• Steve Spence Clayton State University




Game Studies, The Last of Us, Videogame, Naughty Dog, Animation, Empathy, Closeup


For more than a decade the videogame studio Naughty Dog has deployed increasingly sophisticated facial animations, greatly expanding its characters’ abilities to convey realistic and compelling emotion. In a parallel effort, the studio has remediated cinematic forms like the closeup, integrating them with the unique affordances of videoludic media. Naughty Dog’s 2020 The Last of Us Part II takes this a step further, making characters’ faces a vital aspect of the game’s interface: the dynamically changing emotional expression of 25 in-game characters offers fine-grained feedback regarding player choices and actions, and it also encourages players to engage with the characters less like tools or targets and more like autonomous human beings. Through a close study of a single game character, Ellie Williams, my article illuminates the narrative and gameplay impact of this merger of face and interface. Ellie began The Last of Us Part I (2013) as a non-player character (NPC) and, in some ways, an archetypal “damsel in distress,” but she evolved to become a fan favourite as well as the sequel’s protagonist and principal player-character (PC). Along the way, Ellie also became something of a feminist icon: she is a queer young woman who wears practical clothing, a character very different than the stereotypical heroes that dominated previous videogame generations. The success of the games and their central character, I argue, turns on their ability to encourage emotional connections, sometimes called empathy, inviting players to engage with videogame characters in ways that parallel their responses to characters in older media forms.


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How to Cite

FACIAL ANIMATION AND EMPATHY IN THE LAST OF US PARTS I AND II. (2024). Persona Studies, 9(2), 33-51. https://doi.org/10.21153/psj2024vol10no2art1945