A withdrawn-looking 19-year-old leans in opposition to the bar in a country barn embellished with fairy lights, watching different individuals dance, taking nervous sips. She is taking a look at one other younger lady who’s spinning round the room with a pair of completely different guys. “I hate these things,” says a buddy standing subsequent to her. “Tell me about it,” she replies.

But then the different lady catches her eye and encourages her on to the dancefloor. They banter playfully; she seems to be torn between nervous pleasure and visual discomfort. “Every guy in this room is staring at you right now,” she says. “I think they’re jealous of you,” her accomplice replies.

“I’m just a girl. Not a threat.”

“Oh, Ellie. I think they should be terrified of you,” she whispers, earlier than leaning in for a kiss.

You wouldn’t usually count on a scene corresponding to this in a video game that’s ostensibly about killing zombies. Given athat feminine primary characters in video games had been a rarity till fairly not too long ago, the proven fact that one of the greatest releases of the yr, The Last of Us Part II, stars a homosexual lady seems like a major second. Ellie is, in truth, the first homosexual star of any blockbuster game (indie builders have been much less shy about exploring queer tales).

Dina and Ellie in The Last of Us Part II.

Dina and Ellie in The Last of Us Part II. Photograph: Naughty Dog

The Last of Us Part II will not be a game about Ellie’s sexuality, or anybody’s, actually; it’s a darkish, violent and emotionally difficult revenge story, one which regularly makes you query what you’re doing as a participant. But Ellie’s sexuality is a truth of who she is. We journey by way of a lot of the game together with her girlfriend Dina (performed by Shannon Woodward); we see her expertise homophobia and have awkward conversations with the individuals who care about her.

Ellie is performed by Ashley Johnson – a heat, wry and incongruously shy actor who had quite a few credit in movie and TV earlier than touchdown a task in 2013’s The Last of Us. “I remember getting the scripts and the character breakdown; the very first drawing of Ellie will always be imprinted into my brain,” Johnson recollects. “Playing a lead female character in a game is already pretty cool, but the fact that she’s gay is even cooler, for me. Representation is so important.”

Most usually in video video games, if a personality is homosexual it’s since you selected for them to be so. Role-playing video games have lengthy featured romance, and a few builders pleasure themselves on providing gamers unrestricted selection; in BioWare’s 2011 fantasy game Dragon Age 2, characters of all genders are “player-sexual” and can fortunately reciprocate in the event you hit on them. But usually there isn’t a lot weight to this model of in-game queerness. Your romantic decisions by no means have an effect on how a personality strikes by way of the world or how others react to them. Often your selection of romantic accomplice feels hardly extra consequential than your selection of favorite weapon. Despite a historical past of homosexual illustration that goes again many years – homosexual marriage was a factor in The Sims lengthy earlier than most real-world nations – video games hardly ever have a lot to say about what it’s wish to be queer in actual life.

In 2013’s The Last of Us, Ellie was a supporting character: the humorous, sarcastic teenage foil to gruff, conflicted, beardy father determine Joel, who transported her throughout America on a post-apocalyptic highway journey. That modified with 2014’s The Last of Us: Left Behind, a brief companion game that took gamers again to Ellie’s first romance together with her teenage greatest pal Riley. It is a heartfelt and heartbreaking vignette of old flame at the finish of the world, following the women on an irresistibly harmful jaunt by way of a long-abandoned mall that, sadly, seems to not be free of the contaminated. It was time I’d ever performed from the perspective of a teen lady, and the first time I’d ever seen the intense, humorous and generally complicated dynamics of feminine greatest friendship given any airtime in a game.

Ellie, right, with Riley in The Last of Us: Left Behind.

A younger Ellie, proper, with Riley in The Last of Us: Left Behind. Photograph: Naughty Dog

Amusingly, regardless of a fairly unambiguous kiss at the finish of Left Behind, some gamers had been reluctant to just accept Ellie’s sexuality. “Whenever I’ve met fans at [conventions] there are still some people who ask: ‘Ellie’s not gay, right? She was just experimenting, right?’” laughs Johnson. “Ellie is VERY gay. She always has been and there was never any doubt about it. Hopefully, after this game people will stop asking that question.”

The Last of Us Part II is an especially heavy game. Ellie will get drawn right into a horrible cycle of retribution that takes her and the participant to some extraordinarily darkish locations, and Ashley says that a lot of it was actually exhausting to shoot. But it’s not an unremittingly grim expertise; there are moments of intimacy and levity that elevate the temper, notably the scenes between Ellie and her girlfriend, who at one level find yourself hooking up in an deserted underground hashish farm. “I love how Ellie and Dina’s relationship is depicted in this game,” says Johnson. “I think it’s so beautiful and fun, wholesome and sexy.”

Since 2013, when Johnson first performed Ellie, illustration has come a great distance in video games. We have seen extra feminine characters, extra racial range, and an explosion of tales about relationships and id, from the supernatural teen drama Life Is Strange to millennial disaffection cleaning soap opera Night in the Woods. Queer characters and tales are beginning to take centre stage in video games: later this yr, French studio Dontnod’s Tell Me Why will develop into the first game with a trans primary character. And simply as with movie and TV, it’s particularly significant for younger individuals to see themselves represented on-screen.

“I’m an incredibly private person, but when I do get to talk with people about this game, especially fans who are younger and figuring themselves out, I am oftentimes just reduced to a puddle [of tears],” says Johnson. “I’ve met teenagers who played the first game and Left Behind and said that it helped them feel comfortable coming out… It’s gone so far past just being a game for me.”

The Last of Us Part II is out now

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