The Last Of Us: Not Making a Big Deal Over Sexuality
The Last Of Us is currently sweeping up high praise from nearly every corner of the industry; critics love it, players adore it, and it’s proven to be a huge success. However, one part of the game that has gone somewhat unnoticed is how The Last Of Us dips its toes into something of a taboo topic, even in the modern day state of video games. That taboo topic is one of homosexuality. It’s so subtle and underplayed that the chances are most did not even notice it, and that commands respect to Naughty Dog and their writing team.
To put it into context, Naughty Dog have been accused of being slightly ‘dude bro’ with their approach to characters this generation. Nathan Drake is a good-looking chap that has sharp wit as well as a way with the ladies, but people took Nate’s character and used it as an accusation of Naughty Dog being rather shallow when it comes to characters. This is where The Last of Us steps in, showcasing that Naughty Dog can do serious and realistic characters in equal measure. Homosexuals are generally an under-represented group in video games. For example, when a character is shown as an ‘out’ homosexual, they tend to be used in a comedic way (see Grand Theft Auto), or play up to a stereotype in some way or another. In comparison, The Last of Us has bucked this trend and isn’t even making a big deal out of it, which is exactly what was needed.
Early in the story, Joel calls in a favor from an old associate in the shape of a man named Bill. As an isolated lone wolf figure, Bill lives his life as a scavenger who takes pride in placing traps around his town. He’s a stocky–some may say quite fat given the times he lives in–gentleman around the age of late 30s to mid 40s with a rough appearance. With long, unkempt hair and a dishevelled beard, not to mention a face full of dirt and scars, Bill looks like a seasoned survivor. He’s all too aware of the world and the harsh realities of the universe The Last of Us is set in. Joel describes him as something of a loner with odd ways, and Bill’s early interactions with both Joel and Ellie mirror that.
While Bill is not given much backstory, there are hints and nods towards his life and his losses. Bill talks about his partner (he stutters and rephrases this a few times) and the disagreement between them. It’s a mere nod at first–most wont even notice it–but towards the end of the chapter, it comes full circle. After encountering a large group of infected, Joel, Ellie and Bill rush into a nearby house in which they find the hanging body of Bill’s partner Frank, and true to his nature, Bill puts up a cold front to discovering the death of his partner. But his facial expressions show he’s clearly been affected by the death, and Bill explains some of Frank’s characteristics to Joel in a slightly heartfelt way, with a hint of bitterness in the background.
A suicide note by Frank can be found in the room in which his body was found. Taking this note to Bill causes him to give more thoughts on Frank, revealing that Bill is more affected about his partner’s death than first thought. Bill departs from the group at the end of the chapter while Joel and Ellie continue their journey alone. The proceeding cutscenes reveal that Ellie swiped some items from Bill’s shelter, including a comic, a music tape, and a magazine. The tape is used as a means to unveil the true connection between Bill and Frank, while the magazine is a publication full of muscle-bound men in their underwear, with said magazine being the equivalent of a ‘lad’s mag’. (For those unaware, a lad’s mag is a magazine full of pictures of topless female models.) Ellie comments on the photos, making an observation on the size of the men’s genitals.
The magazine, Bill’s use of the term ‘partner’, and his love/hate views on Frank–they all point towards Bill and Frank being a couple, lovers torn apart by the frustrations and tensions caused by the world they live in. Bill is not a stereotype; he’s everything but that. This is testament to how most people go through the game without even noticing his sexual orientation, and it’s a credit to Naughty Dog that they have created a character that manages to embody a rather taboo subject in video games while staying far away from stereotypes or desperately drawing attention to the subject. This is a positive sign that some writers and developers are starting to understand diversity and how to implement that into a cast of characters in a natural and believable manner. This is hopefully a sign of things to come, and hopefully a sign that the industry is starting to mature when it comes to these kind of things.