In the latest Coronavirus crushing dreams news, the ripple effect of COVID-19 precautions, closures, and cancellations continues with the indefinite delay of Naughty Dog Studios’ The Last of Us Part II. The clock was ticking on new announcements, trailers, and press releases from the studio in light of its abruptly shifted February to May release date; Alas, the dread that was building within the gaming community was confirmed with a short n’ sweet tweet from Sony, Naughty Dog, and Neil Druckmann himself. In addition, the game also had many bugs or glitches to be smoothed out and the semi-transparency about the status of the game was to be commended. However, this doesn’t erase the bad publicity that Naughty Dog has accrued these past few years. A ‘culture of crunch’ left many employees exhausted to the point of resignation from the studio towards the end of the completion of their Uncharted series. With many current and former employees not permitted to speak with the press about production issues or intensive workloads that have resulted in adverse health effects — the veil surrounding the studio is gradually beginning to dissolve.
Various media industries are renowned for the skeletons they have lurking in their closets but the medium of video games is still incredibly mum about all of its amassed bad behavior. Every few years the industry will have a whistleblower, an identity crisis, or unassailable evidence about its misdeeds that forces irreversible change. One horrific aspect of the daily frenetic pace of the employees’ work schedules juxtaposed with the delayed release date of The Last of Us Part II, besides the looming specter of deadlines, is unchecked capitalism. The current global pandemic that we’re experiencing is revealing the cracks in the facade of our life to ‘work’ and ‘money’ to survive existence. For example, one of the biggest gaming retailers entitled GameStop refused to close their stores, even though there were state and national orders to close all non-essential businesses due to the rampant spread of COVID-19 across the United States. The stores remained open to capture the cashflow of the pandemic sales market; it can be speculated that they are trying to garner every dollar possible because their brick and mortar stores have been steadily closing with increased layoffs amongst their employees and the death knell is nigh for the once renowned juggernaut of game sales. Throughout the gaming body, there’s the connective tissue of physical stores, conventions, and the beating heart of it all, the studios. In a grim irony, all of whom could be on their last gasp.*COVID-19 does not care about capitalism, and neither should we.*
The Lost Legacy
Oftentimes the consumers are none the wiser about the questionable practices occurring at most game studios and the lack of workplace transparency has harmed the finished product of most games and studios rather than helped. Hey! Remember Telltale Games and the hullabaloo with The Walking Dead being in development hell for a few years, the employees being put through the wringer and being fired or quitting en masse a few years back, and the company liquidating most of its assets and then being purchased by a new entity? Do you remember how much you cringed and shook your head in disgust as the news unraveled? Well, if Naughty Dog doesn’t course correct and self-reflect now, we could be writing or reading a bevy of think pieces about their demise too. What’s most awful about this entire situation with the company’s brand is they’ve always been the trendsetters and trailblazers of memorable gaming experiences for the PlayStation console. I’ve been a ‘stan’ of the company since their smash hit Crash Bandicoot and continued to be wowed by their latter trajectory in the Jak and Daxter series which culminated in my awe of their action-adventure saga Uncharted. Somehow, they were able to squeeze in The Last of Us in 2013 and now with the powers of hindsight, I’m worried about what could have been happening internally within the studio to get all of these games completed with all of the polish they had upon release. The majority of their games have been (figuratively) perfect, but at what cost?
Malicious Leaks, Internet Rage, and the Comments Section
UPDATE: During the last weekend of April 2020, a bevy of leaked material about The Last of Us Part II spread across the Internet unveiling ‘potential’ storylines, character designs, and a random assortment of cutscenes. The visceral reactions were understandably emotional and ranged the gamut from sadness to anger. The majority of the Internet mourned the loss of an unsullied gaming experience and expressed distaste about the story’s ‘potential’ direction. Okay, those are fair grievances but we still should reserve judgment for a game we have not fully seen or played. When the game releases on the now scheduled June 19, 2020, we can unleash all the vitriol we’d like (within legitimate and fair criticism and not to be petty). What shook me the most about the attack against this game was its quick and laser-focused pivot towards the women and/or Queer characters sprinkled throughout the leaks. I didn’t wade through the comments long enough to see if there was any racism or anti-semitism…why do that and continue to flagellate myself further? I sadly wasn’t surprised by what I read or the violent memes I saw — never that — but the anxiety I felt in and towards the comment section(s) across the Internet certainly heightened.
The quickness to hurl hate under the banner of homophobia about Ellie (whom the Internet apparently forgot they loved and cherished to death a few years ago) and a ‘potential’ antagonist character we hardly know anything about with transphobia because of a masculine physique/presentation is so layered. When you don’t toe the line of collective visual or aesthetic palatability the response is (out)rage. I don’t know if many haven’t played The Last of Us, The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC or have short-term memories about all of the characters’ who had deeply riveting stories due in part to their Queerness, or in spite of it. Heterosexuals and Queer people alike were all just humans trying to survive in an apocalyptic fungal-laden hellscape. I pondered what our priorities would be at the end of the world, but then I remembered our general malaise about COVID-19. Perhaps, in all of the hullabaloo about the leaks it was easier to just unload a collective furor at a target, any target, and why not people or bodies so conspicuously absent from video game narratives the most? If we’re going to keep our ire hot, let’s keep it focused towards Naughty Dog for the just (treatment of employee and staff) reasons, please.
“After all we’ve been through…it can’t be for nothing.”
— Ellie (The Last of Us)
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