If you've been following coverage of The Last of Us Part 2, then you already know it's aiming to push its story and gameplay in directions that will be harder to stomach than the first game for many players. Today, a specific bit of marketing material from GameStop went viral for taking a blunt, vulgar picture of violence towards dogs in the game, prompting a representative of Naughty Dog to clarify that the studio wasn't behind the messaging.
The passage was included in a tweet that has since amassed over 2,000 likes and hundreds of retweets, identifying it as a quote "from a promotional email." Dozens of replies characterize it as obscene, while others opine that it reflects a stance on violence that pervades all the game's combat. Without specifying where the passage came from, some readers may have been led to believe the following came directly from Naughty Dog or Sony. The passage is from GameStop's website on The Last of Us Part 2's pre-order page, under a section titled "Why GameStop Is Excited for The Last of Us Part 2." It reads:
One of the most noticeable new features of the game is the inclusion of dogs. These dogs are in the game to follow your scent and will attack you as soon as they have sniffed you out. The game doesn't pull any punches or "stray" from the idea that while you're playing as Ellie in a struggle to survive, killing dogs is necessary. You'll also have to deal with the fact though that each dog has an owner, which will call out the dog's name and cry in absolute horror when they discover their lifeless furry best friend. You've been warned.
Arne Meyer, Naughty Dog's director of communications, has since commented on the messaging via Twitter and in response to a thread on the forum ResetEra. "So @naughty_dog didn't write or assist writing this," writes Meyer. "Don't appreciate out of context screenshot crops without mentioning the source. Folks, please google these things! This text came from an independent editorial post from a retailer. It's on their website."
When USgamer Senior Editor Caty McCarthy played a preview of The Last of Us Part 2 last year, she experienced first-hand how dogs pose a threat in the game: "It was when the action popped off that The Last of Us Part 2 started to make me really uncomfortable, but in a fascinating way. Enemies shout each other's names when someone dies; when I killed a dog running at me, their owner cried out in a way that made me a bit sad, even."
Lead game designer Emilia Schatz told USG that feeling uncomfortable with that violence is what Naughty Dog intends: "A sense of discomfort with what Ellie is doing, what the player is doing[.]" Other outlets picked up on the unsettling nature of the violence against dogs, too. Speaking with The LA Times, Director Neil Druckman specified that it's actually possible to play The Last of Us Part 2 "without killing a single dog."
So, regardless of how you feel about its tone, GameStop's characterization is mostly accurate when it comes to the way dogs work in game. Saying "killing dogs is necessary" does contradict what Druckmann has said about what's possible in playing The Last of Us 2, but his full comments to The LA Times also suggest that Naughty Dog won't make avoiding the violence easy:
"We got into a debate," he said. "In focus-testing the game, some testers had issues killing the dogs. So do we downplay it? Do we just remove the yelping and make it quicker? I said, 'No.' We are making a story about the cycle of violence and we have to honor that. We are doing a disservice if we try to appeal to a larger group to make them more comfortable. A lot of the story, and what's unique to video games, is the actions will make you uncomfortable. We're asking you to participate in actions. That, to me, is the magic juice that's unique to this medium."
Yes, The Last of Us Part 2 will put Ellie in life or death situations where killing dogs may be the only obvious choice for survival. Yes, lots of people who play will likely be repulsed by that. It'll be up to individual players to decide how they feel about it, of course, but it does seem that Naughty Dog isn't hot about the idea of saying this is something to be "excited for."
The Last of Us Part 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 on June 16, 2020. Its new release date was announced last week, shortly after a leak spread significant spoilers about its story online.