The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (pt. 1)

The Witcher 3 was one of the games I was most excited for this year. I really enjoyed both of the previous installments, and looked forward to seeing what they would do on the latest generation of consoles. The game has managed to both exceed my expectations and disappoint me. In theory, it’s a fantastic game. But in practice, there are a thousand small annoyances that add up an at times deplete any enjoyment.

Let’s start at the bottom.

The Ugly

It’s hard to mention The Witcher without bringing up the topic of sexism. Now, when I talk about sexism, I’m not talking about the sex. Witcher 1 had some problematic things and liked to hand out sex as a reward for quests as well as having those weird sex cards every time you slept with a woman, while its portrayal in Witcher 2 was immensely improved. I have no problem with sex in games, in fact, I like it. I also enjoy that The Witcher treats sex as a pastime rather than the path to, or goal of, everlasting love. Though I’d prefer if kissing was left offscreen until it can be animated in such a way that it doesn’t look like someone is jamming together the faces of a Barbie and Ken doll.

But I digress.

The Witcher features a lot of violence against women. True, it features a lot of violence against everyone, but the question that needs to be asked is: Could this violence be happening to anyone? Or is this violence happening to a woman because she’s a woman? In a number of cases, the violence we see and hear about would not likely be perpetrated against a man. One of the early quests in the game has you searching for a Baron’s missing wife and daughter. As it turns out, the Baron is a violent drunk who abused his wife which is why they ran off. The game then tries to turn things around and make him into a sympathetic character. I personally didn’t see much of this as any time he tried to explain himself to me, I told him I didn’t care, but the end of the quest line definitely seems to push the idea that he’s now a changed man and should be forgiven.

There’s also the fact that so many of the monsters in the world are twisted representations of women. Noonwraiths are women killed before their wedding days. Strigas are women transformed into monsters by a curse. Hags (water, grave, take your pick) and harpies are also specifically female monsters with obviously female forms. Many of these are women who are in their present form because of some violence against them, and now we are killing them. Again. “But, source material!” many say. Yes, The Witcher is based on a series of books and short stories, which themselves draw from Slavic and other European myths. But no one adapts material 1-to-1. Making updates and selective editing of a work that originally debuted in the 1980s is definitely not unheard of. The game’s developers have artistic licence and make deliberate decisions on what gets included or emphasized and what does not.

The Witcher 3 cinematic screencap

You barely even have to play the game to see where priorities lie. One of the game’s cinematic trailers features a woman being beaten and about to be executed by a group of 3 men, out in the wilderness. Her clothes are torn, her size is diminutive in comparison. Geralt comes along and saves her. The point is the men are monsters, but it sends a pretty clear message about who their victims are. In the launch trailer Geralt approaches an attractive young woman who quickly disrobes, in a very sexual way, then turns into a wraith and flies away. Geralt stalks her into a building, where a battle takes place and he kills her. As she dies she returns to her naked human form, the camera lingering on her pretty face as the light extinguishes from her eyes. I think it’s especially damning that these are the scenarios chosen for the purpose of marketing the game. The Witcher 3 has some great storytelling, fantastic questlines, and a dedication to showing that the world is a place of moral grey areas where there often is no right answer. But there are so many other ways to show this. Why does it have to be women being abused, sexualized, and killed that is used to get this point across?

I don’t consider the character Geralt to be sexist, but the world of The Witcher definitely is. It’s unfortunate and at times, it’s bad enough to impact my enjoyment of the game.

I went on about that for a bit longer than I planned, so I’m going to make this a 3 parter. Next post I’ll talk a bit about the gameplay annoyances, and conclude it all with the aspects of The Witcher 3 that make it great.

8 responses to “The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (pt. 1)

  1. Juan Hernandez

    I’m trying to understand what you think they should do. I really am, but almost everything you speak of doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Sorry, if that sentence sounds rude.) The Baron was an interesting story, usually when I play games like this I try to think I don’t have a right to judge whatever the situations and usually it helps out. I don’t condemn one or the other, but what is most interesting of the game is that if you had listened to him and his side, the game still let’s you choose whether you think it’s all his fault, his wife’s or both. In the end I chose both, because his wife did some of the worst things a woman can do. She cuckolded him for a long while and she pushed his emotional buttons. No one has the power to push things emotionally like the way a lover can. His wife used this to her advantage. Not only that she went to witches to make a pact, but why? In all honestly, I felt that after listening to both sides of the story, both the Baron and his wife were kind of shitty people.

    Also as for the trailer, what would you have them show you? It’s a harsh cruel world and it’s entirely up to the developer to use things in an artistic sense. They want to show you that this world is full of shitty people, but has one, “White Wolf”, almost like a knight except not in the usual sense.

    As for the marketing, you would see that they don’t just use women, in fact there’s a tv spot that is constantly played showing Geralt going against the Griffin.

    Also that vampire, is incredibly powerful, and it’s a bruxa, which means there is no man version of that vampire. Also, it’s a incredibly dangerous bruxa, in the books no Witcher, like she mentions, would ever dare go against it. It’s an incredibly powerful woman-beast. As for her pretty pretty face, showing up, if you studied Film you would know that those shots are done intentionally. It shows, that not only did it used to be a person, but also there’s also something majestic being lost in killing all these creatures.

    Lastly as per your suggestion of changing up mythology, it’s not worth it. If you change mythology you change the very core of what it is. Remember that these twisted representations of woman are not without merit. Each monster shows an inherit weakness or dangerous trait that a woman in real life could use for the wrong reasons. It’s the same with man. Werewolves are the representation of not only the loneliness that man and woman sometimes face, but also the strength that is in each one of us being misused.

    No one does copy material 1-to-1, but when they deal with old stories, a good writer sticks with the core of the mythology.

    Lastly may I remind you that you kill, dozens among dozens among hundreds of men. Are they just cattle fodder? Not to be listened to? To be ignored? No, of course not. Believe me, Geralt does not go against nearly as much women as he does men and monsters that are not representations of women. I mean in my 20 hours of playthrough I killed two werewolves, a griffin, a shrieker, drowners (used to be men), water hags (wives of the drowners) , wraiths, bears, wolves, dogs, a priest, many men, and a deformed monster baby. In the end, the game does not have a sexist slant either way. There are representations of gay men, powerful gay men, corrupt gay men, soldiers, bastards, deserters (used to be soldiers), wonderful women, nice women, bad women, really, really, really evil women. On the same token there are some really, really, really, really, really, evil men.

    Just remember men have feelings too. You’ll see that in the quests other than Baron’s.

    Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to reply and I want to know what you think. I know there are games that are sexist, just look at Killer Is Dead for instance. However, The Witcher is not sexist and if it is, it’s sexist to both genders.

    • Regarding the Baron quest – the game specifically gives the Baron, as the quest giver, a voice, a chance to explain himself, a chance for Geralt and the player to sympathize and maybe forgive him for being a wife beater. His wife gets none of this. When you meet her she’s either not really herself, has gone crazy, or has been killed. We hear about her transgressions from the Baron and she never gets a chance to speak for herself. So the violent drunk gets to tell his story and maybe be forgiven or choose to punish himself, while the “button pushing” wife is punished no matter what and has zero agency in the quest.

      As for changing the mythology, I’m not suggesting changing everything, but as I said, choosing which parts to emphasize and which ones to downplay. The marketing really has very little to do with the mythology, but they specifically decided to create the trailers they did. Why? Because women monsters get to look sexy and titillating before (and maybe after) they’re killed. Because they want to show Geralt as a white knight saving the ladies. In that griffin trailer you mention, who is it that’s running away from the monster at the start?

      And yes, as I said, the game features a lot of violence against everyone. Men included. But I think I covered this when I asked “Could this violence be happening to anyone? Or is this violence happening to a woman because she’s a woman?” I would have zero issue with the bandit camps you run across in the map being filled with female bandits who you have to kill. There’s a huge difference between killing aggressive people/things out in the world and characters who have gendered violence committed to them to move the plot along (like the Baron’s wife).

      • Juan Hernandez

        I guess your point about the women monster’s are sexy is sort of true, but might I indulge that you are being a little cynical? I mean, I understand the idea of that, but the way I interpreted it and granted it doesn’t mean that was the developer’s intentions, is that bruxa are vampires that are able to use their sensuality to lure men and possibly even women to kill them. However when I saw her die, I kind of took it as like something dangerous, beautiful, and majestic died and it’s personified by showing the monster turn back into her human self. Also, is it really the developers fault for creating something attractive? That’s like the personality of the character they create for the trailer. Also it’s not like you see her be sexy for too long, as they do a switcheroo (she transforms) before any thought of that has any time digest.

        Also when she dies it focuses on her face and not anywhere else. I know the lady is running away from the griffin, I guess a man would suffice and be different and against the norm. However I think for that trailer it’s kind of a non-issue, especially because for the general audience it would look weird for a man to be running away from the griffin. Although I will say it would have been interesting to see a man being saved from a monster.

        I just finished the Baron’s quest like yesterday morning and I guess you are right that the women doesn’t let herself be explained. However I thought it was touching that she did have some love towards her husband and daughter despite her situation. Also physical violence is always bad, but I believe CDPR was trying to do something here, beyond suggesting that a wife-beater can be sympathized with. I think they suggest, that in the end, there is no measure for the amount of pain received and whether or not it is justified. I think in the end everything is measured by our judgement and the situations. Gendered violence is a plot-tool being used to springboard into some interesting discussion. Somebody can make a case that the emotional pain that the wife caused the Baron could be equal or more so than the physical pain the Baron caused her.

        Lastly, in the story you do find out that many things weren’t the Baron’s fault entirely. I think they hurt themselves and each other equally, with all the evidence I gathered. So, I’ll agree, the game uses sexist themes, but in a interesting, thought- provoking way. Save for possibly some of the marketing, but I think that is just kind of a sign of the times really. If they try to sell the game, it would be hard to do something against the grain, (not suggesting that they shouldn’t try it), nevertheless if not done correctly, than the marketing would suffer.

        Also there is gendered violence to both genders in the game. I would like to ask what is so wrong about using gendered violence as a plot device? I mean it’s not like it’s just for show or to push an agenda or thought process of some sort. I mean you see in the game that you can very much play it with your own bias towards certain situations. The gendered violence opens up a doorway where you see that the Baron and Ana were in a toxic relationship. It shows that there are two sides to each story and one side is not necessarily more evil than the other. I think it’s brilliant. I mean granted I agree, Ana never has time to tell her side of the story, but the plot never really allowed for it. (at least in the version I played, choices really do drastically change how things change in the world). In my version of the story, she died, but expressed her love for her family which I think shows that she is loving despite her shortcomings. In the end I think it wonderfully showcases, exactly how both genders can hurt each other in ways the other gender usually would never do or would not be able to use effectively. Since I do think that each gender usually has certain traits that they can use to their advantage given their gender.

        As for the deserters, I brought them up, because I came across a man that deserted because he never signed up and was forced to do so. He just wanted to go back to tend to his family. Although right there you can decide whether you let him go or kill him. It makes him stand out from the other deserters. That is a kind of violence (not sure if gendered or just social), since some people may have the idea that man should do what they are told and just suck it up.

  2. Eugenio Hertz

    There is a lot of sexism on witcher, yes… and also the representations of harpies, and some monsters like striggas, they are women and can´t be any different, unless you´re trying to force a situation to please todays mentality of gender equality.

    Through the whole history so far women always was put in second place, and they still are today. Mermaids, succubus, and many more ghosts from stories have the sensuality and appealing of a female image to attract hunters, which are always man.

    The Witcher´s world is VERY VERY old, and there´s no meaning to break this tradition of putting women as evil representations, because that is how the mentality was formed, and it would feel strange to insert any kind of subject related to gender. And to make things even, cyclops, giants, butchers, evil priests, destroyers, werewolves, general monsters, even zombies always were more related to male figures, so we have a kind of a balance here.

    However, the game does a great job on putting sorceresses like keira who accompanies Geralt on the temple and helps him to solve the problems. in many moments her skills are the ones that really solve, while geralt protect her.

    Also the Yennefer figure is feared even by kings. Triss and the other ones from the “magic circle” were hunted and feared by normal people.

    And even the BEST ARMOR BLACKSMITH is a woman, something that even Geralt says “i would never believe that”, because that´s true. It is expected for blacksmiths to be male, and now we have a female, so I dont believe that this can be an UGLY from this game. I´d agree that it´s an UGLY from history, and the game just tries to fit that, but it´s not the game´s fault that women got subjugated through years.

    • I don’t have much issue with the way main female characters are treated in game – Triss, Yennefer, Ciri – it’s the background characters who cause the most trouble. Since writing this, I’ve also finished the Whoreson Jr. quest, and the serial killer in Novigrad. Both were pretty gross in their treatment of women.

      However, the “history treated women like shit, so this game that takes place in a fictitious fantasy world has to treat women like shit” argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me.

      • Eugênio Hertz

        Next time leave a note telling how far you have progressed in the game. Luckily I haven’t spoiled anything.

        But… Consider this… Witcher comes from a series of books with an established lore, characters, kingdoms and stuff, and the author chose to use a political system and many relations of races, cities and families have a direct relation to what really happened. So if he started to build this way, it makes more sense if he continue with a more traditional background, and in the end, prejudices and concepts aside, there’s nothing wrong on portraying a world with characters that treat women this or that way.

        Ill agree with you that the authors choice is not the most progressive one, regarding today’s notions about sexism and the figure of men and women, but it was his pick.

        The guy is polish and most of us can’t even pronounce their names. They have a different culture and perspectives, and if I could say something on this matter, I’d tell you to leave these “sexist issues” aside in favor of researching even just a little bit about the polish folklore and culture. I guess that it might be more enriching.

        But anyway, I got good news for you… Without spoilers… When you get to skellige isles, there will be some dispute for a throne and you will have a choice that will leave you happy about all this gender stuff. Ill let you discover by yourself.

        Don’t forget Cirilla… She’s a woman and later you will find more about her. For someone with “problems” with sexisms, the game will reserve some surprises for you. Keep playing.

        I already finished it, so if you need any advice or combat tips, write me anytime you want, you got my email.

        Nice to talk to you Pam!

        • Jestem Polski. Mogę wymówić ich nazwy. 🙂

          I wasn’t going to stop playing, I quite enjoy the game. I’m just going through slowly, and pointing out issues as I see them. I just arrived in Skellige. At level 20. I have a sidequest addiction.

          • Eugenio Hertz

            HAAAAAAA I just understood Jestem Polski…

            I never knew much about your country (in Brazil you mostly hear about USA, London and a tiny bit of Germany… unfortunately a typical brazilian has a very narrow vision of the world), but after playing Eurotruck 2 I got in touch with strange city names like Szczecin (NO ONE can read this here, believe me), and curiosity made me research a bit about language and some countries like Poland, Lithuania, Czech Repuplic and Slovakia.

            And I found Slavic Languages to be very interesting, specifically Slovak (dont ask me why, it just happened… probably because of their music), and how these languages share so much but feel so different, except for hungarian, because that is a total mess. Someone needs to introduce vowels to that people 🙂

            I don´t know how it is to live in Poland… if you like it to a point you imagine yourself aging there, or if you got tired and imagine yourself living somewhere else, but at least from a tourist view it looks very interesting.

            I´m planning to make a big travel in 2017 and from Europe I´m deffinitely curious about your place. If I had enough money I´d like to live like 3 months in each country I mentioned above.

            As for the sidequests they are great and I did everything I could. Be sure to have some orientation before you really going after Cirilla (you´ll know the moment), because some quests wont be accessible after that, ok.

            I remember when I found some orphan kids that were starving and had seen their parents get killed or something. I could give food or money, but I give money. Only 25 coins but I´d give 1000 if I could.

            Also on that “cats and wolves” quest, released a week ago. The girl gave me a reward: a drawing of Geralt and her. So touching to me. I know it´s just a game but it brings emotions out… so be it.

            Well that´s it… ill check later how your blog is going, and once again if I can be of any help, just let me know.

            Have an excellent week!