Why Guerrilla’s fictional matriarchal society sets a new standard for videogame narratives
Last year, Sony president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida revealed that concerns were raised internally about the potential risk of launching Horizon with a female lead. Guerrilla, despite moving outside of its FPS comfort zone, stuck to its guns.
Aloy is fierce, determined, outspoken and dressed for the weather. But she also has real personality and characterful flaws. Her backstory, which sees her rejected from her tribe for not having a mother, and craving the familial bonds that she is forced to watch other children enjoy from a distance, is a moving one, but it feeds into who she grows up to be – a highly capable survivalist and warrior who is both kindhearted and selfless. None of these character traits have anything to do with her sex, however, and the fact that she is a woman is an attribute that feels refreshingly incidental when it comes to what defines her character.
But Aloy’s sex does have pointed relevance in Horizon’s story, and within Guerrilla’s fictional matriarchal society. Motherhood is sacred in this world, and to be without that bond is tantamount to a sin. Aloy’s very personal problem results in the shunning she experiences growing up, and drives her to become self-sufficient. These traditions are upheld by the trio of female shamen who lead the Nora tribe in worshiping All Mother, a fertility goddess who they believe gave new life to the world after the apocalypse. While one of the three has a soft spot for Aloy, and steps in as a distant mother figure sporadically, in a community so driven by the concept of maternity the cause of Aloy’s pain and rejection is thrown into even sharper focus. Her desperation to find out who her mother was, and her subsequent search for that information, triggers the cascading events that take her well beyond the Nora tribe’s small patch of land.
But convincing female characters aren’t confined to Aloy and the shamen. There are all manner of women leading armies and tribes, holding positions of power that more typically feature male incumbents in videogames. And it’s all so deeply embedded within the culture of the world and, for the most part, free of lazy stereotypes that it feels just as natural as it should.
Aloy is the kind of hero we can all look up to, and the kind of videogame character more developers should aspire to create. The artistic merit of Guerrilla’s creation is unlikely to calm the nerves of publishers in an industry so focused on white, male protagonists, but if Horizon can make a decent return, perhaps the idea of powerful women will be less terrifying a prospect to the people in charge of funding projects such as this.
The fact that Aloy is a woman is an attribute that feels refreshingly incidental when it comes to what defines her