Over the last year, I have been following the discussion about the role of women in video games - both in creating games and being in the games themselves. I've watched Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women series, debates the place of women in the video game industry, and discussed how feminism has played a role in the evolution of games. I've been involved in a number of debates on how feminism has impacted the video game industry, and recently I've heard the complaint that feminism is going to "ruin" video games. With this in mind, I decided to look for a video game that I felt could stand up to most of the critiques that a feminist may have, but still provided good game play and was not "ruined" by feminist ideology. The first game to come to mind was Guild Wars 2.
1) Variety in Character Design
Considering Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG, it is obvious that there would be some degree of personalization in character creation. The game provides five races, eight character classes, and allows you to make a male or female character - for most games now, this is par for the course.
Where Guild Wars 2 stands out, however, is the sheer variety of options that you have when it comes to customization. Guild Wars 2 provides a wide range of ethnic types and body types - a character can be young or old, fit or flabby. Where it stands out the most, perhaps, is in racial dimorphism.
In a variety of games, the difference between a male character and a female character lies in the build - a male will be larger and stronger, and a female will be slender and more "attractive". When you step into an MMORPG, there can be a strong difference between male and female characters, and it becomes a bit harder to accept that these characters belong to the same race. Part of this problem stems from the player base.
For example, in World of WarCraft, there have been numerous attempts to create non-human races with women who would not conventionally be thought of as "attractive" Both the troll race and the worgen both had women who were closer in appearance to the male body type. This was considered unacceptable by members of the player base, and the models were altered to be more "attractive". Alternatively, the male blood elf in his first appearance was considered too attractive (some might say effiminate), and there was backlash against that, so the male blood elf was made more angular and less "beautiful".
ArenaNet took a different approach with its races. The charr are a feline race (such as the one depicted above), and you can see strong similarities between the male and the female members of the race. Most notably however, female charr do not have breasts in the conventional sense.
The sylvari are another example of where ArenaNet decided to be different. This race appeared to be a traditional elven race before release, but before the game was finalized, the company took the sylvari back to the drawing board. The sylvari are grown from a single tree, and are made of leaves and vines that have grown and evolved to take on a human-like appearance. The aesthetics of the sylvari are quite different from the normal fare provided in games, and rather than keep the race "attractive", the sylvari now run the gamut from aesthetically pleasing to somewhat disturbing, and their inhuman characteristics always stand at the forefront. In this way, ArenaNet chose a course that stands apart from typical game design.
2) Armour Design
Guild Wars 1 and Guild Wars 2 have always stood out when it came to fantasy armour. Yes, there is the typical cheesecake you would expect to find in a game, but there is more than enough armour for men and women to allow for a wide variety of aesthetics. There are plenty of beefcake and cheesecake designs in Guild Wars 2, but there are also more sensible designs for both men and women.
Within the game, both men and women are dressed fairly sensibly - from the town clothes worn by your typical citizens, to the armour worn into battle. ArenaNet accepts that the world of Guild Wars 2 is a fantasy setting, and a number of the tropes associated with clothing is provided, but the game always has an eye towards providing a more realistic view for most types of armour and clothing.
3) Sex and Sexuality
In Guild Wars 2, your character doesn't develop a romantic relationship (though that may come later, who knows?), but over the course of the campaign, there are many characters who develop relationships. There is a romance between Queen Jenna and her knight, Logan Thackeray - where her position as Queen requires some distance between the two. The sylvari Caithe lost her lover to the Nightmare Court - a sylvari woman named Faolain, and their encounters with one another are filled with tension. During the campaign, it is possible to encounter two sylvari men who are lovers, and among the humans there are two women who develop a deep relationship. None of these relationships are considered unusual - nobody really brings them up as strange or worth mentioning - a character loves who they decide to love.
4) The Role of Men and Women
Guild Wars 2 has decided that both men and women have a variety of roles to play in the game. The ruler of both the sylvari and the humans are female, and the charr and norn both have men and women in positions of authority. When dealing the military, you are just as likely to see men in charge as women.
Over the course of your character's personal story, you'll see strong men and women involved in your arc - whether it is a companion who assists you through a chapter, or someone who sacrifices their lives for you. These characters are given the weight they deserve, making their presence meaningful.
Even when dealing with your opponents, men and women are given equal attention and respect. Your enemies are strong men and women, with diverse motivations and the means to carry out their goals. The late Scarlet Briar commanded an army of soldiers, created clockwork horrors, and nearly tore down Tyria in her personal quest, while Minister Cauduceus plays a waiting game as he tries to undermine Queen Jenna, creating a number of plots while remaining untouchable himself.
I think Guild Wars 2 presents a strong argument for versatility in gaming. It has strong characters, and caters to both men and women in fairly equal parts. The presence of strong women do not detract from the game, and does not weaken the role of men in the game at all. As such, I think GW2 is a strong example of what a "feminist" game should be - and proves that equality and diversity in gaming will not harm the gaming industry. I think that more games should open up to the public, providing a good experience for both men and women.