BA Hons Games Design
Hull School of Art and Design
“Compare and Contrast Two examples of Games Design”
Throughout the course of gaming history feminism has been a major problem within games, with most female protagonists being over sexualised or depicted as helpless individuals, most of which rely on male figures to provide protection or to rescue them from danger. In the more recent gaming culture an exploration into psychological manipulation has been the key focus of some games, this ties in with the feminist approach allowing gaming culture to move past the stereotype damsel in distress and produce a more deep/better developed female character. The two characters from the games I will be comparing and contrasting are Ellie and Joel from the game “The Last of Us”. This essay will discuss an aspect of evolution within the characters that have been mentioned and shows that even though gaming culture is still fairly young in the scope of history it has shown a definite maturity in its approach to dealing with feminism and the over sexualising of their characters, and how the use of psychological manipulation can cause the players to build bonds with those characters, however this does not count for every game that is produced.
The player takes control of one of the main Characters in the game, Joel. Here is a quote from the Naughty Dog website of their official description of Joel.
“A brutal survivor with few moral lines left to cross. Joel, now in his late 40s, has been hardened by the ravages of the fungal pandemic that has devastated civilization as we know it. He’s lost friends, family, and everything he valued in life. Living in one of few remaining military-controlled quarantine zones, he operates as a black market smuggler, dealing in contraband, taking numerous de-humanizing jobs over the years to survive in this new post-pandemic world. Joel’s conscience slowly dwindles away as he shuts down his emotions to cope to his new life”.
―Naughty Dog’s official description of Joel
Joel had a daughter early in his life, and during the initial outbreak of the “Fungal Pandemic” she was shot and killed by a soldier that was ordered to stop anybody trying to leave the area and contain the quarantine. This was a major point in Joel’s story, this caused him to mentally close his emotions off to the world and is what turned him into the “brutal survivor with few morals lines left to cross”. Living in a military controlled zone were food is rationed and scrap is the only currency, Joel has taken to smuggling contraband in order to survive this new life, sometimes the deals can go bad and Joel is forced to defend himself and perform actions that would be considered de-humanizing in our society today but necessary to survive this hostile survival of the fittest environment.
Joel is tasked with smuggling Ellie out of the city to a group of scientists who are still working on a cure and believe that Ellie holds the key to curing this pandemic. Joel was reluctant to undertake this task but is forced to by his partner and through a series of events his partner is killed by the infected and Joel is forced to continue on this mission on his own. Through his time with Ellie and events that happen to them both they find themselves caring for each other and have built a close bond. Joel that closed off his emotions to this cruel world has found himself opening up to this little girl who reminded him so much of his own daughter that he lost.
These events that Joel go through and the player experiences, do it in such a way that it causes the player to feel what Joel is feeling and puts them in a the mind-set of a post pandemic survivor. Joel feels that he needs to protect them both Ellie and Tessa (his partner that he lost) and it rest on his shoulders to get them to safety. However throughout the course of the game he realises that he can’t do it alone, and finds himself relying on Ellie at certain points to get them out of a situation or a troubled spot. This show an evolution in the character as he sets aside his pride and feminist view of females being vulnerable people to be protected by males, this allows him to mentally redeem himself for his past mistakes. For Joel this mission is not just a way to make money and survive, it’s a way for him to regain a bit of his humanity and help others besides himself. However at the end of the game, after building a bond with this little girl, Joel finds himself having to give her to the fireflies as his mission is complete and he can go home and live the rest of his life, but he finds out what they plan to do with Ellie (which is kill her and to find out why she is immune and reverse engineer a cure) Joel then goes through the building killing everyone who gets in his way to get to Ellie, this show us that Joel is ruthless and willing to do anything to protect the people that are close to him.
The Second character that this essay will be looking into is Ellie. Here is a quote from the Naughty Dog website of their official description of Ellie.
“A brave, 14 year old girl, Ellie has grown up in this harsh world and it is all she has ever known. She’s an orphan who was raised in a boarding school run by the military within the bounds of the quarantine zone. Naïve and curious about the outside world, she is wise beyond her years and highly capable of taking care of herself and those around her. Obsessed with comic books, CDs, and other pop culture, her knowledge base is filled by the remnants of a world that no longer exists”.
―Naughty Dog’s official description of Ellie
Ellie is a 14 year old girl that got bitten and infected. She was found by a group of military type trained people called the fireflies and it was discovered that she was infected however it seems as though the infection isn’t spreading around her body, this group of fireflies believe that she has some kind of natural immunity to this fungus that has ravaged the world and they plan to send her to a safe settlement where scientists has been working on a cure.
Ellie, having grown up in this harsh world, has been forced to think differently and this makes her smarter and tougher than most 14 year old girls in our society today. Ellie never knew her parents and as such has been an orphan and moved around a lot. This prevented her from getting close to anyone and building any kind of relationship, this coupled with the kind of people in this new world has caused her to have some trust issues, so when she is told to go with these 2 strange smugglers that are only after the money, she is clearly not happy about this whole thing and scared of what these 2 people are capable of.
In the beginning of their adventure Ellie is withdrawn and closed off, reluctant to trust Joel but soon realizes that they are both going to have to trust each other if they are to survive this world. Ellie’s actions in the start of the game can be described as shy and vulnerable, by holding her arms, looking down at the ground and kicking stones, this is a drastic change from later in the game where she is more comfortable with Joel and she starts trying to whistle and asking questions about his life and generally more confident. This shows a gradual progression in the characters mind-set and that she has evolved into a more confident woman, at the end of the game Joel has pulled Ellie out of the research facility after he found out that she was going to be killed to access the natural immunity she possess. Before they both decide to make a life for themselves, Ellie stops them and asks Joel to be honest and tell her that there was nothing that could have been to help the world, Joel lies and told her that they couldn’t do anything to create a cure, Ellie knows this is a lie and yet she knows that Joel would give up trying to survive if he didn’t have anything to fight for, so she goes with him. This shows that the character Ellie, a 14 year old girl, has evolved mentally from a vulnerable girl into a strong and independent woman.
The two characters that this essay discusses have both similarities and differences; I will now outline and discuss these. Both characters have a big trust issue, Joel has a trust issue because he knows what this world is like and he knows how it can change a person, so he refuses to trust anyone that hasn’t earned it. Ellie has never been in one place long enough to build up that level of trust with someone and thus has a real problem letting herself trust people.
Both characters have become hardened by the way the world was ravaged by the fungal pandemic. Joel had to go from a “normal life”, to being reduced to smuggling contraband in and out of the city, and taking de-humanising jobs that cause him to become brutal and ruthless in his action. Ellie was born in this world and was forced to live in a boarding school ran by the military, this in its very nature was tough and caused everyone to become harder.
Ellie has knowledge of a world that no longer exists and is fascinated by comic books and music, she has an ability to look at the world around her and imagine what it must have been like absent the first-hand experience. Joel looks at the world now and can see how tragic it is to how it was before the pandemic, this allows for some interesting dialogue between the two characters and allows Joel to enlighten Ellie in areas she has no knowledge and it allows Ellie to introduce Joel to subjects that he might have no knowledge about.
Joel’s character is scared of losing what he holds dear to him, currently in this post pandemic world the only thing he holds dear is Ellie and is willing to do anything in order to keep her safe, even if it means performing actions that will cause him to lose his grip on his morality. Ellie’s character isn’t scared of what happens to her, in the final scene she suspects that Joel lied to her and stopped them from going through with the surgery, and in those few moments she understands what would have happened to her and why Joel stopped them from going through with it, because she knows that Joel needs a reason to continue and keep fighting and surviving, and for her to die it would remind Joel to much of his past and when he lost his daughter.
Ellie knows how to handle herself in combat and would be able to survive on her own as evident in the part of the game that leaves Joel incapacitated and Ellie fending for herself and looking after Joel at the same time. Joel can also defend himself and those around him, but without someone or a reason to fight for Joel doesn’t see the point in surviving.
To conclude this essay we have been shown that not all females in video games are over sexualised helpless individuals and using the psychological manipulation we can build bonds with characters and experience the events of their live like no other media can. Both characters have gone through an evolution during the course of the game, Ellie has become more trusting and independent, and show a level of maturity at the end of the game that is far beyond her years. Joel has opened up his emotions and began to feel once again and in doing this has had to perform some inhuman actions in order to achieve his goals and protect Ellie who reminded him of his daughter that he lost at the start of the game. This whole game shows us that the games industry is growing and it has already taken the first steps into reducing feminism in games and creating a deeper and more interesting level of character.