Horizon Zero Dawn: Elisabet Sobeck is a Genocidal Maniac (1300 words)
Edit 2020: I reread a few things and rewatched a few moments of the game and am even more convinced of what I claim in this article. Plus, I used to believe that Sobeck erased humanity because she thought it was time to start anew. Now I realize that she erased humanity in order to have enough FUEL for Zero Dawn. She used humans as energy because Zero Dawn required a lot of it.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s story is very complex and if you don’t know what I’m talking about in this little text, don’t be afraid to check the wikia page of the game:
In the most common interpretation of the story, Elisabet Sobeck is a genius scientist, who invented the Project Zero Dawn as an answer to the eradication of life on earth due to a glitch that made a group of superpowerful and self-replicating military robots aim at attacking anything alive.
The goal of Zero Dawn was to create a non-living entity that would restart life after producing a new environment ready to welcome it, centuries after Faro’s machines have killed everything and aren’t functional anymore.
As we play a young savage girl in a beautiful world where green machines (created by GAIA the friendly AI) and humans live relatively happily, we don’t need many arguments to be convinced that the Project Zero Dawn was a success and that, although tragic, the extinction of life on earth was overcome. Actually, we learn about the success of the project before we learn about the extinction of life.
That’s it for the most obvious interpretation. The story itself is so convoluted, complex and impressively detailed that it’s hard to understand, let alone look at it with a critical eye. But truly, Elisabet Sobeck’s behaviour is horrifyingly suspicious.
There’s one thing that need be told boldly before any argumentation: Because human beings and nature are essentially imperfect, perfection will always be synonym of hate and death. That’s where Elisabet Sobeck’s tragic flaw lies, she wants everything to be perfect, balanced, beautiful, harmless and moral and thinks it can be.
(Edit 2021: This dynamic of murderous robotic desire for perfection is depicted in the movie I Am Mother, the story of which resembles the one of Horizon Zero Dawn to a suspicious extent).
She is like a mother who would want her kid to be a little angel and would thus suffocate him with her rules and judgemental remarks until he entirely hates himself and becomes a serial killer as a rebellion. Truly, that mother hates her kid. And truly Sobeck hates humanity.
But let’s take a look at the suspicious elements:
- Elisabet designed Faro’s machines. She is the one who made them capable of “feeding” on the biomass. What drives them to destroy everything is Elisabet’s AI. The problem doesn’t come from the size of their weaponery but from the biomass feeding and self-replicating capabilities***, Sobeck’s work. Faro only gave them the guns, he most certainly didn’t even know how the machines functioned. And yes, it was stupid of him, but wasn’t it suspiciously stupid of Elisabet to simply leave the company when she learnt about his initiative ? It’s like creating the most agreeably perfumed liquid ever made which sadly also quickly gives you cancer and leaving your company when they decide to make a new shampoo out of it, unaware of the danger… because they trust you. I know, it’s a funny comparison but really Sobeck’s behaviour is that incoherent. She couldn’t have ignored how things would turn out.
***Sobeck accuses Faro in this exact scene of having given the machines the ability to self-replicate but I don't believe her. I think that she perfectly knows that they're recorded and in a "Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law" situation. As she already knows she'll want to push Zero Dawn on the government, she needs to create a piece of evidence that will make her look entire clean... but she ends the conversation by suggesting that it's always been her who did all the work and Faro only "footed the bill." So, he's not responsible for the self-replicating abilities and she probably is.
- She decides that humanity has no chance of surviving in two seconds and tells Faro how much time they have left in twenty. Nobody else is ever asked to ponder the question. The inevitable extinction of the human race is never proved to be inevitable by anyone but Sobeck. Just think about this for a second, this is criminally suspicious.
- She blackmails Faro into signing a contract saying that he will support Project Zero Dawn while she already is on her way to meet the commander general of the U.S. army. Of course, there isn’t one minute to lose when life itself is at stake, but… really ? Two persons are responsible for this catastrophe, Sobeck and Faro, and instead of being arrested, shackled and questioned, they are given full power over the course of action humanity is going to take ! And everything is done in secret and in a few hours.
- Also, although Faro is crushed by what's happening, Sobeck shines. Sure, he feels responsible and she blames him ruthlessly, but apart from that you never see her feel sorry for humanity (Even GAIA the AI is more sensitive than Elisabet Sobeck). All the kids of the world are dying by the hand of robots she engineered and she doesn't betray any sign of guilt or sadness or depression. Everything is going perfectly for her, it's buziness as usual except that she never was more important.
- The best scientists of the world are dragged into Zero Dawn thinking they are going to do researchs in order to fight the machines and it’s the commander general of the U.S. army who tells them that there is not hope. NOT SOBECK. She managed to convince an eminent figure of authority that nobody will dare doubt, but he is still only repeating her words like a puppet. It's a perfect sectarian manipulation: “You have no hope, therefore you should follow that guru blindly.” These scientists could have made weapons ! Or armors !
"There's no hope, abandon any critical thinking and listen to the face of New Life. Yeah, I know, it's also the face of the person who built all these robots in the first place. Don't be too quick to judge her. It's not as if the fate of everything that is alive was between her hands."
At this point, you must be thinking: “Yes, but it happened. Humanity fought and lost the war and life disappeared.” Sure, but the genius who built the robots never told anyone how they worked or could be stopped. Sobeck won a war against humanity using self-replicating self-refuelling killing machines. How hard could that be ? Granted though, the idea that the war could have been won cannot be supported if there isn’t a hint at it in the game.
- Let’s look at Elisabet’s death:
“A ten-millimeter gap in one of the port seals leading into the facility caused an energy signature to leak out, resulting in the risk of the Faro Swarm becoming aware of its existence. The only way to fix the door and prevent the machines from entering was for someone to go outside and repair it. While the other scientists argued about who should go, Elisabet donned an armored environment suit and went out to begin repairs. Now locked out of the facility, the other scientists wanted to find a way to get her back in. However, Elisabet informed them that there was no time, as the Faro Swarm was already too close. She told everyone that she now just wanted to return home, and said her goodbyes.
Most likely because of her armor's protective shield, Elisabet was able to survive the swarm's attack. She was eventually able to make it back to her childhood home in Carson City, Nevada. There she sat down on a bench, and eventually died, most likely due to her armor no longer being able to protect her from the toxic atmosphere.
Given that the area the game is set is in Utah and Colorado, Elisabet would have had to walk at least 270 miles to reach her home in Nevada.”
Elisabet Sobeck managed to make 400km on foot and survive the swarm of killing machines that was just finished eradicating every soul on the planet !?! Just like that ? Thanks to her little armor ? And without food or water ? Come on...
I can only see three ways this happened:
1-Sobeck simply had a transmitter which allowed her to give orders to the machines (that she created) and ordered them to leave her alone… imagine, they might even have given her the ride home. And of course, she is the one who created the gap in the port seal that she "sacrificed" herself to repair.
2-The armor erased her biological imprint, making her invisible to the predators. Why building Zero Dawn if humanity had something that powerful at their disposal ?
3-The armor is truly efficient and proves that instead of depriving humanity of their best scientists to work on Zero Dawn, making them work on weapons and armors could have led to victory. It is very symbolic that the final fight of the game should be between Aloy wearing an ancient armor (if you’ve done the side quest) and a Deathbringer.
Elisabet Sobeck eradicated humanity and built a machine which would recreate it the way she thought it should be. HADES’ function is very well explained in the game, but truly it corresponds perfectly to Sobeck’s psyche. She thinks herself as GAIA, the all-loving, self-sacrificial nurturing mother, but somewhere in her unconscious there’s also the killswitch if you’re not the way she wants you to be. Just like with your average morbidly entirely self-sacrificial mother.
- (Edit 2020). Really, with clues that HUGE I don't know what to say to the people who can't seem to accept that clearly Sobeck is very suspicious. Anybody can understand that if life on earth was to be soon and unavoidably erased (by a disease for example), what scientists would be asked to do would be to create an underground lab that would restart life after its extinction, not create a perfectly balanced world. Zero Dawn is a judgement. It's sheer hate: "I will restart life yeah, but only if I'm sure it doesn't make the same mistakes." This is exactly like saying that humanity deserved to be erased.
I suppose the incident that caused Aloy’s creation was programmed by Sobeck too, although I am less certain of this (because I’m pretty convinced of everything that’s written above). Edit: actually she's not the one responsible for this as tells the end credit scene of the game. Creating a clone of herself sounds exactly like what Sobeck would do. “I will create the perfect world, and I will roam on its surface as a superior being.”
So yeah, Project Zero Dawn is the megalomaniacal dream of a psychopath come true.
The conclusion of the game explains Elisabet's psychology very well. Elisabet started a fire and burnt a tree while toying with a children's electronic kit when she was six. Her mother, instead of telling her "it's an accident, that's part of life." showed her the dead baby birds that had been burnt in the fire and explained Elisabet that it was useless to be smart if she didn't make the world better.
On that day, Elisabet Sobeck died, she abandonned her life, her right to be happy, her right to live things for herself. And that's why that's where you find her body. Her whole life was just the pathological expension of what happened. Her mother made a six years old girl feel responsible for the death of baby birds and for everything wrong that happened in the world, at the same time. How could Elisabet not have become crazy ?
The traumatized little girl tried to overcome the nightmare by saving lives as momy told her to but also unconsciously by proving that life can respawn from nothing. Elisabet Sobeck tried all her life to undo what she did on that fateful day or at least to lessen the guilt, she tried to prove her mother wrong.
Feeling responsible for everything wrong in the world made her destroy the world in order to restart from nothing. Thank you Elisabet's mother, you idiot !
At some point in this article I claim that Sobeck gave the machines the ability to convert biomass into fuel. I was contradicted by a few readers. The main problem I have with many arguments in the comment section is that they take things at face value. I've here quoted several paragraphs from the wikia of the game in which it's not written that Sobeck created the machines ability to convert the biomass into fuel but from which we can see that it's very probable that she did. My article is about a hidden element of the story and as such it remains unsaid. It won't be served to us on a plate. Elisabet Sobeck is suspicious and smart, there isn't a datapoint 568 found in a secret underground locker in which she confesses being a maniac.
Biomatter Conversion is a process by which organic matter is transformed into fuel. The process was developed and patented by Faro Automated Solution (FAS).
Biomatter conversion was first used by FAS in its Chariot line of military combat automatons, intended as an emergency alternative fuel source in the event of fuel supply line interdiction. Any and all organic matter, living or dead, was suitable. [...] When the Chariot swarm owned by the corporation known as Hartz-Timor went rogue due to a programming glitch, the robots defaulted to biomatter conversion as a fuel source to fuel their rapidly and exponentially increasing numbers. Thus the swarm, which became known as the Faro Plague, became an existential threat to life on Earth.
The biomass conversion is a key element in the extinction of humanity.
History of FAS
Faro Automated Solutions was founded by Ted Faro in 2033. In its early years the company was successful with its popular lines of personal servitors and bodyguard-bots, but it was overshadowed by then-industry giants such as General Synthetics and RECorp. During the climate crisis of the 2040s "Claw-back," FAS made its greatest success with the introduction of green robots and its environmental cleanup and detoxification efforts led by Dr. Elisabet Sobeck. By 2049, FAS was widely credited for solving the climate crisis and became the world's wealthiest corporation, with a record market capitalization of over $23 trillion.
The biggest accomplishment of the FAS is Sobeck's "green robots." Is it more likely for a research section to invent a biomass converter when working on Green Robots or when working on Terminators ?
When trying to solve the climate crisis ? Or when trying to create the deathliest legged tank around ?
Elisabet Sobeck’s life
Sobeck proved to be a science and technology prodigy, enrolling at Stanford University at age 13, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Experimental Physics and Computer Science at age 16, and earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Design at Carnegie-Mellon University in 2040, at 20 years old. Within one year of her graduation, she was hired by Ted Faro, founder, owner and chairman of the robotics and technology corporation Faro Automated Solutions. Within two years, she was promoted to the position of Chief Scientist in the company. Over the next 8 years, her work in the design and development of environmental recovery automatons, known as “green robots”, propelled FAS to the forefront of efforts to undo the severe environmental damage of that decade, known as “The Clawback”. However, in 2048, she resigned from FAS, strongly disapproving of Faro’s decision to take the company into the military automation market.
Not only did Sobeck work for FAS for 8 years but SHE is the genius prodigy, not Faro. It's exactly like with great musicians, their record companies carry on using their work long after they've left or died.
Also, not only did she work, but she was hired immediately after the end of her studies and was quickly promoted to the position of Chief Scientist. She was free to do whatever she wanted to do. Again, necessarily, her official output "green robots" cannot be the sole thing on which she's worked. More, she left suddenly because of one of Faro's decision, therefore, when she left, she was necessarily working on something that was never finished and remained a secret to the public eye.
The Chariot Line
The design and development of the line was personally overseen by Ted Faro, founder, owner and chairman of FAS. The Chariot line was the culmination of Faro's decision to move the company from primarily producing products for the civilian and environmental markets to the production of military technology. Indeed, it was Faro himself who sold the concept to his programmers.
Faro isn't a talented scientist inventor. He's a businessman. Nobody took Sobeck's chair when she left, there's no character in the game filling this spot. How are we supposed to believe that he invented what's used on the chariot's line ?
Self-Replication, Biomass Conversation for Fuel, Slaving Enemy CPUs, OS Security.
Well, that's Elisabet Sobeck in a nutshell and what this article is about.
Sobeck self-replicates herself into Alloy. Self-Replication,
Sobeck uses humanity as fuel for Project Zero Dawn. Biomass Conversation for Fuel
Sobeck employs in Zero Dawn the people who could have stopped her initiative. Slaving Enemy CPUs
Sobeck is an extremely secretive person. She doesn't have a proper personality, personal tastes and nobody knows her ambitions and desires. Except the naive people who believe in her messianic entirely devoted and self-sacrificial persona. Also, she hides behind GAIA. OS Security
Travis Tate’s Life
Tate was born to a devout Pentcostal mother who frequently lectured him on the Biblical End Times. Though Tate inherited his mother's tendency for Biblical analogies, he rebelled strongly against her warnings about living sinfully; Tate seemed to relish in activities that most would consider improper or immoral.
As an adult, Tate spent some time in contact with Elisabet Sobeck- though the exact circumstances of their relationship are unknown, Tate later made the dubious claim that she was romantically attracted to him at the time. Tate also had an unspecified connection to the FBI, through a project known as MOCKINGBIRD; in a private log, Tate fondly recalled his habit of antagonizing FBI agents involved with the project.
Travis Tate's life and personality match the traumatic experience that Elisabet has with her mother that I describe at the end of my article. The mockingbird project isn't a coincidence, Elisabet confide into him her childhood trauma. And the claim that she was romantically attracted to him isn't dubious.