It’s been an odd start to 2017 in the world of gaming. Multiple big-name titles have released back to back to back. While many have reached critical acclaim, some have also come under fire for cultural issues and diversity.


In saying this, I’m talking specifically about Horizon Zero Dawn, which was labeled as a misappropriation of Native American culture. While I won’t touch on the validity of these claims (as the author certainly makes a valid point and knows more on the subject than I do), I think it presents a nice discussion: why do we nitpick these games so?

I’m not trying to diminish the argument of cultural appropriation at all. If you believe Horizon mishandles various details and words, that’s your prerogative. But why preach about diversity to the most diverse big-budget game of this generation? Why not point fingers at one of the many, many titles that showcase burly white men, year after year?

Horizon puts players in the shoes of Aloy, a capable, independent young woman with survival and fighting skills that surpass those of the men around her. Her tribe is led entirely by a team of older Matriarchs. The group itself is comprised of many different races and ethnicities; I met people of Asian and African descent in the first hours the game. Later, I happened upon Middle-Eastern folks, Hispanics, and a gay man mourning for his lover.

It’s clear in just a small amount of playtime that Guerilla Games focused heavily on creating a diverse world. In it, all races, genders, and walks of life have an equal opportunity to survive and thrive. Yet instead of celebrating this, we have decided to pick apart the one thing it may do wrong: misconstrue Native American culture with the usage of words like “brave,” “savage,” and “primal.”

This sort of atmosphere is not supportive of new, diverse media. You’d think that just over a year after #OscarsSoWhite, society would be openly celebrating any entertainment with a unique, varied cast and placing them on pedestals. Yet here in the gaming industry, we’ve chosen to deride Horizon Zero Dawn on a small mishap rather than praise a major step forward.

Such scenarios ask a larger question on our society and the internet: are we all just cynics? Are we incapable of just enjoying and complimenting something every once in a while? Though I understand that it’s possible to critique and enjoy at the same time, I also know that the original author took it upon herself to judge Horizon Zero Dawn by its cover (and reviews). This doesn’t invalidate her argument, but it does make her point seem overly critical. She criticizes it before release, without truly giving it a chance to change her mind.

I’m not saying this sort of political correctness should be taboo when discussing video games. In fact, I think those conversations are very much worth having, and will better the industry. However, I also believe there are times where it’s better to focus on the positives than linger on the negatives.

Chastising creators endlessly for getting diversity wrong will only serve to push them away from exploring diverse stories. After all, mainstream culture eats up the many, many titles that showcase burly white men. Disowning a dev for an oversight or mistake is the equivalent of building a relationship with a dog or baby by telling them “NO!” over and over. It’s not healthy for either party.

We need to be a better, happier place, and encourage the creation of diverse products by supporting the ones that do it (mostly) right, instead of chastising the products that do it wrong. We need to be a society that promotes the creation of healthy, organic diverse stories. Right now, though, we’re one that simply complains about the lack of them, and refuses any attempts that don’t perfectly satisfy our criteria.

ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

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  • DevilDogA99

    Very well written. I enjoyed reading it. However I never knew this was a problem. Either I’ve missed it or its a very small group of people complaining. I also wish that people would just sit back and enjoy things, stop taking everything so seriously. It’s robot dinosaurs, why are you expecting cultural sensitivity? Like you said why not enjoy all the diversity in the game and encourage that.

    • Dylan Bishop

      Thank you so much! This was a discussion being thrown around the internet in the beginning of March, and the developers actually ended up commenting on it in a conversation with Waypoint. I’m glad you’d like to take the “happy” approach too!

  • J.j. Barrington

    Simply put, it was a non-issue that someone tried very hard to MAKE into a non-issue.

    • Gamez Rule
      • J.j. Barrington

        Yeah, that’s pretty perfect. My comments at the time were about the same, though I didn’t post them on Polygon, lol.

      • Dylan Bishop

        I’d have to agree that the terms are very general, and even the Nora tribe themselves seem to be an amalgamation of various indigenous groups throughout time, not specifically Native Americans. While I’ll admit that it may not be my place to declare what the developers may have intended, I’m pretty sure they weren’t going for a specific “Native American look.”

  • Gamez Rule

    *author took it upon herself to judge Horizon Zero Dawn by its cover (and reviews)*
    *it does make her point seem overly critical*
    *She criticizes it before release*
    *without truly giving it a chance to change her mind*

    All that ** shows me it’s based on nothing but guess work which shows poor workings at best to judge anything by it’s cover when stating about the games culture without even playing the game first. I mean when did any culture ride robots that ruled the world LMAO! It’s game not a history lesson☺

  • Meaux Szyslack

    Excellent article!

    • Dylan Bishop

      Thank you!

  • DarthDiggler

    @dylanbishop3:disqus

    So diversity in gaming means we pick and choose people according to race? How does this help us create the color blind society Dr. King spoke of?

    • Dylan Bishop

      No, it doesn’t mean we just pick people based on their color. But it DOES mean we strive and at least make an effort to not pick and choose people who are all the same. In a video game–a medium where everything is fabricated and created to our liking–what does it say when everyone we pick is white?

      I’m trying to say that these stories, true diverse stories, need to be natural. They shouldn’t be something we complain to achieve or yell about when a game does them just a little wrong. They need to be experiences that we provoke and nurture in a positive way.

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