It Can't Be For Nothing | The Last of Us 2 Drama Explained

CLICK HERE to read our new spoiler-filled discussion about The Last of Us: Part II, its ending, and how this toxic fandom carried over post-launch.

The Last of Us came out on June 13 of 2013 and I still remember driving to GameStop on launch day to pick up a copy as an early birthday present. Even after 7 years, the days that followed June 13, in which I immersed myself in the world created by Naughty Dog, remain some of the most potent I have had in gaming. I cried, I laughed, I went on a journey that stuck with me. So, needless to say, as someone who has been looking forward to The Last of Us: Part II since it was revealed in 2016, April was a weird month. From the game getting delayed once more to significant leaks that showed gameplay and plot details, it was an absolute roller coaster of a month. Since then, in my attempts to cover this topic in all its intricacies, I have unknowingly put myself in the crosshairs of the war of attrition that is occurring leading up to the launch of the highly anticipated post-pandemic sequel. But before we talk about that, let's first take this from the top.

The initial release date for The Last of Us: Part II was February 21, 2020. However, it was pushed to May 29 so the team could further polish the game to their liking. Then, in early April, a PlayStation blog post announced the indefinite delay of a few games including Part II. With no tentative release date, fans started to wonder how long they'd have to wait before they could finally get their hands on the game. Then in a one-two punch of good and bad news, Naughty Dog revealed the new release date to be June 19, 2020. But this news came on the heel of a series of leaks that took the internet by storm. At the start, it was rumored that the leaks were the product of Naughty Dog underpaying their workers or some unhappy employee that just wanted the game to be out already. This enraged a lot of people and caused many to leap to action before any of it was verified. While Sony will not reveal the true identity of the hackers, when the news finally broke it seems the truth is far from the rumors. The leak was done by someone who is not at all associated with Naughty Dog or Sony, and it is believed that the hacker found an exploit from an earlier Naughty Dog game and used it to gain access to Naughty Dog's servers. From there they stole material, such as a playtest of an early build of the game, and leaked it out into the web.

Despite the truth, the internet flame had been sparked, and like most online fires, it's hard to put out once it starts. Videos popped up ever hour on YouTube, offering some sort of analysis or complaint about the leaks, with supposed longtime fans of the acclaimed developer speaking as if this was the straw the broke the camels back. It's at times like this that we should look at Naughty Dog's lineage. They've made PlayStation icons from Crash Bandicoot to Nathan Drake. The company sits at an 88 average score on Metacritic. Yet, a video from Neil Druckmann, Vice-President at Naughty Dog, talking about how The Last of Us 2 has gone gold (meaning it's finished and ready to start physical production) was dislike bombed on YouTube with over 50,000 dislikes in the first day. But, let's be honest, dislikes don't mean anything. Yes, they can be discouraging, however, we've seen games with much rougher like-dislike bars succeed. Take Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare for example. The reveal trailer for Infinite Warfare received 3.8 million dislikes, yet upon release, the game sold 1.8 million copies in its first week in the US alone. I'm certainly not saying that you should let your hopes build up. There is a point of no return for hype where the excitement is so high that no matter how good the game is there is no satisfaction. In the case of The Last of Us: Part II, the problem goes deeper than a like-to-dislike ratio.

During my time researching for this article, I have stumbled upon a rivalry that comes second only to the Montagues and Capulets. One side consists of fans (who I will be referring to as the Fireflies) that are trying to avoid spoilers like the plague. To facilitate this, Naughty Dog and certain cast and crew of The Last of Us: Part II have turned off comments and The Last of Us subreddit has gone into lockdown. Every post is now being vetted by the moderators before going up and the posts get locked immediately so no one can comment on them. Then there is the other side, (which I will be calling the Hunters) composed of former fans or the once vocal minority that dismissed the game from the start. The Hunter's goals are to spoil the game for as many people as possible while trying to convert people to their side. At first, their tactics were to simply comment story details on posts relevant to the game. Once comments started getting locked, they moved into DMs. Anyone that was actively engaged in discussions about The Last of Us on Reddit or Instagram was sent a direct message containing plot points. The former group's near-militant efficiency in showing support to one another produces some of the most toxic dialogue around video games I have ever come across. They write up paragraphs fit to rally troops and create easy to copy-and-paste spoiler blurbs to make their comrades' jobs easier. As I sifted through these posts, I would often read statements like "those f****ts deserve it," "this needs to happen," and more. That's not even touching upon the messages that Naughty Dog members like Neil Druckmann are getting which range from humorous rants to flat-out death threats.

Apart from being a dangerous mindset, the Hunters are also a testament to the impact that Naughty Dog's game has had on pop culture. Overwatch is a very popular game with a still-thriving community, but the shrinking of Tracer's butt received more media coverage than the news of her being a lesbian. However, players have grown to love the characters in The Last of Us, so much so that over the last 7 years they've taken ownership of them. It's not just Ellie or Joel, it's my Ellie and my Joel. People are moved to tears simply by hearing their voices. The inherent problem with this is that players no longer wish to see a game that doesn't adhere to the expectations that they have. Or, as is the case for many people thanks to the internet, the expectations of their favorite internet personalities. It's due to these expectations that game developers have to meet a double standard of both making a game that isn't the same story rehashed while still having it feel the same as the original. As I try to sit and understand both sides of the argument I can see that a certain group of people might have felt alienated by Ellie's sexuality or the degree of representation in the game. It's easy to be upset by a developer's decision regarding certain intellectual property. Hell, I wrote an entire article just so I can complain about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 not having a campaign. However, and I strongly believe some people need to hear this: tough shit. As an Indian man who loves video games, I struggle to think of characters that look like me just walking in the background let alone ones that are playable protagonists. It's for this same reason that Ellie's existence, in her entirety, is so important to so many people. Watching any of the numerous reactions to The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC shows how powerful it is to see a character on screen that fully reflects yourself. In a fair world, this wouldn't be a compromise of "let them have this one nice thing, we have others." Just how it should be in real life, the matter should start and end once it has been revealed, but that's not the case. As much as we've progressed in the last few years, the discourse around Part II shows there's a lot more work to be done, though that's a topic for another day.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from all this drama is the fact that the dichotomy between the Hunters and the Fireflies mirrors the reality that is ever so present in Naughty Dog's game. In the small microcosm of The Last of Us community, there are people trying to do nothing more than make it to the release of the game they've waited so long for, without having the experience tainted or muddled. Then there's the group targeting those people, fueled by either hatred or boredom, they intend on spreading the spoilers as far as their shouts can carry. Much like hearing a growl in the darkness that activates our imagination and creates a far more intimidating beast than the reality, the Hunters are not as prevalent as they may seem. Over 50 thousand dislikes on the first day are a lot but on Instagram, a 30-second clip about the new trailer has gotten over 60 thousand likes in the same 24 hour period. And if it seems like the game is getting a seemingly endless wave of hate, it's only because the metrics that are used to "measure" the backlash are being manipulated to seem that way. Earlier I talked about how some of the Hunters are people who don't like Ellie's identity, but the truth is that a majority of the group have no skin in the game at all. They are not and have never been invested in this narrative. This isn't them getting mad that their favorite game is "ruined," it's them finally being able to force negativity into a community that has had a positive experience for the last few years. If you need any more reasons to invalidate their premature criticisms, remember that judging a game before playing it as valid as analyzing a book before reading it or yelling at an unborn child to be a better musician.

At the end of the day, the saying "all press is good press" almost stands true. While there are hundreds of people whose decision on purchasing the game has been swayed by the leaks and the spoilers, the game will still sell millions of copies. Since the new release date has come out, Part II has consistently stayed in the Amazon's Best Sellers list on PlayStation. The drama and dialogue that has revolved around the game's pre-release shine a light on a problem that's bigger than just sales numbers. And at the center of all of this, is a studio and team that's been working on a game for 6 years, only to have it leaked in some attention-seeking stunt less than 6 weeks before release. On that note:

To everyone at Naughty Dog: thank you for making games, they mean a whole lot to so many of us. I remember the PlayStation 3 demo kit at GameStop that had a playable mission from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I can still recall every nook and cranny of that level from memory. I was in high school when I played The Last of Us for the first time, and five years later, in my senior year of college, I directed a crowd-funded short film inspired by the game you crafted. As a filmmaker, I don't envy the position you are in, both in the weight on your shoulders or the stress on your mind, and while I would love to whip up a motivational chant to express this to you, I cannot think of anything better to do than repeat the very words I heard because of you. "After all we've been through. Everything that I've done. It can't be for nothing."

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