Flameseeker Chronicles: Guild Wars 2 election postmortem

Attack of the 50-foot Kiel
We were young. We were trusting. We didn't understand the power we wielded. When the voting booths closed and the last ballots were cast, a dark portal yawned wide in Lion's Arch, unleashing the terrible titan version of candidate Ellen Kiel upon the unsuspecting Guild Wars 2 playerbase. ArenaNet didn't see fit to warn us of the true consequences of the Cutthroat Politics update, but at least we can take some comfort in the fact that Evon Gnashblade didn't win the election. He's got claws. And really pointy teeth.

Fortunately, the citizens of Tyria have been distracted from their inevitable doom by the current Queen's Jubilee patch, which is showering us with loot in the manner of a quenching summer rain. I'm the kind of person who will happily farm for multiple hours if given the opportunity, but I'm going to try to drag my hollow eyes from the slaughter long enough to talk about how the previous living story chapter was a great experiment in evolving the world of GW2 -- and how it didn't quite hit the mark.

A brief recap

Ellen Kiel was a high-ranking member of the Lionguard before her boss, Magnus the Bloody-Handed (despite the name, he's a jovial sort), decided she was Captain's Council material and gave Kiel her own airship. Kiel has been working through her transition from law enforcement to sky pirate captain, although she tends to do un-pirately things like give stolen treasure back to the Lion's Arch citizens whom the Aetherblades took it from. She ran for public support on a platform of four weeks of reduced waypoint costs and a pledge to research the meltdown of Thaumanova Reactor for inclusion in the Fractals of the Mists.

Evon Gnashblade leads the Black Lion Trading Company. After overhearing Magnus encourage Kiel to secure a trade agreement with the Zephyr Sanctum in order to gain a seat on the Council, Gnashblade decided to try to get in on that himself. He considers himself a popular figure in Lion's Arch, although he wasn't as ready as Kiel to give back the citizens' stolen goods. His campaign promises included four weeks of reduced Black Lion chest key prices and a vow to research the fall of the human god Abaddon for inclusion in the Fractals of the Mists.

What was of particular interest to me was how neatly the player vote was split from beginning to end. ANet offered two updates on the ballot count on the official GW2 Facebook page, and both updates -- which were a week apart -- showed Gnashblade with 48% of the vote and Kiel with 52%. At the time of the second update count, players had cast a whopping 9,575,484 support tokens. Both candidates had vocal, passionate supporters. The Thaumanova Reactor fractal option seemed to be considerably less popular than the fall of Abaddon (which has roots in the original Guild Wars) until Colin Johanson hinted that it might contain more lore than players were giving it credit for.

Overall, it was neat to see how involved the players got in the election; debates on lore and characterization became commonplace, and there was quite a lot of lighthearted casual roleplay as people expanded on the hilarious official campaign videos and accused the candidates of everything from supporting RNG to oppressing the Charr race. Most players seemed to enjoy the idea that their opinions meant something in developing the story and direction of the game, so in that sense it fulfilled ArenaNet's intentions. As the content patch passed into its second week, though, things started to get a little too heated.

pirate ladies take no guff
Dirty campaigning

Disappointment is understandable. My household suffered a tragic Kiel vs. Gnashblade split that has thankfully not yet led to a divorce (the cats were undecided): My wife didn't care for Evon, but she did care about the Abaddon fractal. In the end, she didn't vote at all; she figured Kiel had a better chance of winning, and since her only investment was in the fractal, it killed her enthusiasm for the whole thing.

For my part, I desperately wanted to see the Abaddon fractal but found myself disliking Gnashblade and his smarmy jerkface persona so much that I couldn't hold my nose and vote for him. The idea of being stuck with him on the Council permanently because player choice put him there was a little too much for me. I have no problem with morally grey characters -- in fact, I think GW2 could do with a few more -- but Gnashblade's lack of class makes him exactly the type of character I cannot stand. I was hoping the choice would be harder; I spoke to Gnashblade a few times before he entered the living story and thought he seemed like an OK guy. I don't know why he needed to swerve straight into Snidely Whiplash territory, but in the end the result was that I could vote for a character I really disliked and support the tangible gameplay choice I wanted, or I could give up on the Abaddon fractal and vote for a character I enjoy hanging out with. I'm glad Kiel won, but I wish the candidate vote had been followed by a vote on which fractal we'd like to see the winner research.

This brings me to my next point, which I'm going to put my Ascended Scholar's Helm of Total Seriousness on for: This event did not bring out good behavior in the community. There were people writing long, accusatory screeds about their assumptions regarding the personality and moral character of other players based on their choice of candidate. There were hurt feelings. There were disgusting sexist comments -- yes, Kiel is fictional, but a lot of people are used to that kind of reaction in real life and don't want to have to hear angry morons screaming gender-targeted epithets in a video game.

Before someone in the comments tells me to lighten up about that because it's just a game, that is the point. Even if you were bitterly disappointed by the outcome, nothing justifies insulting other players or saying hurtful things over a pretend video game election with pretend ballots and pretend candidates. I usually dislike making or hearing the "it's just a game" argument because much of the time it comes off as dismissive toward the emotional connection we can have toward these games. It's normal to be attached to a hobby. But there's a line, it got crossed in a big way, and for the first time almost since launch I found myself turning off map chat in disgust.

The fix is in

While the responsibility of taking this event too seriously rests squarely on the shoulders of the players who went there, I would have been (pleasantly, blessedly) surprised if things had gone any differently. The entire event was set up in such a fashion that one group of players or the other had to lose out in a big, permanent way; from the moment it was clarified that we weren't just voting for which fractal we wanted most but dismissing the other to the void forever solely for the sake of the choice feeling permanent, things were going to get ugly.

I find it hard to believe that the debate over the personality traits of either character would have gotten so serious if there hadn't been so much at stake -- I've seen people jump to weird conclusions about characters based on minimal development before, but for how quickly people chose to defend their chosen candidate and damn the other, you'd think we'd had an entire book series on them. Neither of them has been in the story long enough to be particularly well-developed. Neither of them really falls under the category of "good" or "evil" -- Kiel has done morally grey things in pursuit of what she thought was right, and Gnashblade isn't guilty of much more than being arrogant and rude to Kiel. And while the debate over lore characters has gotten fired up to ridiculous heights before (see: Kormir, Trahearne, Logan or Jennah), this is the first time ANet has attached gameplay consequences to liking or disliking one of them. If the developers decide to try this sort of player choice exercise again -- and despite all of this, I hope they do -- they'll hopefully consider handling it in a way that separates gameplay choices from roleplay choices.

Jennah and Anise hanging out in the throne room with a player character
Current events

Wow, can you believe it's been almost a year since GW2 launched? ArenaNet is planning something big for the occasion, but in the meantime we still have Her Majesty's death arena and glass-domed bloodbath expo to keep us busy. How many of you have seen mysterious creatures joining the Aetherblades in their attacks on traveling delegates? What's up with the suspicious figure maniacally laughing her way into our hearts? Oh, and how cute are Braham, Rox, and Frostbite?

There are a lot of things I like about this patch: the dialogue, the return to Divinity's Reach, the giant Aetherblade ships hanging around (seeing one of those hovering and taking off from a distance was really cool), and the promise of the living story plot finally coming together. I even like the farming, although player reactions are pretty divided on whether or not it's good for the game, temporary event or not. Are you enjoying the Queen's Jubilee patch? What are you hoping to see in the anniversary content? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you in the Mists!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's weekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.

This article was originally published on Massively.