HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ adaptation is a milestone for LGBTQ gamers
Warning: Spoilers ahead for HBO The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part I and The Last of Us Part II video games.
For some LGBTQ gamers, their first exposure to a queer character in a video game was the curmudgeonly Bill in the 2013 blockbuster The Last of Us.
On Sunday, a decade later, those gamers watched in awe as Bills recounts a romance with his partner Frank became the focal point of episode three of HBO’s hugely popular adaptation of the game.
It was beautiful, and I was so unexpected, said Darion Lowenstein, 41, a video game consultant, who is gay. Obviously, I played the games religiously and I know there are gay characters in there, but I wasn’t expecting a tearful 80-minute work of art.
Gay gamers who tuned in said it felt like a watershed moment for LGBTQ representation in video games.
Left to right, Murray Bartlett as Frank and Nick Offerman as Bill in HBO’s “The Last of Us.” Courtesy of WarnerMedia
Bills’ story, while a first for some, is just a queer storyline in an industry in which LGBTQ narratives are becoming increasingly prominent. Examples of queer characters include transgender man Tyler Ronan in 2020s Tell Me Why and Dorian Pavus in 2014s Dragon Age: Inquisition. Queer-themed games date back to Gay Blade in the 1992s, according to the group. advocacy for LGBTQ GLAAD media. Yet it took them decades to reach the level of mainstream exposure they enjoy today.
After watching the third episode of The Last of Us, LGBTQ gamers who spoke to NBC News said it was an important time for the spread of queer stories in a medium sometimes stereotyped as being only for people. straight men.
Part of that sentiment is due to the mainstream success of The Last of Us. The pilot saw 4.7 million people tune in, and Episode 2 saw the biggest viewership boost of any series, with 5.7 million viewers, Variety reported.
Blair Durkee, Associate Director of Games for GLAAD, said: The Last of Us, the game and the series can have a much more powerful effect on gamers and viewers than most people realize.
For so many LGBTQ people, seeing characters like you portrayed in the games you play can be critical, she said. It can change the course of your life.
Watch Bill and Franks’ love story unfold
The Last of Us takes viewers to a dystopian modern America where a fungal infection known as cordyceps has spawned a global pandemic, turning its victims into aggressive zombie-like monsters. The fungus grows from its host’s head, like a grotesque mushroom, blinding it over time and forcing it to use echolocation to attack. This has earned late-stage infected people the nickname clickers.
The HBO adaptation (helmed by Chernobyl executive producer Craig Mazin and games creative lead Neil Druckmann) has been hailed on social media by fans of the game, who have applauded the series for capturing its aesthetic.
From left, Nick Offerman as Bill with Murray Bartlett as Frank in ‘The Last of Us’. Courtesy of WarnerMedia
Set in the year 2023, the show follows Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie Williams (Bella Ramsey) 20 years after the cordyceps epidemic began. Over the course of nine episodes, Joel must obtain Ellie who unwittingly becomes the last bastion of hope for an eventual cure when it is discovered that she is immune to the zombie-inducing fungal infection at a known rebel guerrilla group. under the name of Fireflies, who hope to develop a cure for cordyceps.
A consistent element in both the game and the series is the LGBTQ character centering. Ellie is a lesbian, first revealed in a 2014 video game expansion pack titled The Last of Us: Left Behind. This scenario will be explored later in the first season of the television series. In The Last of Us Part II, Lev, a transgender man, is introduced.
The media shouldn’t ignore the very real hardships LGBTQ people face in today’s world, but it’s equally important to convey hate, discrimination, these things are not intrinsic to the human condition.
-Blair Durkee, Associate Director of Games for GLAAD
While Bill (played by Nick Offerman) spends a lot of time on the HBO series, he’s only a minor albeit significant character in the original video game. In The Last of Us Part I, the rude loner helps Joel and Ellie get a car in order to find the fireflies. During this mission, Bill mentions that he once had a partner and the two decided to go their separate ways. Later, he found out that Bills’ partner was a man, Frank (played by Murray Bartlett on the show).
On the HBO show, Bills’ story begins at the start of the cordyceps pandemic. After everyone evacuates, Bill emerges from an apocalyptic-style bunker laden with guns, weapons, and electronics. It soon becomes apparent that Bill has been expecting a disaster of this magnitude for some time, and he quickly fortifies his house with an electric fence and various traps to keep clickers and thieves out. He uses a generator for electricity, prepares gourmet meals. and keeps an eye on the perimeter with a massive surveillance system.
He is content with his loneliness until he finds Frank, who is wandering into one of Bills’ traps. Frank, a traveler who is the sole survivor of a group heading to a “QZ” (quarantine zone) in Boston from one in Baltimore, eventually convinces Bill to feed him. From there, the most iconic romance shows flourish.
Offerman and Bartlett, who declined to comment for this article, both praised the script, saying the characters were already fully fleshed out on the page.
I’m just so grateful to be the recipient of this piece of scripture. I hope I didn’t mess up, Offerman told Complex.
Stories like Bill and Frank’s, which focus on couples’ romance without the societal ills of discrimination and bigotry, can be important forms of representation, Durkee said.
The media should not ignore the very real difficulties that LGBTQ people face in today’s world, but it is equally important to convey hatred, discrimination, these things are not intrinsic to the human condition, she said. These things must not exist.
“I really felt represented”
On Sunday night, player Chris Bonatsakis said he felt like he was back in 2013 when he first played The Last of Us Part I and learned about Bills’ story. Although Bills’ role in the game is small and his mention of being gay is brief, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by LGBTQ gamers like Bonatsakis.
At the time, he was in his early twenties and still in the closet about his sexuality. Bills’ story was the first time he felt seen in a video game, he said. A decade later, after watching Episode 3 of the series, Bonatsakis, 31, said many emotions had resurfaced.
I was also overwhelmed with the idea that everyone was watching it, he said. I felt represented again, just like the game. It was really cool to see on screen.
On social media, fans also seemed overwhelmed by the episode, though many said they hadn’t anticipated Bill and Frank’s romance would be its core.
the last of us writers was like hey joel needs a car. what if we write the world’s most touching and heartbreaking hour of television, one person tweeted.
Another wrote: a post-apocalyptic zombie show based on a video game somehow doing one of the nicest queer stories I’ve seen in a long time, not what I expected.
LGBTQ gamers who spoke for this article from the episode on Sunday echoed Bonatsakis, saying to them the episode felt like a leap forward for an industry that hasn’t always felt accepting of queer stories.
Drag queen and Twitch horror game streamer Elix said that if the series hadn’t been based on a video game, she might not have considered it such a leap forward.
Because it’s an adaptation of a game, and I still see it as the storyline of a game, absolutely, Elix said of the episode advancing queer stories in the gaming industry. don’t think I’ve ever seen a game depict a relationship under the LGBTQ umbrella like this. It was excellence.
Adaptation gives players hope for greater representation
Some queer viewers expressed excitement that Sunday’s episode would expose even more people to gay video game characters. This prospect, they said, made them more optimistic about the future of the industry.
It gives me hope that other game studios, gamers, viewers, gamers will all be more open and want more content like this with a wider mix of characters than we currently have,” Lowenstein said. .
About 10% of gamers are LGBTQ, according to a 2020 Nielsen survey. And for many of those queer gamers, Durkee said, video games are a lifeline.
While the industry is sometimes seen as a straight male hobby, she says, queer voices have been part of the gaming industry since its inception.
But yet, gaming culture tends to be very hostile towards people like us,” Durkee added, “and so we tend to create our own little spaces separate from the mainstream, and that’s part of what fuels this misconception.
She pointed to corners of the industry like Twitch, where drag queens like Elix have built followers, and the speed running community (a collective of gamers who finish games as fast as possible), which has a number of transgender members.
Unlike most other forms of media, namely film and television, Durkee said, video games provide queer people with an important means of self-expression because of their interactive nature. She said character customization in games such as The Sims and World of Warcraft can allow gay gamers to express their identities in ways that traditional media cannot.
As representation in the gaming industry grows, important stories, like those told in The Last of Us, still make up a small part of the canon.
There are so many different LGBTQ stories waiting to be told, Durkee said.
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