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.
- Our Review of Left Behind
- Our Equally Enthusiastic Review of The Last of Us
- That Time Naughty Dog Made Their Focus Groups Include Women