A certain thought struck me when playing through my first ten hours of Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn: for a game set in a matriarchal society, I spend my time interacting with a whole lot of men.
Of course, as a societal outcast, the protagonist Aloy hardly interacts with anyone at first. She finds a father figure in fellow outcast Rost, who is established as the only source of love in Aloy’s otherwise friendless and familyless childhood. As a young adult, Aloy meets the revered High Matriarchs who govern from the capital, Mother’s Heart, but her interactions with them are brief and purely expository in nature.
Few other prominent females pop up in the game’s opening hours. Aloy meets a potential rival whose role is ultimately short-lived. During her travels, she comes upon the occasional woman in need of some assistance, often in the form of a fetch quest. Aside from Aloy herself, the female characters make faint and fleeting impressions.
In comparison, the male characters figure much more prominently in the minds of the players. It is a man who raises Aloy, and who sacrifices his own happiness and livelihood in exchange for hers. It is a boy who bullies Aloy as a child, and then later as a young adult. It is a man who Aloy rescues from near-certain death, and who later repays her. It is a man who risks trading his wares with Aloy, despite her status as an outcast. Most of the human enemies Aloy encounters are men, and when Aloy is nearly murdered during a pivotal early scene, it is at the hands of a man.
As much as I enjoy playing Horizon Zero Dawn, I can’t help but find this aspect of the game a little disappointing. Perhaps it was naive of me to assume that a female lead will, by extension, dictate the prominence of all other female characters in the cast. After all, that’s more often not the case with female-led movies; for instance, though Disney is known for its massively successful female-led films, many of those films have male-dominant casts. Even Frozen, which has two female characters at its center, is a movie otherwise populated with male characters. As far as female companionship goes, Elsa and Anna quite literally only have each other.
Most strong female protagonists are, in fact, rather isolated from their own gender. They tend to have few friends and especially few female friends. They are forced to navigate through societies that are typically just as patriarchal as our own in the real world, and with few female mentors to lean on for guidance. They are often lonely.
To be clear, I do not mean to claim that these characters are devoid of worth. If anything, it is because these characters are so worthwhile that I yearn to see more of them. Concerning Horizon Zero Dawn specifically, I appreciate that the story is rooted in Aloy’s search for her birth mother, and that Guerrilla Games even chose a female lead for their triple-A title when so many other developers still seem reluctant to do the same.
Still, I would have liked if the game offered more in the way of female kinship. At the very least, it might have made the experience of playing it feel a little less lonesome.
Image taken from the Horizon Zero Dawn website.