"This is a story about hate - an intense, harrowing, and emotional adventure," said The Last of Us 2’s creative director at a 2016 panel. He might have been talking about the game’s themes, but it could easily be a description of everything that’s been happening these past few weeks.
If you’re not up to speed, here’s the lowdown. Earlier this year, Kotaku released a report about the working conditions at Naughty Dog. The article paints a picture of “simultaneously the best and the worst workplace in the world”.
“They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks,” said one former developer. “But for the most part, the implication is: ‘Get the job done at all costs.’”
The main symptom of this heavy workload is talent churn. After work wrapped on Uncharted 4, 70-percent of non-lead designers left the company. Even co-lead Bruce Straley departed shortly after the game shipped, apparently burnt out.
There are legitimate concerns about the wellbeing of the workers at Naughty Dog, but these concerns have been co-opted and used as an excuse to act abhorrently by a vocal portion of the audience.
Just over a week ago there was a huge leak from The Last of Us Part 2 - important scenes were leaked in their entirety and the whole premise of the game was laid bare. Rumours began circulating at the time that this was the work of a disgruntled employee who hadn’t been paid.
Over the last couple of days it’s become apparent that this isn’t the case at all. The leak was the work of hackers who had used an exploit in a patch to a previous Naughty Dog game.
This tweet thread gives a full rundown of how this happened:
For those of you interested in TLOU2 leaks and how it happened, here's your rundown
I have no idea how many tweets this will be so buckle up
— PixelButts (@PixelButts) May 3, 2020
Still, despite this proof to the contrary, all stories about the leak being the work of hackers are being bombarded with comments in which people claim Sony and Naughty Dog are lying. Apparently they’re just trying to cover up the fact that this alleged former employee didn’t get the bonuses they were promised.
According to Bloomberg News reporter Jason Schreier, Naughty Dog actually did the opposite of holding back pay. “Most importantly, rumors of this being an act of protest by a contractor whose pay was robbed are not true,” he said. “(ND actually extended pay and healthcare benefits for contractors due to covid).”
Yet the conspiracy theories soldier on because of whollopers on the internet. I believe there’s a singular reason for this: it’s because this vocal minority of angry internet babies are pissed off that the story isn’t catered to them, the protagonists of reality.
Over the years, video games have done their best to pander to them. Every bit of corporate messaging makes them believe art is for them and artists are their servants. “We do this for you, the gamers,” says the corporate overlord who wants to sell you a product. “Don’t like something? No worries. We’ll patch it out.”
It’s basement dwelling shitlords who complain about characters’ breast sizes. If they’re realistic, it’s an “SJW” game and it’s “censorship”. If they’re massive cartoon tits, that’s just artistic integrity, dude.
Anyone who’s played The Last of Us knows Ellie is gay and these shitbirds use that fact as a shield - “I liked the first one, so I’m clearly not mad that the game is progressive,” they’ll say. Except Ellie’s sexuality was only explored in an optional DLC. In The Last of Us Part 2, it’s clearly a part of her character and she even has a love interest.
I won’t go into spoiler territory, but The Last of Us Part 2 also features other forms of representation, and the reaction to this has been abhorrent. I came into work this morning and spent the first hour of my day banning people in the comments for being hateful, disgusting human beings. And this is only a portion of the turd pie that Naughty Dog employees have been served over the past couple of weeks.
Director Neil Druckmann has also shared some of the antisemetic comments he’s been receiving on Instagram. It’s a barrage of bile. Then there’s the sad people who have created Twitter accounts just to reply to tweets with spoiler videos and messages. The predictable bastards will do it here, no doubt. Hell, even the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla stream chat was littered with spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.
Yet these people dare to hide behind the working conditions at Naughty Dog. Any criticism of them is shut down and they claim you don’t care about the workers. If you truly believe that, ask yourself this: how would you feel if you worked your fingers to the bone on something for five years, and the conversation around it turned into one of the most toxic events in video games right at the final hurdle? I can only imagine how demoralising these past few weeks have been for the team at Naughty Dog.
The worst part is, there’s nothing anyone can say or do to change their minds. It doesn’t matter that there’s proof this leak was external. It doesn’t matter that a guy on VG247 has written an article pointing out the absurdity of it all. None of it matters. That’s because the anger was never really about that. The anger is there because Naughty Dog dared to make a video game story that seemingly strays from the norm. It’s no wonder most developers play it safe. After all, it never was about working conditions. It’s about hate.