For The Streamer From The Last Of Us Bunny Meme, Virality Led To Death Threats Over Things She Never Did

Illustration for article titled For The Streamer From The Last Of Us Bunny Meme, Virality Led To Death Threats Over Things She Never Did
Image: Emme “Negaoryx” Montgomery

If Emme “Negaoryx” Montgomery’s chat moderator hadn’t gotten up to use the bathroom, six million people would not have seen what happened next. During a stream last week, a viewer asked Montgomery, “What color is your thong today?” Usually, Montgomery doesn’t acknowledge those sorts of messages. But with her mod gone, the message did not get zapped into oblivion. Instead, it just sat there and festered. So Montgomery engaged: “You absolute infant of a human,” she began. “What did you expect?” Her ensuing systematic takedown of a sexist non-joke caught fire on Twitter, doubling the size of Montgomery’s audience overnight. She was surprised, but not that surprised. She’d been there before, under very different circumstances. She is, after all, the Last Of Us dying rabbit meme girl.

Montgomery, who has been streaming since 2016, eviscerated the aforementioned troll—and an obligatory Other Guy who accused her of being unable to “take a joke”—almost exactly two years after a brush with online infamy that follows her to this day. In a much shorter 2019 clip, she encounters a rabbit in a Last Of Us cutscene. Already emotional from a prior story scene in the grueling Naughty Dog narrative, Montgomery’s voice cracks as she says, “That’s the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Not even a beat after she completes the sentence, an arrow impales the rabbit. Montgomery yelps in surprise and sorrow.

In an interview, Montgomery told Kotaku that the 13-second clip has lived multiple lives—first as a viral reaction to The Last Of Us, then as an overlay of Montgomery that people applied to clips from countless other games, and now as a sound effect on TikTok.

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“It’s very surreal,” Montgomery said over a Discord voice call. “And to be honest, I feel almost dissociated from it—like it almost doesn’t feel like it actually happened to me. That might be a year of quarantine speaking, but there’s a part of it that feels very far away.”

Montgomery’s relationship with the clip is complicated. “It’s been two years, and I’m so sick of people still replying to this clip like ‘LUL women always overemotional, amirite???’” she tweeted last week, in response to someone noting the two-year anniversary of the clip. “If you can’t comprehend how people care deeply for characters or get invested in stories I just— that’s a you problem, not a ‘UGH WAMEN’ thing... u ok, bro?”

That same day, January 24, the trolls showed up in her chat. You can understand, then, why she might have wanted to give them an earful loud enough to shatter their skulls. Instead, she dispassionately dissected them on a molecular level, all while never missing a beat in the game she was playing, Dead By Daylight.

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“The rest of us can still joke,” she said during her stream. “You can’t because you were never joking in the first place. You were just being a misogynistic, sexist piece of shit. And then you don’t like hearing that because someone’s holding a mirror up to you, and it makes you uncomfortable. Because you know you, and you know the parts of you that are good. So in your heart, you have to come up with a narrative that makes you feel better about the fact that someone’s asking you to confront the parts about yourself that you hate the most. And me telling you ‘You’re not joking’ is me asking for you to hold yourself accountable, to be a better person, because you’re not right now. And I’m sorry if that’s hard for you to hear because you think you’re the hero of your own story, but you’re a footnote in everyone else’s.”

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Montgomery decided to post the clip to Twitter a couple days later, after consulting with a couple other female streamers about whether it was worth the trouble she’d assuredly endure. Then she stepped away to be on a tabletop RPG show she’s a part of. She came back a few hours later to find that Hollywood actress Elizabeth Banks—among many, many, many others—had retweeted it. After only a few hours, more than a million people had watched it. It’s not hard to see why: For people who’ve weathered similar abuse day in and day out, it’s cathartic viewing.

“I wish I could be this articulate when people harass me,” a smaller streamer named Madaleine tweeted in response to the clip. “I usually get quiet, then cuss them out or pretend to be OK with being harassed. I’m going to channel my inner Negaoryx next time.”

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Montgomery, though, told Kotaku that none of this comes naturally to her. Normally she shies away from confrontation due to social anxiety. Streaming is not a line of work she expected to find herself in, but back in 2016, she wanted to share video games with her stepfather, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer that took away the use of his hands. Through games like World of Warcraft, he’d taught Montgomery to love games when she was a kid, so she wanted to give back, even though they were on opposite coasts.

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She did a test stream. She immediately got harassed.

“I was like ‘Well, I don’t want to show him this. If every time I try to do this thing, people are coming in with sexual harassment and comments about me and my appearance, that’s just gonna stress him out more in the hospital,’” Montgomery said. “But there were enough nice people that came through that it gave me that little serotonin boost of ‘Oh shit, this is fun.’ So I said to myself, ‘OK, I have to figure out how to do this right if I want to show it to my stepdad.’”

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Montgomery kept at it, and people kept showing up. Before long, she had an audience—one she says she never really intended to have. She wasn’t a star, but it was sustainable. In the age of Twitch, though, you don’t have to be a star for everybody to know your face. All it takes is one moment. Thanks to the Last Of Us rabbit dying meme, Montgomery has spent the past couple years in a weird in-between space: Her face and voice are everywhere, independent of her control. She is not famous, but the moment is.

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“It wasn’t until someone did a green screen version of it that it sort of morphed into ‘Oh, it’s a meme format now,’ and then people started putting whatever behind it,” said Montgomery. Now, she gets harassment from people who think she’s being too sensitive about games she isn’t even playing. “I started getting a lot of hate and even death threats from people DM-ing me out of nowhere and being like ‘You stupid fucking cunt. It’s just Minecraft. What the fuck’—you know, horrible things. I’ve never even played Minecraft. They think I’m actually crying over something in a game that I’ve never played. But especially in games that appeal to children like Minecraft, I started getting a lot of hate and harassment from kids, who I presume don’t understand it’s a meme. They think that it’s me actually reacting to Undertale, Minecraft, Five Nights at Freddy’s, or whatever.”

Montgomery says she has no idea who first created the green screen version of the clip, and most people who’ve shared it don’t include her name. To many, she is just a nameless vessel for a reaction, whose life begins and ends in those 13 seconds.

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Things quickly got weird. Montgomery discussed with her lawyer the very real possibility of somebody creating a clip in which she teared up over Nazi imagery. Could she pursue legal action over that? Should she? Then there were the non-hypothetical situations, like the time somebody made her into a playable avatar in virtual reality game VRChat.

“They made a VR avatar of me with my face that could make the sound I make in that clip,” said Montgomery. “It was in their [stream] title, too. It was like ‘The Last Of Us Bunny Girl Plays VRChat.’ Immediately I was DM-ing my lawyer, and I was like, ‘Dude, what do we do about this? Is this OK? What if this guy with my face and my name in the title starts spewing hate speech?’ [My lawyer] was like ‘I’m gonna be honest with you: I’ve handled these cases for other people before. You can do claims to have them take it down, but full disclosure: Every single woman that I’ve assisted to do that, it backfires on them. They will send their communities after you.’ I will never forget this: He said, word for word, ‘They will make every day of your life a living hell.’”

Montgomery decided against pursuing action. She’s seen what’s happened to other women who’ve had mobs sicced on them. It never really ends.

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Montgomery has had other, less potentially ruinous viral moments as well, and they seem to have a running theme. In 2018, a post about her spending nearly 100 hours with Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild before finding the tutorial got a bunch of upvotes on Reddit.

“Each of the positive responses has usually had nothing to do with me being a woman,” Montgomery said. “The positive side [of the Zelda thing] is ‘Wow, you were really inventive in the way that you beat the game without knowing the right combat moves. Cool, you’re a good gamer.’ For Last Of Us, it was like ‘Wow, it’s nice to see someone really authentically being emotionally vulnerable and caring about characters...’ And for this [latest] one, I’m hearing from a lot of people who are like ‘It’s awesome to see someone so well spoken in the moment. You weren’t just roasting him and being hurtful; you were making a good point while you were playing a game.’ But the criticism for all three of them has exclusively been woman, woman, woman.”

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The criticism of her most recent viral clip has been especially telling.

“It’s predominantly only the men who seem to take umbrage at whether or not the troll ‘won’ because I acknowledged them,” Montgomery said. “It’s such an odd mindset to me because, truly, deeply, saying it with my whole chest: Who cares? Who cares what they think? We wouldn’t be talking about this troll right now if the clip hadn’t gone viral... [They’re saying] ‘Don’t let trolls dictate what you do.’ If someone sexually harasses me, and I ignore it even though it makes me uncomfortable, that’s letting them dictate my response. Having agency and speaking my mind is the exact opposite of letting someone else control it.”

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Years-spanning virality isn’t all bad, though. Montgomery is genuinely impressed by many of the bunny meme mashups people have made, especially now that the meme has found a second life on TikTok. She intends to post a TikTok of her own soon explaining who she is, which she hopes will help her find out where the recent TikTok sound effect started in the first place. She also said that she recently got to interview the co-directors of The Last Of Us Part II, and they ended up telling her that a particular dead rabbit in the game is a direct reference to her.

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More than any of that, Montgomery is happy she’s been able to bring some joy and inspiration to people 13 seconds at a time, even if she never actually meant for things to turn out this way.

“Ultimately, my attitude with it has always been that life can be such an endless shitshow, if a silly noise that I made reacting to a video game can bring anyone a laugh or a smile, even for a minute, then I’m glad to have done it,” she said. “Anytime that an anniversary of it comes up or if a brand makes a new video with it, and I retweet it, I always get multiple comments from people being like, ‘I watch this anytime I’m having a bad day, and it always cheers me up and gives me a laugh’—little things like that. That’s so freakin’ cool. It’s so cool to know that you can genuinely have a positive impact on people like that in a way that is so hands off—not because I stream every day, but because of one little sliver of content I created two years ago.”

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Illustration for article titled For The Streamer From The Last Of Us Bunny Meme, Virality Led To Death Threats Over Things She Never Did
Photo: Emme “Negaoryx” Montgomery

Montgomery’s feelings about her latest viral clip are a little different, which makes sense: The clip itself is quite a departure from a tearstained tiny bunny funeral. Given everything else she’s been through as a result of viral not-quite-fame, the new clip feels like a coda.

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“If I’m going to go viral for anything, I’m glad it’s something that absolutely is speaking to the way that women deserve to be treated, bare minimum,” she said. “I personally think a lot of people use the image of who a troll is to bring themselves comfort. ‘They’re probably just some loser in their mom’s basement with no friends, nothing good in their life, and they’re just doing this to make themselves feel better.’ But I think that’s harmful. When people who engage in these behaviors casually are confronted with this, they’re like, ‘Well, that’s not me. I’m not that guy.’ It gives them something to separate themselves from, rather than acknowledging [the bad behavior] as part of who they are.”

“I hope [the clip] shows streamers who maybe are hesitant to get started, streamers who feel a little unsure as they find their footing in regards to moderation, I hope it empowers them,” Montgomery said. “I hope it shows them trolls are people, too. Moderation tools are incredibly valuable for us, but at the end of the day, we have to see change in people holding themselves accountable for their behavior online.”

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

Streaming will forever be something I just do not get. Like are these dbags hate/rage-watching women stream? Each passing day also moves me more into the “internet was a mistake” camp.

I am a 35M and I cried at the end of Moana - speaking of overemotional.