If you are an MMO player like me, you are probably excitedly awaiting the release of Guild Wars 2 at the end of August. If you are an armchair philosopher like me, then you are probably very intrigued by the concepts behind a couple of the races and their relationships with religion. The obvious being the Charr, a race that gave up religion completely so they could host an industrial revolution. They knowingly rid their soceity of religion because they recognized it was being used to oppress their people.
Now, I’m not saying this is a metaphor for all religion, in fact, the humans of Guild Wars 2 seem to be doing just fine with their belief structure. Regardless, the Charr are actually neither here nor there–I actually want to focus on a different race, altogether. The Sylvari.
The Sylvari are particularly interesting to me, because according to Guild Wars 2, the race is only 25 years old. An entire race of people, and they have only been around for 25 years. How fascinating is that? Naturally, one has to wonder what effect that might have on their views of the world, especially regarding religion.
To Dream a Little Dream
According to Guild Wars 2 lore, the Sylvari exist in the Dream before they are “born.” Though, they are not actually born; they are sort of hatched from a seed pod. But within the Dream, they have a consciousness that does not seem to know it is not alive. At least, not alive as we would traditionally see it. It is as though they are able to experience life through a kind of simulated existence inside the Pale Tree, the massive tree that sprouts the Sylvari.
This concept should be immediately familiar to any student of religion, as it seems to almost be based on a facet of Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) belief. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe the soul of a human exists with God before it is selected to be born. It makes me wonder if this particular tenet was not an inspiration for the Sylvari.
But I digress. I’m here to discuss the implications of religion on the Sylvari in-game, not the effect of real-world religion on the game.
So imagine this: you just sprouted from a seed pod–fully grown, mind you–and you are seeing the world for the first time. You are realizing that the existance you thought you knew in the Dream is not the actual world around you. Not to say the Dream is not real–it is–it’s just not everything you thought it was.
What would you instantly think, being “born” fully aware? Would you believe in a god? Would you think the Pale Tree that sprouted you is a god? Or is the world just what it appears to be?
The Guild Wars 2 Wiki states that the Sylvari are agnostic toward to concept of the human religion in the game, which is a polytheistic (more than one deity) belief structure. It states the Sylvari would prefer to see the actions of these gods before they put any faith in them.
Could this desire be because of how they are brought into the world? They spend so much time in the Dream, now they awaken and realize everything wasn’t as it seems, so now they view things with a skeptical eye. But that would imply the Sylvari held some sort of cynical view of the Pale Tree, that it was “lying” to them all that time. No, instead it seems they view the Pale Tree as a respected parent, and less a god.
So what about you? Try to put yourself in the position, if you can, of a newborn Sylvari.
How do you think you would view the world if you were born/hatched/harvested to find out everything you thought you knew was only the tip of the metaphysical iceberg? How would you handle being thrust into a world where your entire civilization has only existed, when compared to others you interact with, for the blink of an eye?
With all that in mind, the Sylvari aren’t alone in having a unique take on religion. As we look deeper into Guild Wars 2, we’ll be able to discuss not only interesting parallels between in-game belief systems and the real-world, but unique interactions between the religions in the game. How does the Nords’ polytheism differ from the humans’? Do the Charr and the Asurans share any common beliefs? And more importantly, what does any of that mean to you? Will any of this affect the way you play the game?
I guess we’ll see!