Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn and cultural thievery

I’ve started to see some criticisms of Horizon Zero Dawn cropping up for: Native American cultural appropriation. *sigh*

One of the effects of an extreme apocalypse is the obliteration of technology. Most apocalyptic scenarios involve the extinction of a large percentage of the population along with the destruction of cities, infrastructure, and technology centers. What you end up with is scattered survivors without the critical mass of knowledge necessary to repair and rebuild.

Let’s say there was a nuclear war. All major cities and surrounding areas destroyed. To escape radiation poisoning, everyone must flee to remote locations. People will first go to smaller cities and loot what they can. Society descends into chaos. People who were once neighbors killing each other over cans of soup.

There is no more industrial scale farming nor refining of fuel. Working vast fields with heavy machinery and shipping food around the country is no longer possible. Once peoples’ looted supplies have been depleted, they will need to fend for themselves, and many won’t be up to the task. Famine, malnutrition, and disease will further devastate the population.

Perhaps there would be a nuclear winter. Global climate change that makes survival even more difficult. In the end, it all amounts to scattered people surviving off the land. Over time, small communities would form, but they would be under constant threat. For it is often easier to steal than produce.

What we have here is not Horizon Zero Dawn appropriating Native American culture, but accurately depicting a post-apocalyptic scenario. People would gather in tribes, they would have primitive technology, and life would be savage. Without the means to make cloth, they would use fur and hide. They would adorn themselves with whatever colorful objects were at hand, like blue machine tubing. They would invent lore to explain the unexplained. Buildings would be made of wood and stone; and they would be open, with many people sharing the same space, because that is the most efficient way to build. In short, they would do the things that all primitive humans have done throughout history.

There are no tepees, or hatchets, or horses, or feather headdresses, or war hoops, or long straight dark hair, or reddish skin. Many of the things that are specifically (and stereotypically) associated with Native Americans. The Nora are depicted with dreadlocks and a melting pot of racial features. They have a war-chief but are ruled by the matriarchs. They do not revere animal spirits, or incorporate animal imagery in the things they build. They hunt with bow, arrow, and spear (among other weapons), but so has most every other primitive human society. Does it resemble Native American culture in many ways? Sure it does. There are also a lot of elements of other cultures: African, Celtic, Norse, and Aztec to name a few.

So where does the comparison to Native Americans come from? Well, a lot of focus seems to be on the use of the term Braves. And yes, it is historically used to describe Native American warriors. But why is this offensive? It’s not derogatory in nature and isn’t being used in a derogatory way.

Apparently, using the term to describe primitive tribal warriors in a video game somehow suggests that Native Americans are primitive savages? Or disrespects their heritage? That’s ridiculous. The term originated in a time when Native Americans were primitive and some were savage. To pretend like that was never the case and getting upset over references to that time period is in itself cultural dishonesty. I should also note that being primitive, by modern standards, is not in and of itself a negative thing.

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with Horizon Zero Dawn and everything to do with the excessive political correctness infecting our society right now. It’s obvious that Guerrilla Games tried to be as sensitive and respectful as they could possibly be. The grand irony of course, is that trying to isolate and protect cultural elements from being borrowed serves only to prolong racial division.

I think trying to expunge all references to Native American culture is the wrong way to respect it. By incorporating elements of all ancestries into mainstream society, we keep them alive and relevant. It’s a jumping off point to have conversations with our children about the past. If a bunch of people play Horizon Zero Dawn and get interested in learning more about Native American culture because of it, how is that a bad thing?

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