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.
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.
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.