This story contains mid-story spoilers for Horizon: Forbidden West.
JohnTom Knight recently got a Sony PlayStation 5 console, and was excited to check out the latest great video game: Horizon: Forbidden West.
That changed when he saw a review of the game that included Tenakth, a new cast of characters with widely popular Aboriginal-inspired costumes.
“Immediately, I was curious about how often this was used, like the aesthetic of the original images, and the original culture,” said Knight, a registered Cherokee Nation resident currently based in Burbank, California.
Knight and other Aboriginal players, as well as Aboriginal game developers, have expressed disappointment over what they call stereotypes of Aboriginal characters and images in forbidden westand more broadly in video games – a medium in which indigenous representation is scarce, and rarely done well.
Horizon: Forbidden West It is set nearly 1,000 years in the future, after an army of sophisticated war machines gained consciousness and consumed all biological life in the 1960s. In the hundreds of years since, a new cycle of plants and animals has grown. Humans have reached a pre-industrial state and have split into a series of species – including the Tinakith.
Tenakth dress made of leather and fur, sometimes decorated with feathers as decorative headdresses. Their skin is covered in tattoos and paint, and their armor is made of sheet metal from machines resembling the animals that inhabit the world.
Having seen this, Knight had a few questions about Guerrilla Games, the Amsterdam-based studio behind this title and its predecessor, Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Hey Guerrilla and @PlayStation, I’m just curious…when making horizon [Forbidden] West-Have any Aboriginal/Aborigines been involved in creating the story or art for this game? “
Welcome Guerrilla And the PlayStation just curious… When creating Horizon Zero West, did any of the aborigines/indigenous people participate in creating the story or art for this game? pic.twitter.com/51mFwhqU5z
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Game makers respond
This is not the first time that guerrilla games have come under the microscope.
In 2017, original game critic Dia Lasina called Zero Down The use of words such as “brave”, “savages” and “primitive” to describe some of the factions within the game as well as game critics and pressure not to comment on them in their reviews.
Narrative designer for guerrilla games Jon Gonzalez waypoint deputy said That the studio drew inspiration from a wide network of cultural influences in an effort to “be sensitive to the cultural interests of our audience”.
CBC Radio asked Guerrilla about these renewed concerns in light of forbidden west, which was released in February. (Gonzalez left the studio in 2020).
“Each element of every culture in our world is imaginary and the result of a lengthy thought process, which always begins with the land and what it provides to the people who live there,” said Jan Bart van Beek, Head of Studio and Art at Guerilla. Director, in a statement.
“We have also allowed ourselves to take inspiration from humanity’s global pre-industrial heritage, and consider how people around the world are affected by the environments and materials around them. The world and the story we have created strive to honor, respect and celebrate the richness and depth of this shared heritage.”
Van Beek also described how the Tinakith was influenced in the back story by the incomplete records of an American Air Force squad that lived and fought in the 1950s.
The Tinakith worships pilots as holy warriors of old. They refer to their fighters as soldiers and guards and carry pendants that resemble military dog tags.
Joey Clift, a Los Angeles-based television writer, says that an Aboriginal writer or consultant would say it’s “weird” to have Aboriginal characters who worship American soldiers, some of whom may have European ancestry.
“[You could] Use the game’s story as an opportunity to explore why this is so weird. And if things seem to go over the developer’s heads, [that] It is…part of the problem,” said Clift, a registered member of Cowlitz Indian tribeIt is currently based in Hollywood.
Van Beek’s statement did not address whether any Aboriginal developers had worked on the game, or whether Aboriginal cultural advisors had been included in the process.
forbidden west So far it has enjoyed a glowing response from critics and players. It currently boasts an 88 percent rating On the Metacritic comment aggregator website.
8:34Wide Horizon World: The Forbidden West is a feast for the eyes — but should you play it?
Game production makes acting difficult: the developers
Tara Ojek, a Montreal-based game designer and artist, says the way big-budget video games are made often leads to disappointing design choices like Tenakth, whose aesthetics exemplify what they describe as the “indigenous imagination” popular in popular media.
“Cultural representation is not established in the game development line,” said Ojek, who is of Iranian and Algonquin descent.
As a result, the game may be nearing completion before the studio arrives for feedback such as cultural advice. Ogaick said that if a consultant reports that a studio has an aspect of acting wrong, it’s very difficult to fix it without reviewing months or years of work.
“This is a huge problem, because you then have to justify those decisions retroactively and get the seal of approval,” said Mais Longbot, a video game designer based in Hamilton, Ont.
Longboat, which is Kanien’kehá: ka from the Six Nations of the Grand River, made a game on a smaller scale called Terra Novawho tasked the “natives and settlers” with cooperating in order to survive in the distant future.
The game, which won an award at the ImagineNATIVE 2019 Festival, takes on a more optimistic tone and is rooted in the future of the Aboriginal people. Longboat says that in contrast to forbidden west “Primitive Futurism”, which uses Aboriginal metaphors and “classic colonial novels” in a futuristic setting.
Little vision of Aboriginal in games: Critic
Clift refers to the 2006 first-person shooter victim as the “gold standard” for indigenous representation in video games, a standard that is not based on stereotypes.
“The game centers on a Cherokee guy named Tommy Taudi, who is just an original guy who exists in 1995. He doesn’t wear an apron. He wears a leather jacket. He is portrayed as someone who exists in our current world and not someone who is an outsider in a fictional world.”
Jesse Winty, writer, critic, and co-CEO of Anishinaabe, said the international nature of the video game industry means that few developers are aware of Aboriginal culture beyond the racist imagery in some Hollywood films.
He added that it was rare to see indigenous people on both sides of the industry – either making or consuming toys.
We’ve seen a shift in the past, where there’s more effort to get us involved in productions, but I’m not sure giving the latter any consideration — that we might be the community you want your audience to be,” Wenty said.
The decision about playing a game like Horizon: Forbidden West It carries a personal weight for a knight.
“It’s frustrating because I don’t have to go out and make decisions about which game I’m going to play based on specifically portraying Aboriginal people,” he said.
“I want to play games that everyone else can play. But if it was racist and racist, I wouldn’t play it.”
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