There has been an interesting thread over at Guild Wars 2 Guru on whether we will be able to play as a dark-skinned norn in Guild Wars 2. The norn race in Guild Wars 1 were introduced in the Eye of the North expansion as being a race of giant humanoids living in the Far Shiverpeak mountains. They were based off a real world Norse-type mythology with a splash of Celtic tattoos. Now, in Guild Wars 2, which is 250 years later could there be non-light skinned norn? I am not talking about norns with rockin’ beach tans. I mean has their melanin caught up with the climates some may live in?
My unofficial answer: the shift-eyed asura already have ways to recombobulate DNA and shift for humans in the time of Guild Wars 1. No reason a fair-skinned norn would not want to hire the Anatomical Engineer’s services because he is sick of being sunburned. I know where I would get my inspiration for a black norn. But, this is all kind of shirking the big issue. Should character-based online games allow players of any skin color to replicate their skin (and hair!) color in game for any race (and by race we really mean species)?
My answer is “no,” but it’s not that simple. When the norn were created the Norse mythology was muddled with giantism. Instead of a diverse species, such as the humans, the norn were a very homogeneous species with regard to skin color. Lore wise, one can attribute the norn’s lifestyle in the cold climates to lack of skin pigmentation. This is kind of stupid in reality, but that’s how the species was created. ArenaNet created a species of white-skinned Norse-like giants, which is becoming a player race in Guild Wars 2. If players want to be norn, then they should know they will be playing a white-skinned Norse-like giant. Is it fair?
It goes both ways. Wanting to play a white-skinned drow (dark elf) would be looking at it from a different angle. The problem is privilege. MMOs are created by and largely cater to fairer skinned people. Take a look at most World of Warcraft human NPCs for example. Guild Wars already is ahead of the curve in my mind because the human species in Guild Wars 2 is a race of Ascalonian (Caucasian), Krytan (Hispanic-like), Canthan (Asian), and Elonian (African) all mixed together, which mirrors our melting pot culture in the U.S. However, in each Guild Wars 1 campaign, a player could play a Caucasian looking character. For Guild Wars 2 though, I don’t believe every other Guild Wars 2 player race has to mirror our real world culture.
When I pick a species to play, I have to adopt the conventions the creators of that species set forth. It does not matter whether it’s a Jamaican-accented troll in World of Warcraft, a bearded dwarf in Lord of the Rings Online, a dark-skinned drow in Dungeons and Dragons Online, or a fair-skinned Norn in Guild Wars 2. Once conventions start breaking, the feel of the species starts to get muddled. Therefore, I think that it’s the designers job at conception to make the conventions inclusionary to as many real world players as possible. I am just not sure that the norn were not envisioned in this inclusionary way. It will be interesting to see how ArenaNet responds in game.
i’m not racist, i just hate elves