Horizon Zero Dawn and the Word “Savage”

Last week, Native American Dia Lacina accused the journalists writing about Horizon Zero Dawn of using racist and oppressing terms to describe the game. These words include “brave”, “tribe/tribal”, “primitive”, and “savage.” All of which, in my non-Native American opinion, belong in the game’s language and are used correctly by the journalists in question.

Furthermore, Lacina is putting the words “brave” and “tribe/tribal” into the same category as “redskin” and “indian.” That simply isn’t true. The word tribe, for example, has almost nothing to do with the Hollywood Indian trope. Tribe, straight out of the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to “a group of people forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor and specifically each of the twelve divisions of the people of Israel, claiming descent from the twelve sons of Jacob.”

That’s not an indian princess or savage; that’s the center of Christianity. In fact, the majority of examples of its usage in the “tribe” dictionary entry, are biblical, Roman, or Greek.

Neither, for that matter, does the game itself refer to the Hollywood Indian. The journalists who write about Horizon Zero Dawn, including myself and Nerd Much’s Joe Portes, use the language the game itself provides — and that’s not wrong. The game contains its version of conservative people, from all over the spectrum. The use of the word “savages” is wielded in all of its historical context when one tribe in the game lobs it at another that doesn’t share the same views.

It is meant to be racist and nasty, the player is supposed to pick up on that and realize that though one tribe might be more open to some ideas, that does not mean they are likable.

The player, and maybe the journalist, might call a tribe “archaic,” because they are moved by the injustice Aloy has to face throughout the game. For example, Portes’ writing is motivated by his belief that no child should be abandoned simply because, through no fault of their own, both parents are dead. He is speaking from a white and Western perspective, so that kind of abandonment likely feels like a violation of human rights; especially with the Western idealistic approach to children and childhood.

See Also: Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Many other cultures around the world, tribal or not, have different perspectives from Portes’ and would likely view the game in an entirely different light. However, Portes was reviewing the game and his opinion and perspective is rather tantamount to the conclusion of that. As such, it should be clear that he was by no means attempting to call all the tribes in existence in the real world archaic.

There is still absolutely no relation to the Native Americans, themselves, here. Lacina obviously sees a “Hollywood Indian” in Aloy, an Native American princess awaiting the rescue of her handsome white, British, civilized man. And she couldn’t be more wrong, in this case. The game is praised for its unique’ and ‘refreshing’ take on gender, social politics, and matriarchies because video games, in general, normally fall very short in all three categories.

Not because the journalists are calling Horizon Zero Dawn progress while at the same time using racist language to describe such ideas. Plenty of very liberal ideas exist in the countries these games are made, and as such, have been struggling to puncture the mass market for decades. In the video game industry, we often call characters like Aloy progressive, simply because she’s the main character (even the sex symbol Lara Croft was considered progress at the time). Again, nothing to do with Native American culture.

When journalists use the words “brave”, “tribe/tribal”, “primitive”, and “savage”, in reference to Horizon Zero Dawn, they do so using the language the game provides them. Each word comes with the appropriate context of the game itself, which is an entirely new world built with inspiration from our own history, especially the Vikings.

There is very little to do with Native American culture and as such, I highly suggest that Dia Lucina play the game before judging what journalists are saying about it so quickly.

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