Dear Naughty Dog: Please Stop Torturing People in Your Trailers for The Last of Us 2

I know the game has important things to say about the horrors of the apocalypse. Trust me, I believe you.

Opinion by Nadia Oxford, .

The games shown at E3 2018's presentations from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo teased everything from joy-smothering conflicts to riotous celebrations of life and color. It was a good show overall, and the variety of content on-hand is a sign developers and publishers are getting more comfortable with using games to express themselves. It wasn't that long ago when attending E3 meant sitting through 30 straight minutes of generic multiplayer war game footage.

I feel like those dishwater-dull E3s of the early '10s are finally behind us (hopefully they stay there). 2018's trailers, news, and announcements were plentiful and interesting. Outside of the 20-minute delay Sony initiated by switching its live audience from a church to a proper theatre after the demo of The Last of Us 2 (weird), I don't think I ever glanced distractedly at my phone during the presentations.

I did shut my eyes for one moment, however: The instance when a hapless prisoner was disemboweled, screaming, during Naughty Dog's lengthy demonstration of The Last of Us 2. Bright new footage of Kingdom Hearts III followed a little later.

"I'm Cupid, beeyotch."

I respect video games as a storytelling medium. I understand some games contain graphic violence, even torture and extreme gore. I understand not everyone gets light-headed and lowkey nauseous—even panicky—when they see calculated acts of brutality performed on another human being in a game. That's fine! I don't have to play games that contain disturbingly bloody content.

I do, however, need to cover E3. I need to pay close attention to what Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and other developers unveil for us. Naughty Dog, my friend—how necessary was it to show me that poor dangling bastard getting his kishke cut out while his legs twitch and pump futilely in the air?

I get it. The Last of Us 2's violence is supposed to be brutal. It's supposed to highlight the struggle of surviving in a grim post-apocalyptic world where humans remain the greatest threat (which is a theme that's unnecessarily pessimistic about humanity, but anyway). According to creative director Neil Druckmann The Last of Us 2 is supposed to make you think about your role in feeding the cycle of violence.

At least some smiles linger in this weird world.

Again, fine— but Naughty Dog also showed us a close-up of a woman getting her arm broken in a trailer that premiered last fall. The trailer was a highlight of Sony's Paris Games Week, another public show covered by games writers and journalists with varying degrees of tolerance for on-screen brutality.

All right, Naughty Dog. I concede you have something important to say about the human condition. You've convinced me The Last of Us 2 is 2 legit 2 quit. Now kindly just…give the publicized on-screen torture a rest? Eh? Maybe save some bone-breakage for the good people with iron stomachs who buy The Last of Us 2 with a full understanding of what the game's about?

I hate to be a bother about all this, but the struggling image of the hanging man imprinted itself behind my eyelids and took the fun out of being baffled by Death Stranding's new trailer. Thanks. Bless.

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Comments 18

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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #1 benjaminlu86 5 months ago
  • Avatar for internisus #2 internisus 5 months ago
    There's no getting around the fact that it's a violent game, and it shouldn't have to make excuses for that; but I am sympathetic to the idea that it's problematic to expose a more general audience to its marketing, especially since it includes many people such as yourself who are professionally obligated to be there. Like I said in a comment on another post, I think that the respectful move for Sony/ND would have been to drop their trailer in a dedicated event or just an online-only reveal.

    However, complicating the issue is the fact that video games are broadly saturated with normalized violence anyway, which makes it very difficult to determine just what content breaches the already-generous borders of acceptability. Just after this The Last of Us Part 2 demo we saw Ghost of Tsushima in footage that included multiple sword duels, bloody executions, and an arrow to the face. Was that video as gory as TLoU2? No, but who decides where that line is drawn, especially when it comes to unfinished games that have yet to be rated by the ESRB?
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  • Avatar for Maxbeedo #3 Maxbeedo 5 months ago
    I'm with you Nadia. I remember things too well, so any horror or traumatic events stick with me for years and years (I still have nightmares about things I saw in movies 30 years ago), so I avoid the entire horror genre. I'm definitely not against telling a deep, gritty, realistically gruesome story, in many ways I think games can do it better than movies can, but they're not for me.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #4 SuperShinobi 5 months ago
    Considering the first game, violence in the sequel isn't a surprise. I think trailers should represent a game accurately and if there's a lot of violence in the game, trailers should reflect that. The game is trying to depict a collapsed society in a realistic way and a collapsed society would likely be a violent one. One of the roles of fiction and art is to explore these alternate realities and what-if scenarios. What surprised me about the trailer was the opening barn dance scene, which suggests that five years on society has recovered a bit and there are now pockets of normal life, unlike in the first game.Edited June 2018 by SuperShinobi
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #5 LBD_Nytetrayn 5 months ago
    @SuperShinobi There are other ways to go about it, though. I didn't care for the rat-crushing and maybe some other stuff shown during Sony's presser, but right on their YouTube page after, they also had another trailer without that stuff that seemed to take it down a notch or so.

    Why couldn't that be the one they ran alongside Spider-Man and Donald and Goofy?
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  • Avatar for dopeeffect- #6 dopeeffect- 5 months ago
    Listen. This game is not for you. Please STOP trying to censor and get rid of things you do not like or agree with. Why would any one advertise a violent, post-apocalyptic video game and not show the violence players will encounter in the game? Do you want people to be confused about what the game even is? Why must everything deemed "offensive" be stricken from society? God forbid people go one day in their lives without seeing or hearing something that offends them or hurts their feelings. This is an attention seeking article because you have a weak stomach and want some way to play the victim. Truly pathetic.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #7 Kuni-Nino 5 months ago
    Like it or not, I gotta respect ND for knowing how to get attention. They overshadow everybody.
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  • Avatar for DogNozzle #8 DogNozzle 5 months ago
    @internisus Abstractly, you make a fair point. But this in this specific the devs have clearly stated that they are trying to push past industry-typical levels of realistic violence, and are doing so as an artistic choice. It’s not a case of “the ambient levels of violence in videos games is so high, we can’t quite tell where to draw the line”.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #9 LBD_Nytetrayn 5 months ago
    @dopeeffect- No one's trying to censor or get rid of anything.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #10 LBD_Nytetrayn 5 months ago
    Deleted June 2018 by LBD_Nytetrayn
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #11 nadiaoxford 5 months ago
    @dopeeffect- Read the article, then try again.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #12 nadiaoxford 5 months ago
    Deleted June 2018 by nadiaoxford
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #13 Fourfoldroot 5 months ago
    I'm sorry for your trauma in this, but journalists would also be critical if ND hid all the extreme imagery and people where caught off guard at release I think. A written on screen warning and countdown could have been provided I guess, so people had time to look away/shut their eyes.Edited June 2018 by Fourfoldroot
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #14 Gamer-Law 5 months ago
    @nadiaoxford - While I understand what ND is trying to achieve by making people contemplate the role they play in perpetuating the cycle of violence, they should also understand that habituation is not the same as inoculation. The shock value of repetitive, gratuitous violence does not lead to their desired result of meaningful contemplation and you are right to express your desire for ND to move beyond it.
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  • Avatar for Toad64 #15 Toad64 5 months ago
    I have a family member who saw someone hang themselves. They suffer PTSD very badly, over a decade later. If they had been in the crowd during that, it would have been pretty disastrous for them. I agree that maybe when showing trailers that gaming journalists are watching in a theater, they should be treated differently than a trailer that is released online that the fans can watch at their leisure.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #16 UnskippableCutscene 5 months ago
    I play plenty of "violent" games, including most the "edgy" pre-PS2 generation titles, but have been sickened by various trailers at times, including trailers for game series I like. The Death Stranding trailer you were just trying to get to was the one this year that made me shout "NOPE NOPE NOPE" at the screen. Assassins Creed Unity was a bad game, but turned me off from the get-go with it's depiction of a beheaded noggin on a pike (sure, that's the French revolution for you, but ick).

    All said though, I seemed to see way more organized abuse of living individuals this year than in the past. Part of the extreme focus on post-apocalyptic, fallen-society settings is warlords and thugs ordering people at gunpoint, managing concentration camp like settings, and publicly executing someone in front of the flock. I think Red Dead's trailer did it, I think Division 2's did, at least one other game did.

    I think maybe the real issue here is why every video game is turning into The Purge. It makes games that have made a unique signature on the post-apoc theme like TLoU fail to stand out among the crowd.Edited June 2018 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for brimleyIsTheThing #17 brimleyIsTheThing 5 months ago
    @dopeeffect- I don't think she asked for anything to be censored or deemed it "offensive". In fact, if you hit ctrl-f and type the word "offensive", it seems you are the only one who said that.

    I have a high tolerance for the type graphic violence ND depicted in this trailer. Over the years, and having two kids of my own now, I'm starting to question when and where it is appropriate with no intent to ever ask that we censor our artists. I don't think there is a correct answer and I know I have to use my better judgement as a gamer, consumer, and parent when deciding when and where that sort of depicted violence should be present.

    No point in being dismissive and apathetic because there is a misalignment in fundementals and opinions. Don't be so harsh on Nadia's stance and opinion.

    Great op-ed@nadiaoxford.
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  • Avatar for brimleyIsTheThing #18 brimleyIsTheThing 5 months ago
    Deleted June 2018 by brimleyIsTheThing
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  • Avatar for sashrinaldi94 #19 sashrinaldi94 5 months ago
    I sympathise with your feelings about this (and violence and its depictions in media in general) but ND would be remiss to NOT show what players are getting themselves in for. They will be going to some very dark places in this sequel, and ND want you to know it. That's admirable, do you think? And (I think) more responsible than toning down the violence of a game that is exploring the themes of violence and what it does to the characters - just because it's going to be shown in a public setting. Because that's the story they're telling. I hate to say it, but "if you can't stand the heat..."Edited June 2018 by sashrinaldi94
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  • Avatar for Johnny-Law #20 Johnny-Law 5 months ago
    They gave a pretty explicit content warning before the show, this criticism is kinda unfair.
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  • Avatar for joshhempfleng17 #21 joshhempfleng17 4 months ago
    Maybe you should get out of the buisness of covering these types of games if you don't have the stomache to cover these types of games, rather than trying to get the industry to change to suite your weak stomache? This is one of the more egotistical articles i've read in a while. To expect a developer to change the way they advertise just for you, when maybe you should not be in this buisness anyway.
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