Horizon Zero Dawn and diversity in games
Please, for the love of Gwyn, stop complaining about Aloy being a woman
Horizon Zero Dawn came out yesterday and, by all accounts, it’s an excellent game. I’m certainly looking forward to playing it. I’m sure it’ll sell very well and most gamers will take the approach of closing the curtains and escaping into its lush, dangerous world. But that’s not the approach everyone wants to take, apparently. There is, as always, a certain subset of gamers that have felt it important for them to take to comment sections across the internet and complain about “SJWs”, “forced diversity” and the “feminist agenda”. These people are pathetic man-babies. Let’s have a look at the main two of their universally shitty arguments and talk about why they’re universally shitty.
I can’t relate to a female protagonist
This is perhaps the worst argument employed in this discussion. Not because it’s inherently flawed (I mean, I think it is, but it’s a pretty subjective thing) but because of how selfish it is. But first, let’s think about whether it’s even valid in the first place.
The crux of this argument often comes down to the idea of self-insertion (I know, gross). This is when a gamer imagines themselves actually being the playable character. These gamers claim they feel more invested in the story if they allow themselves to imagine they are the one saving the kingdom, despatching the monsters and (this one is key) looking like a Men’s Health cover model. I’d like to address these gamers personally: if you really and truly feel like you cannot enjoy a game in which you can’t imagine yourself as the hero, then I can’t help. But, with all due respect (which isn’t much), I think that’s complete bullshit. Firstly, do you really feel that you, you, could achieve those things? I, for one, am pretty sure if I was faced with a fire-breathing dragon, my reaction would be to immediately evacuate bowels, try to run away, probably trip over and become a very dead version of myself. But hey, maybe you’re much more heroic than me. Maybe you have the necessary weapons training and the ability to generate bolts of lightning from your fingertips that would make such a challenge surmountable. Well done you.
But to these people, I have some excellent news: regardless of the gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or indeed species of your player character, it is you. Kind of. That is to say, it is both always, and never, you. It’s never you for the obvious reason that it’s not fucking you. It’s whatever character you’re playing as. Which isn’t… you know. But it’s also always you. Because you are the one with the control, you’re the one pressing the buttons and clicking the mouse to make that character do stuff. So, congratulations, you did save the kingdom, you did despatch those monsters. You probably don’t look like a Men’s Health cover model, but that’s fine, no one looks like a Men’s Health cover model — not even Men’s Health cover models.
There is another version of this “relatable” argument. Perhaps a player doesn’t feel that they themselves are the player character, but merely that need to empathise with the character to feel invested in their story. This is often the argument given immediately following “I’m not sexist, I just…”. Well, I have some news for you people as well: you are, in fact, being sexist. You claim that you cannot relate to a character that’s female because you are male. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Except that this, too, is complete and utter bullshit. Do you really feel so removed from the other half of the human population that you can’t possibly empathise, or at least sympathise with their stories? Not to mention, most of the player characters in games are fucking magic or living in space or, in Aloy’s case, a tribal hunter of robotic dinosaurs in a post-post-apocalyptic world. But you really feel you’d identify more with a male tribal robot dinosaur hunter? This is misogynistic in its very nature. You are saying that women are so fundamentally different that you have more in common with some fantasy fuckwit than with an actual human person. What a load of bollocks. In Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy is an outsider. She feels outcast from her world. I’ve not played the game, but I’d take a hunch that at some point in the story, she will feel overwhelmed by her adventure. My guess is a loved one will be taken from her by the jaws of death. But when that happens, I won’t know how she feels, unfortunately. I simply will not be able to comprehend how a creature so alien as a human woman would react to those situations. Immersion broken, 2/10.
So clearly, these are pretty bad arguments. A moment’s consideration reveals that they hold no water whatsoever. But that’s not the worst thing about this line of reasoning. The worst thing is that it shows the truly selfish nature of these few man-babies. (Which is what they are. They’re man-babies. Fully grown, but still pathetic, man-babies.) Let’s assume for a second that the idea of being unable to relate to a female protagonist wasn’t just a thinly veiled attempt to retain some kind of ownership over an entertainment platform to satiate the power trip of a group of hyper-masculine fragile egos. Let’s pretend these people are telling the truth — they really can’t relate to a female character and the whole game is totally ruined by the vagina that you absolutely will never see being in place of the (huge, throbbing, powerful) penis (just like theirs) that you absolutely would never see. If you take this argument to its logical conclusion, you see that these people are just being selfish assholes. They recognise the (fabricated) importance of relating to your character. They feel that the enjoyment of a game is not only enhanced by this, but actually entirely dependent on it. And yet, they only want games to be made that they can relate to. In other words, they think that the only people that should have a chance to truly enjoy video games are people like them — white dudes. They are the most important. Women (you know, a little over half the population) don’t deserve to feel the enjoyment of losing themselves in a great video game. And all those women that have enjoyed video games in the past despite not looking like their character, but would perhaps appreciate the opportunity to revel in this heightened experience? Fuck ’em. Remember, many of these people are fully-grown adults. How wonderful to think of all these people walking around with absolutely no compassion for anyone other than themselves.
There is one last, clutching at straws argument put forward in this vein. The “it just makes the most business sense” argument. It goes a little something like this: ‘gamers are mostly men, so why would a developer not want to a make a game that is going to resonate with the most people to drum up more sales and make more money?’ How sweet! They’re only thinking of the developer’s bottom line, those thoughtful little rascals. That’d be really great if it wasn’t (you guessed it) absolute bullshit. Plenty of studies have found that huge numbers of women enjoy video games. Some even claim more than half of all gamers are women. Admittedly, these studies usually consider you to be a gamer if you had Angry Birds installed on your phone one time, so the relevance of those results when talking about 50-hour console games is pretty much negligible. In my (incredibly limited) experience, it’s true that gaming is more of a male pass time. But not to the point that the female audience isn’t worth paying attention to — it’s still there and it’s still substantial. But the other thing to consider is this: why is it that way? Is it because the very act of playing a video game is fundamentally more appealing to a man? Or is it because the medium has, since its inception, been marketed to and created for men, almost exclusively? The argument that developers should target the existing audience breaks down when you realise that those same developers created that audience by making products specifically for them. So, by extension, if they now begin making products that are designed to appeal to a new audience, who’s to say they won’t widen their entire customer base by tapping into as yet untapped potential buyers? Now that sounds like shrewd business sense.
There is another main line of thinking among these I-only-want-to-play-as-a-man-babies. And it is this:
Diversity for diversity’s sake is wrong
Whoah. You got me there. That does sound bad. Totally the wrong motivation in creating a story. Course, it’s a shame for these people that this argument, when fully explored, supports the use of female protagonists more than anything else. Let’s dive in.
The accompanying quote for this particular nugget of knowledge is something along the lines of “creators should be allowed to create whatever they want. They shouldn’t be forced to add diversity just to fill some quota. They should tell the story they want to tell.” This is, of course, absolutely true. A story will always be at its best when its creator is allowed to realise their vision in its truest form. But this is categorically not a good argument against games with female lead characters. Once again, it just requires taking the argument through a couple of logical steps to see why.
The video game industry is chock full of stories about straight white guys. This is no secret. I don’t have actual figures because it’d take an inordinate amount of time to work them out, but I’d be confident in saying roughly 90% of video game stories involve a white man in the lead role. Now, doesn’t this seem slightly at odds with the human population of the world? Considering the population of white people (including those weird ‘women’ things) must be around 20% or less of the world’s population (again, apologies for no actual figures. I actually did do some research for this one but couldn’t find anything conclusive). Only half of them will be men and then only around 85–90% of them will be straight. It seems unlikely, then, that of all the stories people across the world have to tell, so many of them would be about straight white guys. It’s almost as if the gaming industry is, in fact, forcing non-diversity onto all of us! Shocking, I know. And this comes back to that argument about maximising profits. It’s assumed by publishers that male-centric stories will sell better due to the male-centric fanbase that exists due to male-centric stories being created in the first place. So, yes while I agree that in theory ‘forced diversity’ for the sake of diversity is wrong, so too is forced homogeneity for the sake of some assumed commercial viability.
The other major problem with this argument of ‘forced diversity’ is that there’s no way to tell if diversity is being forced. We’ve seen it time and again. When Ubisoft announced Watch Dogs 2, bigoted wankers everywhere got all in a tizzy because the main character was black. “Black people make up a tiny percentage of the population in San Fran,” they cried, trying to lend the credence of realism to their vitriolic cesspool of an argument. “You’re just trying to please SJWs, I’m so sick of this forced diversity PC libtard nonsense.” And now, with Horizon Zero Dawn, we see the man-babies rear their heads again to assert “this is just pandering to the feminazis. Forced diversity makes me want to act on my latent homosexual desires and that scares me, please give me my comfort zone back and also I have a huge penis.” They are convinced that the non-male, non-white characters in these games are put there purely to fill a quota. It so incomprehensible to their “not racist” minds that a developer might have a vision for a character that isn’t a white dude. The developer of the game must have preferred to create a white male character but is being shackled by the creative hell that is ‘political correctness’. But they’re not racist. Except that that is definitely a racist, sexist and all-around bigoted way to view things. Have these people ever considered that the writer who came up with the character was themselves a woman? Or a black man? Or transgendered? Gay? Perhaps more than one of the above? No. They haven’t. Because in their minds the only people with enough intelligence and social worth to be creating games for the entertainment of their privileged asses must be white and must be men. And those talented people — writers, artists developers (all white, of course) — are also just as bigoted as the man-babies and so could never want to tell a story from a different perspective. Worth noting is this quote from Guerrilla Games developer and Horizon Zero Dawn Executive Producer Mark Norris on the topic of Aloy (speaking to IGN):
Interestingly, in the consciousness of video games there has been the subject of the female main character since a year, a year and a half ago. When we put the concept of Horizon in 2011, when we began to think of ideas, there were three things that did not change on Horizon: Aloy as our main character, these fantastic machines and this juxtaposition of post-post-apocalyptic world. So she was never in question. In fact, it is frustrating that being in 2015, to still have to validate an option on a female main character and then people use it to ask how they decided that option? For us, it never was, never asked if we should choose a man or a woman, it was always Aloy.
So, no, Aloy is not a woman in an attempt to force some diversity into the game or appease the feminists. (Quick note on this while we’re here — feminist is not and should not be a dirty word. These are people who care about equal rights for all people. The feminist cause is one for good, ya dingbats.) Aloy fits into the creator’s vision for the game. She’s also a woman. Deal with it.
What ya gonna do?
The truth is, trying to communicate with these people is like repeatedly slamming your face into a mound of broken glass. But I think it’s important that we try. And, more than that, I really hope the majority of gamers get behind games like Horizon Zero Dawn — great games with a high profile that promote the telling of different stories. I’ve taken to playing a female character (and usually a black woman at that) in almost every game that gives me a choice. Not for some political stance, but purely for the variety. Enough games force me to play as white dude number 9654, so I appreciate the opportunity to mix things up.
Games can be fun. They can provide an escape from the mundanity of everyday life and allow you to experience fantastical worlds and maybe even give you new perspectives. Please, let these new perspectives be more diverse and varied. Please, do not force me to see every story from the same viewpoint. And please, for the love of Gwyn, stop complaining about Aloy being a woman.