Left Behind and THAT ending (spoilers)

TLOU-Left-Behind

Naughty Dog’s first (and only) single player DLC for The Last of Us, Left Behind, is an absolute triumph, to read our full, spoiler free, review – click here.

If you haven’t clicked there and are still reading, you’re probably here to see what we’ve got to say about the ‘controversial’ ending. I will, however, take the time to remind you that the following article will freely discuss parts of the Left Behind DLC – nothing off limits. So if you are planning on playing it and don’t want any plot points ruined for you – by all means click on something else (like this).

Last chance.

Still with us? Good. Sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

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Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed The Last of Us was shown some love on Valentine’s Day this year with the release of the highly anticipated Left Behind DLC. The ‘short-but-sweet’ DLC has been pretty well received critically: receiving highs of 100% and harsh ‘lows’ of 70% (VideoGamer claiming the DLC did nothing to build on or detract from The Last of Us – a point with which I steadfastly disagree).

However, fan reaction has been much more diverse. As covered in our review, one of the points of contention was the 2-3 hour campaign was too short for some, fine for others.

The really divisive point though, once again, has been the ending. For those of you who haven’t played through but are reading on anyway, the scene in question is where, fan favourite and DLC protagonist, Ellie, kisses her friend Riley as the true extent of their feelings for one another are finally revealed. A brave move on the part of Naughty Dog – beautifully and believably handled.

TLOU Left Behind
The game industry could learn a lot about how to build tension between characters from Left Behind.

Sadly, if predictably, not everyone has reacted in a positive way to this new element of Ellie’s story. One of the really awesome things about this character development is the fact that Naughty Dog didn’t just introduce a new strong, female character that happened to be gay. Instead, they presented Ellie as a strong, female character in The Last of Us – made everyone fall in love with how awesome she is – THEN revealed the fact she was gay in a follow up story.

For me this was a brave and necessary move. The LGBT community is massively underrepresented in media – and especially in videogames (a medium that is often accused of being “made by men, for men, starring men”). To take an existing (and much beloved) character and essentially ‘out’ her during a story DLC was a move that could  really help some people to see that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender doesn’t change anything about that person. They are who they have always been. Ellie’s journey through the US with Joel in The Last of Us isn’t in any way changed by this information. Their father / daughter relationship isn’t in any way altered thanks to this revelation. The impact of Ellie’s speech about Riley at the end, however, is massively altered by knowing that they were in love. Some, a precious few it would seem, embraced this wholeheartedly.

TLOU Left Behind 2
The relationship develops where a lot of teenage relationships do – at the mall!

Inevitably though, some gamers felt ‘betrayed’ by Naughty Dog. That somehow, they had diminished Ellie’s character by revealing her to be gay. Comments like the one below have cropped up everywhere – including Playstation.com forums:

I find the atomosphere to which the last of us created to be ruined upon horrific discovery that Ellie is gay. I have not a problem with gays but this just seemed wrong and out of place. Sure it may be original for a market saturated with unoriginal money milking franchises such as call of duty (hehe, he said duty) but by choosing to make Ellie gay you managed to burn what small thread of innocence that Ellie had left. I am unsure as to whether or not naughty dog is attempting to appeal to acctress Ellen Page(for it was recently discovered that she to was gay)or the small gay market either way I find the last of us is now forever scarred beyond repair.” (Playstation.com/community)

As I’m sure you can imagine – this is far from the worst example, but is indicative of an attitude held by many that to be gay is to be less. That having feelings for someone of the same sex removes your innocence, makes you in some way corrupted.

Even where the horror-struck fans subsided, denial grew strong. When people attempted to challenge the ignorance, there was a terrible tendency to completely sidestep the point. Rather than being accepting of the character’s sexuality – and maybe applauding the developers for taking a this step and showing support for an underrepresented community – we saw comments like this:

I don’t think it was deliberately devised to appeal to a certain market. It was deliberately devised to provoke emotion in the gamer by attaching a tender moment to a story that we knew was destined to end bad. 

I find the obsession some have with the idea Ellie might be homosexual to be sad and indicitive of the prejudices that still exist in society. 

It was ambiguous, not definitive. Treat it with an open mind rather than a closed one.” (Playstation.com/community)

This kind of comment shows a bizarre kind of denial, fused with hypocrisy, wrapped in a thin veneer of ‘support’. It sort of starts out along the lines of acceptance – but then bails out at the end suggesting an ambiguity, a chance that she might not be gay. “Have an open mind – she’s probably not really gay!” is not really supportive in the traditional sense.

It’s this sort of remark that has me so infuriated. The denial. The claims of the development of a relationship between Ellie and Riley being ‘ambiguous’. It isn’t. There are no question marks left over whether this is a romantic interest or not, people are choosing to place the question over it – possibly to make themselves more comfortable with the revelation?

The Last of Us Community facebook page, which is generally a little more open minded than the Playstation forums, is particularly rife with opinions also. Though there are some that seem to ‘get it’, there are many who are clinging to the hope that the kiss meant nothing, or Ellie was just confused and lonely. Worse still are the comments that think that calling Ellie ‘gay’ or ‘a lesbian’ is being mean.

ooooh look she kissed a girl omg shes such a lesbian ewwww seriously get a grip shes probably asexual or pansexual and i dont even think it was meant like that just as a friendly gesture because she loves her and is going to miss her wow people.” (The Last of Us Community Facebook Group)

A lot of people appear desperate to right off Ellie’s actions as irrelevant or experimental or simply that of a close friend kissing their friend. This isn’t the case. The whole Riley and Ellie part of this DLC builds to this landmark moment. In a game that is usually so tense due to the fact that the infected may leap from the shadows and bite your throat out, the Left Behind DLC actually does a superb job of building emotional tension between the characters through their interactions. Questions that are left unanswered, frustration can be read in their eyes, clues to the unique closeness Ellie felt they shared. Tension – that slides away the moment the two girls kiss, the past is forgotten, their hearts lift and all is good in the world.

TLOU LEFT BEHIND 3
Left Behind: out now on Playstation Store.

We knew going into the DLC that Ellie and Riley’s story was going to be a sad one, Naughty Dog elevated this to harrowing, but gave us a moment of true happiness for two characters along the way. It was stunning, it was beautiful, it was brave, it was necessary.

If you’re still in any doubt – believe my viewpoint unfounded, consider this: had Riley been a male character – that did all the same things, behaved in exactly the same way, had all the same interaction right up until that kiss – would people still be suggesting Ellie was ‘too young to know what she was feeling’ or that ‘it was a kiss between friends’? Would people have still claimed their was an ambiguity to the situation? No, of course not. They would have readily accepted it as love. Young love, but love none-the-less. It would have been sweet, sad and universally accepted. No talk corrupting her innocence or diminishing the character.

Game directors Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann have allowed a lot of ambiguity and unanswered questions to stand in The Last of Us and Left Behind DLC, but this is not one of those occasions. To make sure people understood, they were immediately heard confirming Ellie and Riley’s relationship in an IGN Left Behind Spoiler cast. The fact they have taken the amazing platform The Last of Us afforded them and chosen to continue challenging perceptions and supporting the underrepresented is a true testament to their skill and vision.

Watch the whole interview below. Still disagree? Leave a comment below.

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