What Does The Last of Us II Backlash Tell Us About Video Game Discourse in 2020?

The Last Of Us Part II has faced a vitriolic backlash from a vocal minority. What this tells us about the state of video game discourse is unclear, but one thing is clear: lots of people are very angry. Maybe some of these people are a little too angry.

What Does The Last Of Us Part II Backlash Tell Us About Video Game Discourse In 2020?

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?

Me when I see the comments under our review for the game.

Me when I see the comments under our review for the game.

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.

We should just chill out by a tree instead of fighting.

We should just chill out by a tree instead of fighting.

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.

One thing is a fact: this game looks astonishing.

One thing is a fact: this game looks astonishing.

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.

Technically, this game is groundbreaking.

Technically, this game is groundbreaking.

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.

8 Comments

  1. Telling Last of Us fans they’re angry because they’re taking it too seriously is kinda insulting my dude. From what I’ve read so far, KG has kinda missed the point as to the discontent around this game. Instead of pandering in agreement to those who already agree with you from the headline, it would be much more interesting to have one of your colleagues with a different opinion write why they’re upset about all this.

    And the bit about SJW agenda. That you can’t see that is pretty shocking. Anita Sarkeesian is the queen of agenda. Look up her involvement in Mass Effect Andromeda and her time going from studio to studio telling devs their being sexist. It didn’t work with some and they stuck to their creative vision. But boy oh boy it worked on Neil Druckman. He even stated himself that Anita was the sole reason he pivoted TLOU2’s original story that he had envisioned into the confused mess we see today. Joel is one of the best written characters ever made in gaming and Neil decided to have him murdered 2 hours in by a transgender person with a 9 iron that we’re forced to play as for ten hours. Cmon dude, you’re still telling me after that there’s NO agenda at play here? The fact is TLOU2 has none of the narrative integrity or emotional depth of its predecessor. It even does away with the reason people wanted to buy it after just two hours. It’s more tone deaf to the wants of its paying customers than the government is to its people. Instead choosing arrogantly to shove a tired out revenge story prescribing nothing but 25 hours of depression to fans. I think KG needs to talk about some of this stuff or it’s going to come off as willfully ignorant around the subject. You’re not IGN, you’re not in Sony’s pockets or chasing a bajillion clicks per day – you still have capacity for journalistic honesty. So get someone to write a bloody honest piece and stop pretending this game is the slab of gold it so clearly isn’t.

    Reply
    • I thought you are out of gaming Nick 🙂

      Reply
      • Out of the industry but not the hobby. Good one though, you got me there Karel. But I have been checking in now and again to see how things are going. You k ow I love a good rant. Apologies to the author if I came on a bit strong.

    • Like I said, I haven’t played this game. It could be about murdering Joel over and over Groundhog Day-style and it wouldn’t change what I’m saying. The discussion around it is over-serious because a small but loud group of people think they’re entitled to a certain type of creative vision. Disliking the game is fine, that’s not what I’m talking about. This article could be written about any game with a vitriolic response like TLOU2 has seen. Also we should all work out the difference between ‘agenda’ and ‘message’ xx

      Reply
      • Hey man, thanks for responding. Got a fair bit of organic engagement here in the end eh? I would have to disagree with you on one thing. This idea of “gamer entitlement” has been tinged with negativity over the years. Honestly I think fans of the last of us are entitled to a better story. They supported the original game, made Naughty Dog their millions, sang the games praises endlessly (and probably would still be if it weren’t for how 2 turned out) and supported some of the best storytelling and characters ever made in gaming. So yeah I think they’re entitled….to their entitlement. Theyre paying customers who made ND what they are today. Imagine if CD Project Red made the Witcher 4 and it was a point and click hand drawn game? People would go nuts but that’s not going to happen because CDPR have got their heads screwed on and value their player base and what they want. Based on that, you can bet barely a bad word will be said about Cyberpunk from critics and audiences alike because heck, they’ll do a proper job.

      • I get where you’re coming from but it’s a bit of a false equivalence. ND didn’t make a match-3 TLOU, they made narrative decisions and people are wacky-furious. If CDPR made The Witcher 4 where you play as Ciri the whole time I’d be into it, even though Geralt is a good character. It’s a conversation where people expect the story to serve them and not itself (and the load of other people that have clearly adored TLOU2’s story), that’s what I take issue with.

    • The way I see it, if Druckman talked to Sarkessian and decided the best way to proceed was the way he did, he missed the point. Sarkeesian’s biggest push from my understanding is, for more quality representations of minorities in games.
      I feel like gamers think Sarkeesian has way more power than she does. Yes, they bring her on to consult, but it’s not like she is holding a gun to their heads making them make certain choices. I think people also forget she was the reason Emily was playable in Dishonored 2 and that was a great decision.

      Reply
    • We have a piece criticising the game on our front page, written by me :). Also, that specific character isn’t trans, that was just some misinformation spread from the leaks.

      Reply

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