our moral or political beliefs is, well, not happening. At least not happening in video games. Whether it’s the fact the Ellie likes women or that the game tells us that lots of murder is bad, this is by no means an agenda. It’s just something it’s telling us, loud and clear.
I haven’t played The Last Of Us Part II, but I don’t like the violent backlash I’ve seen online. I’m still playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. It is a super long game which I am enjoying very much. But still, reading these inane and po-faced arguments has made me want to respond. The hateful side of this argument clearly wants to tell this work of art what it should or should not be. That is a misguided way to look at any creation.
The reality is, we often react because we care. You’re reading this because you like video games. I’m writing this because I like them. If there’s a game I don’t like I just play something else. If you don’t like it, don’t play it. The game doesn’t owe you anything.