“The Last of Us 2” Proves Games Can Make Us Better People


As a black gamer, I spent decades separating my hobby from my identity for fear that no one would want to play with me.

But the more I opened up, the more surprised I was to find a solid base of friends through video games. Over the past couple of years, in particular, identifying with people through gaming has been a godsend – even though the games we play and discuss are often far from perfect.

Video games like Prototype 2, The Last of Us Part II, and Persona 5 allowed me to bond with people I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. And the games allowed my friends to understand aspects of the black experience that they hadn’t understood before. For most of video game history, noir game characters have been treated unfairly at best. Square’s surprisingly racist RPG reserved for Japan Tom sawyer is a perfect example of how this story has been conveniently forgotten. The 1989 game is full of dark iconography straight out of 19th century America. But recent games have given us more empowering and empathetic representations of the black experience.

James Heller from Prototype 2.Radical Entertainment / Activision

Here is an example of what I mean. Over the past two years, I’ve become friends with a white man, who I’ll call Drew, through a playgroup on Facebook. We talked at length about 2012 Prototype 2. In it, black protagonist James Heller is infected with a supernatural virus that allows him to consume humans – much like Venom. Drew pointed out how James’ portrayal was inspired by harmful real-world stereotypes: that black people are violent murderers no matter what we have or haven’t done. That somehow you will “catch” the Darkness if you stay with one of us too long.

“I don’t need my family’s acceptance as long as I can accept myself. “

I agreed. When people are treated like Frankenstein’s monster because they have a different complexion, hair texture, or nose shape, what progress have we made as humans? I could understand that I literally felt like a freak for many years of my life. But being able to talk about these feelings with someone like Drew was a whole new experience for me.

Ellie and Dina enjoy some quiet time in The Last of Us Part II.The evil dog

It goes both ways, and as the stories the games tell have evolved, I’ve been fortunate to learn how to relate to people from other under-represented groups as well. A Jewish friend of mine, Steve Demain, and I had an exceptional conversation about the role Judaism plays in The Last of Us II, as Ellie and Dina navigate the zombie apocalypse. It’s a calm episode in an otherwise intense and brutal story, and while Dina isn’t particularly devout, her faith gives her a sense of connection and kinship. Her memories of going to the temple before the world collapsed, along with her now deceased parents and sister, have remained with me ever since.

“I could relate to the feeling of being a monster for many years of my life.

In a May 2021 play for Wired, my super talented friend Esther Mollica shared his experience of discrimination within his own family and how Persona 5 helped her find peace with her mixed Asian heritage. In the game, Ann Takamaki’s blonde hair and green eyes lead her classmates to assume that she is sleeping with a predatory teacher. (Eventually, she embraces her status as an underdog by modeling and becoming a secret self-defense crime fighter.)

As someone who has also faced hatred for my skin in the past, sometimes perpetrated by my own family, it was cathartic to identify with Ann and Esther. Persona 5 gave Esther the power to finally say, “I don’t need my family’s acceptance as long as I can accept myself,” and that made me cry. I totally understood this feeling of ultimate pride, this empowerment through play.

Ann in a cutscene of Persona 5.Atlus

We still need more diverse games. There will always be stories that never get told if enough people insist that we don’t need to see new characters or different perspectives, but in order for games to tell more diverse stories in the years to come. come, they must be created by a more diverse audience. group of people. While the industry has made significant strides in representation, there is still a lot of work to be done. Since March 2021, only two percent of industry professionals are black. I would love to see more games that focus on underrepresented communities and individuals. The results could really change the world we live in.

Empathy can change so much. Finding common ground with people outside of my community has helped me realize how alike we are all, which society has long told me was not true. Identifying with people you’ve never met, learning stories you wouldn’t have known otherwise is a big part of what makes the game valuable and valuable. And these experiences have helped me fully accept that we are all part of the same species and deepened my empathy for the people already in my life.