The gravity of the Last of Us gay representation cannot be overstated, as it brings LGBTQ+ people to the frontlines of mainstream action/adventure video games for the first time.
There have been some attempts to include LGBTQ+ people in video games, but there has yet to be a character in a mainstream video game series that defines themselves as a lesbian as unapologetically as Ellie does. And thus, the beautiful Last of Us gay representation opens up a whole world of possibilities for LGBTQ+ characters.
Growing up as a gay and genderqueer person, I never had high hopes for seeing an LGBTQ+ character as the main protagonist in a video game series. Rather, I was queerbaited left and right, and was never quite given the LGBTQ+ role model that my young mind craved.
What the gay representation in ‘Last of Us’ provides for LGBTQ+ people
Fitting in between the lines
It is an understatement to say that it is difficult to mature in a world where who you are as a person is hardly ever represented in media, let alone in video games. Culturally, society has majorly viewed video games as a straight cis male activity. Starting in the age of arcades and on to the age of the PlayStation, the thought of anyone other than a straight cis male enjoying a video game was culturally odd.
And yet, I found myself fitting between the lines. For many, I appeared to be a straight cis male, and therefore did not disrupt the norm of what society considered to be a suitable video game player. It was when I came out of the closet in my teens that I realized just how lost I felt. It didn’t seem like there was a place for me in the straight cis male world of video games.
As an adult, I’ve been able to find many LGBTQ+ people that feel the same way. We gather in groups at gay bars and college university clubs to define a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to enjoy video games. I love having the community that I’ve been so fortunate to find, but I worry for the younger generation; what struggles will LGBTQ+ people face in seeking acceptance and positive representation in the video games that they love?
Ellie changed up the game in her ‘Last of Us’ gay coming out
Up until 2014’s The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC, I was not aware of a mainstream video game protagonist that was gay. The dredge of queerbaiting and the eventual disappointment began to take its toll on me. I was starting to find solace in TV shows like Orange is the New Black and old reruns of Will and Grace, but even the gay relationship options in Mass Effect 3 and the like didn’t feel like enough.
I wanted a clear, linear story that defined their protagonist as being gay. I didn’t want to make the choice; rather, I wanted the choice to be made for me that in an epic video game story, a given character dated people of the opposite gender.
As if she heard my pleas, Ellie ended the Left Behind DLC by kissing her best friend Riley. Witnessing the kiss, I was at first taken aback. Then, I cried tears of joy.
Ellie in ‘The Last of Us 2’ continues positive LGBTQ+ video game representation
In one of the trailers for The Last of Us 2, Ellie is seen dancing in a community with another woman. The string lights set the mood for romance, as the two women smile at each other, almost as if they’re remarking at how lucky they both are to find love in a dangerous and lawless apocalyptic world.
While Ellie and her new love interest may be very fortunate to have found each other, I’d argue that gamers are even more fortunate here. For the first time in video game history, a major blockbuster title with a linear story will see a female protagonist in a same-sex relationship. In case you didn’t hear my whoops of joy echoing off the mountaintops, I’ll let you in on a little secret: that’s a big fucking deal.
Ellie is brutal and ruthless when it comes to taking down her opponents, but at the end of the day, she can turn off the flesh-tearing and decapitations to find love and peace in her life. She’s a successful survivalist in the zombie apocalypse… who just so happens to be a lesbian.
The Last of Us‘ gay representation doesn’t feel tacked on; rather, it feels meant to be. Ellie’s romance with Riley was groundbreaking, but the cultural ripple effects of her sexuality in The Last of Us 2 will be even bigger.
‘The Last of Us’ release date
Yes, there have been great strides in all forms of popular media in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, even since 2014’s Left Behind DLC. Ellie paved the way for any other major LGBTQ+ video game representation, and will continue to do so, whenever it is that The Last of Us 2 does hit, as the title still lacks a proper release date.