Race in Horizon: Zero Dawn

Content note: This will contain minor spoilers only.  No guarantees about the comment section.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a 2017 video game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where robotic beasts roam the earth. The protagonist, Aloy, is an exile from the Nora, a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Aloy’s mission in life is to end her own exile, but as soon as she succeeds, she receives her call to adventure, and must venture out of Nora lands into Carja territory.

HZD has some genuinely interesting things to say about race, far surpassing my expectations for a big-budget video game. Here I will discuss how the game hits the mark on several issues. Then I’ll discuss how the game has been criticized for cultural appropriation of Native Americans. Finally, I will discuss my own criticism: Where the main game succeeds, the DLC pack The Frozen Wilds falls flat on its face.

Where Horizon: Zero Dawn succeeds

The first thing that stands out about HZD is its racially diverse cast. Behold:

A bunch of minor HZD characters

Credit: AbyssOfUnknowing. These are all minor characters, because the image was challenging people to name as many characters as they could remember.

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Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week bloggin’

This week was Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week (ASAW). It’s a little visibility event that has been going on for a few years, but this year there’s been more promotion, so that I actually knew about it ahead of time. Also, this month I helped organize a blogging carnival and I wrote an article for my other blog, so now I’m fired up about it. These are my responses to the ASAW question prompts.

I suppose some readers might come here and just have no idea what I’m talking about.  Aromantic, what’s that?  Luckily I wrote up some aromantic basics.

1. Discovery

I remember back in 2008 when I had a conversation with some college friends wondering why I had never been interested in anyone. My understanding based on cultural narratives was that, as a guy, I was supposed to be interested in some girl and then spend a lot of time waffling before finally summoning the courage to ask her out. I thought if it happened to me I would be courageous enough, but had hit a little snag: where was the girl? I went to an all-boys high school, and thought that I’d find someone after a few years in college, but there was nothing, not even close. My friends were completely unhelpful.

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Why video games are so flammable

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2013.  I was reminded of this post because I recently wrote about a queer theory paper about video game economics.  Wow, some of my references are quite dated!  And this predates gamergate!  Also, LOL at “I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics”.

With Black Friday upon us, the flame wars over next-gen gaming consoles have really been heating up.  Which will win: the Wii U, XBox One, or PlayStation 4?  No one truly knows, but gamers everywhere agree that everyone else is wrong and should feel bad about being so stupid.

While I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics, I do think that video game flame wars can be understood within economics.  The problem is twofold:

  1. There is limited space for video games and video game consoles, and everyone knows it.
  2. Video games are in a state of monopolistic competition.

Video game producers are most efficient when they make fewer, larger games, for many reasons.  Developing a game is a one-time cost, while actually manufacturing the game is cheap.  Selling more copies of a game is not a matter of paying for more manufacture, but paying for better advertisement and development so that more people want to play.1  Note that it’s much easier to advertise one big game than to advertise many little ones.  The main reason to have more smaller games is to better cater to different tastes (e.g. see the indie game industry).

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I joined YIMBY

So, in a bit of personal news, I joined the local YIMBY group. It’s a political group that fights for more housing.

California is currently in a housing crisis, which particularly impacts my generation because we move around a lot so we aren’t as protected by rent control. Also, we spent all our money on avocado toast. Many cities in California will welcome large companies that provide many jobs, but they refuse to let developers build housing near those jobs, leading to long commutes with large carbon footprints, from overpriced apartments in neighborhoods that don’t have as much political power to block housing development, because the older residents are poor. We end up displacing those poor residents and contributing to gentrification, all because the wealthier city where we work decided that if they built housing it would change the character of the neighborhood. It’s a complicated problem, but the solution must involve new housing.

I’m trying not to argue about it though. The important thing is not to persuade people, but to bring it to the attention of people who already agree with us and say, join our fight! This is a bit difficult since this is a blog with an international readership and housing is a very local issue. Nonetheless, housing shortages are a common political issue in many cities of the world, and you might check this map to see if there’s a YIMBY organization near you. Simply joining an organization makes politicians pay attention, but you might find other ways to contribute as well. And even if you’re not in California, the SF YIMBY group is a great informational resource that may help you understand your local situation.

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Religion as an axis of oppression

Earlier, when I was talking about the death of the New Atheist movement, and I mentioned the idea that New Atheism contained an implicit critique of social justice norms. In social justice, it is common to treat religion as just another axis of oppression, similar to race, gender, or orientation. Religious minorities, such as Muslims, are seen as an oppressed group. However, New Atheism problematized the social justice framing by pointing to the harm caused by religion. New Atheism wanted to make it socially acceptable to argue about religious beliefs.

So, I’m curious how this all rolled out, especially among readers who participated in New Atheism and then shifted towards social justice. How did you view religious minorities around five years ago? Have your views changed since then? If so, why?

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Link Roundup: February 2019

This month, I helped launch a blogging carnival about the aromantic spectrum–perhaps not of interest if you’re not into aro/ace community stuff.  But I think it’s rather momentous how communities centered on aromanticism rather than asexuality are now getting recognized by activist organizations.

The story so far of “New” Atheism from Kerala – I was recently talking postmortems of the western atheist movement, but here is a fascinating parallel history of the atheist movement in Kerala, India.  Not only did they have a feminist/anti-feminist split, but they also had a split regarding caste–with one side trying to fight the caste system, and the other side arguing that atheists should not talk about caste at all.

Why blackface persists in Asia and what Western media gets wrong – An old article–I was searching for articles about blackface in Asia, and this one was rather thoughtful.  It makes good points about how western media criticism is often unhelpful, because it just plays into the Chinese government’s narratives about how westerners are trying to sow discord.  On the other hand, it embarrassed the Chinese government and they’ll try to avoid it in the future, so wasn’t that mission accomplished?

Where I disagree with the article, is when it describes blackface in Asia as arising from tone-deafness rather than malice–this is not a way of dismissing criticism, but a way of arguing that blackface in China is different from blackface in western culture.  That… does not sound different.  I suspect that most instances of blackface in the US also arise from tone-deafness rather than malice; that’s what racism looks like.

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Warren is to the left of Sanders (and other observations)

When I recently read up on DW-NOMINATE, I learned a few things about certain political figures. DW-nominate gives every senator a score based on how left/right their voting behavior is, and sometimes the score does not match the senator’s public image.

In the 115th congress (2017-2019), the leftmost senator was… Elizabeth Warren. Not Bernie Sanders, where did you get that idea? After Elizabeth Warren, is Kamala Harris. Then we have another presidential hopeful, Cory Booker. And finally, we have Bernie Sanders–tied with Tammy Baldwin.

I made a plot! It’s copied directly from Voteview, with labels added for certain senators of interest.

A graph showing the DW-NOMINATE scores of the senate from 2017-2019 in two dimensions.

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