Sundom Patriarchy: Oppressing Women Even in Games

Horizon Zero Dawn is a video game released by Sony Entertainment in December of 2017. The story follows the protagonist, Aloy, as she travels through the world in search of revenge and answers about her past. This video game in particular is very progressive as a whole to the improvement of female representation in video games. It shows Aloy as a strong, independent, and capable hunter, who is not a damsel in distress and instead follows the more traditionally masculine idea of revenge through carnage. However, the game does not try to mask or disregard the issues of gender inequality and sexism. Instead the game uses the patriarchal Sundom (kingdom of the Carja tribe) to challenge, hinder, and develop the character Aloy.

Map of the Sundom
Map of the Whole World

Aloy’s interactions with the Sundom continue through a large portion of the game. This is because the Carja tribe is the most powerful and prevalent tribe in this world, and hence their kingdom the Sundom is an expansive superpower. Aloy must continuously come into contact with the people of the Sundom, because of the many important locations located within its borders (even the last boss fight of the game is in/around Meridian the capital of the Sundom). To understand better just how massive the Sundom is, and thus how much interaction must occur, if the map of the world was broken down into seven areas based on when you ‘unlocked’ them – areas 4 – 7 would be mostly pure Carja territory. This means that besides in the beginning of the game when Aloy is in areas 1 – 3, she would be in the Sundom and would experience sexism based off of the strong patriarchy Carja culture enforces. She will have to ‘prove’ herself many times over at this point to make this male dominated society see just how valuable and capable she is, so that she can progress with her ultimate goal.

(NOTE: The keeper in the second row third down will not be included in the generalization of the keepers as a whole, as: 1. She is not included in the main game and is only included in the DLC (downloadable content) and 2. She is not associated with the Hunters Lodge or any of the other keepers.)

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Hunting Grounds – Keepers 

One such way that Aloy has to prove herself to the Carja tribe is through the Hunting Ground Trails. The Hunting Ground Trails are a set of areas that test a hunters’ skill and reward them with either a half-sun, full-sun, or blazing-sun (equivalent to 1-star, 2-star, and 3-star) depending on how well they do the trails. Also, they are run exclusively by the Carja tribe and have barely begun to allow other tribes people and women from every tribe (including their own) attempt to clear them. This also wasn’t changed out of the goodness of their hearts, but because they were ordered to by the 14th and current Sun-King Avad. As can be expected from this, the keepers (the ones who oversee the Hunting Ground Trails) are not exactly friendly to Aloy when she goes to take these challenges. All of the keepers that Aloy must interact with are unsurprisingly male and tend to talk to Aloy in an arrogant, rude, and condescending way. This is the first taste of the Sundom patriarchy that Aloy faces, and it presents the literal challenges she will have to go through and do well on (usually requires a blazing-sun rank) just to be talked to more cordially by the keepers. When the first trail is available is also around the time that the player can start to decide how Aloy will face this patriarchy.

Aloy’s Response to a Carja Member Looking Down on Her

While there are different styles depending on how the player answers, they all have one thing in common – Aloy is most definitely not a Do-Nothing-Bitch and will show them just how wrong they were to look down on her. The first step she takes to do this? Becoming a member of the Hunter Lodge.

Hunters Lodge (inside)

Getting inside of the Hunters Lodge and all of the quests that require entry into it make up a sizable portion of the side quests in the game, and some of the most important ones too. Aloy needs to have at least three half-suns to gain entry, and most players work to make sure they can gain entry. Since not only does this location have a lot of related quests, but it can also give you the strongest weapons in the game. Despite all of the good things that Aloy can get here, the environment itself is horrible.

Counter Merchant at the Hunters Lodge

The Hunters Lodge was originally exclusive to Carja men of noble background, until (like the trials) Sun-King Avad ordered them to open up and allow other tribes and women in. As such, most of the members of the lodge are male and follow the ‘traditional’ patriarchy of their culture closely. Even the female merchant, Aidaba, who works for the Hunters Lodge is surprised to see that the Lodge is actually following the order and let a woman become a member/gain entry. This once again serves to be a hinderance to Aloy on her travels, because this just creates more challenges that she must face simply because she is a woman. After all, she can’t advance and struggles to even become a member (despite meeting the requirements) because of the ultimate culmination of patriarchal oppression – Ahsis.

Aloy Trying to Become a Member of the Hunters Lodge

Ahsis is the Sun-Hawk of the Lodge. The Sun-Hawk is the leader of the Hawks, who in turn together run the Hunters Lodge. Ahsis is a major piece of work and an easily detestable character for both the players and Aloy herself. When Aloy first goes to meet Ahsis to become a member of the Lodge, she is subjected to his highly sexist and discriminatory language. Despite having met the requirements to become a member, this symbol of the Sundom patriarchy hinders Aloy by preventing her from becoming a member. It was only when Aloy fought back against him and challenged him based off of the order that the Lodge had to be open to women, that Ahsis reluctantly relented. Even then he assigned Aloy to the other ‘trash’ of the Lodge, who just so happens to be the only female Hawk of the Lodge. This was just the beginning in a series of quests related to just becoming a member of the Lodge, because of the backlash Aloy had to deal with from this ultimate example of the high patriarchy in the Sundom. But change is happening in the Sundom right? After all Sun-King Avad is changing the status quo; surely, he must treat Aloy well and not discriminate against her because of her gender – wrong.

Avad Flirting with Aloy
Aloy Upset and Refusing Avad’s Advances

Sun-King Avad is generally a very progressive leader, especially considering the strict enforcement of the patriarchy the Sun-Kings of old enforced. He passes edicts that order the Hunting Trails and the Hunters Lodge to be open to everyone, he improves the freedom of Carja women, and he even has women serve in his council of advisors. However, he still exhibits some mentality that shows he is not quite free from the patriarchal teachings he grew up with. This mostly comes about when he interacts with Aloy, after his partner Ersa goes missing and later turns up dead. Aloy and Avad have some interaction (mostly as business partners) before he finds out about Ersa’s death, but nothing to the scale that would normally develop into a romantic relationship. Avad, shortly after Ersa is confirmed dead, then hits on Aloy and describes the traits he likes about her – which are the same ones he initially told Aloy when he was describing Ersa to her. This goes to show that at least unconsciously the patriarchy mentality has led Avad to believe that it is easy to replace his partner and that he is likely to get a positive response. Even the character promoting the most progression in the game is still exhibiting this patriarchal mentality, and challenging Aloy’s worth by implying that she’s only good as a replacement, not as herself, and should be honored to be the Sun-King’s partner. Once again, Aloy is not a Do-Nothing-Bitch so she calls out Avad on this right away. Avad does back off after Aloy does this, but the fact that she has to do this at all exemplifies how the patriarchal views run deep and how they continuously affect her interactions while in the Sundom. . Overall, Horizon Zero Dawn does a good job to expand female representation within video games through the strong and independent protagonist Aloy. The game also does not sugar coat the reality that women must deal with the patriarchal views of society, which for Aloy’s case is the Sundom, and how the effects of ‘dealing’ with it hinder and challenge women as they try to reach their goals. Aloy must overcome the challenges presented to her solely because she is a woman and ‘prove’ herself to others constantly in this male dominated society. However, Aloy does not let any of these hinderances stop her and does not take any of these offences lying down. Her personality shines through these challenges strong and true, and shows just how she developed to be such an awesome character.

Curtis, E. (1970, January 01). In the game of patriarchy: The damsel in distress narrative in video games. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://ir.ua.edu/handle/123456789/2426

McClearen, J., Dr. (2018). Don’t Be a Do-Nothing-Bitch: Popular Feminism and Women’s Physical Empowerment in the UFC. In New Sporting Femininities (pp. 43-62). Springer.

Walby, S. (2010, April 01). Theorising Patriarchy – Sylvia Walby, 1989. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0038038589023002004

https://horizon.fandom.com/wiki/Horizon_Wiki

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