Back in 2012, creative director Neil Druckmann of Naughty Dog came forward saying that the team "flat-out refused" to move Ellie to the back of the cover for The Last of Us. It was a talking point that came up during the game's development: Could female leads sell in an industry that had a barrage of male protagonists? Druckmann debunked the myth, saying it was a misconception that female-led games couldn't sell, but women protagonists were nonetheless few and far between.
Much has changed since then. E3 2014 in particular saw a surge of female playable protagonists introduced in trailers. Demand for diversity is seen from the gaming audience, and developers are also taking more interest. Overwatch's game director Jeff Kaplan, for example, explained during a D.I.C.E. summit keynote this year that Blizzard's goal with the game's characters and world building wasn't just about diversity, but also strongly focused on "inclusivity and open mindedness."
Naughty Dog, a studio that has long been dedicated to building strong stories, has a similar ambition. It believes that this kind of inclusion is important to build narratives we care about. "I think people can empathize with any sort of character from any sort of background, but thereís something special when you see yourself in an experience," Druckmann says. "I think the more we can create that for all sorts of people, the more games can grow and become more intriguing stories when you [introduce characters] of different backgrounds and walks of life."
Today, Naughty Dog is busy working on two titles that are female-driven: The Last of Us Part II, where you play as Ellie, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, where Chloe and Nadine are reintroduced, but this time as protagonists. The Lost Legacy is the first game from Naughty Dog with two female leads who are also of color, with Nadine being a black woman and Chloe being half Indian. "Two women of color, that was happenstance, but weíll take it," says writer Josh Scherr. "That representation is also important. Itís not the primary thing but itís nice that itís happening. I have a daughter and I would like her to see more positive role models or representations in games and the media in general."
Naughty Dog told us that while it believes having characters with different genders and backgrounds is important for representation, the team is first and foremost concerned about building realistic, human stories that are impactful. Choosing Chloe and Nadine as the two faces for The Lost Legacy had more to do with the team being fascinated with them for who they are, and how the two would contrast one another.
Game director Kurt Margenau told us that during playtest sessions for The Lost Legacy, one of the most prominent notes of feedback from players was that they were excited to see two strong female leads. Margenau explained that while he's pleased to see players take joy in that, it is also "kind of sad" that this is still an issue and something worth pointing out.
With The Lost Legacy, Naughty Dog is excited to take a new direction and explore different cultures, while still remaining in that same Uncharted universe. "The conversation is continuing to evolve, and thereís going to be pushback from both sides as we work beyond our comfort zones and allow for things to be more inclusive and by extension more interesting and diverse," Scherr says. "We just polished off a series about a white male protagonist that we loved working on, and wanted to work on something new."
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