While triple-A video games have recently started incorporating more female protagonists, for the most part, these characters fit a specific build. Leading ladies are often svelte and thin, and while they may also be capable of serious feats of strength, their features are often delicate. The idea seems to be to make these protagonists desirable to straight men, even as those characters kick dudes’ asses.
Abby, a new character introduced in The Last of Us Part 2, does not fit the mold. Her face is anchored by a square jaw, which gives her visage a wider look — at least, compared to the heart-shaped face that defines most women in games. Perhaps most notably, Abby is buff. Your eyes are drawn to her chest and muscular arms, which, according to The Last of Us Part 2, she worked very hard across multiple years to beef up.
As someone who regularly boxes and plays sports, Abby’s appearance isn’t just familiar to me — it’s aspirational. It’s been baffling to see some of the popular dissenting opinion on the game, which often directed against Abby.
Part of the dislike seems unavoidable: The Last of Us Part 2 asks you to play as a character who is fundamentally opposed to the heroes we’ve spent hours learning to love and protect. Abby is a hard sell, and that would be true no matter what she looked like.
But much of the hate visible on social media isn’t just about the story and Abby’s likability compared to Ellie and Joel, it’s fixated on Abby’s jacked-up body.
have gamers ever, like, seen women before pic.twitter.com/LXLqkPOZu6— Jack Saint (@LackingSaint) June 27, 2020
“If you think the ‘normal’ for women is having that kind of musculature and stature, just go outside, man,” one misguided viral Twitter post reads. Posts that feature Abby at all often break down into arguments as to whether or not she’s realistic, and whether or not a woman could actually look like that.
The funny thing is, like many characters in The Last of Us Part 2, Abby is partially based on a real person.
Bigoted male gamers: Abby is unrealistic women can never look like that— Mari-Ojibwe(Native American) writer on rest hiatus (@wordglass) July 1, 2020
Me: May I present to you Colleen Fotsch whom Abby's body was based on. pic.twitter.com/64DhGmQod5
This, of course, doesn’t satisfy some detractors — it just changes the debate. Is there enough food for someone in the post-apocalypse to mass up like this? (Yes, the WLF is canonically depicted to have plenty of resources.) Can we really say this is a realistic body type if theoretically you have to train for ages to achieve it? (Realism has no bearing on how common something is, just whether or not it can be true.)
Perhaps the grossest result of all of this is the insistence that Abby could only look like this if her character was trans, as if only folks who are assigned male at birth could possibly have big muscles. That conspiracy theory has been debunked by the folks behind the game, but the fact the idea could exist at all reveals something uncomfortable about what limited types of bodies we are used to seeing in the medium.
Throwback to Abby training days. #TLOU2 pic.twitter.com/8VFMjlClzd— Laura Bailey (@LauraBaileyVO) June 29, 2020
Abby doesn’t look like most women in games; It’s true. But Abby’s appearance is only potentially jarring because video games lack range when it comes to body diversity, not because women can’t actually look like that.
We can, and we do. I’m glad Abby is here to prove it.