Horizon Zero Dawn: What Alloy Does at the Proving Is Called Cheating. (800 words)
Very early in the story, Alloy has to go through a trial in order to become a member of the Nora tribe and a very specific one: a Brave.
It is important for her on numerous levels, she wants to know the identity of her mother and father, she wants to prove her worth to the people who rejected her all her life, she wants to make Rost proud of her… she has a lot of reasons to participate in this ordeal.
We’ve seen her train from her youngest age in order to succeed and become a Nora. Rost even has her fight a Sawtooth and risk her life as a final step towards the completion of her preparation for the Proving.
But the Proving, when it eventually arrives not only doesn’t go any near as planned, but isn’t even close to what Rost prepared Alloy for.
It is clearly said that the sole thing that she needs to become a Nora is to pass the finish line which is a very easy thing to do. Alloy is hugely overprepared. Rost could have told her: “You’ll become a Nora when you’re fifteen; the tribe will welcome you as long as you’re capable of running, shooting a bow and climbing a cliff.” The required skills to become a Nora are perfectly justified, understandable and accessible to anybody. There’s no racism or hatred behind them.
Sadly, Rost bullied Alloy into becoming an incredible hunter and she now feels the urge to be acknowledged as such, she wants to arrive first. She wants to best the teenagers of the tribes and it’s very easy to be on her side because we’re influenced by the narration.
When she gets her first trophy from shooting a Grazer, someone plays a dirty trick on her that which forces her to shoot a second Grazer and lose a lot of time. The thing is, she is never under the threat of losing her right to become a Nora even if that’s exactly how we players are brought to perceive this development.
The complexity of the situation, its specific contingencies, very subtly prevent players from passing a moral judgment on Alloy’s action :
- She’s been preparing all her life, she clearly is among the strongest and as the underdog, it’s very easy to want to see her win.
- Also, the reason why she’s going to arrive last is unfair.
- We didn’t know it would be so easy to become a Nora and still expect a serious ordeal not an anti-climactic formality.
- Bast, the young guy who is very likely going to arrive first is detestable; we want Alloy to beat him.
- She takes an ancient path, which means it used to be approved; it’s not exactly an improvised shortcut. It was abandoned because too dangerous and thus, by taking more risks it feels like Alloy wins the right to win the race.
The reason why all of this remains cheating is that nothing in this proves that Alloy is better than Vala or Bast.
If I race my friend Gerald who’s in a very similar physical shape to mine to see who’s the fastest but we take two paths that are very different in length, height variation and complexity, what does it prove in the end that Gerald arrives first ? What it most likely proves is that his path was the fastest and that if the race was to be rerun and the paths exchanged, the first position would then be mine.
Sure, Alloy deserved to have a shot at winning the competition and Bast may be considered a cheater for what he did, that doesn’t tell us how much shorter the path that she took is from the one the other participants took. More, it doesn’t explain why the Nora who waits for them all at the finish line accepts to consider Alloy the winner when she clearly saw that the young women didn’t take the same path as the others.
Vala and Bast weren’t allowed to take the abandoned path, if they had taken it, they would have won. Alloy involuntarily exploited their respect of the rules of the proving to defeat them. Of course, she didn’t have much of a choice if she wanted a shot at being first but this, the woman doesn’t know. She accepts Alloy as the winner exactly on the same ground as if the girl had truly bluntly cheated.
It’s not a coincidence that Bast and Vala should get killed in the following scene. They’re the two kids to whom the Proving meant something truly important. Alloy’s victory doesn’t mean she’s the best, it deprives the Proving of any meaning. Suddenly, because of her, abiding by the tribe’s rules, trying to be a worthy member of it, means nothing anymore because authority figures of the tribe actually do not reward those who win according to these rules.
I’m writing this article because this very complex dynamic is quite present nowadays in our cultures:
“Outcasts” or pariahs, who were treated (very) unfairly by a group, “a tribe,” a culture, a society, now want two things that are a bit contradictory:
on the one hand they want to be acknowledged as worthy to be part of this group and thus suggest that they abide by the values that this group uphold,
while on the other hand they want to be acknowledged as superior to any member of the group who abide by its rules while remaining undeserving outcasts and thus destroy the structure of the group, its meaning, to those who are part of it and those who are not.
If you want to destroy the Nora, you make Alloy, a non-Nora child, win the Proving unfairly and still be acknowledged as the winner. Everything that the participants of the proving have done in order to feel deserving of becoming a brave, everything that “being a Nora” means to them, even if they only aim at reaching the finish line, all this suddenly doesn’t mean anything anymore.
To put it simply, if you give an Oscar for "best french actor" to Arnold Schwarzenegger because he worked so hard to get it and cries a lot about it on twitter, that Oscar category is finished.
Alloy should have been accepted as a Nora and a Brave but the fact that she used the abandoned path should have prevented her from being considered the first even if it seems unfair.