In a recent New York Times editorial Naughty Dog user interface designer Alexandria Neonakis points out that most modern video games often portray female characters as damsels in distress or as "male characters" inside "female bodies." Neonakis' editorial takes aim at the NYT review of The Last of Us and their opinion on protagonist Ellie. She calls the character a "triumph in storytelling and representation" of female characters.
"She's powerful the whole time, and it had nothing to do with wielding a gun or physical ability. In an industry that more often than not represents women as either a damsel in distress or a male character in a female body, this was a triumph in storytelling and representation," Neonakis said. "Ellie is an entirely playable character. It was not by coincidence that the moments you play as her are the most impactful in the game."
Neonakis also said that the Time's assertion that Joel was the only main character whose character evolved during the storyline. While acknowledging that Ellie begins her adventure in The Last of Us as a damsel in distress, she ultimately grows to become so much more.
"Her journey from a damsel in distress to a fully capable and complex character is made clear through the relationship she develops with Joel. Likewise, Joel's growth could not have happened without Ellie. This was not a game 'about men.' It was about a mutual relationship and about how people need one another," Neonakis said.
Speaking more broadly, Neonakis believes that it is time for female characters to be represented as equals to male counterparts in games.
"In our medium, the change needed in female characters is not about women being portrayed as stronger or more capable than men but about being portrayed on equal terms," she said. "I don't want to be treated like I'm more important than my male co-workers. I want to be seen as equal to them. I want to rely on them as much as they rely on me–a true partnership. We have that at Naughty Dog. Our game was made by men and women, some of the most talented in the industry."
Finally Neonakis says that the Time's assertion that The Last of Us is "another video game by men, for men, and about men" is problematic on several levels:
"The statement about the game being made by men for men has the potential to be very damaging. It perpetuates the idea that this is not a world for women," Neonakis said. "Young women reading this review who are considering entering games as a career could feel justified in their fears that this industry is not for them. If this thinking is to stop, we need to promote partnership and not continue the cycle of men versus women."
You can read the entire editorial here.