After the well-received success of Horizon Zero Dawn, the game received an immense amount of love and respect from both its fans and newcomers to PlayStation exclusives. However, a controversy surrounding the sequel Horizon Forbidden West’s DLC soon came to light and garnered a mixed emotional response from gamers- mainly over the relationship and story arc between the two main characters – Aloy and Seyka.
Please note that this article contains spoilers for the final moments of the expansion.
The DLC, Burning Shores, which debuted on April 19, expands on the main game’s adventures. It featured several new personalities for the protagonist Aloy, one of them being Seyka, the Quen Warrior.
After the DLCs launch, the popular video game website Metacritic faced massive review bombings over Aloy’s relationship with Seyka and an optional sequence where they share a kiss. While Metacritic is taking action against the sudden rise in negative reviews due to homophobes, such an incident has us reflecting on the current negative trends in gaming.
Aloy and Seyka’s ‘controversial’ relationship
As Burning Shores’ narrative develops, it becomes clear that Aloy grows affectionate towards Seyka, which is a big departure from the stoic, selfless character depicted in earlier chapters.
After a point in the storyline, the player has the option to either kiss Seyka or declare that the moment is not suitable when she confesses her desire to be with Aloy towards the end. Both responses imply a romantic relationship between the two characters, which is unexpected given that Aloy had previously been established to be asexual.
To the players, Aloy and Seyka’s romance may feel a bit rushed, perhaps setting the expectations for a third instalment to the Horizon series. Whatever the case may be, the two certainly add a humane and calm touch to the otherwise dangerous and thrill-seeking setting.
Aloy and Seyka’s relationship may have incited a lot of aww’s amongst gamers belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community, but it also gave rise to a whole load of negativity from the homophobic members of the gaming world. The two characters’ onscreen presence sparked a lot of different feelings, the majority of which didn’t sit well on the critic’s charts.
The effect of cancel culture on video games
Trigger and spoiler warning for The Last of Us: Part 2
The two characters kissing in Burning Shores prompted some homophobes to review bomb the DLC on Metacritic, lowering its user score from 5.1 to 3.0. While the user rating is now at 4.0, there are 236 “critics” who all have a problem with Aloy kissing a girl.
What the game is facing isn’t something out of the blue. In recent times, we’ve witnessed a lot of game developers, along with people involved in the development process, face harsh criticism over the portrayal of certain personalities onscreen.
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs to experience regressive opinions in what we consider to otherwise be a progressive space. The recent response to The Last of Us (TV Show) and The Last of Us 2’s narratives, which revolved around themes like homosexual relationships and romance sequences, was also similarly negative. Following the criticism, many actors from the show (Bella Ramsey, along with others) quit their Twitter accounts. A few years ago, Last of Us 2’s criticism had popular Youtubers and online personalities leave their platforms for the sake of their mental well-being.
Following are a series of tweets directed to Neil Druckmann, Co-President of Naughty Dog.
You can love or hate the game and share your thoughts about it. Unfortunately too many of the messages I've been getting are vile, hateful, & violent. Here are just a handful of them (feel it's important to expose.) Trigger Warning: transphobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, etc. pic.twitter.com/uR9vpGgYQa
— Neil Druckmann (@Neil_Druckmann) July 5, 2020
Another series of homophobic tweets regarding the Last of Us 2’s characters:
The homophobic and sexist response to The Last Of Us Part 2’s new gameplay trailer is a perfect example for why we need more LGBT+ and female representation in video games: pic.twitter.com/YbnE5wHmum
— Novaleesi (@Novaleesi) June 12, 2018
We may have moved past an era of the initial discomfort caused by female protagonists (for ancient-minded gamers who cannot stand them taking the lead), thanks to powerful portrayals of Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) and Samus Aran (Metroid). However, this can only do so much to stop gamers from taking offense at sequences they are personally not comfortable with.
The truth is, the typical gamer (and the many virtual lives they live) is no longer your classic straight white male as video games become more and more popular. In contrast, the gaming world brings in a wide variety of sizes, colours, shapes, and sexual orientations, all pointing towards one motto – we are one.
Expanding our horizons to inclusivity
In a statement to Eurogamer, Metacritic had this to say:
We commend Metacritic for taking a stand against homophobic reviews and criticisms. However, this is merely scratching the surface of a long and heavy battle against homophobia and gatekeeping surrounding inclusivity.
Characters written for video games are more than the lines of code they are perceived to be. In reality, the people working on building our favorite digital experiences come from novel walks of life that take twists, turns, and colors that we often fail to understand. Even if we can’t empathize, there’s no reason for a lack of sympathy.
We must also remember that there’s always a positive force when darkness seems to surround a topic of sensitivity. For instance, Apex Legends, popular Battle Royale game, has quite a few characters coming from fascinating walks of life. Two of them – Bloodhound and Fuse – share a friendly relationship that turns into romance at some point. What’s even better is that Bloodhound is a deadly hunter who pertains to no gender, and Fuse is a pansexual middle-aged badass.
The Apex Legends community has often applauded and mused over the backgrounds and relationships between the different Legends. This gives us a lot of hope, and we wish to see more positive feedback over carefully designed video game characters, along with the relationship they hold with others onscreen.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores seems to be getting positive reviews from critics, regardless of the latest controversy. The game currently has an overall rating of 82 on Metacritic and 82 on OpenCritic, proving that representation is the way forward and cannot be suppressed.