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Diversity, Inclusion, and Lev: The Fault in our Sta–uh, The Last of Us II

Gamingtodaynews1e - Diversity, Inclusion, and Lev: The Fault in our Sta--uh, The Last of Us II
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Hi all,

In an effort to continue with this pointless circlejerk around TLOU2 (I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it) I'm curious to hear some other takes on important elements from the game.

As a cishet white male, I'm always represented in games. I never have to worry that I won't be able to find myself in whatever world I immerse myself in. Every time I play something, there is a 100% chance someone exactly like me will appear. On first glance it's fine, I don't care, it's typical, whatever, whatever. But I think that inclusion and diversity are *essential* in video games, especially as the years go by and they appeal to wider audiences– people who wouldn't normally have played games ten years ago are playing them now. In some part (I don't know if it's large or small), this has to do with more dramatic thematic elements and a deeper, more inclusive roster of characters across the spectrum of game genres. I think it's important that developers portray the world that we live in– a realistic one, one teeming with nuance and varied tastes in preference. Games like SDV and Animal Crossing do a great job of broadening gender scopes and allowing LGBTQIA+ players to find a home in games that normally wouldn't have sheltered them ten years ago.

Now, in TLOU2, we obviously have Ellie, who is at the least bi and probably just gay, whose character does not revolve around her sexuality. Like in real life, Ellie's gayness is part of her identity, and it is an important part, but it is not her identity itself. It contributes to her thoughts and feelings and actions, but it doesn't define her. This is true to life, makes sense for her story and the story being told by the world of TLOU2 itself. Ellie is, I think, an example of "authentic" game diversity, where it doesn't feel like the devs were checking a box. Ellie being gay is important– it's a big step in the right direction for inclusion, but it doesn't feel tokenized because Ellie's sexuality just helps color in parts of her character. By no means is Ellie's gayness her only character trait– I think we can all agree to this.

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Which is why (and I'm curious to know others' thoughts on this) Lev bothers me so much. Full disclosure, I think trans people belong and it is vital to protect them. I am thrilled to see trans representation in games– I think it's a logical step forward in making sure all players of video games are able to identify someone like them in the form of entertainment in which they partake. The bothersome aspect of Lev is that his whole identity is wrapped around his trans-ness. Where other characters in TLOU2 have a character to be developed that is affected by the tragedy of the world falling apart around them and then HAPPEN to be gay, like Ellie, Lev exists, in my mind, to check off a box for Neil. Lev doesn't get any personal development, doesn't grow, doesn't change, and doesn't struggle with the world around him. He is trans, and that is his identity– and that's the problem. Being trans is an important part of Lev's identity, but it shouldn't be the ONLY thing they give him. He is wasted as a character because he doesn't do or become anything beyond moving from Lily to Lev. And yes, I know that's a difficult step for trans folk to take, but Lev starts to feel like the "token trans kid" when literally everyone else (even Abby) gets at least A LITTLE development related to the world and all the tragedy surrounding them.

Do I think it's important that Lev is trans, and we do have some trans identity in an important side character? Yes. Do I think they botched the execution and made a shitty token of a character because Neil wanted to check off another "DIVERSITY LULZ" box? Also yes. The game deserved a better written character, for sure, but trans folk also deserve to be more than their trans-ness, you know? If Ellie can be gay and ALSO have a character to develop, so can Lev, and they chose not to do that. The game tries so hard to say something about gender and sexuality, and it falls flat because they're concerned with ticking boxes than writing good characters.

Thoughts?

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