Guild Wars 2: Diverse or Diversionary?
Guild Wars 2 has always been a game that I’ve felt has a fantastic community. The game encourages players to play together. Go into a downstate and the game encourages you to all band together and resurrect your fallen cohort. Attack a mob and you won’t lock out other players. Even gathering is fair and free with individual instances. There’s are few barriers that people can bring to the game outside of their own personal prejudice, so should ArenaNet's premier MMORPG be challenging those barriers more directly?
I’ve been pondering putting up this post for some time and holding off because the internet but I think it’s important to have this discussion. It was actually sparked by reactions to the recent Guild Wars2 x Wildbangarang announcement where several gents felt they couldn’t wear the new leggings because it’s a girl thing. So, here goes.
Guild Wars 2’s Tyria exists in its own fictional environment where race, religion, and sexual identity are simply not an issue. We’ve seen some great efforts by ArenaNet to expand on the game’s diversity and inclusion. Most notably, Kasjory hit Tumblr hard when Kasmeer and Marjory became one of video game’s more prominent female couples. This isn’t particularly unusual in my day to day life, but it’s still something that’s unusual in a medium that is obsessed with the hyper-masculine representation of men with guns. Yet, that’s not Guild Wars 2.
What it Does Well
The world presented in First Person Shooters, however, aren’t Tyria. ArenaNet might not have published a manifesto of how to handle diversity to its fan base but it certainly built an idealized world around it. While the world struggles to hold on in the face of impending destruction, there isn’t much else to do but band together, yet it is more than that. As we’ve explored Tyria, representations of minority groups, gay, lesbian, and trans individuals simply appear without any fanfare or obvious difference to their fellow citizens.
Take a trip through Lion’s Arch and you’ll find characters like Aid Worker Sya. The introduction of the game’s first openly trans NPC happened in the wake of Scarlet’s devastation. Between the carnage wrought on Lion’s Arch, a single male NPC transitioned and nobody batted an eyelid until somebody noticed. ArenaNet didn’t kick up a fanfare and the world moved on regardless. I’ve yet to take a walk down to the Mist Portals to check if she is still there but if she is, you’ll find NPC dialogue that openly addresses the change because, in a world of Mesmers, why not be who you are?
There are less direct moments that continue to enforce this idea that Tyria is an idealized world where gender and ethnic identities simply do not divide our heroes. I've tumbled through Lion’s Arch on the way to the Mystic Toilet and noticed children playing as female heroes, or other races, without the xenophobia that hung around far too many of our own interactions as children.
This isn’t the only instance of encouraging inclusivity. Even further back than this, the Slyvari were used by ArenaNet to approach ideas of gender identity. As a plant species, the Slyvari are not explicitly sexed but they do present with a gender identity as we would understand it. This allowed ArenaNet, for all reasonable comparisons, to present Faolain and Caithe's relationship as a non-normative in a safe manner.
The culmination of Marjory and Kasmeer’s burgeoning relationship during the first season of the Living World is just a small part of what ArenaNet does right when it comes to inclusion and diversity but it made a huge statement. It didn’t change the world, yet the awkward interaction, the odd double entendre, and even subtle character motion of two people who I certainly ended up rooting for was groundbreaking for the stir it caused outside of Tyria. While that is no bad thing, Guild Wars 2 is a game world that does not conform to the same gender, ethnic, or cultural bias that we do and as a result, it largely sidesteps a great number of issues.
The Dodge Mechanic?
While gender and ethnic diversity are an idealized perception of what many of us would love to see in the real world, there’s an argument that this sort of approach largely allows social representation and issues to fade into the background. A vocal minority that made their disdain apparent at the end of Living World Season 1 hasn’t had much to address their bias since then. You’ll have to actively look for many of the background instances that pinpoint the difference between our world and Tyrias. In a world where I see a rise in fear and xenophobia sometimes, it can be worth directly exploring those ideas, and, arguably, Tyria would be a great place to do that.
With the Slyvari falling to the lure of Mordremoth in Heart of Thorns or the influx of refugees in the wake of Scarlet’s attack, I feel that ArenaNet might have missed some opportunity to make more pressing points about our treatment or the other. The distrust of the Slyvari and their actions, reparations, and growing discord between the races of Tyria would be entirely believable in the midst of the chaos that we've brought on the world.
It also provides a great opportunity to flip the threat. We’ve been largely broken by the enormity of the task at hand rather than our own issues. It might be a nice change to see those heroic characters we see address the same flaws that we see in the real world. However, this feels largely mute as we look towards Season 5 of Living world.
I’m not in any way professing to be a great writer or know the world of Guild Wars 2 better than Arena Net. Whether it’s to keep stories concise or because a subtle shift is how Arenanet approach those diversity issues, I do sometimes feel that idealized representation could leave some room to directly address these issues. After all, players need to be beaten over the head with a point sometimes, and sometimes that point can just as easily be about social change.
On that note, what do you think? I'm sure that plenty of you don’t want to see the real world bleed into your game but the game is bleeding out into your real world. Why can’t it work both ways?