Tag Archives: Guild Wars 2

Games Imitating Life: Rape Culture In MMORPGs?

The following is a guest post from J.E. Keep:

J.E. Keep, and his partner M. Keep, write romance and erotica, administer their adult forum Darknest (a fantasy erotica site for gamers) and read simply everything. All while playing games and leading a guild. They can be found at The Keep and their blog, Keep It Up where they write about all of the above.

A curious event happened to me recently while roleplaying, and I’ll use direct quotes whenever appropriate. For those of you not familiar, I’ll explain things. Roleplaying, being the act of taking on the role of a character that’s not yourself, is traditionally done through tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. With the rise in popularity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) it’s taken on a different turn in the online space with people playing out scenes as their avatars (their usually three-dimensional computer generated character) in an online world.

These days I play Guild Wars 2 (GW2), a recent and fairly popular MMORPG set in the fantasy world of Tyria. GW2 has the trappings of traditional magical fantasy, mixed with some steampunk elements. It has rather medieval humans facing off with curious beast people, short little goblinoids from beneath the earth, faerie-like plant beings, and giant nordic people of the mountains.

I bring all this up because of a scene that was roleplayed out one day in a tavern. I, playing a human woman named Sylvia, happened to observe a curious sight at the bar. A human male giving a single drink to a female character, who then promptly passed out.

Out of character (OOC), as the player, I recognized what they were doing. The player behind the unconscious woman had to drop out of the game and used a convenient ‘out’ as an excuse to take off from an in-character (IC) perspective.

From my in character perspective though, it looked highly dubious at best, and out of character I saw it as a great opportunity to pursue some roleplay. My character, who was already standing near the exit, questioned him on his way out about the woman over his shoulder. She wasn’t even aggressive about it then, it was casual. Mild.

His mutterings were nervous and dubious at best. He spoke about how he had “papers” to allow for such a thing, and he just had to get her back to his place. While my character found this all terribly suspicious, he continued to murmur about how this “wasn’t how [he] saw the evening turning out at all”.

My character, Sylvia, was quite alarmed by this. So with a growing suspicion she insisted the man either leave the woman with her or be escorted to a healers to see her taken care of. The man refused, and immediately got defensive about how these implications were “libellous” and insulting.

Troubled by his agitation, Sylvia then called for one of the local guards. You understand, in these sorts of roleplay environments there are usually one or two RPers about who take on the role of the Seraph, one of the local guards. This time, however, there was no such luck.

Left to her own devices and ignored by other players nearby, Sylvia got more forceful. She demanded he not leave with her and that she would see to it that this unconscious woman was taken care of. Things grew more heated, and she took to trying to enlist some aid from other patrons of the bar.

Instead of support, however, she was met with incredulous stares and mutterings about what a “nuisance” she was, and how much of a “loud mouth” she was “making such a fuss” about “nothing”.

As the encounter drew out, the irritation with Sylvia’s insistence that the man not “abscond with an unconscious woman” grew. Instead of muttering about her being a “loud mouth”, they were now actively interfering. The other characters were showing support for the nervous man, one going so far as to call Sylvia a “bitch” and several offering to distract her while the man got away. One even went so far as to try and physically restrain Sylvia while ushering the nervous man out the door.

All throughout it only one person offered even momentary support for Sylvia’s suspicions. A character playing a priestess wandered by and showed concern at Sylvia’s distress. However, once the man stated that the woman passed out from a drink so he was taking her home, she shrugged it off and informed Sylvia that her accusation was “very serious” and she shouldn’t say such things so lightly without hard proof because of the consequences it could have for the man.

I had initiated RP with the other player for the sake of fun, but I had increasingly become more and more unnerved by the turn. It’s only a game and it’s fantasy and roleplay and silliness, of course. The other players undoubtedly took cues from the out of character nature of things. It’s not, after all, as if anyone could force another player to RP out something they don’t wish.

However through the time spent playing this scene out, the manner in which it mirrored real life behaviour that I’ve either seen or read about in such detail was unpleasant, to say the least. Not only in the casual disregard for the unconscious woman’s well-being from an IC perspective, but OOC the things that were said were so jarringly similar to the sexist and harmful things you hear in real life.

My female character, showing concern, was deemed a “loud mouth”, a “nuisance,” a “bitch”. While every ounce of understanding was given to the nervous, muttering man. Sylvia was informed of “how serious an accusation” such things were, and how damaging such things could be to the man, though not a single one seemed concerned for the seriousness of the accusation if true.

I’m not making any real case to argue how much of it was based upon real sexism of the players behind the characters, or how much the players were aware of in their actions.

It’s noteworthy because of how unnervingly true to life it was.

(Originally posted at Keep it Up)

Guild Wars 2: The Border House Meetup on Crystal Desert

My Human Hunter, a short black-haired woman in red/brown leather armor, holding her bow.

Using our weekly “What Are You Playing?” thread from this week as evidence, a lot of us are currently adventuring in Guild Wars 2.  Reader of the Border House, Deviija, recommended that we schedule a meetup in game where we can all chitchat and learn more about each other.  I happen to think it’s a fantastic idea!  Since many of us are on the Crystal Desert server in the guild Praxis, let’s meetup there.

If you’re interested, please comment on this thread with which of the following days/times works best for you:

  1. Monday, September 10, 2012 at 7:00pm PST (server time)
  2. Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 7:30pm PST (server time)
  3. Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:00pm PST (server time)

Comment below!

Guild Wars 2 and the misogynistic bad guys

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.

Play With The Border House in Guild Wars 2!

A beautiful vista from Divinity’s Reach in Guild Wars 2, with lush green foliage, and steampunk-styled globes hanging from the ceiling.

We’ve posted about this before, but now that the early access for preorders has begun and the game will be launching in mere days, here’s another reminder!

Many of us at The Border House will be joining up with Praxis, a guild that has a similar mindset as us and a great guild charter that upholds a lot of the same ideals as we do.  We’re set up on the Crystal Desert server, which is the unofficial LGBT server community in Guild Wars 2.  Due to high demand, this server is often full along with many others, but there is a full week of free server transfers so you can watch the server list and transfer over at any time.

Join us on Crystal Desert in Guild Wars 2!  Readers, feel free to leave your account names in the comments if you’d like to friend each other, but do remember that this is a public post.

Win a Beta Key for Guild Wars 2 Here at The Border House!

A screenshot from Guild Wars 2 featuring a statue of Kalla Scorchrazor, Charr Feminist Revolutionary.

 

Edit: This contest is now closed.  Congratulations to the winners, who have all been emailed with their keys!

Darketower, Josh, Chris, Tyler K, Rillifane, Gralsh Oon, Henry, Skennedy, XvShadow, Hyacinth, Ehsan Kia, Ramenhotep, Primal Zed, 3Jane, chooseareality, DystopianGibberish, Richard, Ashelia, Eccentricity, washuu, Rabab, Romulus Hawk, Augusto Mendes, Sabrina, TomW — congrats!

The great folks over at ArenaNet have been so gracious as to allow us to give away 10 beta keys to the upcoming FINAL Guild Wars 2 beta event, which takes place July 20-22.  This is the last chance to try out the game before it releases on August 28th.  We’re big fans of Guild Wars 2 over here and we know many of our readers would love the opportunity to try out the game.

How to enter:

We’re going to make you work just a little bit to be eligible to win.  Hypothetically, let’s say that you’re a consultant for a large game studio who has employed you to help make their upcoming game more inclusive to marginalized groups (women, LGBT gamers, disabled gamers, people of color, etc.).  What is one tip that you would offer to this game developer to help them achieve their goals?

We will be choosing the 10 winners at random from the comments and will be giving these keys away on Monday, July 16.  You must have a real email address associated with your comment so that we can send you the keys if you win.

Good luck!

Note: Leaving a comment here with your tip is giving The Border House permission to use the tip (credited to you) in an upcoming compilation post of all the entries.

A leaping Charr warrior! Describing her requires several synonyms for 'badass' but just think warm colours, claws, and flying fur.

One Pixel Among Many: An Interview with Angel McCoy, Part 2

A leaping Charr warrior! Describing her requires several synonyms for 'badass' but just think warm colours, claws, and flying fur.

The first part of this interview talked specifically about the Sylvari race in Guild Wars 2 and what goes into constructing a fantasy world from scratch. The second and final part of our talk centred on the role of the writer as well as the role of games themselves. Last time, she discussed how creativity necessitated both thinking outside the box about culture and the provision thoughtful explanations for culture. Here, she articulates a vision that certainly inspired me, and speaks also to why I play and write about games.

What are you trying to accomplish with Guild Wars 2 and your role in it?

My role is to be one pixel among many other pixels all coming together to make as awesome a picture as possible. I write words that go into characters’ mouths, and those words affect the overall experience of the game. The writing team, however, delivers only a portion of the overall contribution. We are all pixels, each affecting the game experience in our own ways and blending into the gestalt of Guild Wars 2.

I want what all of us at ArenaNet wants: to produce a game that people love. That’s no small thing. But, there’s more. I also want Guild Wars 2 to be seen as the innovation that pulled gaming out of the Dark Ages. When future gamers look back on the Guild Wars 2 era, I want them to be able to say that this game changed how people play, how they interact with each other, and how all subsequent games approached game design. I want Guild Wars 2 to set an example and raise the bar so high that other game companies have to really stretch outside their comfort zone to awesome new levels of intelligent gaming. I want Guild Wars 2 to show people how damn much fun a living world like Tyria can be to explore, with all its quirky, evil, tragic, tender, and likeable characters.

What role do you feel video games play in our society, and how do you see the sylvari fitting into that at all?

That’s a big question, but I’m going to try to give a little answer. Video games are a vehicle, pure and simple, in the same way television, movies, and blogs are vehicles. They can deliver many things: entertainment, education, inanity, hate, love, joy, sadness, boredom, escape, etc.  A video game is only as good as the people making it.

There are many game developers out there actively striving to make educational games. I’m a member at Gameful.org, and it’s an intellectual and forward-thinking group of game designers, all trying to use a video game vehicle to educate and get people thinking. It’s happening all over as video games gain credibility and become a viable medium for reaching the public.

Those of us on the ArenaNet writing team knew early on that we wanted our text and stories to build a cohesive and immersive world. The sylvari weren’t designed with a political or social agenda. We just wanted to make them an interesting race that behaved in line with their circumstance and nature, and we didn’t limit our creativity. We did our best, and hopefully, you will find the stories we tell in the world engaging.

Do you see your work as being potentially able to change the world?

If I didn’t, I’d be doing something else. Like everyone, I have my personal vision of how the world could improve. If, when I die, I have—even one teeny iota—impacted the world for the better, then my life was worth living. Whether that will come to pass—or not—remains to be seen.

At ArenaNet, I am part of a team working on an entertainment product that will change lives. People will meet, fall in love, and get married because of a game I helped create. Children will be born and named after characters I designed. People will choose their course of study and career because they’re inspired by this game. Friendships will bud and blossom. Who knows what other kind of magic will happen as a byproduct of this game’s existence. Who knows?

I am filled with awe by this, and I know, with complete and utter humility, that I have been blessed to be a small part of this grand project. I am proud to put my name on it.

A Sylvari dwelling; a naturalistic and graceful symbiosis with nature that glows an emerald green, surrounded by enchanted forest.

Tell us a bit about the lore for the game, where people can find more information about it, and how important it is to ArenaNet as a whole.

The lore is partner to the mechanics. These two legs support the entire body of the game. Guild Wars 2 players don’t need to pay attention to the lore, however. Nor do they need to crunch mechanics. They’re both there to provide a range of gaming experience.

The three novels (third one coming soon) ( http://www.guildwars2.com/en/shop/ghosts-of-ascalon/) provide the most lore right now. The Guild Wars 2 Wiki (http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Main_Page), which is written and maintained by and for Guild Wars 2 players, is also beginning to fill up with lore info.

Furthermore, I’d encourage people to play through the original Guild Wars while waiting for GW2. We put a great deal of effort into creating a continuity between the two games, and you’ll find you recognize locations and names mentioned better if you’ve recently refreshed your memory of Guild Wars lore. It’s not necessary, of course, but it will enhance your experience.

Finally: what is the ethos of the writing staff? Can you describe what ArenaNet’s philosophy on storytelling is, if there is one?

We have a wise leader in Bobby Stein, and he sets the tone for our ethos. We are a good team, a strong team, and we have each others’ backs. We maintain a high level of professionalism and communicate with respect. Bobby gives us a great deal of freedom to handle our areas of responsibility. Oh, and we laugh a lot.

There is no spoken storytelling philosophy at ArenaNet other than to make everything as full of awesome as possible! And concise. The last thing we want to do is bog you down by adding in a bunch of superfluous verbiage—like that. That last sentence, in the game, becomes: “We don’t want to bog you down with words.” It’s clear and concise, and advances the story—unlike this interview, in which I’ve blathered on for some time now.

I’ll just add one more thing, and that’s a thank you to you, Katherine. I enjoyed mining my soul for the answers to your deep and thought-inducing questions.

____________

And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Angel, both for the pizza, and for this conversation, which was anything but blathering!

Sylvari. Mostly green humanoid figures in a variety of armour types standing before an ethereal forest background.

Imagine All the People: An Interview With ArenaNet Writer Angel Leigh McCoy

Sylvari. Mostly green humanoid figures in a variety of armour types standing before an ethereal forest background.

This past year at Geek Girl Con 2011 I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with Angel Leigh McCoy, one of the writers at ArenaNet working on Guild Wars 2. Bonding over pizza rarely, if ever, fails and so it was that day. In meeting someone whose philosophy on games– that they were important and could change the world for the better– so perfectly matched with mine, I proposed an interview where we could explore some of these issues. The following two articles are the product of that discussion.

In the wake of the recent disaster surrounding Jennifer Hepler, this interview– which was in the works before that story broke– underscores the importance of game writing and the love that often goes into it. Via email, I asked Angel McCoy many questions about the significance of game writing, what she personally hoped to accomplish, and the Sylvari in particular. I was interested in the latter– a species of plant people without biological sex as we understand it– because they go well beyond the stock figures of fantasy. The writers at ArenaNet do seem to be striving for something new and different, to tell new kinds of stories that include a wider range of sexualities and bodily configurations, which can only be good for gaming as a whole.

This interview with Ms. McCoy is broken up into two parts since I did not want to pare back her extensive answers too much. Though towards the end she is self-effacing about the copious nature of her replies, I think the depth of detail she goes into is both fascinating and inspiring.

Tell me about your history as a writer and game designer; what got you into writing stories for games?

I was born a writer, but I stumbled drunkenly into game design. My history as a game writer and designer goes back twenty years. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I found the opportunity to write for tabletop RPGs (TRPGs) after a few friends and I opened a games and comic store in Blacksburg, Virginia. I plugged into the games industry by attending conventions and meeting other professionals. Writing game reviews led to a freelance gig working on a game supplement.

It’s been a long adventure, bouncing from freelancing for numerous game companies to being fully employed by some of gaming’s most renowned studios: Wizards of the Coast, Microsoft Game Studios, and now ArenaNet. Along the way, I’ve met fascinating, intelligent, playful, and darkly mysterious people. I’ve followed my bliss, and it has brought me great rewards.

Tell me a little about how the sylvari came into being, with some reference to how the cultural construction of their sexuality developed.

I wasn’t there in the earliest days of development when the sylvari were initially conceived, but I know that the core design group at that stage included Ree Soesbee, Jeff Grubb, Eric Flannum, and Colin Johanson, among others. They had developed a basic outline of the race when I joined the team. They planted the seed, so to speak.

From that point on, it’s been an organic process. The sylvari received the same design consideration we give all our races. We’ve had many discussions about the mechanics of their existence, their lifestyles, and their personalities. They have changed through the years as ideas emerged and were either rejected or embraced.

I remember one particular, undoubtedly rainy, day here in 2008, when we were having “Story Time with Aunt Ree and Uncle Jeff.” These were special meetings when we’d begun working on a particular part of the game, and we needed a lore dump from our loremasters so we could do it justice. The subject of having a gay pair of sylvari came up. Ree looked at me and said, “Absolutely, why not?” That began discussions about how to do it tastefully, how not to do it, and why we wanted to do it. Those discussions continue today.

Sylvari sexuality evolved from the fact that they awakened fully grown from a mystical Dream. Their experience of the world will be nothing like what a human experiences, and we wanted to make sure it all made sense. When we started imagining what a sylvari’s life would be like, it followed that they wouldn’t have any of the relationship biases and social stereotypes that humans have. They know about human society, but they also know that they’re not like humans.

As we began writing for the sylvari, we put ourselves into their minds and began to imagine our way through their thought processes; we realized that they wouldn’t have the same socio-sexual taboos as a human society.

First of all, they awaken wide-eyed to a world they’ve never experienced. Ree wanted them to have a foundation of innocence and curiosity, and it fit perfectly. We took that an extra step by giving them a strong sense of right and wrong, taught to them by the Ventari Tablet. This led to the all-important question: If a society’s moral codes are reduced to a half-dozen simple and wise tenets, how would they behave? What would they value? In the spirit of true nobility, we found that the good sylvari value love, play, dignity, and respect. I think of sylvari whenever I hear John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” The sylvari are what we imagined.

A more updated form for the Sylvari that emphasises their more plant-y features, including leaf-like hair and seed-pod baubles

 

Walk us through the creation of a fantasy society.

Creating a fantasy society is similar to building a house. You start with land. You have to know the world in which society lives. What’s it like physically? (Jungle, dangerous, etc.) Once you know that, you can build a firm foundation for the house. You decide the basic nature of the race, the most broadly sweeping elements that all members of the society share and that inform all later decisions about what will go into making the house. (Plant people, born from a mystical process.)

With the foundation built and reinforced as needed, you then turn to the walls and roof. You build boundaries on your society, put in windows and decide which rooms have none. You put in doors, thresholds of ingress to and exit from the society. Are they welcoming at all? Do they have secrets? What organizations occupy the rooms? Do they let only certain types of people in through the front door? Do they let anyone—or no one—leave? (Honorable, curious, brave, anti-dragon, gregarious, etc.)

To continue the metaphor, the next stage is to decorate the rooms. If each room represents an element of society, then it becomes necessary to find decor that fits without clashing with all the other rooms. This is where the design begins to get complicated, and you just have to feel your way, trusting that the walls, roof, and foundation will keep you from straying outside the society’s natural limitations. (Wyld Hunt, Firstborn, saplings, Nightmare Court, etc.)

You continue to add more and more detail as time goes on, as situations and questions arise, and as you get to know your society better. Logic will dictate much of what should go where, but creativity also plays a role. Not every room has to be beige, unless you choose it to be.

It takes a lot of time and thought to create a believable fantasy society, and it’s very easy to fall into “human” habits, assigning human thoughts and feelings to a non-human society. That’s the sinkhole that will bring your whole house down around your ears if you’re not vigilant.

Guild Wars 2 appears to be abandoning a lot of old tropes that have dominated RPGs since time immemorial, like the Holy Trinity for instance. Would you say this experimentation has had any effect on the writing and the character of the game itself?

From the moment design began on Guild Wars 2, every single decision about the game has gone under scrutiny with an eye toward innovation. We reevaluated everything from the tiniest UI element to the combat philosophy of the game and asked ourselves how we could do it better. We avoided doing anything simply because “that’s how we did it before” or “that’s how it’s always been done.” Sometimes, the old way proved to be the best way, but often, it didn’t.

In addition, choice has always been important. We want to provide our players with as much choice as possible. If a group of players want to build a Holy Trinity, then they can!

I like to think this philosophy of providing choice has filtered throughout the game and into other areas. The atmosphere at ArenaNet, in general, is one of inclusion and respect. I count my blessings every day that I work with a group of such intelligent, innovative, and caring individuals.

In writing for a fantasy RPG, how do you tell a new story, and do you think that opening up the field to highly visible and positive portrayals of traditionally excluded/stereotyped groups helps you to do so?

This is the dilemma of every fiction writer. You never want to tell the same story someone else has already told, but the reality is that there is a finite list of stories you can tell. You keep these stories interesting by recombining elements and characters.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen an increase in the number of traditionally excluded/stereotyped groups in all media—often positively portrayed. This is a trend that is not unique to games and may even have come to games a bit later than other media. It allows us to tell richer stories, it’s true. I’m all for it! These groups are part of the human condition, and therefore, they have a place in any writer’s toolbox.

Look for Part II in the coming days!