female characters in uncharted 4

Why I’m Disappointed by the Female Characters in Uncharted 4

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Note: Here be spoilers. Only read on if you have played Uncharted 4 to the end, as a major plot point is mentioned.

It’s no secret that I love the Uncharted series. It’s been a whirlwind romance, since a friend bought me the collection for Christmas. That’s right, I’d never played Uncharted before. And I feel bereft, now that it’s over. However, as with any romance, when it comes to an end, you get to look back and reflect and I have to say, the female characters in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End were treated badly.

Uncharted is so loved because its characters are so loveable. Nathan Drake charms without being smarmy, whilst Elena is his conscience and tries to make him seen sense. And Sully’s got both their backs. But it’s the romance that sits at the heart of the Uncharted series.

The beauty of Nate and Elena’s relationship has always been that they are both strong, independent and capable. Elena matches Drake climb for climb and fight for fight. She never needs rescuing and, in fact, often saves him, either from himself or circumstances.

However, over the course of the series, Elena has been slipping into the marital ball and chain role. In Uncharted 3, Drake and Elena have been married and separated because Nate walked away (we think). The last scene plays out with him slipping on his wedding ring again and Elena rushing, thankfully, into his arms.

At the beginning of Uncharted 4, the pair seem to be happily married, except that Nate is bored by domestic bliss. He’s yearning for adventure and literally plays with toy guns in the attic. It’s clear that Nate is sticking with the day job for Elena’s sake.  And even though she encourages him to take the Malaysia job, he declines, but I’m never quite sure why, apart from to serve the plot.

When Sam arrives, Nathan lies to Elena and jumps back into adventuring, leaving her at home thinking he’s decided to go to Malaysia. This is Nate’s biggest douche moment and conveniently, leaves Elena out of the picture for a significant part of the game and that’s okay, if disappointing. This story is about finding out who Drake is and that means meeting his brother.

Fine, we’ve got less Elena, for the sake of telling the Sam and Nathan story. However, I do take exception to Naughty Dog then being featured in numerous articles as standard bearers for creating strong women in games. This is how it’s done. What, sidelining your most established female character, along with your new ones? And that leads me on to Nadine Ross.

Nadine Ross was a massive disappointment to me. As a woman of colour (WOC), I was excited to see her and her natural afro hair texture, rather than the cornrows or just straight hair we usually see on black, female characters. Added to this, she was described as a formidable force by Nate and Sully. And sure enough, when we saw her she was strong and sexy and intelligent – things were looking good. Alas, that’s where it ended.

The end of Nadine’s story arc saw her go from a woman leading her own army of mercenaries to being kidnapped by Rafe and betrayed by all her men. And her army was all men. That’s one way to put a female character back in her place – strip her of all power to serve a story which is focused on male love and betrayal.

These two disappointing stories for the female characters of Uncharted 4 appear against the backdrop of media praise for Naughty Dog’s portrayal of women.

In an interview with Gixel, Creative director of Uncharted 4, Neil Druckmann, said, “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.

“Initially, in the epilogue, it was Nate’s son. Something similar happened with the mansion they go into. That was an old English guy’s house. She asked, Well, what if it was a woman?”

Druckmann’s first question is, ‘does it change anything?’ So what if it does? If we can only have female characters, as long as they don’t alter anything, then we’re limiting ourselves and the stories we tell.

Whilst I appreciate Naughty Dog’s effort, the notion that we should pat them on the back, simply for including some women is insulting. The women in Uncharted 4 were sidelined to make room for the men, who had the bigger story.  Naughty Dog are better than many big developers out there, but they are not good enough. Not by a long shot.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’m Disappointed by the Female Characters in Uncharted 4”

  1. There is always something to be offended about, always a way to give a negative spin to something.

    You don’t like female characters of uncharted 4 for some random reason.

    Who cares.

  2. Disappointed is not ‘offended’. It’s okay to analyse the things we love and question some of the storytelling decisions. Nothing is perfect, even Uncharted. Thanks for caring enough to read and comment.

  3. My biggest issue with Uncharted 4 was also the handling of Elena, but not in the way you think…it was the attachment of a “messiah” type complex which turned me off.

    Elena is a good character, I’ve always liked her, until this game. I didn’t connect with how she was portrayed, she went from Nates partner in adventuring to his “savior”, remarking on how she “saved” him ALL the time & that she almost didn’t this time…as if his survival orbited around her willingness to swoop in & save the day.

    I’ve been playing UC since Drakes Fortune came out, I replayed all the games in anticipation of UC4 & yes, Elena has her moments, but she’s not the one always jumping in to save Nate, she does help him escape situations in the games, but she hardly is the always doing the saving.

    And yes, she does need to be saved by Nate on occasion. But that? It was as if the fact wasn’t even worth mentioning because it didn’t fit the narrative of women being better than men. It seemed to me that in gameplay with Elena, it was made to feel like Elena was better, smarter, the big boss of the 2 & that’s not how she’s been in the last 3.

    This last game was about fan service, but I think a little too much service was spent trying to appease certain feminists groups, (~~cough, cough, Anita Sarkeesian & the dolts of feminist frequency…) which translated into making Nate a bumbling idiot being saved by his stronger, faster, better wife…I don’t mind some changes, but it would’ve been nice if they had followed the actual history of the games, not made up their own history in order to make Elena the alpha.

  4. I’m not sure how Elena can be an ‘alpha’ when she’s missing from huge swathes of the game, including the heroic climax. Is it because she beats him at Crash Bandicoot?

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