The Black Norn

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

15 thoughts on “The Black Norn”

  1. Hmm. Inflammatory issue there Ravious.

    You’ve done a lot of logical gymnastics in that argument. It read like you don’t really want to say what you feel because you don’t want to deal with the backlash. You obviously aren’t on the fence on this issue. You are apologetic. That’s cute.

    Still, your points that “MMOs are created by and largely cater to fairer skinned people” and that “When I pick a species to play, I have to adopt the conventions the creators of that species set forth” add up to: “white games by white people should be played by people who love being white.” To paraphrase you, “i’m not racist, some of my best guildies elves.”

    That attitude empowers racism in games. The joke really is that, as you point out, “by race we really mean species.” There are very few species that don’t host a wealth of diversity. The only species that cares about eliminating this diversity [in “reality”] is the human species.

    In games, the racist penchant of some game designers may be a reality; but, it is not a sufficient argument for maintaining their conceits. You don’t have to play as a culturally insensitive, xenophobic, jerk just because the game designers think nazis are cool. I’m looking at you stone summit loving, norn agrandizing, trolls out there who have problems with slant-eyed (I mean “shift-eyed”) asura.

    Surely, Ravious, you could be a racist. Or not. Maybe. You’ve been too milquetoast to definitively nail down on that point, though you obviously feel okay with defending racists. It’s disappointing because I liked reading this blog. Now I have to worry about supporting a racist coward or churning through an ill-advised, clumsy argument from a good intentioned “non-racist.”

    That’s a suck choice – kind of like choosing between nazi dwarves and nazi norn. Thanks for that.

    1. Awesome first comment. We’ve got a certified Godwin from someone willfully ignoring the premise of the article.

      HERE LET ME HELP YOU READ THAT. Comprehension is still on you tho…

      “My answer is “no,” but it’s not that simple. ”

      “Instead of a diverse species, such as the humans, the norn were a very homogeneous species with regard to skin color.”

      “It goes both ways.”

      “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.”

      1. Wonderful spin there moondog548.

        I didn’t fail to read those parts of the article. I simply found them contradictory to the portions I quoted and pointed out why I felt the dissidence was there. I then followed up with my reaction to that dissidence.

        My apologies to your superiority if you somehow failed to understand that the point I was making wasn’t about whether or not sticking to canon was necessary. My point was that adhering to exclusionary canon fosters exclusionary behavior and, more importantly, the article provides support for exclusion and inclusion.

        Surely, you agree that condoning “a very homogeneous species” contradicts “the designers job at conception to make the conventions [inclusive].” That’s just double-speak, which is “double plus bad” unless your specialize in denial.


        1. I got your point very well, and my point is that is only tangentially related to the article you’re commenting on. It takes advantage of the potentially incendiary topic without taking into account any of the insight presented. In other words, at best you’re grinding an axe in the wrong discussion (or maybe just without sufficient argument to marry your point to the discussion).

          I don’t see in the article where he’s condoning or advocating /anything/ aside from perhaps more wide-spread consideration of the topic in the first place.

          BTW my superiority forgives you. It and I will be happy if folks can have a meaningful exchange of ideas on the internet. A fool can dream.

  2. its all muddled thanks to the norn so closely resembling humans in everything except height. they’re really just big humans so why not have human skin tones? We’ll see I guess.

  3. For what it’s worth you can create Ascalons with dark skin and dreads in Prophecies, Asianesque characters in Nightfall, etc. I suspect Arena will allow “black” norn and no one will complain.

    Why? “Never anger a norn.”

  4. It really depends on the lore around them. If they live in a wide variety of environments, there’s no real reason a variety of skin tones shouldn’t be available. In many fantasy settings giants have skin tones ranging from human skin tones like flesh and brown to more exotic colors like red, green, and blue.

    Regardless, as this is a made up race in a fantasy game, I don’t see that it has any implications beyond the lore of the game. It’s not as if all humans in the game will be of a single ethnic appearance.

  5. Norn are not human, they are norn. Your comparison with other fantasy species such as row and orcs is a good one, and is good enough to settle this issue. World creators made a species with pale skin and fair hair, just like they made the asura with grey skin and big ears.

  6. There should not be black norns ? I mean… why ? If norns are based on norse mythology and scandinavian people why the hell do they have to be black ?

    I hate this racism issue ! it annoys me… “oh lawd I can’t make a black norn pimp!” They’re white and that’s it, cause they live in icy cold mountains and have little or no contact with the sun… of course they’re white. If you want to be black just pick an elonian…god.

    And yes I’m racist, cause blacks are always bitchin’ about everything… -.-‘

  7. I think many people have just assumed the “reason for them being white” in this post/discussion.

    For example: “They are white because they are based on Norse mythology.” Has that ever been said? Sure, the *influence* could be there, but has it officially been said that they are in fact *based directly on* Norse mythology? The difference there between “based on” and “influenced by” is that in the former, you directly and openly acknowledge that “yes, we patterned A off of B”, whereas in the latter, correlations can be argued and drawn between A and B without it being officially stated. I didn’t see anywhere where there is a definite basis defined for the Norns (see the many *possible influences* here, none of which are certain:

    Another example: “They are white because they live in cold, icy climate and therefore not much sun, and therefore scientifically white.” Wait a minute, so you *know for a fact* that blood and skin and biology in a fictional race works the same as our human blood and physiology in this world? No, that conclusion cannot be made with any sort seriousness, but here you are, applying your real world passing knowledge of skin pigment to a completely fictional race that obviously doesn’t obey other physical limitations such as body structure and mass! (Look up what would/does happen if a human being were 9 feet tall, geniuses:

    It’s fiction. It’s a game. Let it be a game without importing all of your real world assumptions into a world that is anything but real.

  8. Hrm… I think the whole racist/not racist problem only arises if there is a lack of choice. (Same like the whole sexist, not sexist thing… Sure the GW elementalist girlies have the harem look… but they can also cover up, if you want to!)

    Racially, GW certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of choice.

    I have a whole spectrum of skin-colours and facial features for my characters, and that makes me a happy nugget, since I like having lots of different flavoured nomnoms!

    …so why is black or not black Norn even vaguely a racist problem?

    I r confoozed. :(

  9. I see where the first guy is going with the Norse Mythology and light skinned dark elves? We must also remember that this is only “based” off mythology and that this game is in the hands of the creators. It is also in there best interest for them to make the game as flexible as possible since they want to make this game more involved and make it your personal story. The Norn seem to be highly capable of mixing with humans and probably would so it’s possible for there to be dark skinned and even any Norn human mix that would keep most of the Norn traits… just saying.

  10. The problem is: Black norn just don’t make sense in GW2’s LORE. You can see HUMANS in all colors in GW1, but NORN ARENT HUMANS, they are ANOTHER RACE.

    Anyway, it’s like Heimdall in Thor’s movie. Come on… that’s just ridiculous…

    For me, a racist attitude is CHANGE the way things was made by the artist/creator, just to include every race in the history.

    That’s the real racism! “let’s just put a black guy there, because if we dont, people will think we are racist.”

    It’s like put a white guy in the center of the history of the black panther’s comic.

    I really hope dont do anything out of the lore just to make everyone happy…
    If they include a explanation IN THE LORE it’s ok for me, but I just hope they dont give us that option of color without the “why” in the lore.
    I hope they dont change their awesome creation just because others see racist problems in every single thing.

    That’s not about racism, thats just the way things was created.
    It’s like to ask to put a White color man in a old african based race.

    People really need to stop to see racist problem in everything.

    And NO you don’t see any black people coming from northern countrys (not talking about today), you can see people with TAN skins but not black so dont come here to talk about skimmos or tibetans, its totally different!
    At least, as I said, they arent humans, they are norn.

  11. Well It’s just a game not the black panthers
    I see what you’re saying about the racism
    but I also would not complain if their was
    a race of characters made from african lore
    who were able to be created white, I would
    just be happy I could create a character
    through my image and play. The game is not
    supposed to be a textbook of written lore
    it is a new vision only based from these similar
    real life cultures. As I would imagine their
    were no light skinned people in the Elonian based
    “lore” no one complained. It didn’t start any arguments
    even if they were to make a race based off african culture
    should you be able to make the character appear white?
    I say yes. People get touchy when it comes to making a
    light skinned culture dark. The Are based off Aztec culture
    as far as I can tell. Were the Aztecs short alien like people? The bottom line I’m trying to get to here is that there are alot of variables at play here. The best course of action would be to let players character be a representation of what they’re idea of a hero looks like without bending the rules completely.

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