At Sony's State of Play live stream on Tuesday, the presentation ended with a new trailer for The Last of Us 2. It shared many more story details, highlighted new brutal gameplay, finally gave a release date, and also left some viewers worried about The Last of Us 2 doubling down on a problematic trope.
The Last of Us 2 now has a release date slated for early next year. Naughty Dog's sequel to their 2013 swan song for the PS3 picks up years after the ending of the original Last of Us, with protagonist Ellie well into her young adulthood. This new trailer finally shows what the story will be, and it's not all flowers and sunshine, with many concerned about a specific character.
The issue in question is the fridging of Ellie's romantic interest, Dina, by enemies in TLOU2, or at the very least, how she is seemingly fridged. To "fridge" a character is to kill them off for the purpose of motivating the protagonist's journey, usually as a set up for a revenge narrative.
This is a trope used in popular media such as Deadpool 2 and the most recent God of War game, and it typically happens to women, girlfriends, and wives. The term originated in comics as "women in refrigerators" which was coined by comics writer Gail Simone in 1999. The name was inspired by a storyline in a 1994 Green Lantern issue, where the Green Lantern found the dead body of his girlfriend Alex DeWitt stuffed inside his refrigerator.
In the latest Last of Us 2 trailer, what are presumably early game events pick up right where the previous trailer left off. Dina, Ellie's romantic partner, is flirtatiously discussing their kiss from the previous trailer before duty calls. Ellie and Dina are sent on a scavenging mission to gather supplies for the camp/civilization where they have made their home. Dina appears to be captured, and in an attempt to rescue her, Ellie is overpowered by a man and a gunshot goes off.
The rest of the trailer works off the assumption that Dina was killed, and that Ellie's journey in The Last of Us Part 2 is one fueled by revenge. "I have to finish it," she says before embarking on a quest to find and kill the men responsible for whatever happened to Dina.
Given the history of sexualization of female characters across all media and an industry that still struggles with sexual harassment in the workplace, it's easy to realize how this trope can play into negative portrayals of women in games. Having women characters pop up just to be killed very shortly into the game to move the plot forward is understandably frustrating for people who identify with the character.
It's likely that this is indeed the set-up for the game because of how closely everything seems to correlate. However, some fans and writers are speculating that this is too obvious for Naughty Dog, given the developer's history of tricking viewers with their trailers. This was a tactic specifically used in the marketing for the original Last of Us. It could be the case that this is once again meant to trick viewers. Dina could very well be kidnapped, which logically serves as much greater motivation for Ellie to infiltrate what appears to be an extremely dangerous and well armed militia outfit. Or maybe someone else was shot. The intentional vagueness does suggest this as a strong possibility.
However, this is too reason to be concerned about The Last of Us 2. It's hard to see what good pretending to play into this trope does for the game's hype schedule. It's easy to infer, given the dominance of the trope, that the writers of The Last of Us 2 are aware of the "fridge" trope and how it can produce outrage. So the question now has changed to "is outrage part of the plan?"
Marketing for The Last of Us 2 has been steeped in controversy since a late 2017 teaser showing excessive violence, meaning the developer could be doubling down on what seems to be drawing the public eye the most. Now, it seems as if Naughty Dog is either using the "fridge" trope fairly obviously, or using the vague editing of the trailer to subvert expectations down the line. Either way, it's too early to be making any judgment calls on what is happening with Dina exactly.
If the game is going to give context to the violence and to the opening moments the trailers have shown, it has yet to do so and may not for some time. Considering TLOU2's massive install requirements and reports of it being the "most ambitious and longest game" in Naughty Dog's history, there is still plenty of room to flesh out ideas that will contextualize what is shown in the trailers when the full game releases next year.
The Last of Us Part 2 will release for PlayStation 4 on February 21st, 2020.