The Last of Us: My thoughts on Joel [SPOILERS]

As with last time, SO MANY SPOILERS.

Okay, folks. Last time I went a little crazy talking about all of the things that make The Last of Us awesome. But now it’s time for some more nuanced feels. So today I’m going to talk about two things that sucked, and then more generally about ways that de-stereotyping Joel’s character would have made the game even better.

Things that sucked #1: Joel’s daughter gets fridged

Remember how I said it was refreshing that there was no creepy womanless dystopia? Yeah, it’s because I’m really not fond of the Disposable Woman trope. The game started off so promisingly by having you play as Sarah, Joel’s 13-year-old daughter. Sarah is engaging and “spunky” (much as I usually hate that cliche), someone I could see growing up to be a badass zombie-killer in a post-apocalypse. But no! Joel and his brother Tommy get Sarah out of immediate danger only to have Sarah get shot dead by a trigger-happy soldier and she dies in Joel’s arms. At which point, according to the backstory, Joel pretty much goes on a 20 year murder rampage. And then when the action starts up and he murders a bunch more people because he’s, you know, a bad person on account of his daughter dying (and oh yeah zombies).

Which. Honestly. Yawn. I’m sorry, but girl-shaped-person-death-inspiring-murder-rampage is just about the most commonly used trope ever. EVER. And it just gets fucking old.

Did I cry when Sarah died? Of course I did. But I have a baby, so pretty much anything even tangentially related to the death of a kid makes me cry. Hell, there is a Raffi song on one of my daughter’s favorite CDs that makes me cry every. Damn. Time. Sarah’s death still made me mad.

Yes Joel’s relationship with Ellie is predicated on the loss of his daughter. But there are so many ways that Joel could have “lost” Sarah that didn’t require adherence to the “daughter dies in arms, goes on murder adventures” cliche. Sarah could have grown up to join the Fireflies and gone missing in action. She could have grown up and joined the government forces, forcing Joel to stay away from her or get thrown in prison. She could have simply parted ways after she grew up, unable to deal with the painful memories that Joel evoked of a pre-apocalypse world. There are so many ways that it could have gone that taking the lazy way out was almost a deal-breaker for me.

Things that sucked #2: Joel is the platonic ideal of toxic masculinity

Okay, so don’t hate on me too hard when I say this. I did find the relationship between Joel and Ellie really endearing. I thought it was sad when he told her in anger that she wasn’t his daughter and touching when he called her baby girl. I enjoyed their relationship as it unfolded because it was a nice portrayal of family that you choose for yourself. And yeah, the relationship between them felt like something fresh – new ground for an old genre. But that new ground was entirely broken by Ellie. Joel? Joel is pretty much incapable of expressing any emotion that isn’t stoicism or anger.

Man of many emotions

Meet the new video game male hero, same as the old video game hero.

And you know what? I get it. I get it that game studios don’t want to make games without a white male masculine power fantasy as the lead character. I know that it was a problem for Naughty Dog, and that they were even asked to move Ellie to the back cover and (thankfully) refused. And because of the excellent writing, the relationship between Joel and Ellie manages to shine despite Joel’s status as an emotional cripple. Of course, it certainly helps that we’re culturally conditioned to admire “shitty human beings” (as Tess refers to him) as “anti-heroes”.

Things that would have made Joel a better character: make him a woman

There’s a long and proud tradition of amazing female characters that were originally written as men and then gender-flipped at the last minute. In movies you have Ellen Ripley and Salt – roles that were originally written as male and then flipped. In games you have characters like Final Fantasy XIII’s Fang, who again was written as male and then flipped. Generally, it’s a great way to make an interesting, stereotype-free female character. But Joel specifically would have been so much better as a woman, and here’s why.

1) Ass-kicking grandmothers: Pretty much every Action Girl you see in games or movies is somewhere between 18 and 35 tops. It is a truism[1] that ass-kicking grandmothers can make anything awesome. Female-Joel would be certainly be old enough to be a grandmother, which automatically makes Female-Joel 100% more awesome than canon- Joel.

AWESOME GRANDMOTHERS ARE AWESOME

Photo by Sacha Goldberger, Website here (select “Mamika”)

2) At last! Something new!: Man, aren’t you just so, so tired of stories about mothers who lose their child, become traumatized and emotionally stunted, and go off to have morally ambiguous murder adventures? Man, I am. Because don’t you just see that story everywhere? Except for how you don’t. Female-Joel would be something entirely new in the world of character types for women.

It also would make the relationship between Ellie and Joel way more interesting. Think about it, women are always stereotyped as nurturing and overly-emotional. So a Female-Joel who lashes out at Ellie for not being her daughter, who tries to cut herself off from her emotions where Ellie is concerned but develops a loving (if profoundly fucked up) relationship with her anyway? Especially in light of the fact that their relationship is explicitly a parent-child relationship, as Joel sees Ellie as a replacement daughter? That’s some awesome stuff right there.

There’s also the fact that Joel’s training Ellie to be a capable hunter would also be way more interesting between Ellie and Female-Joel. When you think of “mother-daughter bonding”, I’m sure that “teaching your daughter to be a sniper” or “crawling through zombie-infested tunnels” aren’t activities that would usually come to mind. Heck, the closest you can get to a stereotyped activity would be “shopping”, ie, rummaging around in junk piles for useful crap.

Lastly, why is it only men who get to go on murder adventures after the loss of a child? Let’s see a woman get in on the murder adventure action, thanks.

3) Men aren’t the only ones who want power fantasies: There are some days when I come home worn down by a shitty day at work, or by personal stress, or by a day full of micro-aggressions that I don’t have the power to respond to. When that happens, I often find myself wanting to get away from my problems by shooting a bunch of stuff in the face for a while.

Female-Joel would have made TLoU a much more entertaining experience for me, because I wouldn’t have had to do the mental work of shoehorning myself into a representation that doesn’t fit me. Yes canon-Joel is a well-written character, and yes the writing and level design make TLoU an engrossing game. But I’m not a middle-aged, tall, muscular dude with Video-Game-Hero-SameFace[2].

It would be pretty cool to be able to play a game where someone who actually looked like me got to star in their own power fantasy. And I’m sure that such a game, done well, would have sold well to the 44% of gamers that are women, if nothing else.

But I guess that’s probably too much to ask for.

[1] First brought to my attention by Elin Dalstal of Gaming as Women, among other things

[2] I could NOT track down an original source for this image. Anyone able to help out with that?

About wundergeek
In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

16 Responses to The Last of Us: My thoughts on Joel [SPOILERS]

  1. Melyanna says:

    The Last of Us is pretty much the only game in which I didn’t find the whole “daughter gets fridged” trope aggravating, because it works so well in defining the relationship between Joel and Ellie.
    Of course, they could have always made it so that Joel had a son.

    I really want a game with a tough old lady now.

  2. ArsenalAgent says:

    The Last of Us can reasonably be read in part as a critique of the ‘platonic ideal of toxic masculinity’ found in so many male characters. See Errant Signal’s analysis: “And by making [Joel] the one responsible for keeping humanity endangered the game critiques traditional hero tropes…It frames strong, intimate bonds as selfish if it means removing a sense of empathy for all.” I’d like to see a greater diversity of video game characters, but it’s unwise to complain about it with this particular game which portrays that kind of masculinity and the damage that can come of it as a central theme. Your suggestions, rather than simply making the game’s narrative feel fresher, would have radically altered its significance.

    Also, a couple of nit-picky points: 1) “trigger-happy soldier”? I sense this was facetious, but I just can’t let it go. The soldier shoots on command as an agent of the government. This scene gives subtext relating the motives of Joel’s later actions even beyond just Sarah’s death; this is when He starts to become mistrustful and resistant to the established order, then die-hardly survivalist in his moral outlook. 2) That last point is a little odd here since The Last of Us is deliberately not a power fantasy, so.. yeah.

    Personally, I think it would have been much better for Tess to have stuck around longer. As cliché as the use of a female character’s demise as a motive force and catalyst for male character development is, it felt like a particularly unnecessary pile-on to kill off such a compelling character if the point was just to make Joel an even more emotionally stunted jerk than he already was.

  3. New here says:

    Just wanted to let you know if you haven’t seen it, Kill Bill’s plot is pretty much exactly what you’re asking for with the murderously vengeful mother’s rampage of death. It’s a movie though so not sure if it completely applies here, but it’s been done.

    • wundergeek says:

      I have seen Kill Bill, and while I enjoyed it I don’t really think it’s the same thing. For one, Uma Thurman is most definitely not of grandmothering age in that film. For another thing, the rape angle is a huge element of the “tragic backstory” that just wouldn’t be present with a male character. A big part of the reason she goes on that big murder spree is because of the rape. Lastly, the Bride’s adventures are largely solitary. There’s a bit about the daughter she had while in the coma in the 2nd movie, but it’s just not the same.

      Give me Meryl Streep or Emma Thompson teaching Quvenzhane Wallis how to murder the shit out of zombies. I would watch the shit out of that movie.

  4. Bernardo says:

    I agree that there were possibly different situations that would have resulted in a more interesting, less stereotyped JOEL character than FRIDGE GIRL. But I find it hard to imagine one that would pack such a impactful punch in such little time.
    Sure, maybe it could have been a son, and that really wouldn’t have mattered so much. But the rest of the situations you suggest would require much more defelopment for a successful delivery, and would have probably resulted in a far weaker opening for the game ( which is arguably the strongest section in the whole trip )

    Now about Joels stoicism / seriousness / toxic male power fantasy. I find that it’s odd that you see it that way, as I read it. The story goes the extra mile to present Joel as a hollow shell of a man, a destroyed individual clinging desperately to the memory of something he lost. He is no hero, he isn’t even an anti-hero. In many aspects he is a purely selfish villain. “Saving” Ellie has nothing to do with doing the right thing, it is am egotistical pursuit at justifying his failed life.

    He IS the archetype of toxic masculinity, but that is exactly the point. He begins as your average game character but as the game goes darker, we see that his typical patriarchal characteristics have acquired pathological proportions. He goes off the deep end, and then some.

    I don’t think it is designed as a projection of who a white straight male wants to be, but instead as a criticism of what those types of characters often thoughtlessly imply.

    And this is exactly why Joel is an excellent character, because it uses the trope but then judges and subverts the expectations. You could even have a very mysandric lecture of tLoU, as the game displays men as helpless selfish creatures that can only care about their immediate needs, while presenting woman as more thougthful, actively trying to improve the situation. ( of course this isn’t a canon interpretation, but still interesting )

    In fact.. I find somewhat puzzling that you consider ANY of the game as a power fantasy, I played it in (hard) for my first playthrough, since people recommended it to me, and it was a desperate frantic experience. Rarely did I ever feel like an action hero, and the violence depicted is so brutal, unstilized and unromanticised that I always ended up drained after the most combat sequences. None of it was particularly “fun” or aspirational.
    I’d say that the few sequences that give you infinite ammo in particular situations, are in my opinion the weakest in the game, because they definitely take away that sense of urgency, and do tend to appear as a power trip.

    Now Having Joel be Joelle… I think that would definitely be interesting, but that would also be a completely different story and game.

    As with many other media, I don’t understand the need to question the gender of a narrative, particularly when said narrative is so well crafted. I don’t hope that Madame Bovary was a Man, nor that Hamlet was a Lady.
    I understand that sadly the medium favors many male characters. But many of them are rather bland ( both genders though, because Lara Croft is still painfully shallow even with her reboot). So criticising a great character, and implying it would be better if it was a different gender seems rather superficial.
    I’d personally wish other female characters in other games were treated with as much subtlety and maturity as most of the cast of tLoU.

    • wundergeek says:

      Require much more development for a successful delivery? See, that’s the thing that we hear so often, but why would a female-Joel require more development than a male-Joel? Either way you still have the character design, the modeling, the motion capture, none of that stuff changes. My point in wishing for a female-Joel is that you could use the script for Joel as-is 100%, just swap genders and it would be perfect. PERFECT.

      Secondly, I’m not saying that TLoU was badly written, or that Joel is a bad character. Far from it. But you know what? I’m so, so, so endlessly tired of the “gritty” white male action (anti)hero. With his angst! And his violence! And his moral ambiguity! And his managing-to-be-sympathetic-while-doing-terrible-things-because-he’s-doing-them-for-LOVE.

      I’m just SO. FUCKING. TIRED.

      I played this game because of Ellie, and sure Joel was cool and his relationship with Ellie was touching. But the world is FULL of stories about white men. FULL FULL FULL. And you know what? I’m fucking sick of manly stories about manly men being manly and violent because they are manly.

      Why is there a need to “question the gender of a narrative, particularly when said narrative is [well crafted]“? Because I want to see stories with characters WHO LOOK LIKE ME. I’m tired of stories, even good ones, about white men being the only options I get. And sure, I can enjoy them in the moment. But ME. ME PERSONALLY. I am TIRED of not being represented. I’m not being “superficial”. I’m being FUCKING TIRED of not seeing myself in the games I play EVER EVER EVER.

      So let me have my wish-fulfilment fantasy where Joel=Joelle and is a badass, ass-kicking middle-aged lady who doesn’t have time for your bullshit. Okay? And don’t try to lecture me about how I shouldn’t waste time wanting to see female characters represented.

      Lastly? Don’t EVEN start spouting stuff about how you don’t go around wishing female characters were men. You don’t wish that because most female characters are *bullshit* (Go Olivia Wilde go! http://www.themarysue.com/olivia-wilde-women-in-hollywood/)

      But, you know, feel free to not listen to me. Because I’m one of those ANGRY FEMINISTS.

      • Bernardo says:

        About requiring more time to develop I meant specifically for something like Sarah joining the fireflies or being kidnapped or… deciding to go rogue or what have you. And in a very literal sense. Her death is in itself a final, closed narrative, although it has repercussions. On the other hand anything else wouldn’t have the immediate emotional payload. It could definitely be very good, but it would require much more adjustment for it to generate the same effect as a viewer and would definitely have less impactful effect in the opening sequence.

        As it is , those first 20 minutes, leave you breathless. And I struggle to find any other narrative option that could have the same effect. Maybe if the killed one was the father, and she grew up as the main character, that could work.. but again it would definitely require a lot of modification to the script. And effectively would tell a different story.

        Gender swapping Joel would not require that much time if you simply used his exact same script, but I’m inclined to think that the character interaction would also have to be modified accordingly.

        And again, I seem to have a very different view of Joel than you.
        First off, the male narrative of a male angsty character has been done, but I personally can’t think of a SINGLE time in which it has been done maturely and in a truly interesting way. Nico Bellic? he has the depth of a shoe. Ethan Mars? Well the whole heavy rain script borders on laughable. Booker DeWitt? He just dissipates in the myst of the overcomplicated plot. Jim Raynor? Blizzard has managed to make his personality completely amorphous. John Marsden? He’s also a blank sleight for most of the game. Kratos? Where do I start.
        Maybe Lee Everet, from the walking dead, but I hesitate to call him the lead character of that game.

        The thing is that while these are decent games, and their characters fall into the antihero fighting for lost love pattern, they still fail to have any resonance on an emotional level. Nilin from Remember me or Faith from mirror’s edge are far more interesting characters without even trying.

        The video-game world also has more than a few stories about women, but they also happen to be rather shallow. For every Ellie, Heather, Chell, Yuna, Alyx Vance, or Jade ( or even the crazy weird Ada Wong), there are the rather bland oversexualized dolls like, Bayonetta, Lara croft (although undoubtedly less flat nowadays), with no purpose or reason.

        Likewise apart from the more standardised machodudebros, there are a few that manage to break from the minimum requirements.
        The thing with Joel that separates him from the group is that I don’t think he is portrayed as fighting for “LOVE”, as I previously said, his obsession and his motivation has more to do with his selfishness than with his search for goodness. This also isn’t something that happens and is forgotten, but instead, it’s a characteristic that permeates all the character’s actions.
        I don’ t think he is sympathetic, I think the player assumes he must be, since he is the “main character” but arguably the whole purpose of the game is turning him into a monster. Similar to Spec-Ops: The line, but with a more human, mature and relatable approach.

        I feel that you are misunderstanding my intentions, and I don’t mean to insult at all, I’m not the target demographic of teenage boy games. I rarely ever see myself or my ideal projection as a character in a game, and I don’t really search for it. I like reading, seeing, and playing narratives that are different from mine, because I feel it is one of the strengths of any artistic medium. And that is why I can appreciate narratives of women, men, furry animaloids, cartoon monsters, robots and pretty much anything that is thoughtfully crafted.
        I am not a woman, but I can truly feel for Medea, Ana Karenina or Hedda Garbler, I am not a priest but I can relate to Narciss waiting for Goldmund in his self-discovery quest, or Ivan Kharamazov, in his observation of suffering in the world.
        I am not a monster deity, but when a colossus falls in Shadow of the colossus, I feel a bit guilty.

        Sure maybe there are more of one kind than another, but to me quantity has never really been much solace. The ability of the narrative is to engage your empathy. I have no desire to see myself or my dreams in the game, that is what my life is for. I feel the same mix of badassery and shame playing Dante or Bayonetta, and I don’t really feel more like one or the other, even if dante is theoretically a man, I don’t feel represented in the slightlest, which doesn’t prevent me from understanding the character’s traits, motivations and goals. Likewise, I feel a similar curiosity and fascination for Chell’s story from Portal and Wander’s story from Shadow of the colossus.

        And I agree a lot of contemporary female characters are a bit lame, but I feel that is mostly a modern/western thing (And I don’t think it’s limited to female characters. Most mainstream male Characters tend to be painfully shallow too). But from classic literature, eastern games, and History, some of the most intriguing and memorable characters in my favourites list are female ( I’m sorry, I really think they are great ).
        There are truly some awesome examples in there that the game industry sadly hasn’t quite come to terms with. And there is tremendous potential in that area. But honestly I feel that videogames didn’t even have a grasp of decent script writing until a few years ago, let alone humans. So I think it is on it’s way.

        However I also think that it’s important to consider psychological and physical traits when developing truthful human characters of any gender. Werther we like it or not there are distinctions, not just pink or blue, passive or active, violent or docile, but ways in which different people respond to experiences, and even ways in which a character executes those emotions. So just having it Be a guy, be a girl (+ any amount of personal traits) without considering those implications, doesn’t solve the issue.
        (I feel it can even create more issues)

        I don’t mean to lecture you for your fantasy of having Joel be a middle aged woman, I think it would be a really cool alternative. But I just never saw Joel as a very aspirational character, and that much better for it.

        You shouldn’t be so defensive though, I came here very interested, read your post, and commented respectfully, I never called you an angry feminist… I don’t know why you’d think I wouldn’t listen… I know it’s the internets but I’m not an evil troll :3

        ps. YES! Olivia rox.

        • wundergeek says:

          I have thoughts! Unfortunately I have to go drive 2 hours, do a stupid thing, and then drive 2 more hours back. So, you know, this is a placeholder.

          Thanks for being willing to clarify. However, as to being defensive, LITERALLY the first tweet I received in response to the announcement of the re-launch of GMMaS was a dude telling me to make him a sandwich. LITERALLY. I want to emphasize that this is a real thing that actually happened. Also, the first comment left here on the blog after the re-launch was deleted because the commenter called me an [unpleasant adjective] cunt. (I don’t remember exactly what? I deleted the comment, and honestly the troll comments all blur together after a while.

          So if I’m defensive, it’s because I’m too used to people coming into my space and telling me AT BEST that I’m wasting my time, and at worst that I’m a fat jealous lesbian slut cunt bitch.

          (More later)

        • wundergeek says:

          About requiring more time to develop I meant specifically for something like Sarah joining the fireflies or being kidnapped or… deciding to go rogue or what have you.

          And it doesn’t ever have to be anything other than a closed loop. I understand the dev constraints. I’m just saying there are ways that Joel can lose his daughter that require fridging her. And it’s well done! Yes! But it’s STILL FRIDGING. And, Jesus. It’s 2014. Okay? Can we think of motivations for male characters that aren’t fridging? Please?

          but again it would definitely require a lot of modification to the script. And effectively would tell a different story.

          But why do all scripts have to start with a default male character? Why would a female character require “modification” to write? Why not write that character female from the beginning? There’s a lot of unconscious assumptions that you’re making here. And you’re right! It would tell a different story! Which is what I’ve been saying I want. I want a story that’s not the story of a straight white cis man. I want a story that reflects ME.

          From a storytelling perspective, that different story would actually be better, because it would be something NEW and not based on well-worn tropes, no matter how well executed they are.

          the male narrative of a male angsty character has been done, but I personally can’t think of a SINGLE time in which it has been done maturely and in a truly interesting way.

          AGAIN. Execution DOESN’T MATTER. Level of craft DOESN’T MATTER. If you’re reinforcing the narrative that only straight white cis men get to be protagonists, you’re still doing harm, no matter how well written or how well loved the thing you make is.

          I don’ t think he is sympathetic, I think the player assumes he must be, since he is the “main character” but arguably the whole purpose of the game is turning him into a monster.

          Okay. So I’m going to do this thing that’s going to sound like “you don’t know because you’re not a parent”, but it’s not, okay? Promise.

          See, I found Joel tremendously sympathetic AND a monster because, fuck. The idea of something happening to my daughter? Nightmare fuel. (You can respond emotionally to something and still be critical of it.)

          [I'm snipping the rest for length]

          Okay, so you seem to go on about how you can see yourself in other characters who are women and not like you and etc etc etc. So, here’s the thing. (I’m making some assumptions, based on your handle, that you’re male – so if I’m wrong here, mea culpa.)

          We live in a patriarchal society where the dominant narrative is that men are protagonists and women are scenery. When an entire society has been constructed to tell your story, it’s easy to say “oh well I don’t mind other stories so why are you so hung up on gender/sexuality/race/whatever” – because you have the luxury of knowing that the overwhelming majority of stories that you want to consume will still be about you.

          As a woman, I don’t have that luxury. Despite that I have been playing video games for well over 2 decades, there are exactly 4 female characters in games that I have played that I would say are universally awesome and positive protagonists whom I don’t feel critical of on some level. FOUR. (Yuna, Lightning, FemShep, and Ellie, if you’re counting.) And Jesus, I’m white, cis, and straight – so I’m sure there’s shit I’m missing.

          So you know what? Fuck realism. I don’t care if a female character “feels” “truthful”. If we can believe in worlds with dragons and zombies and magic and future tech, WHAT IS SO HARD about believing in a world where women can be protagonists?

          If I sound angry as I write this, it’s because I am angry. It’s because society has conditioned people to believe that women aren’t important, that women’s stories aren’t important, and that people who say otherwise are blowing things out of proportion. I’m angry on my behalf, and I’m angry on my daughter’s behalf because all too soon, I’ll have to explain to her why it is that there are so few female characters in, you know, EVERYTHING. Do you think she’ll care about “realism” and “truthful” characters? No. Because that’s when I’ll have to explain to my daughter that we live in a society where she is WORTH LESS than men. And I would give ANYTHING not to have to do that.

          • Bernardo says:

            I understand, I do. And yes I am a dude.

            And I agree, there are things about society that are most shocking (personally I don’t even understand why skirts are female attire.. or why they exist at all, not that there’s anything wrong with them I just find it hard to understand functionally… I know dumb example, but just the tip of the iceberg). So many unjustified unnecesary seemingly random distinctions, Why are barbies for girls and legos for boys. Does this programming predispose gender roles or is iit the other way around.. it really boggles my brains.

            But the thing is I have though about it I’ve made it a goal of mine to counter the effects of the traditionalist society as well (and I come from a far more strict cultural background than most).

            To me, your questioning runs even deeper. I find the premise for most games of any genre and with any focus tends to be very iterative and safe. It goes beyond characters and stories, and it contaminates genres, themes, art styles and everything in between.

            You can name those 4 female characters ( I’d definitely add Jade, from beyond good and evil, Faith, from mirror’s edge, Celes & Terra from FF6, a ton of awesome women from japanese survival horror games, and Alyx from half life). I can’t even name 4 really great male ones, let alone any of them that aren’t cookie cutter hollywood reruns, Joel (and maybe James Sutherland, from Silent Hill 2) are probably the only ones that I can say goe past what holywood would be confortable portraying. But of the characters with distingushable personalities in all games ever, most of my favorites are women. I don’t really know what that means, maybe it is because there are less of them, but I think that it’s more than that. I have always thought that when explored at all, women tend to have much more varied and interesting roles in games,

            I may be wrong, as you say we are still immersed in a patriarchal society, with a very male oriented view, but as a standard with male characters, you know exactly what to expect even from the first screenshot, while women can often be a lot more surprising and interesting.

            Maybe it is hard for me to appreciate the quantity, because I may be jaded ( I honestly can’t really think of half a dozen decent male characters). But likewise maybe it’s hard to see this subtlety and depth from your position too. To me, general AAA characters have been stale, boring, unimportant and uninspired for well over a decade now.

            Abstraction or omission are also very powerful alternatives we are seeing revisited nowadays, like the traveller in Journey. You can connect immediately, it is everyone, and it is noone… However this can easily undermine the sense of uniqueness of the character… but In this sense I fully support the idea that realism means nothing… relatability on the other hand is everything.

            Likewise games such as dark souls that allow you to play as whatever you want, seem to be fine, but they dont really present a character, it is more an sans personality blob. You relate by default because it is the thing that you control on screen. But this is a far less interesting situation, I’d hesitate to even call it a character, the thing on screen could be a sentient octopus and it still works.

            So I am not advocating for realism, but I believe a good character takes into account it’s own circumstances, in such way that one can connect to it. Oftentimes I too wonder why some narratives default to male ( truth is that there is a TERRIBLE vicious circle in the western commercial view there ) and I often wonder why they turn out so bland. And mind you I don’t want to see MEE, I just want DECENT (better than steven seagal script). But I can’t be angry, because I think it is more lack of understanding than foul play.
            And that’s why I can’t wish for the Last of Us to change, I feel it is a landmark in videogame writing apart from whatever gender conflicts it may have. Like Cormac Mcarthy’s “The road” it is a very closed work of art. Although it might be a shame that they didnt consider starting with a female narrative (that very likely could have been just as amazing and possibly even more, you should play the DLC, it shifts the perspective a bit), I feel all the characters and their respective subtleties manage a cohesion and a maturity I was beginning to think was lost in the medium.
            I was living in the world, I was not Joel, it was an accident that I was playing Joel, and it was an accident that I was playing Ellie. I would very much look forward to another play through from Tess’s or Marlene’s story.

            However, in the great scheme of things. I am also disappointed at the state of affairs. We fall into traditional defaults all too often, just because it is the way it was done before, and it worked. Don’t get me wrong, it greatly saddens me, and has pushed me away from most bigger budget games.
            I often second guess my own narrative decisions for our smallest of indie games… but thats the point, it’s a great time now to do something about it in the future. We are seeing a lot of variation from indies, and much more experimentation from mid range studios. The Last of Us is Great! Now let’s make greater!

            PS. Have you played Gone Home? That has some very well written female characters ( although your avatart is a bit too void, and the overall experience is a bit simple)

            • Bernardo says:

              PPS. I may be a bit ignorant.. but I noticed you used “CIS male”, I have heard that the term causes much debate. I was just wondering, what does it exactly mean? Is it simply that someone is NOT transgender or transexual? (sexuality identity that aligns to sexual genetics) So, can a homosexual person still be Cis?

              Honest question.

              • IcyStorm says:

                “Cis” means that your gender and the sex you were assigned at birth match, meaning that “cis male” refers to that you identify as male and were assigned as male at birth. It’s not sexual identity but gender identity. So a gay man or woman can still be cisgender/cissexual (I think the two words are interchangeable and it’s a preference thing).

                Correct me if I’m wrong, anyone.

            • wundergeek says:

              Okay, so I’ll admit to only skimming your comment because it’s really long. But here’s the deal. I keep talking about the negative emotional effects this has on my life and how my experiences in gaming marginalize me. And then you keep saying (I think?) that well-written characters should be exempt from that. And, you know, lots of praise for my reasoning and blah blah blah but you think I’m wrong.

              Blogging is not something that is energy free. This requires time and mental resources, and I have to prioritize how I spend those resources. So I’m not going to invest all of my energy having a conversation with no hope of resolution. I’m telling you how these things harm me as a person. You can choose to listen to that or ignore it as you want.

              • Bernardo says:

                That’s a shame…
                To be honest I was just enjoying the conversation. I was trying to argumenting a middle point, understanding your frustration but also observing the subjectiveness of the experience at hanf. I tend to write as much as I think the topic deserves, but often people do think it is too much.

                I still believe that you are antagonizing too much, I don’t comment to tell you that you are wrong, If all i wanted to do was tell you you are wrong, then I probably wouldn’t discuss in such depth…
                The thing is that there are more ways to look at the issues, advocating for inclusiveness isn’t only when it benefits one’s own interests. After all, you are publishing your opinions for other people to see, and communication requires a two way interaction. But I know… if this is simply a vent channel for you, I guess there is no point.

                I know blogging takes some time and effort, I keep one myself.. but it is in no way as commented on as yours,. so I guess that is a bit different, I’ve never had a truly interested comment in any of my articles.

                However, it is a shame. I was looking foward to following your blog, but I won’t if you don’t deem conversation worth pursuing. Do know that you speak a lot of how you feel marginalized, but your response was to marginalize me.

                Bye.

      • IcyStorm says:

        For what it’s worth, in Grounded: The making of The Last of Us (it’s an Area 5 documentary; free on YouTube and Amazon), I believe Neil Druckmann does say that genders didn’t matter and that the story would have worked if Joel was a woman. Sure, that brings up the question, “Well, why isn’t Joel a woman, then?”

  5. Pingback: Male Protagonist Bingo: A study in cliches [MANY IMAGES] | Go Make Me a Sandwich

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