Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Aloy isn’t the new Ellie — for more reasons than one

Horizon Forbidden West’s DLC, Burning Shores, was released this week to critical acclaim. And not just because of how good the expansion is. We are, of course, discussing that big gay kiss shared between our talkative protagonist Aloy, and another character you meet throughout the DLC’s adventure.

As a note, fans reading this article should expect spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West’s DLC, Burning Shores.

Aloy’s finally had her big gay moment, one that many fans (and haters) have argued puts her in the same category as The Last of Us’s Ellie. Why and how? Because Aloy and Ellie are both major female protagonists for Sony PlayStation, and both like to kiss girls. On the surface, sure, we’d say that it’s a comparison with some merit. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that the comparison ultimately falls apart.

Let me explain: it isn’t hard to see why Aloy’s sapphic kiss has rejuvenated the LGBTQ+ community, particularly sapphic gamers. More representation is important, after all. However, Aloy’s big gay moment lacks the weight of Ellie’s. Much like Aloy, Ellie kisses another girl (her best friend) in the DLC Left Behind which the average idiot could ignore if they felt like their ‘image’ of Ellie could be protected simply by not playing something. However, unlike Aloy, Ellie’s choice to kiss Riley doesn’t hinge on a dialogue wheel or the player – it happens because Ellie is a character who happens to love women. It isn’t the player pressing X to Kiss Girl. Ellie likes other women – it is a part of who she is, and to deny that part of her would be like pretending it never existed in the first place.

Aloy gay
Image Source: Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores

Unfortunately, Aloy does not get the same autonomy as Ellie, which subsequently shows the difference in how their queerness is handled and why they are far from being treated the same. Instead of Aloy’s kiss with Seyka being treated as part of her queerness, which Aloy has shown plenty of times before but without any real confirmation on Guerilla Games’ part, it is instead dropped into the player’s lap as a choice. Will you reject Seyka’s advances, despite the overt flirting that has happened between the two of you throughout the DLC, or will you take a chance and say yes to Aloy’s queer sexuality. The choice is yours. And the fact it is a choice is, in my very humble opinion, very cowardly of Guerilla. Including romance options for a character that the player develops and creates is one thing. But, it’s something quite different to do it for a pre-determined character like Aloy, who hasn’t expressed an interest in romance with anyone outside of this DLC.

On one hand, making Aloy’s sexual interests a choice does allow player choice and interactivity which I’m all for. On the other hand, why build up a clearly romantic relationship only to give an option of ‘actually, Aloy is only gay if you want her to be’ to appease homophobic trolls? In doing so, Guerilla has diluted what could have been a powerful sapphic moment that we previously got with Ellie in the Left Behind DLC into something that players can choose to ignore. This isn’t Aloy getting her defining moment of queerness and love, it’s a press X to be gay button and it is such a shame Guerilla went this route. I expected and hoped for more.

The one saving grace about Aloy being confirmed as canonically interested in women is that it isn’t really anything new, nor does it take away from some of the really great queer stories featured in the Horizon games. Regardless of how I feel about how Guerilla expressed Aloy’s sexuality, the series certainly haven’t shied away from including LGBTQ+ characters before. There’s Brageld, a gay man, and Elisabet Sobeck, a gay woman, Aloy’s creator with her likeness, and one of the most important characters in the entire series – and that’s just to name a couple. Does this mean Guerilla could have done better with Aloy’s queerness in Burning Shores? Absolutely. Does this mean I think Aloy being sapphic in a potential sequel is a lost cause? Not at all.

All in all, Aloy’s gay moment in the sun is a reason to celebrate, but Guerilla shouldn’t rest on their laurels. If they want Aloy to be known as a queer woman, they need to commit to that idea. Regardless of whether trolls like it or not.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.