A few prominent reviews withstanding, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us Part 2 has fared extremely well in the eyes of professional critics and has already sold over 4 million copies. Predictably, it's also at the center of online abuse targeting some of the people who made it, prompting a condemnation of threats and harassment from Naughty Dog and further complicating the fraught narrative following its release.
Over the holiday weekend, actress Laura Bailey (who played a major character not discussed in reviews) and Naughty Dog vice president/Last of Us series director Neil Druckmann took to Twitter to share images of offensive and threatening messages they've received after the release of Part 2. Both shared multiple messages that can unambiguously be construed as threats of bodily harm or death threats. Druckmann also provided screenshots of anti-semetic and homophobic harassment directed toward him.
On July 5, Naughty Dog posted the following statement in response on its official Twitter:
Although we welcome critical discussion, we condemn any form of harassment or threats directed towards our team and cast. Their safety is our top priority, but we must all work together to root out this type of behavior and maintain a constructive and compassionate discourse.
Many, including Ellie actress Ashley Johnson and writer-producer Craig Mazin (attached to HBO's Last of Us series), were quick to respond with sympathy to the instances of abuse Bailey shared. Hermen Hulst, Sony's head of PlayStation Worldwide Studios, also tweeted about the harassment. "Thank you for a truly unforgettable performance Laura," writes Hulst. "However pitiful these responses are, bear in mind they represent a tiny minority of our industry."
The vile, vitriolic messages documented by Bailey and Druckmann add another layer to what Polygon's Patricia Hernandez recently characterized as a "toxic" atmosphere surrounding The Last of Us Part 2's release. For some, perception of Part 2 and Naughty Dog iteself were shaped prior to release, in part, by story leak from earlier this year or reports of crunch and alleged sexual harassment at the studio. Many critics, including USgamer Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey, also spotlighted the game's restrictive review embargo and the potential negative impact it had on discussion of the game.
In the Polygon report, Vice's Rob Zacny also revealed that a Sony representative contacted him regarding his Part 2 review on Naughty Dog's behalf. Zacny characterizes the move as "unusual," and in light of tense Twitter exchanges between Druckmann, Joel actor Troy Baker, and Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier (who has reported on conditions at Naughty Dog multiple times), Hernandez points to "air of wariness" surrounding discussion of the game.
Following a July 3 tweet responding to the abusive messages Bailey highlighted, Druckmann himself was met with pushback for saying that he hopes "these gamers get the mental help they so clearly need." As the past few years have shown, online harassment and abuse are a rampant issue plaguing the video games industry and the culture surrounding it. It is not an issue exclusively tied to any one title, studio, platform, or to efforts for diversity, nor can it be summed up as a result of mental illness.
The Last of Us Part 2 is merely the latest prominent title to see a hateful torrent of online abuse muddying the conversations surrounding it. Unfortunately, given how pervasive this problem has been for years, it likely won't be long until we see another.