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Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex

Caithe, one of the named Sylvari.

Last week was sylvari week on the ArenaNet Guild Wars 2 blog. What is notable about this, beyond just looking at how they redesigned a plant-like species so as to make them neither just sexy plant-women nor somewhat monstrous seeming ents, is that they revealed the following tidbit about their gender and romance:

Do sylvari have romantic relationships?

Sylvari fall in and out of love, just like other races do. They have a romanticized view of devotion, and they're curious about passion in all its forms. There are male and female sylvari, but none has ever produced a child as other races do. Because of this, traditional human-style gender roles have no meaning to sylvari, either in their society or in their romantic relationships. Often, a sylvari's ardor is expressed with courtly zeal--emotional, empathic, personal--and is not necessarily defined by gender.

There are a few things to unpack here, and it requires sifting through one other post, about their makeup both biologically and their myths.

Given that they are plant beings, the question is of course why they even have any sexual dimorphism in their bodies. There is no definitive answer, apparently, as the post about their origins describes some theories centered around the Pale Tree (the plant that gives birth to the sylvari): one posits that being most familiar with humans led to the formation of shapes; or a more popular theory states that the corpses on which the entire species grew were that of a hero named Ronan's daughter and village's remains, which gave shape to the beings that would form.

Carefully placed leaves in this situation make me giggle.

Which means the sylvari have sexual characteristics in only a superficial, physical sense. In other words, they have the necessary bits and bobs, which explains the breasts on the females, and the beards on the males (I doubt we'll see what's beneath their smallclothes, but if we do, I'm sure Georgia O'Keefe will be an inspiration). The quotation about their romantic lives also illustrates that traditional gender roles have no real influence on their romance, but it seems to leave it open to the fact that they may have some form of gender roles--just not as we might expect them. As of yet, there doesn't appear to be enough evidence to suggest either way.

So what we have is a species that have--and importantly, acknowledge-- same-sex romances. Yet, when they check male or female next to the box asking their sex, it isn't quite the same connotation. Partly this is due to not having internal organs; they don't reproduce, as that is handled by the Pale Tree. Mix that with their Arthurian nobility (and I'd be prone to read the Minnesang and -lied tradition into that), and I imagine you'll have some interesting courtship rituals not defined by the male knight and female nobility-in-waiting scheme.

Seriously? I am loving the hair options for this species so far.

What intrigues me equally about this species is the fact that they will co-exist in a world where gender and sex does have some matter of import to other species (otherwise it wouldn't be noteworthy to mention it about the sylvari). Which makes me wonder if that will be addressed at all by the other species, and how the sylvari will respond. Since they are a new species (25 years old in the game itself), does this mean they may influence other cultures? Will other cultures eventually influence them? Their gender identity seems pretty fluid at the moment, and for anyone who is not a gender essentialist, that gives a whole world of cultures and attitudes with which to play. They likely don't even see their own attraction as same-sex, given that there is no reproductive essentialism given to their mating and love--which is not to say other species won't see it as a same-sex pairing. Given what I've seen about the discussion the writers have been having so far, I am fairly intrigued by what this might entail.

Further, the bit about their families strikes home for what I believe would be many of us:

Sylvari don't have brothers, sisters, parents, or any other familial connections. How does this affect how they bond with others?

They get to choose their families! The honorable sylvari can be extremely loyal once a bond has been created with another being. Sylvari also have strong racial attachments, not just because of the empathic links that connect them, but because only other members of their own race can understand what it's like to be sylvari. These ties may be strengthened by shared experience or ultimately weakened, like distant cousins you only see on holidays.

If done in a sensitive manner, this could speak directly to anyone who has had to choose their own families for various reasons: adoption, distance, race, sexual orientation, gender and sexual identity, and so on. Shared experience can often be a better gauge of a family than mere blood, or sap as the case may be.

The more I read and see about this MMO, the more intrigued I become. I imagine I also have my first character's species in mind. Also, given that they are willing to admit to same-sex romances for the sylvari, naturally the question follows on how other species will handle such, or if they even acknowledge it. Which also begs the question of the gender roles in the various societies and cultures in Tyria. After all, the events in this game take place well after the events of the first Guild Wars, and as we can see in our own history, a lot can change (or depressingly stay the same) in the span of a few centuries.

16 Comments

Ariel said:

I do believe they hinted that the main sylvari character (the first picture at the top) Caithe, a female, has a romantic relationship with another female sylvari that then turns evil.

The game challenges gender a lot, but only the sylvari so far have challenged sexuality.

looocas said:

Quite a lot of people posted their misguided (to say the least) views about love and reproduction on the forums after these blog posts. As painful as those are to read, it means that the writers' acknowledging these issues had the immediate and visible effect of challenging these views. It brought to light something many of these commenters most likely had simply never thought about.

Dorian said:

A dev over at guildwars2guru.com posted some nice additional info on this matter:
http://www.guildwars2guru.com/forum/sylvari-soul-angel-mccoy-writing-t20014.html?p=839307#post839307

VorpalBunny said:

@Ariel: I do believe there is some form of fiction out there (or soon to be out there) that alludes to such, and there has been some questioning about it, as some have taken it to be a sisterly relationship. I'm attempting to discuss this with the writers themselves at some point, so as to further clarify (barring that, just getting my hands on it directly).

@looocas: I do wonder about that. On top of the reaction to it, and the fact that this is being questioned, will this make a more comfortable place for both the community team and LGBT gamers out there? There are many, many things this could bring about.

Izzie said:

One of the comments I made on the forums was how subtly important this is as far as progressing the view of same-sex relationships in game; often ridiculed by the community and ignored by developers.

Even though within the context of the in-game world, their genders are essentially meaningless, looking in from the outside we see those same-sex romances as such and that is a huge thing.
In fact, even a main character (Caithe) has an open relationship with another female: that would be considered gay and great to finally see something like this in a game.

The best part is, it's not in our face, they aren't trying to make a statement, but the subtle implications are just what I think the gaming industry needs.

My 2 cents anyway.

Belzan said:

I'm very excited about what this addition means for LGBT gamers out there and I appreciate how ANet handled the addition of this content. I think it will allow for more opportunities for people to openly explore same-sex relationships in game and perhaps decrease the real world stigma attached to them.

My hope is that LGBT folks will be able to relate to the Sylvari and have a more enjoyable gaming experience, rather than being forced to choose a race with heterosexual and/or strong gender norms. I'm not sure how big an impact the Sylvari (and ANet) will have on either the MMO world or the real world, but I believe this is a step in the right direction.

Nuri said:

I find it funny after 'all' this time, this place finally decides to do something on GW2 just because it has to do with a race that is okay with loving anyone of any gender, I mean this game deserves more information on it then just 'oh and it has these plant guys/girls that are bi'. I'm really loving on this game hard.

I'm not sure about romance or not, but I don't see how this is really a step towards the LGBT community as this species simply doesn't seem to mind what gender the person they fall in love with is.

VorpalBunny said:

Nuri, if you follow our Guild Wars 2 tag, you'll find we have covered the game, though perhaps not extensively as some desire. Due to much of this being volunteer, we sometimes do not catch every bit of info, though we try to give a general overview on gaming overall (and our staff has been in love with what they've seen at various conventions).

Why is this important? Because the message that you can love anybody is what the LGBT community has been pressing for years, so to see that message in an MMO? Where most do not even budge beyond heteronormative conventions? That's a pretty big deal.

However, I'm with you, I really look forward to this game.

bob said:

what a gay site

Fitzy said:

with the whole idea that the internal organs were not mimicked i have a feeling that the pale tree only replicated what she saw of the humans that took refuge in the rest spot that Ronan had set up in his town around where he planted the seed.

one would think that if the tree had developed their form from the bodies it would have replicated more than just the exterior view.. this and also once the pale trees roots reached said bodies, one would think that they would have decayed by so much leaving the pale tree with something rather gruesome to work with.

VorpalBunny said:

bob, and proud of it! It's okay to be Takei.

Fitzy, that certainly makes sense. There's still a lot of questions I have: despite not having internal organs, they also need to sustain themselves with food and drink, and cannot survive on photosynthesis. To me this means their internal structures must have some way of supporting this, but it is adapted to their particular needs. Could this explain why the Pale Tree decided to create a shell to better fit into the world, but realized that human anatomy would not support the sylvari? Perhaps.

All more questions we can put to ArenaNet and hope for more answers. I'm personally fine with exploring these questions in game even, especially since the species is so new, that most of Tyria seems unsure what to make of them as yet.

looocas said:

@VorpalBunny: I'd also add the fact that it's an MMO and other users make up a significant part of the content. Making the playerbase a more comfortable place for LGBT gamers reverberates in the game itself, much moreso than in less ...massively... games.

Maybe it's the wine talking, but there ought to be a guild of sylvari going around Tyria repeating the phrase, "You can love anybody."

oddboyout said:

The lore is great, but the only images we've seen present Sylvari that obviously read as men and women. The developers also made it a point that there are specifically male- and female-bodied Sylvari.

If gender is so unimportant to the species why aren't there androgynous Sylvari?

Nexus said:

@ oddboyout

Maybe because there's a diference between what a species sees as important and how they're born?
Do you think a Sylvari can chose their own gender or something? Because that's not the impression I've got.
They're born male or female, but the genders don't play a particular role in their society.

oddboyout said:

@Nexus

I'm confused by your post and I think it might be that you're conflating sex and gender. Sex being a biological category and gender being a social construction. Its even more confusing because of the context. lol We've been told Sylvari are only born with secondary human sex characteristics (like boobs, beards, fat & muscle allocation).

The lore says that "traditional human-style gender roles have no meaning to sylvari, either in their society or in their romantic relationships." It is in a context that implies that same-gender relationships are common, but really makes me wonder why they find distinct genders important at all. This is why I first questioned all of the images of Sylvari which present us with distinctly gendered persons, men and women. If gender roles are not important in their society, why do they seem to have distinct male and female gender identities?

One answer might be that their gendered characteristics are actually pre-programmed in their DNA along with their human-like secondary sex characteristics. Since they grow their hairstyles and clothing they might not have control over it. If that is the case then I wonder how the developers are dealing with armor and clothing styles. Will the player be able to decide what style they want their Sylvari to wear or will they have default styles for male and female characters?

I think there is little doubt that this is one of the most terrific movies of all time. There is action and humor which makes it so wonderful. It is a little long, but it's still worth watching in one sitting. Anyone know the best place to buy movies?

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Eye Floaters Cure on Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex: I think there is little doubt that this is one of the most terrific movies of all time. There is...

oddboyout on Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex: @Nexus I'm confused by your post and I think it might be that you're conflating sex and gender. Sex being...

Nexus on Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex: @ oddboyout Maybe because there's a diference between what a species sees as important and how they're born? Do you...

oddboyout on Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex: The lore is great, but the only images we've seen present Sylvari that obviously read as men and women. The...

looocas on Guild War 2's Sylvari & Sex: @VorpalBunny: I'd also add the fact that it's an MMO and other users make up a significant part of the...

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