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The Directors of The Last of Us Did An AMA, Shared Insights About Ellie and Riley

I have not played The Last of Us. I have not played it because life is unfair, and the universe is flawed, and — and okay, it’s because I don’t own a PS3. Apparently this is the price of being a PC snob.

However, I have a vicarious fondness for the game, thanks to my enthusiastic friends and my lengthy chats with our managing editor. So I enjoyed reading yesterday’s AMA with TLoU game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann, who provided insight into the creative work behind their game — including some interesting tidbits regarding Ellie and Riley.

HUGE spoilers for the Left Behind DLC. You have been warned.

Though much of the AMA focused on the full game, the Left Behind DLC came up multiple times, typically in regards to its leading ladies. If video game narrative is your jam, these threads are full of juicy details, such as the use of branching dialogue and player choices to “make the player more engaged with Ellie and Riley’s relationship,” or how a significant portion of Riley’s dialogue was rerecorded as her character evolved. Even if you haven’t played the game (not that I’m bitter), it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of work and consideration that went into making these characters come alive. The quote I like best of all comes from Druckmann, in reply to a question regarding the inspiration behind Ellie and Riley’s kiss.

Their characters needed somewhere else to go. If it was just about friendship, their arc would be over as soon as Ellie forgave Riley for leaving (in the Halloween store) and they were friends again. By having a romantic relationship it have another layer of subtext to the performances and allowed the story to still evolve as Left Behind went on. We also wanted to create a meaningful/moving kiss in a game — which is super rare.

I love the sentiment behind this. Queer characters in games are often met with some degree of backlash, with the common accusation that devs just shoehorn in such characters for the sake of “political correctness.” And you know, yeah, if queer characters were included just for the sake of being queer, without any other motivation or nuance, I’d have a problem with that, too. But here, you can see the thing that holds true for most games of this ilk: the devs gave a lot of thought to this relationship, and saw it as a valid way for their characters to grow. They made characters that were people, first and foremost, who were allowed to develop as they needed to. I know that natural sense of progression is what a lot of people loved about Ellie and Riley, and I’m happy to hear that it’s something these devs were striving for.

As for those who saw the kiss as platonic (come on, now), Druckmann tread carefully, but made his aim clear.

It wasn’t my intention in writing that scene for it to be platonic… but at the same time I can’t tell people their interpretation is wrong, even if I disagree with it.

For the full AMA, head here.

Previously in The Last of Us

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  • Jamie Jeans

    Points to the dude for wanting to create a nuanced, deep relationship between two young women in a world gone mad,.. still not happy it was done, in the end, to fridge Riley and give Ellie a pain of loss.

  • Erin Treat

    People who saw the kiss as platonic have what we in the lgbt community call “hetero blinders”. And it’s a constant battle for us in terms of representation. Characters in pop culture are ALWAYS considered to be straight unless proven explicitly otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt. Very annoying.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone bring up him fridging said queer woc to give Ellie more angst and plot development?

  • Anonymous

    His point about how people would interpret the game if Riley were male is so true. It drives me up the wall how fans are so quick to jump to “deep sisterly friendship”. Because we need more stories about that, or something.

    (Related: I’ve gotten in internet arguments about Revolutionary Girl Utena, a show with lots of queer themes/gay characters/bisexual love triangles. Apparently it’s actually about women helping women. These things are not mutually exclusive.)

  • Ashe

    That argument just fascinates me.

    They insist these characters aren’t gay…and yet straight people (at least, in America) would NEVER think to kiss someone platonically on the mouth.

    That’s some serious denial going on.

  • Ashe

    it’s just women helping women c’mon now you’re bringing gay subtext into everything why can’t we all just be women we all bleed red

  • Anonymous

    “This is why men are afraid of having friendships! You’re bigoted. Against buddies.”

  • Anonymous

    Spoiler alert: 99% of the people Joel and Ellie meet die. It’s a crappy post-apocalyptic world where dying of natural causes is a rarity. Did you really think that Ellie and Riley would find a time traveling DeLorean parked in the mall, go back 20 years to stop the pandemic then live happily ever after?

  • Anonymous

    No, but I’m getting increasingly annoyed by everyone heaping “Oh so progressive!” praise on the relationship between Riley and Ellie when it still ends with one of the oldest, grossest, most tired race tropes in the book.

  • Melynda

    I downloaded this DLC, I really need to stop playing Mass Effect for the 40 billionth time and turn on my PS3 for a few hours.

  • Anonymous

    Oh ok, guess I’ll go and play all those other games that feature an interracial queer romance, because this one doesn’t meet your progressive standards. Oh wait.

    Seriously, would you have been happier if Riley was white? Or would you just complain that a female character was “fridged” for Ellie’s tragic backstory? Or maybe Neil Druckmann should just step aside and let Ryan Murphy take the reins for TLOU 2: The Musical, that way he can turn it into a virtual singing soapbox for every progressive issue under the sun while having 50 perfect characters to make sure every nationality/gender/orientation gets their due representation.

  • Anonymous

    thank you for playing the diversity strawman card and making me realize this isn’t worth discussing with you. Have a nice day!

  • Anonymous

    So did they miss the scene at the end of the movie where Utena and Anthy kiss or…?

  • Katla

    Yes, Im not alone playing Mass Effect for the billionth time :D
    TLoU and LB was a nice break from the space opera!

  • Anonymous

    LOL, “diversity strawman” right. I mean, I just happen to be part of a minority group that’s among the least represented in any form of western media but when I see comments like yours I can only think it’s outrage for the sake of outrage.

  • Anonymous

    Well I read some comment a few days ago that “all hot women are straight and those ‘pretending’ to be into women are just trying to get attention” so it’s sadly not limited to pop culture.

  • Melynda

    Definitely not alone. I found TLoU stressful, but great. I look forward to actually playing Left Behind.

  • Anonymous

    “The movie isn’t canon.”