Horizon Equals Art: The Game

Introduction

Horizon Zero Dawn is a game developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It came out earlier this year for the PS4. Horizon is an open world action RPG in which you follow the story of Aloy, a young girl who has been outcast from her tribe for unknown reasons that are later explained in the story. Throughout the story you learn about the blight of Earth in a post-apocalyptic world while gaining more information on the backstory of Aloy. Machines have taken over and people live without technology in primitive tribes. They hunt with ancient weapons that have been “enhanced” with machine parts. They fear the mechanical world and refuse to roam the “ancient” parts of the world in which technology is. Early in the story Aloy discovers one of these ancient ruins and finds a headpiece called a Focus that allows her to interact with the environment using technology. With the Focus she can scan and examine the world, which is a very important aspect in the game.

The story revolves around something called the “Derangement” in which machines have become aggressive and hostile towards humans, and larger and deadlier machines have begun to appear. Aloy is tasked with finding out what is happening with the machines as well as other important aspects of the story that I won’t share as they would be spoilers (like who she actually is!).

Throughout the story the player is constantly upgrading weapons in order to fight bigger and stronger machines. The game requires strategy, timing, planning, and whole lot of luck.

As a Game

Is Horizon a game? For obvious reasons, one can say yes. But maybe it’s not so clear for others, so lets get into it. According the Jesper Juul, a game contains six features:

  1. Rules
  2. Variable Quantifiable Outcome
  3. Valorization of Outcome
  4. Player Effort
  5. Player Attached to Outcome
  6. Negotiable Consequences

Horizon has all of these features in some way. There is a rule-based system in which the player plays the game. Whether it be the combat in which the player must strategically defeat different machines or people in their own way, or the way in which the story progresses. There is a clear narrative that the player follows in order to progress through the story.

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Combat in Horizon

There is a variable quantifiable outcome in that upon completion of the game, you win. There is also the aspect of completing all the side missions and quests, thus completing the game in its entirety, which is not required. It also depends on how the player levels up their skills when playing the game. There are different skill trees in which the player can choose from and depending on which tree they decide to go down will change how the game plays out for most of it. The player can also purchase different outfits and weapons which change combat and how they interact with the environment. There are different machines and some have different elemental weapons. By equipping the weapon that had the opposite elemental effect, the player is more likely to succeed in combat. The same goes for the outfits. Players have different options, like if they want to have more defense and strength or more stealth when fighting and moving around the world.

As I said above, there are different outcomes that come from playing the game depending on the style in which the game is played. People can choose to complete the story in its entirety with all the side quests and errands done as well as the main story quests completed, or players can choose to only do the main story quests. It is up to them, as long as they complete the main story as that is what the game is about. The game also allows players to run around killing machines or other people for fun, collecting resources and getting meat and skin from animals, but after a point players do want to experience the game. The experience comes from the story.

Throughout this game I have exerted a ton of effort. There have been times when I rage and want to quit after dying for the fourth time, or become incredibly frustrated with the giant machines that come plowing through and throw me to the ground, which makes it difficult for me to recover quickly. However, this effort has rewarded me. In one particular boss battle, I was frustrated with the fact that there was no cover to hide behind or anywhere to really sneak as it was an open circular arena. I was going down the sneak tree skill and having to fight in the open without being able to hide behind cover was frustrating. But by exerting effort, I was able to learn the mechanics of the game and remember that there are other aspects other than sneaking around and killing things without the notice of others. I got through the fight by remembering the rules I had previously learned and figuring out how to play in a different style.

I am very invested in this game. It’s not like I’ve completely forgotten what the outside world is, and there are times when I do get bored with the game after hours of playing, but I do enjoy playing it and I want to find out what happens. I want to play the game in its entirety and learn what happened to modern civilization that caused it to be completely wiped out and machines to become the way they are in the game. It’s that desire to find out and the knowledge of the game that makes me return to it.

There are negotiable consequences in the game. If I die in the game, I might rage, but I don’t die in real-life. The only thing I really lose is time, but even then I don’t feel as though I’m wasting it because I’m enjoying playing the game.

As Art

Now, the bigger question. Is Horizon art? It depends on what one’s definition of art is. Juul provided a very broad all-encompassing definition of what a game is. So, what is art? According to Google, art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination, typically in the visual form. Visually, Horizon is beautiful. It’s a game that is aesthetically pleasing because of how realistic it looks. While I was playing, my roommate came in and asked what I was doing. When I said I was playing Horizon, he said that he thought it was something from Netflix.

 

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Visual Representation of Horizon

The game world is beautiful and incredibly realistic, not just from the visual-audio perspective, but how the characters react and behave. Characters have a range of emotions and reactions to different situations. During combat, Aloy reacts much like a real human would. What with struggling to get up after getting hit, or shaking off a close call, she behaves in similar ways that mimic reality. The way in which people speak and react is much like real-life. They have different tones for different situations and different (albeit sometimes small) facial features for those situations.

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Realism of Horizon

The game is incredibly immersive, and amazingly realistic. Well, aside from the animal-like machines taking over the world of course.

Hegel points out that art has three main aspects. He says that:

“The content of art is the Idea, while its form is the configuration of the sensuous material. Now art has to harmonize these two sides and bring them into a free reconciled totality”

Hegel (p. 80)

In other words, the three main things are Idea, Form, and Ideal (bringing the two together). Idea is the content of art, or what is being represented. Form is the organization of the artwork and how people sense it. Ideal is the correlation between the content and configuration. Horizon is able to represent itself very well through its story and content. The form is very aesthetically pleasing with the visual and audio representations of the game because it represents the reality of life. The content of the game and the way in which it is received work well together. People understand what is happening in the game through visual and audio cues.

Conclusion

Horizon is a beautifully immersive game that takes real-life and puts it into a game. The characters experience real emotions and reactions to situations, and the game itself is incredibly beautiful. It is fun to play and it follows the guidelines of what make it a game.

It’s a very interactive game in that what the player does effects the outcome of the game. There are certain situations in which what the player chooses to do effects what happens later on. In short, Horizon Zero Dawn can be considered a game, as well as art.


Sources:

G. W. E. Hegel. (1998 [1826]). “Philosophy of Fine Art.” In The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, edited by D. Preziosi. Oxford: Oxford University Press: pp. 80-88
Jesper Juul. (2005). “Video Games and the Classic Game Model” in Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press: pp. 23-54
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6 thoughts on “Horizon Equals Art: The Game

  1. I’ve heard so many good things about Horizon Dawn but I don’t have a PS4 unfortunately. I thought about buying one but mreh. The way you describe the game makes me want to look more into it and maybe watch people play it. I had a lot of people tell me it’s comparable to the Witcher, which I absolutely loved. The concept of the story itself surprises me. I wouldn’t think they’d be able to make something interesting about a society with no technology. I like games where a decision you make in the game can change something later on without you knowing until it happens.

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    • It’s definitely a game I would enjoy watching others play as well as play. There are so many different things you can do in the game and it’s a big open world. The fast travel option is even unique in that you need certain materials to make a “travel pack” first before you can fast travel to areas located. It’s a very unique game and I think that the story is very original, if not a little convoluted.

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  2. My boyfriend was obsessed with this game when it came out. I was amazed with the graphics and it became a fun game that we played together. Great post. I really liked that you added in that the game’s outcome is dependent on the player. I think that is very important to consider when talking about art. The interaction between the player and the game/ viewer and the art. Everyone understand art differently so it is great that the game adds this idea as well.

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    • That’s great that the game allowed you guys to play together. I always like it when other people watch me play a game, even if I’m screwing up. It makes it more fun for me, and drives me to do better. It is very important to take into account the interaction between the game and the player and if the game actually allows the player to make decisions impacts the way the game plays out in some way later on. It’s definitely an interesting aspect – almost like a choose your own adventure.

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  3. Great article! You do a really good job explaining the basics of the game in the beginning of your article. For me personally, I disagree that a player must be attached to the outcome for the game to be considered a game. My reasoning for this is because if I was playing this game and did not care if I died or failed, would it then not be considered a game? Of course not, it still has clear gaming mechanics, rules and variable outcomes. All of which I believe to be much more important than the attachment aspect so on that note I disagree with Jesper Juul.

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    • Thanks! I’ve really enjoyed playing it and it’s an interesting story.
      That’s a fair point. But most people are going to be attached to the outcome, especially if they’ve invested time in the game. It does not mean that it’s entirely dependent on the player being attached to the outcome, however it is a contributing factor in what makes a game. More often than not people are going to be attached to what happens in the game, especially with this type of game.

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