With less than two weeks to its release, Naughty Dog VP Neil Druckmann has revealed that The Last of Us II’s story was inspired by his personal trauma of having seen a news report about a real-life lynching during his childhood.
In a June 9th interview with the British version of the men’s magazine GQ, Druckmann recalls, “I don’t want to go into specifics about it, but I saw a video of a lynching when I was much younger.”
He added, “It was like an actual…like a news thing. And then, feeling intense hatred for the people that committed the lynching and thinking, like, ‘Oh man if I could hurt these people in some horrible ways then I could.'”
Druckmann further explains that his goal with The Last of Us II was to “make you experience this thirst for revenge.” This thirst that will allegedly “make you feel dirty for everything you’ve done in the game, making you realise ‘I’m actually the villain of the story.’”
Druckmann explained, “I was like, ‘Oh, we can make the player feel that. We can make you experience this thirst for revenge. This thirst for retribution and having you actually, like, commit the acts of finding it and then showing you the other side to make you regret it.”
He added, “To make you feel dirty for everything you’ve done in the game, making you realise ‘I’m actually the villain of the story.’”
Druckmann’s comments eerily echo Liam Neeson’s own personal encounter when he was asked how he channels revenge when playing characters in Taken and Cold Pursuit.
In an interview with The Independent, Neeson detailed his actions after he discovered one of his close friends was raped.
Neeson began, “But my immediate reaction was…I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.”
He recounted, “I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could…kill him.”
“It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that. She would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong,'” Neeson elaborated.
He would eventually explain that his actions were “awful.” He stated, “It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f*** are you doing,’ you know?”
“I come from a society – I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles – and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that. All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand,” Neeson explained.
The GQ interview marks the first mention, across the game’s almost five-year development history, of Druckmann’s personal trauma and its role as inspiration for the next chapter in Ellie and Joel’s story.
The Last of Us II is set to release on the PlayStation 4 on June 19th, 2020.