Warning: Spoilers Below!
In an interview with Glixel, ‘Rolling Stone’s new video game focused magazine, Uncharted 4’s Creative Director, Neil Druckmann, explained that things don’t always go smoothly behind the scenes. Once again, SPOILERS BELOW - you have been warned!
Working as a Focus Tester for Naughty Dog, at their Californian studio, during the development of Uncharted 4, would seem like a lot of people’s dream job! However, a currently unnamed individual was eventually asked to leave after making comments about some concepts of Uncharted 4, that Naughty Dog and the team viewed as sexist.
This individual became so aggravated by these concepts within the game, that they exclaimed: “Not you, too, Naughty Dog!” Adding, “Goddammit.” and, “I guess I’m done with Uncharted, if you guys ever make another one...”
Eloquently finishing with, “This fucking bullshit.”
Please take a moment to enjoy that lovely quote by the way, and also imagine Neil Druckmann, a professional game developer, repeating those words to a journalist - but let’s move on.
What, you might be asking, made this gentleman so upset. Well, it wasn’t simply that in the epilogue chapter of the game, it's revealed to players that Nate and Elena go on to have a daughter. Which, by the way, displays the innate desire within Nate’s blood to seek out adventure, and puts a touching bow on the end of his story. But that during this, players actually take control of her for a short while. Which is outrageous, I know. But there is one other thing.
Earlier in the game, Uncharted 4 features a rather noteworthy scene where antagonist Nadine, manages to fight off both Nathan Drake, and his brother Sam. Nadine, if you’re unaware, is a highly trained military leader, and a woman. While Nathan and his brother are just two dudes, who, albeit are strong and good fighters, are in no way highly trained military leaders, or fighters. Instead, they are forced to face the reality of what happens when fighting a skilled opponent. They get their asses kicked. The fight only comes to an end when Sam produces a gun.
Druckmann explained that it wasn’t just the one tester either. Going on to say that “some sexist focus testers … were really upset by Nadine beating up Nate, and really upset at the end when it was Nate’s daughter.”
The irony of the situation is that in the original plan, the epilogue featured Nate’s son, not his daughter.
Druckmann said that “When I’m introducing and describing a new character to our lead character concept artist, constantly she will ask, “What if it was a girl?” And I’m like, Oh, I didn’t think about that. Let me think, does that affect or change anything? No? Cool, that’s different. Yeah, let’s do it.”
The issue of Uncharted 4’s portrayal of women, hasn’t been a big topic since it’s release, but Druckmann does admit that he is aware of how women are portrayed in his games. Explaining that a recent Feminist Frequency review that he’d watched, and “really enjoyed”, discussed Elena’s role in the game.
“They said they didn’t like how Elena was handled in the story. That she becomes an obstacle to Nathan, that she’s this wet blanket, and she's the thing that’s holding him back.” But Druckmann said, “I disagree with them.” adding, “My interpretation, or at least our intention, is that she’s not. The only thing holding Nate back is Nate”
Druckmann explains the main focus of the game is “to ask interesting questions, or at least have people ask those questions of themselves. Can you balance passion versus settling down? That, to me, is the heart of this thing, which mirrors a lot of our lives as game developers. I’m sure you’ve read about ‘crunch’, and how difficult that can be on personal lives. We've all joined this industry with the hope of affecting people, touching them in some way. Which is why we work so hard, sometimes to destructive outcomes. So in this game, I really wanted to explore that.”
We all know that video games are perhaps not the most diverse, with it becoming a running joke that all video game leads are twenty to thirty year old white guys, with stubble. But there are two main points to take away from this.
The first being that Druckmann talked about this openly at all. Moments like these are regularly pushed to the side, often due to concerns that there could be negative backlash against the company. I also imagine this means they will likely never work with that tester again, blacklisting them from all future projects. At least I’d like to think so.
Secondly that the Naughty Dog team, that Druckmann himself, when faced with testers reacting badly, managed to realise that their reactions were not because of faults in the game, with its pacing, or their narrative decisions, but due to negative beliefs the testers held. Not that long ago, if testers reacted the same way, which I assure you they often did, things within that game would have been changed. Changes based on those types of reactions, lead to the creative vision being muddied and more often than not, reduce the quality of the game.
Perhaps it's because Naughty Dog is a big company, but atleast they stood their ground and didn’t allow their vision to be changed because of pushback from those that should be more professional.
Which is something Neil Druckmann, and Naughty Dog, should be commended for.
The highly acclaimed Uncharted 4, a PS4 exclusive, is out now.