FaceGate: Why making female video game characters “ugly” is actually fantastic :)

Call Me the Lizard Queen
3 min readJun 8, 2021

So I guess people are complaining about the way Aloy’s face looks in the footage released from Horizon Forbidden West. The thing is, she’s not pretty in the way we’re accustomed to seeing women portrayed in media. When you stop and think about it, though, her looks are consistent with someone who doesn’t have access to a billion dollar beauty care industry, nor the time and priorities to focus on keeping her skin youthfully soft and glowing.

Aloy is an exceptionally strong female character. She is a woman on a mission and is frighteningly competent at achieving her goals. I mean seriously, how many people do you know who can haul their body weight up sheer cliffs like that, only to turn around and fell animal machines twice her size? Something I loved most about Horizon Zero Dawn is the complete absence of romantic subplots. Several men make passes at her and her response is generally, “I don’t have time for this shit, I gotta save the world.” This is incredibly refreshing. Especially for media with a such a young protagonist (she’s 17-years-old). To this day, there persists this idea that people (women, especially) need a romantic partner to be complete or fulfilled. So I found it particularly encouraging to see how self-possessed and focused Aloy is throughout the whole game. And I think it’s really important representation for young women in video games.

By that extension, to see Aloy get older and have the wear and tear of her hard and dangerous lifestyle reflected in her appearance is important — and consistent with her characterization. How often have you joked about that obvious and glaring plot hole Hollywood likes to insert into apocalyptic movies? You know, where the whole world has ended, there are no more spas or CVS’s, but somehow all the female characters have perfect skin and makeup, manicured nails, shaved legs and hair ready for a shampoo commercial. It especially stands out next to all these grizzled dudes with grody skin, dirt under their nails and greasy unkempt hair. We joke about it, but this kind of thing furthers very unhealthy, time-consuming and expensive beauty standards women are expected to conform to.

Any woman can relate stories of concerned or negative reactions they received to showing up on days they decided to skip out on their beauty regimen. And that pales in comparison to all the incel rage about how women who wear makeup are lying about their appearance. These things highlight the fact that current beauty standards are so rigorously enforced, it has become shocking to see people who don’t conform to them. That to some extent, we’ve lost touch with what people look like without the aid of beauty products of some kind. It is particularly uncommon to see it in media, unless the non-conformity serves as a metaphorical value judgment. (See the ugly shrew trope.)

We should be saddened every time controversies over the relative attractiveness of female characters arise. We saw how out of hand things got last year in reaction to The Last Of Us Part 2 having female protagonists who didn’t have typically “feminine” bodies. The reality is that women — and more broadly, people — come in every shape and size, and they are under no obligation to beautify themselves to appease strangers. We deserve the option to consume media that reflects that.

As a woman who grew up in the era of still gender segregated toy aisles and strong double standards in the media marketed to my demographic, it is incredibly empowering to see more prominent game developers embracing body and image diversity in their design ethos. I hope this trend continues. I also hope that the people saying that the graphics in Horizon Forbidden West are bad solely because they find Aloy unattractive experience the visceral understanding that their argument is incredibly stupid.