Girl… er… Guild Wars

I would like to start by acknowledging that I don’t play Guild Wars and have no intention of playing Guild Wars 2 - although not because of anything about to be included in this post. Today’s Border House blog makes some interesting comments from the perspective of someone who does play GW2, and I think those comments are generalizable not only to most games, but to a lot of other media, as well.

Here’s the crux of it:

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.

There are a couple of things here that I feel are worth commenting on, and one of them has nothing to do with misogyny (in or out of games). First, like Rho, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, misogyny is being villainized, albeit in a rather cartoonish way. If the bad guys have a sign that says “no girls allowed,” then excluding women is bad, right?

Well, not really. Yes, that level of it is there. But the legend behind the rationale in-game is that some woman way back when did something bad and so all women are therefore inferior rings rather too true with the basic biblical mythology of Adam and Eve for comfort. Sure, that could be GW2′s intention – criticize the basis of misogyny as a long-past and likely mythological origin that functions as a weak excuse. But here’s the thing… It’s so silly that it ceases to be functional. Yes, it’s better than the good guys having a “no girls allowed” sign, but a better criticism of misogyny would simply be to exclude it altogether. For instance, inDragon Age(which I’m currently replaying), there are both women and men in positions of power, both women and men in the military, and both women and men as both good and bad, smart and stupid.

In essence, while I appreciate the “effort” (a sentiment Rho ultimately agrees with), it feels a bit forced and juvenile. I want to see games that are making more mature statements than “It isn’t nice to exclude girls,” but I have to applaud the idea that someone is at least willing to say it.

My other thought – the one not related to misogyny, specifically – is with the two-dimensional nature of many videogames and fantasy narratives across media (books, tv, film), what Rho calls “cartoon supervillainy.” In essence, the kind of symbolism that comes shaped like a large club with nails sticking out of it. Like having your “bad guys” post a sign that says “No girls allowed.” That kind of bad symbolism.

Basically, I’m tired of fantasy narratives that have a clear good vs. evil dichotomy, and I’m even more tired of it being so painfully obvious. Horrid demonic brain-eating creatures make for easy, guilt-free kills in a videogame, so I understand the impulse to use them, but it doesn’t give you a very satisfying narrative development. Yes, horde-modes of wave after wave of zombies can be cathartic, but they aren’t narratively interesting, and they don’t provide much in the way of artistic or sociological merit. If your goal is catharsis, fine. But for narrative genres (and the narrative portions of games), you need more. You need to make that dichotomy more complex (as in Dragon Age: Awakening, where the mindless zombie does its best to convince you that it isn’t mindless and it really wants peace… which may very well be true) or eliminate the fallacy of dichotomies to begin with, as life isn’t dichotomous in the least. Good people do bad things and hold stupid opinions, and bad people can do good things and hold intelligent opinions. Life is complex, and art – including videogames – should not only reflect, but reflect on it.