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The Last Of Us 2 Takes Some Serious Digs At Naughty Dog

The Last of Us Part 2 has had its fair share of problems already. From multiple delays and the sudden cancellation of digital pre-orders, to the leaks of late-game content, the much-hyped title has certainly had a rocky road to release. However, it seems The Last of Us Part 2 is looking to court even more controversy — this time with some in-game collectibles that appear to reference developer Naughty Dog's infamous crunch culture.

The references are seen in collectible trading cards that Ellie and crew can find throughout The Last of Us 2. One such card is Dr. Uckmann, which is a pretty obvious reference to the game's director Neil Druckmann. The flavor text says that "Dr. Uckmann" was ostracized for "...questionable experiments in the realm of pushing human limits..." which seems like a pretty clear reference to real-life Neil Druckmann overworking his employees.

Another card seems to reference Bruce Straley, a former Naughty Dog employee and the director for the original The Last of Us. That card reads, "Once, he was Doctor Uckmann's research partner, working late nights to develop all manner of technology for the betterment of mankind, until one day, he just vanished!" The focus on working late nights could easily be another dig at Naughty Dog's crunch culture, although this one doesn't mention any other people being involved.

These apparent allusions to crunch could just be us looking too deeply into silly Easter eggs (though the cards themselves are unmistakably references to real Naughty Dog employees). They could also be an attempt by Naughty Dog to show some self-awareness. Or perhaps a developer stealthily added these cards to the game. Perhaps they're meant as some kind of message?

Crunch has been the subject of many debates over the last few years. Some people, especially studio heads, have argued in favor of long hours as the only way to get high quality products in a reasonable time frame. These same people have also claimed that anyone who couldn't handle the crunch wasn't "passionate" enough. On the other hand, a lot of programmers have come forward saying that the culture is brutal and unsustainable, and more and more gamers have agreed they don't mind waiting longer for games if it means the people making them can have a healthier work-life balance. Some steps in the right direction have already been taken, but it's a relatively new conversation and there's a long way to go.

While Rockstar became the poster child for crunch culture, Naughty Dog was hardly immune to the controversy. The studio demands perfection and makes its employees work insane schedules to get it. This has led to some truly incredible games (for example, the first The Last of Us), but has taken a huge toll on its workers.

Unfortunately, it seems like Naughty Dog's main response to the crunch culture debate is to ignore or deflect it. Amid reports of brutal work schedules and deteriorating employee health as The Last of Us Part 2 neared completion, Neil Druckmann himself took to Twitter to praise the "unsung heroes" who made the game possible. He made no reference whatsoever to crunch or the effects it was allegedly having on his team, something that countless people referenced in replies to the tweet.

If this is how Naughty Dog intends to go forward — and the studio's given no signs that it has other plans — then it seems unlikely the debate about crunch culture will wrap up anytime soon. Until and unless the bad PR outweighs the industry benefits of having programmers work such brutally long hours, it's hard to imagine that major studios like Naughty Dog will change their tunes. On the other side of the issue, the anti-crunch movement has gained some serious momentum, made some concrete progress already, and doesn't seem likely to stop anytime soon. For now, neither side of the debate looks ready to back down, and the fight will continue.

In the meantime, we'll get some tongue-in-cheek collectibles in The Last of Us Part 2.