‘Hyleket,’ Anyone?

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This is about a rather trivial change in the language of Guild Wars 2, the name-change of the race of frog people from “heket” to “hylek,” and why it pleases me.

One word has changed. The nature of the hylek really hasn’t changed at all. They are a sentient people with which we as player characters may have peaceable relations or full-on warfare. We see that they still look very much like the frog-men we’ve all come to love stomping on. Their tribal culture seems relatively unaltered. They are still more or less behind on the technology curve, since they have to trade with other sentients for weapons and other goods. The hylek are in most ways indistinguishable from the heket – which leads many people to beg the question “why change the name at all?” What purpose does this serve?

I cannot answer either of those questions. I am rather obviously not a writer or lore generator for ArenaNet, so I can only offer guesses and thoughts.

If I had to try and answer the questions of why, my guesses would be these… To begin with: the name heket is one that players first learned in Nightfall on the continent of Elona. In the 250 year gap between the present-day of Guild Wars and the bright and shining future of GW2, most communication with Elona has closed off, and languages are quick to change and stray from their original source. Having lost contact with the original source of the heket, we find ourselves dealing more and more with the tribes found in the ‘main’ continent, and on that continent we find the hylek.

A heket by any other name would smell as marshy

Perhaps the hylek were one of the more dominant tribes. It may be that they are particularly warlike, and as such have become a dominant force among the frog-man community, to the point where to speak of a heket infestation was likely the same as speaking of a hylek infestation. Conversely, it may be that they are particularly peaceable (and particularly immune to toxins?) and as such have been able to spread out in a similar manner, and become rather the standard-bearers of their type. Perhaps there was some other phenomenon that lead to the hylek becoming emblematic of the heket people, or some other blurring of the lines of nomenclature.
It might be none of those possibilities.

the frog-man cometh

What matters (in my mind), regardless of the justification for precisely why the change came about is the fact that it did, in fact, happen. Language differences between extraordinarily small gaps of space and time are hugely prevalent, as is the practice of one small part of a set becoming emblematic of the whole. Soft drinks hold good modern-day examples of both those principles: depending on where one comes from, the common term for a soft drink might be “pop” or “soda,” and there are many times that I have been asked “Do you want a coke?” while meaning any soft drink, rather than the soda to which they were specifically referring.

All of that goes to say: I would find it highly unnatural if we re-entered the world of Tyria 250 years after our last glance at it and found it unchanged except for additions (such as the kodan). This is, I think, some place where we have so far seen ArenaNet doing an excellent job of balancing the lore, history, and feel of the original game with updates in the sequel. Taking place in the same world, there cannot help but be many similarities, but it would be a mistake to try to create and sell something along the lines of Guild Wars: Repackaged. The game – the game world – needs to be updated, lest it fall stagnant. (Note: here, I am not saying that changing the name “heket” to “hylek” is saving the game – I am saying it is one small representation of something that I feel ArenaNet is doing very right in the creation of GW2.)

The common language of Tyria has evolved (although that doesn’t really mechanically change the game, as we’re still seeing most everything in a real-world language), and it makes sense that some usages have changed with it. Words like elementalist and warrior still refer, more or less, to the same ideas as they did before, but we can see that the assassin has gone out of common parlance, and the thief has made an entry. We’ve seen cities built and turned into capitals; we’ve seen capital cities turn into trade-centers; we’ve seen races take over new areas. For goodness’ sake, we’ve seen a seed turn into a tree that produces baby humanoids. The world has changed. These have allowed for subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts in the literal and figurative geography of Guild Wars 2. For that reason, I don’t see why there has to be a stated reason for the shift in frog-man nomenclature. Do I think that somewhere in the lore-bible, the team at ArenaNet has a reason? I certainly wouldn’t put it past them. But coming into the world as we will in Guild Wars 2, I don’t really expect that I’ll be able to go up to a random norn and expect her to tell me that it was after the Great Ruination of 1221, when all but a few leaders of the lesser tribes were killed by a fly-borne plague that the name shifted from heket to hylek. I expect that, were I to ask her a question about the name change, that she would tell me that it has always been that way, or shrug and advise I ask a historian. Evolution is the sign of a healthy language.

Do I want to know exactly why the change occurred? You bet I do! I want every little, gritty, unimportant detail. However, until I have that sweet knowledge, I will rest easy in the idea that things are changing.

Readers: What’s your idea for how the heket changed their name? Do you think it was the natural progression of time, or do you imagine something a little zanier? Leave us all your crazy ideas!

About the author: Elixabeth has been a Guild Wars fan since the release of Nightfall, and is now eagerly awaiting the release of Guild Wars 2. To bide the time, she began fiddling around with the online GW community and takes great pleasure combining two of her great loves (writing and games) here at TalkTyria. Follow her on Twitter, if you like!


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This entry was posted in Guild Wars 2, Non-Playable, Races and tagged , , by elixabeth. Bookmark the permalink.

About elixabeth

Hallo! I've been playing games of all sorts for as long as I can remember, writing since before then, and playing Guild Wars since just after the release of NightFall. If I wasn't a geek, I wouldn't be on this site. Online communities - the way that some people will unite to become something much, much more wonderful than a bunch of total jerks, despite the anonymity provided to them by the internet - absolutely fascinate me. Pleased to meetcha!
  • bargamer

    I’ll have to agree with you; Heket is a Kournan word, and we’re cut off from Kourna/Vabbi in GW2. Between the Dwarves, Destroyers, Dredge, and Dragons, the Gokir and Ophil are probably all dead. That left the Agari and the Hylek. Maybe the Hylek or Jormag killed off the Agari, maybe they all starved or whatever. Maybe they stole an idea from the Charr and claim to be descendants of the Hylek tribe, even if they’re not.

  • I agree, I really love all the small yet subtle changes going on. I guess when you think about it, the hylet is a small change but it is part of the big picture.

    250 years is a long time. Just think of America 250 years ago. Things have changed dramatically.

    I always figured in a world where people rely on magic things evolve more slowly but even then, we are seeing technology make it’s mark on Tyria, especially with the gods stepping back from their role.

    Anet is definitely taking good care of preserving the story and doing their best to include a solid reason even for mechanical changes (female charr).

    I just hope they stick to it and don’t start butchering their own story like a certain other game company that shall not be named!

    • About the whole idea of magic slowing down change / technology advancing change. I think that in the Guild Wars ‘verse, we see a really cool blend of magitech or magicology – that is, in cultures like the asura, we see a blending of the two styles of advancement. (In contrast to the charr, who more or less focus on technological advances.) Anyway – as the progress of either is advanced, all of society tends to speed up along with them.
      For example, we know that humans have had magic a long time in the GW world, and it was a gift rather than a discovery. As far as we know, outside of the whole rift-into-the-Mists thing, there hasn’t been a lot of magical advancement going on. With the introduction of the asura, we’re suddenly able to start learning more about the nature of magic and, likely, improving thereon. And as the charr turn away from their dependence on magic, they start striving to advance technology. Both of those branches of research are going to increase the speed with which society changes. Look at the real world – there were sets of scores and hundreds of years with relatively little societal change, because there was little advancement of technology (or thought). Contrast that against the last /ten years,/ during which certain parts of society have become entirely revolutionized.


      Point is – I agree, and now that the gears of change are turning, it’s cool to see the world/society advancing and becoming more complex in turn.

      Also yes – there’s definitely a level of balance that needs to be maintained. We fell in love with the world/feel/story, so if they change it TOO drastically, I think they’ll disappoint a great many fans.

      • draxynnic

        Magic hindering the development of technology is a fairly common theme I’ve come across, in settings that actually care about thinking about this sort of thing rather than keeping the society in a permanent middle-ages-with-magic state. The explanation is twofold – first, that the civilisation’s best minds are studying magic rather than science and technology, and second, that with magic doing some or all of the things technology could do, there’s less demand. (This can also have a tendency to keep a culture in a fuedal or oligarchic system, with the users of magic as the aristocracy – especially if magical talent can be inherited.)

        ANet, however, seems to have hit upon both means of breaking this hindrance. On one hand, the asura’s style of magic has developed to a point where it is blended with and enhanced by technology, making technology effectively part of their magical studies. Meanwhile, the charr turning their backs on magic gives them an incentive to develop technological substitutes.

  • draxynnic

    My thoughts are basically a mix of two things. First is the geographical language thing – heket is an Elonian word and won’t necessarily be the first thing to come to mind for a Tyrian.

    Second, though, is that there do appear to be significant differences between the heket and hylek. One is toad-like, the other frog-like. One is basically a race of savages, the other, while still primitive, has an Aztec-like culture. One appears incapable of peaceful relations with other races (with the exception of Varesh’s donation of weapons), while the other is integrating itself into the flow of Tyrian trade.

    That last is possibly the most important. When dealing with frogmen, the typical Tyrian is probably infinitely more likely to deal with a hylek or another Tyrian tribe than a heket (which may well be extinct due to the draining of the Elon) – thus, if the latter term ever did enter general Tyrian parlance, it wouldn’t be hard for it to be overshadowed by the name of the tribe that Tyrians have the most familiarity with.

    • Those sounds like pretty solid ideas to me! I think we as players got used to being able to swap between Tyria, Cantha, and Elona at a whim, so we sometimes have a hard time imagining that not everybody in EotN would know about a couple frog-man tribes in southern Elona.

  • Nice article Elixabeth. I like what they’ve done with the Hylek – it makes sense that a dominant tribe would become prevalent and become to represent the species (particularly in a “tribal” society such as the frog men’s).

  • I feel like many of the same heket tribes still exist, especially the Southern ones. However, I feel like due to the huge increase in population over the past 250 years the tribes may have blurred lines. The hylek themselves remained strong and true through the tribulations striking the individual tribes and also the blurring of that distinctive line. But, through the hylek tribe’s tenacity as the tribe held onto their cultural values despite the other tribes’ not doing so, the hylek tribe became well known and thus the word heket died out.

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