Amidst the backlash towards plot and design elements seen in leaked footage of The Last of Us II and fan speculation that feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian influenced the game’s development, a member of Naughty Dog’s development team has confirmed that the studio promotes “progressive” political views.
Following the leaks, which showed Dina’s in-game model featuring a shrunken chest compared to her real model, the masculine-featured Abby’s role in Joel’s death and her delivery of a brutal, graphic beating to Dina and Ellie, and the use of generic, homophobic Christian cultists as core antagonists among other coldly received narrative changes, fans began to sift through publicly available media, from magazine interviews to massive tweet histories, in search of a supposed ‘answer’ as to why the survival horror series had seen such an extreme push towards pushing hamfisted messages based heavily on political ideology.
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In their exploration of various archives, fans rediscovered words of praise offered by Naughty Dog Vice President Neil Druckmann towards Sarkeesian’s bad faith, feminist-based video game critiques.
During his keynote speech at the 2013 International Game Developers Association conference, Druckmann stated that he “did not like” what he saw in regards to female representation in video games, citing characters such as Metal Gear Solid V’s Quiet, Halo’s Cortana, and Dead or Alive’s Ayame.
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He argued that developers and players solely “sexualize, we objectify, and we reduce these female characters to less then they can be.”
In his next slide, Druckmann directly cites Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women series, and adamantly states that “you can’t argue with the pattern [of misogyny] that you see in the industry” before noting that he also “watched the rest of Anita’s videos and realized that it’s not just a problem in games, it’s actually throughout entertainment [35:47 in the video below].
Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2016, Druckmann confirmed that he had been “influenced by Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency” during the development of Uncharted 4, resulting in “Nate beating up Nate” and “the end when it was Nate’s daughter”:
“Rolling Stone: You’ve said in the past that you’ve been influenced by Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos and the larger conversation about diversity and representation in games. How did that affect Uncharted 4?
Druckmann: When I’m introducing and describing a new character to our lead character concept artist, constantly she will ask, “What if it was a girl?” And I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t think about that. Let me think, does that affect or change anything? No? Cool, that’s different. Yeah, let’s do it.”
Initially, in the epilogue, it was Nate’s son. Something similar happened with the mansion they go into. That was an old English guy’s house. She asked, “Well, what if it was a woman?”
You have some sexist focus testers who were really upset by Nadine beating up Nate, and really upset at the end when it was Nate’s daughter. To the point where we had to ask one guy to leave. In his core, it just affected him. He was cursing, “Not you, too, Naughty Dog! Goddammit. I guess I’m done with Uncharted if you guys ever make another one, with his daughter. This fucking bullshit.” And I was like, Wow, why does that matter?”
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As of writing, there has been no explicit confirmation of direct involvement on the Last of Us II’s development by Sarkeesian, and this theory currently remains speculation.
When a Twitter user asked for clarification regarding Sarkessian’s involvement, Naughty Dog Level Designer Evan Hill stated that her influence went as far as Druckmann citing her videos “like 5 years ago.”
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However, Hill also confirmed that Naughty Dog “is vocally/adamantly progressive” and deflected criticism towards the game’s content as criticism of the studio’s politics by claiming that these views were the reason that upset fans were “targeting” members of the game’s “design and narrative” teams. (Archive link: http://archive.is/slABs)
When asked directly for confirmation on Sarkeesian’s influence, Hill offered up a tired insult, classifying critics as “chuds” who were “obsessive, creepy, and weird.”