On Sylvari Biology

Since the sylvari were first introduced – or re-introduced – in detail, Guild Wars 2 fans have had what developers and writers have occasionally noted seems like an unhealthy obsession with the race’s sexuality. We know that they can’t reproduce sexually with each other; sylvari only come from the Pale Tree. That leaves plenty of questions, though: do they have sex organs? To what extent? Can they have intercourse, even if they can’t reproduce through it? Players wanted to know, and threw around a lot of theories on the matter.

Sylvari anatomy

Warning: parts of this post discuss intimate biology frankly. It’s not obscene or anything, but if the word ‘penis’ makes you uncomfortable you should probably stop reading.

I remember getting the impression, back pre-launch, that sylvari genders were purely cosmetic. I could swear I remember seeing an ArenaNet person saying in a discussion somewhere that sylvari have no underwear, because ‘what you see is what you get’ – those leaves that look like they’re in place for modesty? That’s all that’s there. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to track down any such quote, and information given later has muddied the waters considerably.

These days, the standard answer is that sylvari can’t reproduce sexually, but they can have sex for pleasure, and they enjoy it. This seems to come from authoritative sources, although in offhand comments (I apologise, I wasn’t able to turn up links for evidence just now). Sylvari must thus have the appropriate anatomy for intercourse. For females this makes some sense – they just wouldn’t have a womb. For males this gets more difficult, and you’ll have to forgive me if I get graphic. A male equipped for intercourse but not reproduction would presumably have a penis, but be unable to ejaculate – that would serve no purpose outside reproduction. But if that were the case, I question sylvari males’ ability to sustain an erection. Does the sap really rush to… I mean really? And can they even experience a climax with the anatomy they have? What about females; do their nether-leaves have appropriate nerve clusters? Without the full system to support it, this starts to sound a bit shaky.

Sylvari female

It has been stated (in an early ArenaNet blog that it seems I can’t link to anymore) that sylvari do not have internal organs. Again, this works alright with the above statement about their sexualtiy at first: external genatalia yes, internal reproductive systems no. Erection and ejaculation would both require some specialised internal plumbing, however. And hey, let’s think about this… sylvari eat, right? We’ve had it confirmed multiple times that they consume the same foods as other races (meat and plants), and require food to survive. To say otherwise would make food buffs in-game unnecessarily difficult, lore-wise. However, if they eat… do they excrete? Do they have digestive systems? It seems that they must have internal organs after all. They may be simplified compared to human organs, but they can’t operate like plants – they don’t (only) photosynthesise.

So, the more we think about it, the more it falls apart. The food issue can be attributed to mechanical necessities to some extent, since food and cooking are actually somewhat integral to GW2’s mechanics, but the decision to give sylvari the necessary anatomy for sexual intercourse seems odd to me. Perhaps it’s a concession to those who wish to roleplay such things? And I don’t mean only explicit roleplay, but also romantic/relationship/family roleplay. Personally, I relished the challenge of doing such roleplay with a non-sexual being, but each to their own. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel like sylvari make a lot more sense if there really isn’t anything under those ‘modesty leaves’. The Pale Tree gave her children their form so that they could communicate with other races; surely she didn’t consider it necessary for them to… dance with them, to steal a euphemism from the Doctor?

Faolain

It’s well known that game designers are loathe to allow the design of playable characters to stray too far from the human, and that less humanoid races in MMOs tend to be less popular. Still, it surprises me that – despite the fascinating lore potential of the sylvari, and all the work already done to highlight their unique perspectives on love and relatedness – physically asexual and yet gendered beings were apparently a step too far for someone.

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