[Editor’s Note: British spellings have been preserved upon request.]
There is a moment near the end of the first Uncharted game in which Elena Fisher falls through the crumbling boards of an old bridge. Protagonist Nathan Drake scrambles to catch her hand as she hangs from her fingertips. In order to save herself, she has to drop the camera that she’s had with her for the entire story into the river far below. Contained within is a record of all their adventures that she wants to report on — as is her job and passion — upon her return.
And she’s forced to lose it.
I joked that, for me, this was what the game was about: mourning the loss of Elena’s camera. But as the games went on, it became less of a joke. Elena became the centre of my investment by creating moments of emotion and humanity that kept the story interesting. That’s why she’s featured in this installment of “Leading the Pack,” a series examining some of the best women and nonbinary folk in games.
Overall, I enjoyed the Uncharted games, but there were definitely things about them I didn’t like. Often, the pacing felt off (especially in Uncharted 2), like I was just waiting for the next bit of story by slogging through endless firefights. I felt that Nate was let off or even glorified for some of his worst traits — impulsivity bordering on obsession; cultural insensitivity bordering on outright racism; dismissal of people’s lives and property if they are in the way of his already ethically dubious aims. Elena often mitigated these narrative issues.
Elena is an adventurer, too — a thrill-seeker or adrenaline junkie, even — but she’s also pragmatic and reasonable. Would Nate have dropped something of equal importance to him had he been in the position of Elena and her camera, or would he have been too stubborn or hot-headed? This is not necessarily a judgement of Nate — I might have failed to let go, too — but rather a commendation of Elena and the wider perspective that she brings to the game. Her presence makes us consider the narrative more deeply than the surface level excitement of it all.
“Greatness comes from small beginnings,” the game tells us. What is greatness? Elena seems to respond. And what might it cost us and others to achieve it?
It helps that, as we are introduced to her, Elena doesn’t really have small beginnings. She’s already an established professional hosting her own TV show about archaeology. She’s driven and dedicated, and it’s paying off for her. She clearly enjoys what she’s doing, and is good at it. She, unlike Nate, can be ambitious without chasing the ephemeral and perhaps unachievable idea of being “great.”
This is not to say that Elena doesn’t experience character growth. She continues to grow her own career though the games, not tied solely to Nate’s ever grander adventures, and notably keeps her own last name after they are married in order to retain recognisability of her journalistic pursuits.
And whilst she quickly becomes cognisant of the weight of her and Nate’s actions, and will consistently call him on his disregard for danger, she too will openly struggle with the call of adventure. In the first game, it is Elena who encourages Nate to stay and search for El Dorado after Nate considers leaving.
But when she eventually realises that she also is not made for a settled life, she comes up with a pragmatic solution — legal and non-violent treasure hunting through salvaging — and stresses the importance of the two of them communicating about their frustrations, something that Nate resoundingly failed to do.
Elena’s pragmatism extends further into a respect for her environment and the people she meets during her adventures. When she and Nate find themselves in a Tibetan village, he is surprised to find that she can communicate with the villagers. And whilst Nate spends most of his time being looked after, Elena is shown relating to them in mutually beneficial ways such as helping the local children.
Moreover, whilst she can still be violent due to the game’s focus on gunplay as mechanic and often has to defend herself through killing when their adventures spiral out of control, she is less often shown shooting people and tends to be less destructive of the beautiful ancient environments than Nate is. This is somewhat a side effect of being a secondary character who is simply shown less often, but nonetheless means less side-stepping of ludonarrative dissonance is needed to appreciate her character.
Overall, Elena is just as capable as Nate and brings a needed pathos and levelheadedness to the table. Without her, the games would have lost their driving force; a cinematic narrative full of human interest and growing character relationships. Plus, we would all have lost a brave and dedicated writer to look up to.