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The Last of Us : Left Behind - The Kiss
Posted on Monday, February 24 2014 @ 09:45:18 PST

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Whether you are a fan of Naughty Dog or not, you have to praise them on their recent accomplishment of the emotionally gripping story they've created with The Last of Us, and even more recently, it’s expansion Left Behind. While there are many people (including myself) who had bought the season pass to DLC only to get one extension to the story, this one delivers the answers to many questions regarding Ellie's past that we’ve had throughout the main story in commendable fashion. While many people may be upset with the lack of action present in Left Behind, I found the primarily story-driven piece to be everything I could have wanted. The tale between Ellie and Riley is a heartfelt one, and as a Triple-A developer, Naughty Dog has taken a bold, risky step in a way that is inspiring and should be applauded in how they presented these two teenage girls struggling to find their place considering the grim and dreary apocalyptic future they’ve inherited.

::WARNING: I will be talking about events that happened in the Last of Us DLC Left Behind. If you are worried about spoilers, read no further and do yourself a favor and play this game::

It’s not hard to grow connected and even attached to characters in video games, and considering the expert writing ability The Last of Us team at Naughty Dog has, the characters within the game are certainly no exception. So what happens when a writing team knows that millions of people will be playing their highly anticipated DLC right out of the gate, and they decide to reveal a powerful secret about that girl we all wish was our kid sister?  

The moment I began seeing the relationship between Ellie and Riley unfold, I knew Naughty Dog had taken a bold step I had to immediately praise. As a sociologist and one who works with adolescents in a life coaching position on a daily basis, I decided I would take the opportunity to explain some things and sand down some corners in a way that doesn’t bog you guys down with theory and research. This particular event, of course, was the kiss Ellie and Riley had shared towards the end of the DLC, just shortly before they were to meet their fate as infected.

It doesn’t take a social scientist to know that this forward presentation was a risky move, and being so it was well deserving of praise. The first impression many people are going to have is “OMG Ellie is gay!”, but really this is a crude jump to immediate labeling which really doesn’t do the complexity of the moment justice, and it really is much deeper than that. This is not to say that Ellie is not a lesbian or bisexual, which may very well be the case, but that was not at all the overarching message the writers are trying to show us.

Adolescents, especially at Ellie’s age, go through many challenges in establishing their own identity, which many of you can testify. Through this stage of development, teenagers typically form many attachments and connections that they never have had before, as it is a natural progression in their growth. Now, consider this instinctive need for attachment and venues of affection in a post-apocalyptic environment. Ellie obviously lost her parents at a very young age and has literally no one, and Riley is essentially in the same place. When two people spend most of their time together, they have a tendency to grow dependent on each other, especially when their social life is devoid of any other influences. I know this statement may arouse a negative response, but it is actually not uncommon at this age to be attracted, even subconsciously, to people you are close to, even when they are of the same identifying gender. The profound significance of a relationship of which one can confide in another for comfort is a powerful one, and when you are a teenager, that connection is tossed on top of an influx of raging hormones and an overarching quest for establishing one’s identity. Naughty Dog handedly showed the complexities of this stage of growth, and as an avid gamer and someone who works with distressed teenagers that face many tough realities often, I can attest to the authenticity and realism of this display.

So what does this mean? Here we have a relationship that the player has no control to manipulate, unlike the experiences in Bioware’s Mass Effect or Dragon Age that allow you to pick-your partner(s), and forces its players to see something that is going to enhance their attachment to Ellie for better or worse. This makes this experience a pioneer into mostly uncharted territory, and further is prone to generate questions about where gaming is leading us. We see on a daily basis the challenges to what many consider social norms and order, and this is how society evolves.

So, if you ask me, this is where true growth in gaming occurs; the “where and when” it is presented to square off with the status quo in society. In the dreary nightmare of existence that The Last of Us presents, we see a degradation of humanity into an realm that doesn’t know black and white; where anyone is capable of anything to survive. It is unlikely that Ellie and Riley have to deal with the social pressures from family, laws or religion that those attracted to others of the same sex or gender deal with in today’s world. This is where Naughty Dog truly made an amazing breakthrough. It is expected that games continue to wow us with evolved gameplay and pristine graphics that seem to get better and better. But when a game throws itself into the fold where it opens itself to be scrutinized by radical conservatives or those who are just against same-sex relationships, that is when we see true evolution in gaming development- and even more so a change into how media communicates these changes.

In conclusion, this move towards showing us the complexity of our female protagonist’s relationship with her best friend shows much more than a bi-curious event that was designed to immediately define her sexuality. It shows the growth and complexities of growing up as a teenager in a tough environment where one’s life is challenged on a daily basis; where these two young women were lucky to have anything at all. I honestly believe Ellie had the foundation for a similar relationship with Sam had he survived longer than he had. After all, if you remember, she did admit the thing she feared the most was ending up alone, a truth you wouldn't necessarily admit unless it was someone you felt you could confide in, and she could have just as easily used her relationship with Sam to fulfill that role growing adolescents tend to desire.

However, regardless of the seemingly implied sexuality of one of the best written characters I have seen in gaming in a while, the connection between Riley and Ellie will surely resonate with me for a long time, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what these developers have in store for us next. Hopefully I was able to communicate that the relationship of these two teenage girls should be taken by more than face value and got you, the readers, thinking more about the larger, more complex message I believe the game's writers were trying to convey. As someone who is a large supporter of social change, historically it is brave moves like these made by huge influential forces that lends their hand to ushering in a step further in social equality and acceptance, and further why social conservatives always end up going down kicking and screaming in the end. Very rarely do I get attached to characters like I do when reading books in a video game, and I can’t help wanting more of Ellie and Joel, despite the complete package The Last of Us and it’s DLC Left Behind has already brought us.

Thanks for reading my blog post, it’s my first ever on GR even though I have been a reader of this site for many years, but I saw an opportunity to combine my love for gaming and profession and write on one of my most visited sites. Thanks GR, for giving your readers the ability to post these, you guys are awesome.

The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted originally on February 17, 2013, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan

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