Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Be Human

Since humans knew they were humans we have wondered what makes us human. The conclusions people have drawn have varied, but In Guild Wars there are five main "races." I think they (Human, Asuran, Norn, Sylvari, Charr) are much more like species than races, but that is a matter of rhetoric, not theory. Bottom line is that if you were going to categorize them by the hierarchy of exclusion in Ender's Game they would be ramen not framling because they are from such different backgrounds. They can just barely communicate and sometimes break into cultural wars. In this game, then, the developers had to define what made the humans human and the norns norn. What makes a human different from a asura defines humanness in Guild Wars 2.

The humans in that beautiful game are the race that has a perpetual carnival despite being in a war for  (at least) the last three hundred years. They are eternally looking for a piece of happiness despite their empire having fallen to a single tiny nation and their population having been decimated. Humans know they are doomed, but they stand up and do what's necessary to find joy while battling for their short lives. Humans are eternally optimistic. They look to the sky, stars, land, and sea and see what could be theirs. No other race does this quite as well as humans. More than greed, their lust for expansion is a search for some sustaining happiness that won't be threatened. Sometimes humans do create utopias, but more often they just have a perfect Stockholm Syndrome that tells them that even though the Charr have them pinned inside Ebonhawke, they can be joyful. They can drink, play, create, and win no matter what the circumstances are. Humans never give up when other races would have long ago been ruined.

Along this line, the defining characteristic of humans in Guild Wars 2 is that they are the only race that your social status matters. Homelessness is not something you can solve by being an upright individual even in Tyria. If you are a genius asura or a ferocious charr you would become an instant hero, but humanity universally relegates people into unshakable social classes. The thing Guild Wars does with this that is interesting, though, is that they let you play any social class and be a benevolent hero. The game recognizes that people have their place, but that there are good people in every place.

Humns are conservative. The Charr murdered their gods. The Asura went from cave dwellers to earth warriors. The Norn can literally turn into three new forms. The Sylvari are brand new to the whole world and are already taking on a dragon. The humans still live in a monarchy praying to six gods they haven't heard from in hundreds of years. Humans would rather die than admit that they are wrong. They will rebuild cities that flood even if they flooded because they were below sea level or vulnerable to undead pirates. I know that America just elected a fairly liberal president, but really how much would you be willing to change to survive? I wouldn't leave my family or abandon friends. I wouldn't leave Earth. The Asuran would, but the humans would not.

I like humans. In both reality and Guild Wars they are my favorite race. I see their flaws and worry about their future, but the same things that make them weak also give them strength. Their optimism is as useful as it is unrealistic. Their inequalities make them cruel  but motivated. Their conservativeness makes them steadfast. I know I don't get a choice, but given all of the thousands of species described in science fiction and fantasy I would still choose to be human. We are only eggs. We are still stuck in this little planet of Earth trying to decide what we mean and who we can be. I would love the opportunity to find out how our little species ends up, but I know that being human means dying. I submit to that fate and will let my heirs and descendants make the truly important choices of defining humanity. Every thoughtful video game, novel, and movie brings us closer. No one can tell me that Guild Wars is not thoughtful. It is adding to the canon. This weekend is a free trial of Guild Wars 2 and I really hope that a lot of new people get a chance to see the insights I do.Ascalonian townsfolk m.jpgFile:Norn heavy armor concept art.jpgGW2 Asura Render.pngFile:Sylvari 16 concept art.png

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