Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Witcher: a game I hate to love

Being the kind of person that I am (with my strong ethics and moral code and all), I sometimes find myself in odd situations that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

A few years ago, these things wouldn't have really had much of an impact on me. But now that I'm apparently a grown up, I've found myself being nagged at by a really annoying little voice in my head that I'm pretty sure is my moral compass. This is generally a good thing, as it stops me from going from all Anakin Skywalker when things don't go my way (breathe easy, younglings). At the same time, it can sometimes prove to be a slight inconvenience- i.e., the cause of aforementioned discomfort.

Here is a list of a few things that make me super uncomfortable:
  • Public displays of affection.
  • My own social awkwardness.
  • Accidentally using the term 'YOLO' in a non-ironic context.
  • The fairly sexist portrayal of female characters in games that I really, really enjoy.
Those first three dot points are pretty self-explanatory. I'm a prudish, cringe-worthy ball of weirdness  who probably shouldn't be allowed to interact with the others. Over time, I've come to accept that maybe it's okay for people to show the world that they're in a happy relationship, or that it's not so bad to use awkward youth slang that doesn't actually prescribe to my own true beliefs of reincarnation and past lives. It's fine. I can pretend not to care.

However, what I really do take issue with is that last little dot point (and I sure love me some dot points). So here's the scenario: I'll be totally immersed in a new game- and trust me, when I get immersed, I get full-blown addicted. Meals are missed. Sick days are had. Sleepless nights all blur in to one. My hair is beyond the point of dry shampoo. It's not a pretty picture.

When sudddenly: BAM! SEXISM! 

I'm not going to say it surprises me. I mean, hello, it's 2013, and we're playing video games. Try to keep up.

But it still doesn't fail to throw me slightly off-kilter. Why? Because it just doesn't sit right with me.

I'm going to go with an obvious example here and reference The Witcher (the first instillation in the series, of course). Mostly because I really love that game, but also because it's notorious for these things:
One of the infamous sex- er, I mean, 'romance' cards.
If you haven't played The Witcher before, all you need to know is this: our hero, Geralt, is a superhuman witcher who can not slays monsters like it's going out of style, but can also charm the pants off almost any lady he encounters- prostitute or not (and trust me, there's no shortage of prostitutes). In fact, he's so great at it that he barely even has to try; every town he encounters is so well informed on his dazzling sexual ability that sometimes Geralt doesn't even need to make with the small talk. Example:

Geralt: Hi, I'm sorry to bother you, but would you happen to know where I could find the-
Random townswoman #46: SHUT UP AND GET IN MY PANTALOONS*
*may or may not be entirely accurate/typical of actual game dialogue

Other times, Geralt need only string together a nice sentiment about nature to bed the nearest woman/half-elf/casually naked dryad.
Excellent vine placement, A+
Even the game's supposedly strong female support characters, Shani and Triss, are easily caught off guard and undermined when the slightest possibility of sex with Geralt is alluded to.

Insert redhead joke here.
Shani is particularly neurotic and becomes extremely jealous of Geralt's involvement with her fellow fiery redhead, Triss Merigold. Shani is more than happy to sleep with Geralt, so long as he presents her with a red rose- which aren't particularly hard to find, not to mention the same token Geralt can exchange with literally any prostitute for free romp with Vizima's finest.

Ultimately, Geralt is forced to pick only one gal to settle down with. However, this doesn't stop him with bedding any and all ladies he may come across in his travels. Hell no! After all, our hero Geralt is a bad ass warrior. And we all know that bad ass warriors can't be in committed relationships.

In fact, after Geralt does "put a ring on it" (no, really, there actually is a ring involved), his chosen maiden is then granted the exciting new job of staying home to look after Alvin, the weird orphan kid with disturbingly dark psychic powers who Geralt picked up along his travels. Geralt, overjoyed to be relieved of this pesky little brat, then dashes off in to the wilderness to fight bad guys and bed more lusty maidens; meanwhile, poor housewifey has to stay home and do homely medieval things, like cook stew, operate a loom, and pray to the gods that this creepy kid doesn't go all Carrie on her while she sleeps.

Possible lovechild of Julian Assange...?

Now, I'm not trying to say that the consistently sexist themes in The Witcher's narrative completely ruin the entire game for me; but I will say that it massively detracts from my enjoyment of it. Don't get me wrong- there are so many aspects of this game that I absolutely love, particularly as an RPG fanatic. I've always maintained a quiet obsession with anything medieval/fantasy, so The Witcher is obviously my kind of game. Not to mention the massively impressive open world aspect of the upcoming third installment, something I really yearned for whilst playing The Witcher 2: Assasins of Kings.

Essentially, The Witcher is like having a crush on someone with really hard-to-ignore personality traits. Like a person who has a swoon-worthy smile and the abs of a young Mark Wahlberg, but who also openly hates Bill Murray and sometimes makes mildly racist comments.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes, The Witcher is, in my opinion, a great game. A game I enjoy immensely. But also a game that makes me feel weird and wrong and a little bit hypocritical- "actions speak louder than words" and all that. But I'm not about to go avoiding games because of their politically incorrect and offensive content. Because let's face it, that would discount a lot of otherwise fantastic games.

What I will do is play games like The Witcher with an informed and critical mind, all the while praying for the day when I won't have to see weird sexist erotica in my beloved fantasy RPGs. And then I will write lengthy feminist rants on the subject. What a time to be alive!

All images courtesy of The Witcher Wiki


  1. Once upon a time I wrote a blog entry about necrocentrism in culture, like this sick obsession we seem to have combining sex/death and I think it's really interesting to see that picture of the trading encapsulates that while simultaneously having this weird biblical fire and brimstone vibe.

    It's also kind of interesting cos I wonder if a more mainstream media product like a tv series or movie could maintain that kind of narrative without attracting too much controversy.

  2. It is interesting, considering it's such a unique and interactive form of entertainment; I could watch the same events occur in a film and criticise it or ignore it as someone witnessing that expression, but being placed in that situation and making those decisions for your character is a different experience entirely. Hence why games come under such immense scrutiny (which is actually so much fun to explore and write about!).

    I think we need more games that comment on the issue of sexual objectification and sexist tropes, rather than just employing the same tired old stereotypes because "it's what gamers want"/"it tests well"/"sex sells" and so forth. But the amount of talk and analysis of games narratives we're seeing recently is hopefully a sign that more games exploring such issues in a critical context aren't too far off!

  3. It's more difficult to ignore when you're an active participant in the proceedings and the game gives you no choice but to go through with them by guiding your hand, as it were. Would you kindly have sex with this prostitute?

    1. For the price of just one rose? Oh, what a time to be alive!

    2. Blogspot needs a +1 or Fav button for comments like these.

    3. Wait, I have two rose tattoos. What does that get me?

    4. It gets you freebies at the medieval-fantasy brothel!