The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

10 responses to “The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

  1. “… unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

    That’s not actually the case. They’re perfectly aware. But they’re disingenuous at best, and flaming hypocrites at best, because they have to pretend not to get it in order to continue their campaign of tears. They know damned well what the score is, but are unwilling to acknowledge it.

    After years of roleplaying games, they’re finally getting the hang of it.
    Grimmtooth recently posted..Pieces of Silver

  2. After that last Zen of Design post, seeing yet another “argument” invoking “historical accuracy” I did a quick search. Yes, as a matter of fact, Poland was invaded by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Not once, but THREE times. Since the Witcher is set in medieval times, you can’t invoke historical accuracy without allowing for the existence of potentially many people of Asian descent throughout the land – especially near or in the bigger settlements. Not to mention that, as is becoming more and more clear through research, black Africans and brown Arabs/Persians/Egyptians/etc explored and traded throughout Eastern Europe in the middle ages, up to (and over?) the Baltic Sea. Just like the Vikings made it down to Constantinople.
    Dahakha recently posted..The Secret Lore – Samhain 2012

    • Yep, just like the argument that the game/books is based on Slavic myths isn’t entirely true. The game features Djinn and Ifrits, which have Arabic origins, along with many myths from elsewhere in Europe, like Greece which would have been/is more diverse than Poland.

  3. Juan Hernandez

    I think this article does it’s fair share of pointing out what is wrong with some people who critique what others are critiquing. However, some critiques of the Witcher’s 3 supposed diversity issue are kind of left field. Like Tauriq Moosa’s article on Polygon. It was informative and even a great critique in places, but he talks about CDPR as if they don’t live in a vacuum. The Witcher 3 itself is not in a vacuum, so it’s important for all types of critiques to come out. CDPR though kind of do, if I’m not mistaken. I’m pretty sure they didn’t make the game with the intent of “Let’s make sure that absolutely no one of race is represented in this game what so ever.” It was probably more like “Oh, maybe we should have added a few Zerrikanians in there”, after they released the game. Also, they may be white, but they aren’t “white” in the way people like to use. They are first and foremost Polish, and the game is most probably a reflection of their lives and Polish’s own history.

    Also in regards of how historical accuracy argument does not fly with you, George R. R. Martin said it best, “Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want”, said Martin. “If pigs could fly, then that’s your book. But that doesn’t mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet. If you’re going to do [a fantasy element], it’s best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.” That’s his reasoning for why he writes his fantasy fiction with a strong historical bent as so probably does CDPR. Now your argument of “developers make changes” — (therefore it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for them to just include what I feel is missing) it does hold water and I believe it helps many a developer, but you are proving the other point as well. Yes developers choose and they choose what to put in the game and they choose what to do. It is absolutely their artistic decisions that create the games world and setting.

    In the end critique is always warranted, but if the developer doesn’t wholly take in the critique of “supposed lack of racial diversity” it’s OK. It’s their work and they do with it as they please. And what they are doing isn’t particularly damming. Especially when The Witcher deals with race in such an awesome way comparatively among video games. For example “Dragon Age III”, everyone is kind of OK with gays, lesbians, and different races. (Not completely, but I never felt that Dragon Age Inquisition dealt with race issues in the way Dragon Age: Origins did. ) That in itself is fine, it’s their fantasy world and I’m all for fantasy worlds like that. The beauty of it though is that we can enjoy many fantasy worlds, both completely fantastical and realistic.

    Lastly, if anything else in The Witcher III ever evoked an emotional response from you in terms of how they treated women or what not then that’s great! It’s good to know that we all have feelings and wince at sights that aren’t pleasant. I mean when I did Whoreson Jr’s quest, I was livid with what he did. But I’m glad CDPR had the balls to include such a thing in the game. It’s something that goes beyond just shock value and actually tells you that this really wrong. It invokes something in people to see that we should make sure nothing like that happens in the real world. Unfortunately it does and it’s sad.

    Anyway those are some of my points, might I suggest that you research what people have said on the subject of critiquing the Witcher 3 for instance. Don’t just look at the comments on articles, because it’s mostly fluff. Check out what TotalBiscuit had to say on SoundCloud, it’s worth a listen. As always your article is well written, keep it up. As for me I will keep on trying to have an actual conversation and not come off as antagonistic.

    • “In the end critique is always warranted, but if the developer doesn’t wholly take in the critique of “supposed lack of racial diversity” it’s OK. It’s their work and they do with it as they please. And what they are doing isn’t particularly damming.”

      I think this is the salient point. Maybe CDPR will read this feedback, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll consider diversity more in their next game. Maybe they won’t. It is their game, and their choice. It’s the people who want to preemptively shut down any conversations about diversity and “defend” CDPR from this kind of critique that are the problem.

      • Juan Hernandez

        I think CDPR has noticed it. I hope they do, I mean it is something I noticed when I was playing the game, but it didn’t irk me. I kind of take it from the side of, it would be cool if there was different races, but it’s not exactly worthy of critique. Like I kind of feel it’s not a bad thing since, because I think they are not malicisoulsy against racial diversity since they do a pretty good job of showing that there is racial issues in the world.

        Also some people do go crazy and it is kind of bad to just shut down conversations about it. I just feel at least from the other side that sometimes people have a way with words that are not put in the best way. The Polygon article I mentioned has this issue. The guy needs to find better ways to communicate what he is critiquing, because it comes off as if it’s a huge glaring issue when it really isn’t.

  4. Good article but I think the problem is that gamers just want a good game and they don’t really care for what race and gender the characters are and the doom argument is silly because doom has always been violent

    • First of all ‘gamers’ aren’t a hive mind, people care about different things. Second, there’s a pretty big difference between not caring about something and trying to insist that no one else care about it and shutting down critique.