My favorite part of the videogame press cycle happens a few months after release: the hype has died down, the op-eds have been written, and the marginalia of game development starts coming to light. In this case, Naughty Dog creative director and writer Neil Druckmann has shared, for example, that one version of the deadly Cordyceps fungus in “The Last of Us” only affected women.
Before the title was changed to “The Last of Us,” Druckmann’s action-stealth game was called “Mankind.” In “Mankind,” Cordyceps only infects women, turning them into the now-familiar grotesques that populate “The Last of Us.” Ellie is immune to the fungus, though, and he-who-would-become-Joel takes her to a lab in hopes of finding a cure. (Incidentally, this is basically the plot of Children of Men).
Eventually, as Druckmann explains to The Verge, the idea was scrapped. “The reason it failed is because it was a misogynistic idea,” he says. Apparently, female developers at Naughty Dog raised some eyebrows when the concept started making the rounds, and Druckmann changed course.
The weird what-ifs and could-have-beens of game development are always interesting, but this story in particular is a pretty clear-cut case for hiring more women and people of color in big tech companies. They alert people to problematic content before it has a chance to do harm. They make stories better for everybody involved.
It never hurts to have extra eyes on multi-million dollar game projects, in other words, unless you like the idea of mowing down roving bands of disgusting, mutant women.
For more stories from development on “The Last of Us,” do read the Verge’s feature — it covers everything from pitching the story to zombie-movie pioneer George Romero to Druckmann’s rise at Naughty Dog from lowly programmer to lead designer on of the most successful games of the year.
Joseph Leray is a freelance writer from Nashville. Follow him on Twitter