I haven’t played the game myself yet, but Horizon Zero Dawn does not in any way make me think of Native Americans. Vikings, absolutely, Celtic druidism, of course, but not Native American culture. Perhaps I have been too deeply steeped in
Perhaps I have been too deeply steeped in The Winter We Danced, or Peace Pipe Dreams by Darrell Dennis, but saying the words “tribe”, or “brave” no longer immediately evoke an image of cultural appropriation for me. However, they once did and that is where Native American writer Dia Lacina comes in.
She has written a post aimed at games journalists and the way they’ve been criticising Horizon Zero Dawn. Apparently, they are using vocabulary like “brave”, “tribe/tribal”, and “savages” without proper commentary and Native American context on the history of these words. Especially, Lacina states, when “writers have openly discussed what we would call ‘Hollywood Indian’ tropes without any commentary. Praised the game’s ‘unique’ and ‘refreshing’ take on gender, social politics, matriarchies — nearly every aspect of
Praised the game’s ‘unique’ and ‘refreshing’ take on gender, social politics, matriarchies — nearly every aspect of Horizon’s world building has been critically praised using terms that explicitly and historically have applied to indigenous peoples often to disparage our ways of life and oppress us, all while ignoring that unique and refreshing world building has been lifted almost entirely from our cultures.”
One of her examples of this is “the uncritical use of words like ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ to describe appropriated cultural signifiers on large media platforms serves to reinforce racist and colonialist ideas about indigenous people.”
If you think this is a little harsh, Horizon Zero Dawn‘s narrative director John Gonzales has been moved to respond, stating clearly that “the vocabulary was certainly discussed during the creative process, in terms of wanting to make sure we were sensitive to the cultural concerns of our audience… Talking about the term ‘brave’—with that in particular, our research into it was that it was not a term that would seem to be offensive… It was a term that [we felt] was not derogatory, as we came across some terms that were definitely slurs against Native Americans and other groups throughout history. And so, our decision was based on ‘brave’ not being a ‘hot button’ term.”
Another important point in this matter, whether or not Lacina is right or wrong, is that words like “savage” are used by the villains in the game. Nonetheless, is the language in Horizon Zero Dawn disrespectful? Should these words be banned in future copies of the game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!