When The Last of Us Part II was teased last weekend at PSX, I got excited. For more TLOU, sure—I really liked the first game, despite some odd pacing, general jerk dad-ness of Joel, and iffy shooting—because it was a rare beautiful, big-budget game that took its characters seriously. It was sad, and let that sadness breathe. It was dark without the immaturity that so often accompanies the grimdark aesthetic. And it was queer.
No, the game wasn't specifically about being queer, but it took queer identity seriously, as a fact of life. This popped up subtly in the main game, but was much more in focus in the superior Left Behind DLC, which shows young Ellie coming to terms with herself and her sexuality. It's not a bombastic, ridiculous, melodramatic thing, it's a scene that feels understated and, for lack of a better word, real.
In the short teaser for Part II, we see a grown-up Ellie, bloodied, sitting in a bedroom, strumming a guitar and singing. There's some dialogue that suggests the story will be a revenge fantasy. Old man Joel is there.
Above: The Last of Us Part II PSX trailer
I know what this is, on its face. But I also know what this looks like: A queer lady wearing a beaten up denim shirt, playing an acoustic guitar, an image right out of a Melissa Etheridge video from the mid 90s. C'mon, I'm not the *only one* who saw that, right?
Oh, sure. Fashion in the world of The Last of Us is relegated to the realm of the practical—tough work clothes are far better for running, shooting, climbing and getting dirty in. This is a dangerous, disgusting world for survivors, it's not suited for cute rainbow t-shirts. The guitar is an instrument that fits this world, too—and Joel probably taught her how to play it one night, when things were quiet.
It all makes story sense.
But, at least to someone who has watched just about every lesbian movie from the 1980s on (in a former life, I was a queer movie critic), that image evokes a specific identity. A lesbian identity—folksy, tough, working class—which is consistent with Left Behind and the person that Naughty Dog has been building since the first meeting with Ellie in the game proper.
Given their sensitive treatment of Ellie's sexuality in Left Behind, this all makes sense. A character's clothing choices (however practical), their gestures, their entire presentation are all very deliberate design choices for a studio like Naughty Dog.
At least, this is my hope. We don't know much at all about the new game, just that these characters are in the teaser, looking the way they do. The choice of a men's denim workshirt could be an homage to a more general Pacific Northwest or grunge aesthetic. Ellie might be understandably more interested in living another day than consciously evoking the unapologetic butch women of her mom's generation.
But if there's any room at all for love in that universe, I sincerely hope Ellie is able to find it. In the arms of a good woman.