Alexandria Neonakis, a user interface designer at Naughty Dog, refuted the New York Times' condemning review of "The Last of Us" Tuesday, saying it "perpetuates the idea that this is not a world for women."
Back in June of last year, Chris Suellentrop of the New York Times dismissed the critically acclaimed PlayStation 3 game as "another video game by men, for men and about men." In her editorial published by the same paper, Neonakis argues against the accusations Sullentrop made towards the game from a personal and objective standpoint. First, Neonakis addresses Suellentrop downplaying Ellie's portrayal and growth in the game, for being a "sometimes powerful," but mostly unplayable character.
Ellie’s power comes from her bravery, ingenuity and determination throughout the game. It was also shown in her ability during the game’s final moment to accept Joel for all of his flaws and forgive him, because she understood that he needed her more than she needed him. She was ultimately the hero of this story. She’s powerful the whole time, and it had nothing to do with wielding a gun or physical ability. In an industry that more often than not represents women as either a damsel in distress or a male character in a female body, this was a triumph in storytelling and representation.
She then added, "It was not by coincidence that the moments you play as her are the most impactful in the game."
Elaborating on Suellentrop's only valuing the time spent playing as Ellie in "The Last of Us", than the quality of those moments, Neonakis asserted the need for equality between male and female video game characters.
In our medium, the change needed in female characters is not about women being portrayed as stronger or more capable than men but about being portrayed on equal terms. I don't want to be treated like I'm more important than my male co-workers. I want to be seen as equal to them. I want to rely on them as much as they rely on me--a true partnership.
Lastly, Neonakis took issue with Suellentrop's "another video game by men, for men and about men" quote.
The statement about the game being made by men for men has the potential to be very damaging. It perpetuates the idea that this is not a world for women. Young women reading this review who are considering entering games as a career could feel justified in their fears that this industry is not for them. If this thinking is to stop, we need to promote partnership and not continue the cycle of men versus women.
Neonakis hasn't been the only Naughty Dog employee to address the few cries of sexism aimed at "The Last of Us." When interviewed by GamesBeat last August, creative director Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley discussed the criticism. Here's what Straley said.
We were surprised by some of the criticism of our use or execution of the female roles inside of the game, and some of the backlash that we got from it. I think we did an extraordinary job of creating strong characters – men, women, black, white, gay straight. We’re just trying to create completely fleshed-out characters. Yet somehow we were used as a soapbox or something for people to stand on and say that there are still problems with the industry.