When you’re a kid it seems normal to pretend that you’re secretly a princess, whisked away from your real parents and rightful castle at birth because of some fairy tale story. Well, for me that’s almost a reality. I just didn’t realise that it would be a game that changed my life.
I was eight years old when I found out I was adopted. I distinctly remember my parents sitting me down between them in bed and carefully telling me the story. My biological parents had been very young - 15 and 17 - when they found out they were pregnant. But not too young to realise that they could make a very important choice. So when I was just three days old, my adoptive parents got to take me home.
It’s amazing how quickly everything you thought you knew can get twisted. Here were my parents hugging me as the tears streamed down my face, they’d been my everything since I was just a few days old. But finding out they weren’t my parents by blood, DNA changed my perspective on that fairy tale we’d all joked about before.
A hidden past revealed
Since I found out about my adoption nearly 21 years ago, I’ve always found excuses not to go looking for my birth parents. My adoptive parents are wonderful; I had a great childhood; university was too distracting; big London jobs got in the way… Of course, I was under no illusion - and I’m still not - that I’m secretly a princess, but there are questions that I’d quite like to be answered. Ever go to the doctors, and they ask if a disease runs in your family? Or look in the mirror and wonder which parent gave you those weird eyebrows or that nose? Well, it’s questions like that that I can’t answer, but would really like to.
And all those excuses kept getting in the way, until I started playing Horizon Zero Dawn at a preview event in February. I was lucky enough to see the game at Guerrilla’s studio, where I was given a thorough introduction to its heroine, Aloy. In the opening moments of the game something stirred inside me.
Horizon Zero Dawn starts with Aloy as a baby, cast out from her tribe because she hasn’t got a mother - something that’s incredibly important to the matriarchal Nora tribe. She’s taken in by another exile, an older man called Rost who becomes a strong father figure to the young Aloy. But despite his love and nurturing, living without knowing who her mother was or what happened to her is a constant source of distress for Aloy.
Until playing Horizon, wanting to know who my birth parents are had been far from a source of distress for me. While for most of my life it had niggled away in the back of my mind, it was more out of curiosity than a desperate need to know them. But there was something about this small girl not knowing where she comes from and having questions about motherhood that actually forced me to run to the toilets to have a cry at Guerrilla's studio.
Not quite an origins story
It was strangely powerful for me that Aloy’s story isn’t actually an origins story, but rather one about discovering her origins. Yes, it’s a story idea that’s been told before numerous times in a variety of ways, but her positioning as a woman who feels like she’s missing something really struck me. It was the way I felt when I first found out about my background when I was younger; a sense of isolation and unknowingness that wasn’t there before.
It took a new face looking for her own past to look properly at my own. And that feeling only intensified playing through the game's story. And if you don’t want to know why, maybe skip the next few sentences as significant spoiler warnings follow. As you play, you discover that Aloy isn’t a normal child. She was discovered outside a strange locked door as a baby, and, once she works her way inside, she finds out she is actually a clone of an Old World scientist named Dr. Elisabet Sobeck, created as a contingency plan in case of, you know, a robot apocalypse.
Of course, I'm not descended from a robot genius lady, or a clone for that matter, like Aloy. But discovering her story and, more importantly, her curiosity to discover her past, really made me wonder about my own origins story. Why am I so tall? Why does my face look like this? What would my life have been if I didn't become who I am today? So I took a leaf out of Aloy’s book and started my own journey to my past. After all, Aloy isn’t one to sit on her laurels and curse All-Mother for her lot in life.
Unlike Aloy though, my first steps towards finding my birth parents didn’t start by falling down a hole and discovering the remains of an ancient civilisation. It started with a conversation with my adoptive parents, who have unfortunately divorced since this whole story began. For the first time in eight years, we sat around a table as a family to discuss my own storyline. And it turns out taking those first steps were a lot easier than I expected. My dad presented me with an aged cardboard folder, stuffed full of letters, documents, original birth certificates and - most importantly - photographs. Look, lore!
Finally a face that connected to something
After flicking through a few snaps of myself as a tiny newborn baby, there were three photographs of my birth parents. One of them together, holding me, and then one of each of them separately. It’s hard to explain how incredible it felt seeing those photos - and still does to be honest. I bet for most people reading this, they know exactly why they look like they do. Your dad’s nose, your mum’s eyes, your grandfather’s receding hairline. Until I had those photos though, I didn’t know any of those things. Strangely enough I look a lot like my adoptive parents, despite the fact I’m a good head and shoulders taller than them both. But looking at those photographs suddenly made my face make absolute sense - much like Aloy seeing her mother as a hologram for the first time.
Looking at a photograph of my 15-year-old biological mother was like looking at an old holiday photograph of myself. Heck, I’ve even got similar hair to her’s right now, minus the ‘80s volume. There are elements of my biological father in me too, from the way one of my eyebrows grows, to the actual shape of my face. Yes, it’s bizarre as it sounds.
And the sense of eerie belonging just kept on going the more I read through all the papers, letters and aged, but official, documents. My biological mother had similar interests and strengths at school, while my biological father’s middle name is the same as the one I’d pick for my own son if I ever had one. Discovering the little scraps of information about them was like finding pieces of the puzzle to my own identity. Obviously, the family you grow up with heavily influences the adult you become and I’m so like my adoptive Mum people have actually scoffed when I tell them I’m adopted, but the uniqueness to my own interests were echoed in that of my birth parents. DNA, eh?
Aloy as a catalyst for change
Finding all this out at the age of 28 hit me like a truck. From the photographs, the names of my biological parents to my original name - Kim Smith, quite the mile away from Samantha Loveridge - all that information had been sitting in a folder my whole life. It was just up to me to ask for it all, and I’d waited over 20 years to find out more about myself. Thankfully, Aloy’s curiosity was infectious enough to push me to ask the right questions. Although on paper, Aloy and I’s lives are very different, it was clear to me that we were dealing with very similar issues. For her, there’s an ability to understand a civilisation from the past, with existed in a totally different world than she does. For me, it was the idea that I could have had a totally different life that I now want to understand.
But my adventure didn’t just stop with the folder. While seeing what my biological parents looked like back then satiated a substantial portion of my near-lifelong inquisition, it also bred a thirst to know more. Are they still alive? Did they stay together? Do I have siblings out there somewhere? Having grown up as an only child, that last question is particularly pertinent to me too.
There was only one thing left to do, now I had so much information in my arsenal, go searching. Unfortunately, spoiler alert, I haven’t found my biological parents yet - it turns out it’s a pretty long and complicated process - but I have written to the adoption services to add my name to the register. All my newly discovered details get fed into the system, and if my biological parents have done the same thing on their side, we’ll be matched together. And, I guess, we go from there.
I knew putting that envelope in the post would be the start of a brand new journey, both for me and my family - adoptive and biological. I can’t deny that there is a constant nervous energy in my stomach, especially when an email comes in from the Adoption Contact Register. So goodness knows what it’ll feel like if I ever get to meet either of my biological parents. I’m just glad Aloy inadvertently gave me the shove I needed to spark my own Horizon moment. I’d hope she’d be proud of my accomplishments so far and that I won’t ever have to fight any robot dinosaurs along the way.