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.