Horizon Forbidden West strike union buster Aloy Ulvund

This article about union busting in Horizon Forbidden West contains light spoilers for the first few hours of the game.

I thought I knew what to expect from Horizon Forbidden West: archery, robot dinosaurs, a massive post-apocalyptic playground, and a protagonist who (to Bad Twitter’s chagrin) looks like an actual human woman. What I didn’t anticipate was that, a few hours in, I’d be shaking my fist at Horizon Forbidden West for turning Aloy, who all but saved the world in the last game, into a union buster.

Yes, I still feel guilty about dispatching Horizon Forbidden West’s machines, but it took this one baffling encounter to really stop me in my tracks. To progress through to the Forbidden West, you have to convince a priest to cross a valley and attend a special meeting. But he won’t do that until a) you’ve cleared the region of warthog-like robots, and b) the local quarry workers, currently striking due to the danger, have returned to their duties.

The first task involves a lot of machine murder, but it’s doable provided you remember to get out of the way of the charging Bristlebacks. As for the second task? Just threaten the local union boss, people go back to work, problem solved. Right? Wrong. Horizon Forbidden West, you can go to hell – I didn’t sign up to be a strike-breaker.

Admittedly, Ulvund, the leader of the Oseram workers in Chainscrape, is not the nicest person in the world. At some level, I believe he genuinely cares for the workers, not least because he’s had to work his way up from nothing. But he thinks his station offers him privilege, demanding the “Ulvund discount” at the local bar.

Horizon Forbidden West strike union buster Aloy Ulvund

But while he’s anything but a straight shooter, he’s all the people have. The Oseram workers are breaking their backs working land that doesn’t belong to them and that, in all likelihood, will remain unattainable. And when Ulvund remarks that he can’t declare the valley safe until it’s been properly inspected, he’s… got a point, actually.

Aloy, however, decides she can’t wait and tells him either he calls off the strike or she will. She doesn’t specify whether she intends to overthrow him or throw him off a wall, but her tone is more than a little menacing. It makes the Savior of Meridian, a woman who knows what it’s like to be truly alone, with no one having her back, into a union buster.

Is that Aloy’s intent? Probably not. The game reminds you on a few occasions that she’s not great with people, and there’s a good reason for that. The circumstances of her birth meant that she was raised in isolation, and the people of the local tribe were taught to shun her. As terrible child-support strategies go, it’s on a par with Frozen’s “Conceal, don’t feel,” which worked out so well for Elsa.

Aloy does grow as the game progresses, but at this point she’s very much a loner. On top of that, she’s convinced she’s the only one who can save the world from ending. So when she forces Ulvund to capitulate (which, admittedly, is not great for a union leader), it could be down to selfishness, arrogance, a failure to understand why people are stronger together, or some combination of those factors. And she’s used to things going her way – to quote Terry Pratchett, “a million-to-one chance succeeds nine times out of ten.”

But at the time, I went from being gobsmacked, to utterly confused, to just plain angry. Surely I’d missed something? I played through the sequence several times, convinced I’d not spoken to the right characters. Where was the option to kick Ulvund out, to get someone more honest to take his place who, being harder to threaten than Ulvund, might insist you escort them around the valley to confirm it’s safe?

Horizon Forbidden West strike union buster Aloy Ulvund

And of all the characters who could have adopted an apparently anti-union stance, Aloy seems the least appropriate. This is partly due to her Savior of Meridian status, which, let’s face it, means everyone is going to listen to her. It sounds like privilege, but it isn’t quite – Aloy didn’t ask to be put on a pedestal. But when she tells the workers that Ulvund is going to pay for all their lost wages, (It’s not clear if he actually can.) no one calls her out.

Erend, an Oseram and all-round badass, would have been a more suitable substitute, and whether or not you agreed with him, it wouldn’t have been your call. I wouldn’t have experienced that moment of outrage when, in the tradition of Heavy Rain, my protagonist took a position I certainly would not.

I’m pro-union and I’m aware that not every person who plays Horizon Forbidden West will share that view. But the “union buster” scene in Horizon Forbidden West seems particularly odd given that many of the game industry’s problems, such as overwork, harassment, mass redundancies, and so on could be lessened by unionization. Certainly, that’s what organizations like Game Workers Unite are pushing for.

As for Aloy, as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin put it, “The one thing (people) love more than a hero is to see a hero fail.” If the Bristlebacks return, Aloy could go from being the Savior of Meridian to the Bloody Union Buster of Chainscrape, whose insistence on rushing people back to work cost so many lives. It won’t matter if her decision stemmed from selfishness, overconfidence, or obliviousness. That blood will be on her hands and mine, and no amount of back-wages will fix that.

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