The Last of Us Part 2 finally came out around the middle of last month, and I think it’s fair to say the game has managed to see much success and huge critical acclaim. We enjoyed it quite a lot ourselves, in fact. But if you’ve been following the overall discourse about the game, you probably have noticed there’s been some very sour notes, especially within the online community. Death threats, harassment, finger pointing, rage, and all kinds of things have surrounded talk of this game in what has been a vortex of anger.
At its center, the game’s Creator and Co-director, Neil Druckmann. He’s been open about the harassment he and his team have suffered before and after the release. He also had at least one high-profile spat with Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier that fed into the insanity and seemed to be the source of much tension between journalists and creators on Twitter in recent weeks.
One of the things often lobbied at Druckmann is the culture of crunch (gaming speak for excessive, and sometimes unpaid, overtime) that has been reported about at Naughty Dog. They are by no means the only developer that’s been criticized for the practice, it’s largely an accepted issue within the industry, but due to the high profile of Naughty Dog and their output, they often find themselves as the biggest targets of criticism surrounding crunch culture. Like many game creators, Druckmann largely stays away from talking crunch, because it is such a polarizing issue, but in a new interview he was surprisingly open about it.
Voice actor Troy Baker had Druckmann on his LeGiT (Let’s Get Into It) podcast and they discussed The Last of Us Part 2 in length. The podcast largely talked about things that’s been discussed before, such as the game’s story and themes, as well as the harassment Naughty Dog staff suffered. But near the end, he opens up in surprising ways about crunch.
He noted that he understands the reputation Naughty Dog has gotten for their crunch culture, even stating that some of that comes from “reputable” sources and reporting. Druckmann even harshly critiqued himself, saying he “failed” at managing the right work-life balance for his team.
However, he also wants people to realize the situation isn’t so black and white.
While he admits a lot of the failings around the crunch culture at the studio, he also said that it’s not as simple as many people think it is as manager vs employee. He actually mentioned people who left the project being unhappy they couldn’t work more on a certain thing. He specifically talked about the accessibility settings that The Last of Us Part 2 was praised for. Druckmann tried to reign in his team once they got to a certain level, but they insisted on adding more features, and he concedes now they were right, because the game can be enjoyed on so many different levels by so many different people. His argument is that sometimes the excessive hours doesn’t come from the manager cracking the whip, it comes from passion.
As far as the future, Neil states that there are plans in place in hopes to address crunch problems, such as unspecified “outside help.” He deliberately stays vague, saying he doesn’t want to get into that since it’s still work in progress.
It’s probably the most open conversation a developer has had about crunch, at least someone on Druckmann’s level. He can’t quite help himself near the end, telling critics of the game and team that they “matter little,” or don’t matter at all, saying he and his team even send some criticisms back and forth to laugh at them (except the death and rape threats, those go to Sony’s legal team).
There’s a lot of great stuff here, even in the last ten minutes when crunch comes up, but one thing that hit me that Neil says is that he and the team were unprepared for the huge, polarizing reaction to the game from every aspect, from how it was made, to its actual contents.
I think a lot of people felt the same. The discourse around the game has been something of a minefield online. From the before mentioned harassment to Naughty Dog, to gaming outlets like VICE Games and Polygon being attacked for their less than enthusiastic views on the game by it fans, screaming for their blood and blaming harassment on journalists critical of the game.
Before release one of the themes of the game was said to be hate, and yeah it’s trite to say, but something about The Last of Us Part 2 inspired more hatred than I can recall surrounding a single video game. In the end, some people just need any excuse to light that match and throw it on their oiled up egos and run into a virtual crowd to engulf them in their flames of rage. Maybe it’s even a cheap cosplay born from the savage heart of man, a vague image of what they think they will be like when a real world societal collapse comes, and they’ll finally be free to spew their hatred and vile in all the physical ways they wish they could now with no consequence, and no witnesses.
I don’t know, I ain’t really all that deep. I just enjoyed The Last of Us Part 2, and for what it may be worth, I appreciate the team that made it and hope Naughty Dog can find the right balance for whatever comes next.