Janeva, Horizon Zero Dawn’s Trans Icon, Needs To Return In Forbidden West

No one remembers Janeva from Horizon Zero Dawn. In fairness, no one seems to remember anyone beyond Aloy, Rost, that guy with the moustache (he was called Erend, by the way), and the guy from The Wire (that's Sylens). Even amongst other players perhaps more committed to the Horizon mythology, Janeva is way down the list compared to Elisabet Sobeck, Ted Faro, Nil, Resh, Talanah, Arana, Teersha, and a few other names I could list that would just be sounds to the vast majority of players who struggled even to recall what Moustache Man was called. Again, since you've probably forgotten already, it was Erend.

It's not your fault that you forgot. I love Horizon Zero Dawn, but the supporting cast is way down the list of reasons why. Aloy spends a lot of time on her own – something that will happen less in Forbidden West – and as a result it's hard to get to know the other characters, especially when a lot of them are thin on the ground. Janeva is similarly thin, but they represent something bigger, and I hope they return in Forbidden West somehow.

Related: Horizon Call Of The Mountain Could Be VR's Breath Of The WildJaneva is trans – maybe. I'll come back to that later, but of course the headline already gave that away. Identity politics is more often a barrier to understanding than a gateway, but identity and representation do matter. Even those who argue it doesn't are typically annoyed that straight white men – the archetype that represents them – now have less screen time in gaming. If you put Hunter Schafer in a movie, I'm more likely to watch it because I can identify with her. Side note: put her in a fucking movie. Am I doomed to have to wait another two years for Euphoria season three to see her again?

Anyway. Just having a trans character is not a monumental, ground breaking victory, but it feels pretty close to one. These days I can rattle off a few examples – Krem, Leo, Tyler, Lev, Janeva – but it's still enough of a rarity, especially on the triple-A scene, that it's worth celebrating. As far as trans women go, Cyberpunk 2077’s Claire is the obvious one, and even that makes me feel conflicted. Let's go back to that 'maybe' though. The word 'transgender' is never said, and this is a pretty common trope. Even though English language as a concept has survived – and the suspension of disbelief that comes with massive robot eagles swooping down at you – words like 'transgender' never make it through. It's the same for Dragon Age's Krem, listed above. Leo Kleisen's transness has only been confirmed outside of Tekken, and even then, it's debated. Lev never says trans in The Last of Us Part 2. Only Tyler of the characters above owns his transness, although the game commits to this so fully that it almost makes up for everyone else ducking.

Despite Tyler's strides, Lev is perhaps the most important, because The Last of Us Part 2 is a monumentally huge game, and Lev is one of its most popular characters. If Janeva does get a bigger role in Forbidden West, it will likely be through standing on Lev's shoulders to get there.

Janeva presents as male, and says "I'm not one of your sisters. No woman can wear Carja armour," but his name is Janeva. By Carja naming conventions, a vowel sound at the end denotes a girl, suggesting Janeva was assigned female at birth and has kept his name, but has assumed the role, attire, and look of a male. In a way, it's progressive – many trans people change their name in order to go stealth, and even those like myself who are openly trans change their names because of the stress society places on names, and because using a male name would likely see society question our gender even further. The youngest generation seem to be opting for gender neutral names in a punk inversion of these conventions – see: Hunter Schafer – but Janeva's embrace of his birth name while rejecting his birth gender is equally fascinating.

As with all characters in Zero Dawn though, our time with Janeva is all too short. Many players didn't even notice the trans coding, and with nothing else all that special about him – he has a storyline about the power of criminal rehabilitation, but it's nothing to write home about – he's doomed to be forgotten like Takaba, Aratak, Kranta, and Loama. I made all of those up, but did you even notice? And if your answer is "of course I did, I'm not stupid," then here's some news: Aratak is real. Sorry.

I care about Janeva entirely because he's trans, I admit it. But with so few characters to call my own, that's enough. I want him to be Forbidden West's Lev, and if they give him half a chance, he just might be.

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