By Susan Arendt
Ellie, your 14-year-old companion in The Last of Us, likes gnomes. She used to have an art book full of them and she always thought they were kind of cute. Not fairies, though. Fairies creep her out.
That information is not important. It won't help you survive against the infected humans who still creep around the remains of the post-apocalyptic world. It's not something you need to tuck away in the back of your mind and then use at some later point in the game to solve a puzzle. It's just something she mentions when she spots a display of garden gnomes in the garden center your'e raiding for supplies. It's one of the many everyday, normal things that Ellie does as you escort her through barren, threatening wastelands that used to be neighborhoods and cities. She hums, she points out bunnies, she makes wisecracks. None of it matters, and all of it is what turns her from a gameplay gimmick into a character you will do anything to protect.