The portrayal of Women in Guild Wars 2 – Pt.1: Body shapes

I’m a big fan of Guild Wars 2. I played the original Guild Wars, I now play the sequel, and I think they’re both great games. I’m looking forward to continue playing Guild Wars for many years. However, just like in the rest of society and games, I’m disappointed in how I continue to find sexism and inequality in Guild Wars. I’m aware that a lot of people do not agree that those things exist in the game and therefore I’m writing this as a way of documenting it. My point is not that Guild Wars is a terrible game because of it, and I won’t stop playing it, but I believe that it could do better in these areas.

I am doing this from a feminist perspective with the belief that men and women should be treated equally. Women in society are seen as less capable than men and are often to a much greater degree valued primarily by their beauty and looks. My wish is that game developers would understand how their products are a part of reinforcing harmful stereotypes like this and actively work to make sure that there is a good range of options for all genders to play as the character they want.

The first thing I’d like to do is to have a look at the body types that are available when you create a character in Guild Wars 2. I’ve simply collected all the body types of Humans, Sylvari and Norn from character creation, and I’d like to make some comparisons. Even though Sylvari and Norn aren’t supposed to be humans they’re obviously designed with the same ideals and beauty standards in mind so that’s why I include them. Asura and Charr however are so different anatomically that they’re not really relevant to this discussion.

For simplicity’s sake I’ll mostly focus on the biggest and smallest choice for each race. Images of all alternatives will be included in the end of the post but it’ll just take too much time to go over them all.

Smallest-biggest_Human_GIF

So it comes as no surprise that all the female models are much smaller than the male ones. Both smaller and thinner. You also may notice quickly that for humans there isn’t actually much difference between the largest and smallest choice, they’re not really displaying a good range of body styles.

Smallest-biggest_Sylvari_GIF

The Sylvari are a form of plant people that anatomically are basically just smaller and even thinner humans. These are the smallest options you get for a humanoid in GW2 and you don’t have that much room if you like the thought of playing a big Sylvari.

Smallest-biggest_Norn_GIF

And lastly, the Norn, are basically larger humans. These are the biggest human bodies you can play as in GW2 but that doesn’t amount to much for the female models. The difference in size between the largest characters here is ridiculous. Not even when they’re not human is it possible to play as a large woman.

So, I have a lot of thoughts about this. Firstly I must say that the design choices for these three races are a quite unimaginative. It feels like instead of making the races feel truly different from one another and have different anatomical design they instead picked a range of human body types, chopped it in three pieces, and handed one part of the spectrum to each race. Sylvari gets a range of smaller body types ( very small ), Humans get a range of “medium” body types, and Norn get the larger ones (at least the largest ones that they choose to put in this game). I understand that it might feel boring to give all the races the same range of choices, but at the same time I think limiting each race to a smaller palette of options just to increase the feeling of difference is a bad idea.

As it is now, if I would feel like playing a big character, I’m forced to choose a male Norn because it’s literally the only one that gives that option. Particularly the options for female characters are very small and thin, and on top of that they all exclusively have the same curved body shape. Like if no other shapes of women actually exist.

A common counter argument to all this might be that “The player is a warrior, and therefore must be athletic/in good shape.” But that insinuates that the current selection of bodies would be a good representation of athletic bodies, which I would claim is not true. Many of these choices look very small to be “strong” or “athletic” (they surely don’t show a lot of muscle) and on top of that, bodies in “good shape” does not have such a small range of variation either.

original (1) original

These images were taken by the photographer Howard Schatz in 2002 and depict female athletes at the peak of their career. It’s very obvious that the developers of Guild Wars 2 didn’t go to great lengths to create alternatives that reflect this range of bodies, especially for the female characters.

For all the three races the biggest female model is smaller than the smallest male one. I don’t really want to talk about what body size is “normal” or not but I’d consider the biggest female model in the game (the female Norn) to still be on the thin side if compared to real humans. Why is it that a male character get the option to look “big and strong” but a female character don’t?

To many of us, this isn’t really a surprise at all. Maybe we’d even notice it more if the options actually where realistic? So why do we have to talk about it? Because media affects us. If I look around at images, games and movies and only see small or thin people, I will eventually consider this to be the “normal” shape of humans, and if I myself don’t fit into this norm there’s a good chance I’ll start feeling bad about how I look. Maybe a lot of players would still choose to play a thin character but the developers could at least include the option of larger ones to acknowledge their existence?

To be clear, what I want is not for anything to be removed from the game. I don’t want less options, I want more. If people want to play a certain body type more than others that’s up to them but I think it’s important that the choice of bodies isn’t so narrow and allow so little variety.

Don’t they realize that a bigger person starting to play their game might get disappointed that there isn’t even the option to make a character look like themselves? Like if big people are a sort of aliens that don’t exist in the world of Tyria. These are harmful stereotypes about female bodies, that women must always be small and thin, and I wish that games could be a place where you didn’t need to be constantly reminded of them.

Well, maybe there’s no point in me going on about this forever. Guild Wars 2’s options for female character models are too small and too few and it’s perpetuating the sexism of the society we live in, that’s the point I wanted to make. Once again : I love Guild Wars 2, I think it’s an awesome game, but that doesn’t mean I can’t critique it.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! This will be followed up with a post about the choices of armor in Guild Wars 2.

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If you’re interested in these topics there’s now a Guild Wars 2 group with the purpose of discussing them. Feel free to join it and share it to anyone you believe would like to join! [Link]

Link to an article about Howard Schatz’s images of female athletes: [Link]

Human_Female_Bodies Human_Male_Bodies Norn_Female_Bodies Norn_Male_Bodies Sylvari_Female_Bodies Sylvari_Male_Bodies

 

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