Guild Wars 2 features five playable races: humans, sylvari, asura, norn, and charr. Each of these races includes an antagonist faction who will fight against the rest of their race, and be one of the enemies of your player character. So for instance, if you’re playing a sylvari, you’ll encounter members of the Nightmare Court: a group of sylvari who reject the typical sylvari traits like compassion and curiosity and strive to replace them with fear and violence.
Right now, I’d like to discuss the Sons of Svanir and the Flame Legion, who are the antagonist factions for the norn and the charr respectively. One thing that these two groups have in common is a “no girls allowed” sign hung outside their metaphorical clubhouses. I’m not certain how I feel about this.
If you dig into the lore, you’ll find they have pretty similar rationales for the exclusion of women. In both cases, there was a woman hundreds of years ago who stood up to them, and they decided to generalise from that woman to all women, decide that women can’t be trusted, and ostracise them thereafter.
I want to say that this is just cartoon supervillainy, with the evil turned up to 11. I want to say that it’s as if they revealed that these factions stand for punching kittens and pouring toxic waste in duck ponds. I want to say that, but I can’t, because that kind of ridiculous exclusion of women is too prevalent, still, in real life.
How many women have never been in a situation like in xkcd’s comic How It Works? As women gamers, many of us are used to being on trial as a representative for our gender every time we game. We know that if we mess up then there’s a chance that someone will decide that it’s because girls suck at gaming, and decide that their guild should be an exclusively male affair.
It has to be reiterated, though, that these groups are the bad guys, and are not being held up as at all admirable. The Sons of Svanir worship a dragon who wants to destroy the world, so I sincerely hope that nobody thinks that they epitomise good judgement and should be taken as role models. I’m certainly a whole lot happier seeing this than I am when the alleged heroes are misogynistic jerks.
At the same time, though, I think that I’d prefer not to see it at all. One of the purposes of gaming is escapism, and it’s nice to be able to get away to a game world where this sort of sexism just doesn’t exist. I get enough of it in the real world without seeing it in games as well.
I think that ultimately, my own opinion will depend on where they go with this in the story. Will I be given the agency to confront them about their misogyny and come away victorious? Or will the storyline directly confront the sexism and provide social commentary on it? Maybe their exclusion of women will come back and bite them in the rear, directly resulting in their defeat at the hands of their would-be opressees?
Since the game is still new, I have no idea how things will play out. If any of the three situations I just outlined come to pass, then I think I will see it as a net positive in the game. If it’s just a case of “yes, some bad people will treat you shoddily if you have a female player character, but that’s what bad people do so you’ll just have to deal with it” then it will likely end up being a net negative to me.
For now, I think I’m willing to give Arenanet the benefit of the doubt; they have a pretty good record on this sort of thing, and I’m enjoying the game a great deal, so I want to see how this turns out.