The response to HBO's 'The Last of Us' shows homophobia is still a major issue in gaming
Episode three of HBO's "The Last of Us" sparked homophobic backlash from some viewers.
The series is based on a 2013 video game.
Homophobia has long been an issue in the gaming community and larger fandoms.
The latest episode of HBO's video-game adaptation "The Last of Us" has been widely praised — but it's also inspired fierce backlash, shining a light on what have been persistent issues in the gaming community and larger cultural fandoms: homophobia and anti-LGBTQ ideology.
A 2019 survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that 74% of adults who have played online video games have experienced harassment. 53% of those who experienced harassment were targeted for their identities, and 35% of LGBTQ+ players said they had experienced harassment over their identity.
Episode three of "The Last of Us" has received critical praise — garnering a has a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes — it's been review-bombed on sites like review aggregator Metacritic, where it has a user score of 4.8 out of 10. The first two episodes received 8.7 and 8.6 user scores, respectively.
HBO's series is based on the 2013 video game of the same name and is set 20 years after a fungal pandemic leaves the world in ruins. Joel, played by Pedro Pascal in the TV series, is charged with escorting an immune teenage girl Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, across the US in the hopes of finding a cure.
Sunday's episode, titled "Long, Long Time," depicts a gay romance between Bill, played by Nick Offerman, and Frank, played by Murray Bartlett.
In the "Last of Us" game, Bill's relationship with Frank is hinted at, but Frank never appears on screen. The HBO series takes their story in a new direction and provides backstory not seen in the game.
Neil Druckmann, who created both the game and the series, told The Hollywood Reporter that Bill and Frank's relationship "went over a lot of people's heads" in the game.
"At the time, [the subtlety is] what helped get it in," he said. "It's sad to say, but it would have been controversial otherwise."
Unfortunately, as the reviews show, it's still controversial with some people.
"LGBT propaganda," said one user review on Metacritic. "In the game it was just a small hint, but here they devoted an entire episode to this. It was really unpleasant for me to watch this, not all people support this, why are you imposing this madness!"
Plenty more reviews accused the episode of pushing LGBT "propaganda" or a "gay agenda."
Insider even received an email from a reader in response to its story about the episode being review-bombed, which further exemplifies this homophobia.
"If the scenes were kept proportionally to real life population percentages of the population that identifies as such Nobody would say anything," the email said. "But when it comes the central focus of every single show these days then people tune our. As it's clear they are no longer focused on making good shows but promoting their political ideologies."
The response from some homophobic fans to Sunday's episode comes nearly a decade after "gamergate," a far-right online movement against "progressivism" in gaming, built on racism, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny.
Echoes of "gamergate" could be seen in criticism against "The Last of Us Part II," the 2020 video game sequel, in which Ellie's sexuality is further explored.
"Part II" also sparked review-bombing. On Metacritic, it has a 5.8 user score, while the first game received a 9.2 user rating. Still, the game sold 4 million copies in its first three days of release — the fastest-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive at the time.
HBO's series is also popular in the face of the toxic backlash. The latest episode was watched by over 6 million viewers on Sunday, a series high — vindication at its finest.
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