My Review (Spoilers obviously) (Gaming)

by Cody Miller @, Music of the Spheres - Never Forgot, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, 01:30 (1493 days ago) @ yakaman

Contempt for the feminine is a staple of the patriarchal culture. For a game about women, staring women, and featuring so many women, I’m staggered nobody has mentioned the The Last of Us 2’s constant punishing of anything feminine.

Does Naughty Dog actually think many women can relate to Abby and Ellie, two hyper masculine women who perpetrate some of the most hideous violence I’ve ever seen in a game?

This seems like yet another line of ‘strong’ female characters. Leads who are accepted by essentially becoming men. Where ‘strength’ is taken literally instead of as willpower or spirit. It’s a tacit acknowledgment of the weakness of the feminine. Yes, it’s the apocalypse, and yes it makes sense for Ellie and Abby to be physically strong, but every display of femininity in this game is punished or framed as weak. The problem isn’t that some women are masculine. The problem is that the story doesn’t let any women be feminine.

Not a single woman is ever shown wearing anything feminine such as a dress, even at the town’s dance where it would be appropriate. Ellie wears jeans, flannel, and high tops, much like nearly every woman you see. Even when things are safe, when society is more or less functioning, displays of femininity are absent.

While the women who exhibit feminine qualities are all pushed out of the story and punished, the characters with story agency, Abby and Ellie, lack almost any feminine qualities. Ellie is vicious, tempered, violent, physically strong and good with weapons. We see in flashbacks she’s into traditionally masculine interests such as rocket ships and dinosaurs. Even her sexual preferences are masculine, in that she likes women. At home, Dina does the dishes and laundry while Ellie hunts and herds sheep. She comes on to Dina repeatedly with a traditionally masculine libido before being shooed away. It’s quite clear who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in the relationship.

Abby is so unrecognizable as a woman, many people online have asked if she is supposed to be trans. Her sex scene with Owen is blocked and framed as if it were two men. Both women drive the story and solve problems almost exclusively through violence and physical prowess. Never their insight, their instinct, their sensitivity. Always their rage. Abby’s care of Yara and Lev is meant to echo Joel’s care for Ellie. A traditional masculine protector.

The women who exhibit femininity are punished in a horrible fashion. While male characters like Jessie and Owen die quickly with little fanfare, Dina, Mel and Yara are subjected to torturous violence. Dina immediately becomes sick while pregnant, explicitly equating femininity with literal weakness. Ellie scolds her for being a burden, before she is eventually shoved out of the story with no agency, but not before being savagely beaten, her head being brutally slammed into the ground repeatedly.

Mel is a doctor, a healer, potential mother, and yet her fate is to be brutally murdered, her death only useful as a plot device for the masculine leads.

Yara suffers a particularly brutal and savage beating, rendering her arm so useless it must be amputated, and ends up with her body riddled with bullets.

Because of the targeting, it becomes hideous. None of these characters have story agency, and the violence against them is more gruesome than the others. And all are horribly punished by the narrative. Not a single feminine quality is shown to be rewarded at all in this story. Nothing.

The game couldn’t be clearer. This is a man's world.

Last of Us 2 lacks any moral conviction at all in its themes. I’m not even sure the game is coherent in ANY of its theming. Is violence bad? Then why is it so awesome? So visceral and cathartic? So necessary? Is revenge bad? Then why did it work out pretty well for Abby?

In this day and age, when the President says there are ‘good people’ on both sides of the white supremacy issue, the idea of a game falling back on this very notion is irresponsible and lazy. “You’re a good person Abby”. No she’s not. So why does the game force us to sympathize with her? What genuinely is the larger aim here with this? What is the game actually saying here? It it actually standing for anything? Because it commits to nothing. What is this game about?

The power of forgiveness? What did Ellie gain through this act? What was wrong with seeking revenge? Where was the actual self reflection? Was it killing Mel? No… she never seems to think about it again. At the end, only Joel flashes before her as she decides to let Abby live. And yet in forgiveness she loses everything. She loses her vengeance, and she loses her family. She is worse off than if she’d gone through with it. What motivated her to change her mind? Seriously. In the story as shown, I cannot point to a reason why Ellie’s character at that moment would let her go.

What do your characters want, and what do they need? Why did Ellie need to let Abby go? I have genuinely no idea.

The game was absolutely too long. While the stealth mechanics can make for some tense moments, everything about the game felt recycled. Similar combat scenarios. Similar weapons. Animations lifted straight form the first game and from uncharted. These absolutely gorgeous environments were ruined with a game that felt repetitive. The novelty sections like going after Tommy when he’s sniping you were great. Making your way through the island when two sides were at war was great (although Metal Gear Solid 4 pulled this trick almost 15 years ago). I was not really having ‘fun’ for a large portion of this game. The conceit here is roughly 13 years old; the game still exhibits the same DNA that made Uncharted great. The formula is stating to wear thin.

I was willing to be taken along on the story. I don’t have a problem per se with Joel being killed and Ellie out for revenge, but it’s in how you handle it. It’s in having a solid theme, that weaves into the character’s psychology. It’s about a story that asks the right questions, and hit you in the gut with the answer like the first game did.

Last of Us 2 is this decade’s Bioshock Infinite. An impressive facade with a cowardly lack of moral conviction masquerading as depth.

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