The Last of Us Part II death threats are a selfish, destructive response to art

Note: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.

The conversation and culture surrounding The Last of Us Part II have become increasingly toxic and vile as a rush of displeased fans turn dissatisfaction into hate. It’s not a new behavior, but it is one that needs to end.

It all began in April 2020, when a series The Last of Us Part II leaks went online. The leaks were broad, showing full cutscenes and twists, though they (or the inferences people made) weren’t entirely accurate. Still, fans were mad, and some threatened to boycott the game entirely.

When the game’s review embargo lifted just before its release, many outlets, including Digital Trends, offered glowing remarks and scores. Due to embargo restrictions on what reviewers could say, even the most critical reviews didn’t include complaints that flowed from the leaks. This led to unfounded conspiracies that reviewers were paid off because they didn’t mention criticisms regarding the shift in perspective to initial antagonist Abby.

Now, the game is out, and people can play it for themselves. Fans are still mad. Players have review-bombed Part II on Metacritic. Many of these reviews veer away from criticism of the game and into hateful comments laden with slurs.

Weeks have passed since the game’s release. You’d think the fervor would die down. Instead, the situation is growing worse. Creative director and lead co-writer Neil Druckmann, along with Laura Bailey (who voiced the much-hated character Abby), spoke out against the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic messages and death threats flooding their inboxes. 

Yes. Death threats were sent. Because people were mad about a game. Again.

The ‘customer is always right’ doesn’t apply to art

I’ve witnessed beautiful, supportive moments between gamers and fans across genres. Plenty of Part II players love the game or, if they don’t, are able to restrain themselves from sending hateful comments.

Art, be it visual, cinematic, or games, is subjective. We buy the ability to experience it, not necessarily to like it. The more art challenges us, the better we are for it. It allows the medium to thrive, asks important questions, and forces us to rethink our beliefs. Gamers resorting to harassment and death threats in an attempt to force creators to make content they like are stifling the industry.

Screenshot from The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog

It’s not a personal attack when a game breaks from expectations or brings harm to characters we’ve grown attached to. It’s a part of storytelling. Compelling stories are often those that surprise us, that make us have feelings we weren’t expecting, like empathy for a character we thought was the enemy. Countless books, movies, and shows have left me temporarily devastated at the loss of a favorite character.

Yes, if I love a character, I want them to be happy and successful. These characters also need room to grow, however, and that often means overcoming problems. Becoming invested in people and plots, only to be devastated when things go awry, is part of the beauty of fandom. Video games are a much newer medium than books or film, and it’s a relatively recent concept that games could produce the same feelings as those arts. Yet some seemingly want the industry to move backwards.

It’s not a personal attack when a game breaks from expectations or brings harm to characters we’ve grown attached to.

When we break from a “the customer is always right” mentality, we break from a self-centered mindset. That gives the creators who built the stories, characters, and games we love room to push their creative boundaries.

No game is meant for us as individuals. Even my favorite games were not made with me, Lisa Marie, in mind. Even appealing to a small group means a game can’t cater to one individual in that cluster.

Still, some people have taken their identity as fans to mean a game must adhere to their desires. When Pokémon: Let’s Go! Eevee and Pikachu came out, some who played the original Pokémon Yellow took issue with the fact that this release was made with children in mind. Oddly enough, many of those same fans were children themselves when Yellow came out.

The death threats need to stop. It’s not an appropriate response to disliking a game and, if such threats were successful, they would lead only to stagnation.

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