Tag Archives: violence

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.

Violence Against Video Game Characters

With the news that GTA V has been pulled from Target and Walmart in Australia because of how violence against female sex workers is portrayed, I’ve been hearing a very familiar cry on Twitter and in comment sections. “What about men?!” “Why is it okay to kill hundreds of men but as soon as you add a woman it’s a problem?”

First of all, people have complained about violence in video games in general. Many, many, many, times. Protests have been launched, petitions have been written. While Canada doesn’t tend to ban games, a number of games have been banned or refused classification in Australia because of violence. The majority of those were banned for general graphic violence, not specifically violence against women (50 Cent Bulletproof, Dark Sector, The Getaway, Manhunt, Postal 1/2, Reservoir Dogs, Soldier of Fortune). Australia has also banned games due to sexual content or depictions of drug use.

But let’s ignore the above and pretend that only games with violence against women are subject to criticism and bans. Why would this be?

In the latest Call of Duty, you’re at war and you mow down hundreds of enemy forces. It’s hard to tell for sure with full body armor on, but they’re most likely all men.

Tomb Raider - Lara killing a man who is on fire

In the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, Lara goes around an island killing hundreds of men. Only men. There are no women. If you paid attention to the game you’d know that there are no women on the island because they’ve all already been killed (by the men). But again, ignore that, not relevant to how terribly video games treat dudes.

In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (excuse the somewhat dated reference, but it’s the only GTA I’ve played all the way through), Tommy murders hundreds, maybe thousands of people, mostly men, in his quest to become the crime boss of the city. Running over pedestrians (of either sex) and beating up hookers (always female) is not a requirement to taking over the city, but sometimes he enjoys doing it in his free time.

These poor men have it tough in video games. They’re always getting tortured, shot, run over, killed. Why is this okay, but as soon as you murder a woman in a video game, people start crying foul?

Take your average military shooter. You’re likely playing as a male, and you’re most likely shooting other men. If you’re not also shooting women, it’s because there aren’t any in the game. This makes me question why there aren’t any women. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d have no problem with seeing women on the battlefield (maybe I could even play as one in the campaign sometimes?) and having to mow them down along with the men. Equal opportunity senseless killing, that’s all I ask.

In Tomb Raider, the reason Lara kills hundreds of men is because they’re trying to kill her. They’ve kidnapped her friends and if Lara doesn’t kill them, her and her friends will all die. This is how action games work – the player kills aggressors who are trying to kill them.

In GTA and other open world games, you can generally kill anyone you want. However the aggressors in the game, the ones you have to kill, do tend to be males. Would people be upset if the aggressors were females instead? I certainly wouldn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when I played Saint’s Row: The Third and found that the members of my rival gangs were made of both men and women. Women can be bad guys too. It’s okay. Even better, female antagonists can be created that are actual characters with motivations beyond ‘shoot the player’. Rival gang leaders, mercenaries, corrupt law enforcement officers – put a female in one of these roles and I have no problem with having to kill them to progress in the game. The joy I get from having women in these games outside of strip clubs and street corners greatly outweighs any other issues I’d have.

GTA V - sex workers on the corner

The problem with the portrayal of violence against women, and sex workers in particular, in video games is that these characters, scratch that they aren’t characters and that’s part of the problem. These women are not your enemy. They don’t stand in your way to progress, they are no threat to you. They exist, wear skimpy clothing, and flirt to stimulate the player. That’s their purpose. They don’t impact the story. The player has the option to use them and then kill them. They aren’t necessarily rewarded for this behavior, but they probably aren’t punished either. If in Tomb Raider Lara stumbled upon a man on the beach who was offering pony rides and shot him in the face then I’d have a problem. I’d question why the developers put this scenario in the game. Likewise, I’d have an issue if the next GTA portrayed male sex workers who were completely unrelated to the story that a player could use and then kill.

I’m not a proponent of censorship. While Australia banning video games constitutes actual censorship, retail chains in Australia choosing to pull GTAV off their shelves is not. They can choose to sell or not sell whatever they like. What I am an advocate of is developers and consumers being critical of the media they produce and consume. When female sex workers are added to a game to be ogled, groped, or fucked then thrown away, what is it adding to the game? Is it taking away more than it adds? Is it more trouble than it’s worth just to make your game seem gritty?

Many video games are violent, and that’s not ever going to change. While the gender of the people you shoot or fight in games shouldn’t be an issue, it is because males tend to be the aggressors where it’s a matter of kill or be killed, while females are generally not a threat to the player. They get killed to move the story or a quest forward, give a male character a reason to seek revenge, or just because the player feels like killing them. While a couple of the examples aren’t perfect, if you haven’t watched them yet I’d recommend Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on Women as Background directions (part 1, part 2), as they really show how prevalent this issue is in games, especially in AAA titles.

This is the Way the World Ends

Warning: This post will deal with sexual violence against women, and include examples of it from literature, movies, and games. Read at your own discretion.


Plague has struck. It starts slowly. A sniffle here, a fever there. Then it spreads, faster and faster. Soon, everyone is sick. Then most people are dead. The few humans who were immune start to band together and rebuild, but not everyone has the same goals.

Death comes, but it doesn’t stick. The dead get back up and start walking. Start feeding. Soon the world is overrun. Those left alive are no longer living, they’re merely surviving; going from place to place in search of food and shelter from the horde. Of all the limited resources, trust in other people is the most scarce.

War. Two nations are at a standstill and then someone presses a button. It doesn’t matter who fired first, but soon the warheads are dropping and the world will never be the same. Survivors separate into factions based on differing ideals, and soon a different kind of war is underway.


The apocalypse is rife with opportunities for storytelling. There are so many ways that humans can destroy themselves, and just as many avenues to explore about starting over again. Stories about the end of the world usually describe people at their best – banding together to rebuild – and at their worst. Part of humans at their worst that gets shown in these stories tends to be men capturing, subjugating, commoditizing, and raping women.

Apocalyptic and dystopic fiction was always one of my favourite genres so I’ve read/watched/played a lot of these narratives and unfortunately, I can think of more of them that use this device than ones that don’t. Five years ago, this may not have bothered me. But now that I’m aware of the issue and see how prevalent it is, it’s impossible to stop seeing it.

Rape, or threat of rape of female characters tends to be used for one of three, often overlapping, purposes.

To show how bad the situation is, or how evil a villain is.

  • In the book Blindness a group of violent infected take control over a hospital and the women are subjected to rape in exchange for food.
  • In the movie Waterworld, the male protagonist considers trading the two main female characters to slavers.
  • In the show The Walking Dead, threat of rape is used by The Governor to get information from a woman he has taken captive.

So they can be saved.

  • In the book Dies the Fire a mother and her children are captured by a group of survivalists. The mother is killed, and one of the daughters is about to be raped before she is saved by the male protagonist.
  • In the book The Stand, two of the women who become part of the Free Zone were rescued from a group of other survivors who had repeatedly raped them.
  • In the game Dead Rising one of the psychopaths (who is female) has captured a group of women and is torturing and killing them. You must kill the psychopath and save the women.
  • In Dead Rising 2 one of the psychopaths kidnaps and tries to forcibly marry a woman so he doesn’t have to die a virgin. You must kill the psychopath and save the woman.
  • In the movie 28 Days Later the two main female characters were taken as the “answer to infection”. They were dolled up and handed over to male soldiers to be raped. Ultimately they escape this, saved by the male protagonist.

For character development

  • In the game The Last of Us, Ellie is taken by another group of survivors. Their leader tries to take her under his wing, but when she doesn’t cooperate he decides to kill her. When she injures him, it’s suggested that he intends to rape her before killing her. In the chapter after this experience, Ellie is noticeably quiet and withdrawn.
  • In the book Dead: Revelations a young girl is captured by a man and repeatedly subjected to rape, physical abuse, and psychological torment.

The severity of the sexual violence against women that is portrayed varies, but the thing most of these examples have in common is that it’s completely unnecessary. It’s not driving the story forward. It’s not adding any real character development.

The use of rape rarely tells us anything we don’t already know about a villain. In The Walking Dead, we know that The Governor is a bad guy. We’ve seen him manipulate and kill. We’ve seen him send his own people into the zombie-fighting arena for sport. Why do we need to see him force Maggie to take her shirt off and threaten her with rape in order to get information when we know the thing that makes her vulnerable is sitting in the next room? This seems like something added for shock value rather than any real narrative reason.

Similarly, adding rape to the all too familiar “save the women” trope is a lazy and gratuitous way to make male protagonists more heroic. In The Stand, Dana and Susan’s backstory of having been part of a harem wasn’t even mentioned in the original release of the novel, it was added in as part of the unabridged re-release. Did mentioning their ordeals before they joined Stuart’s group add anything to either of their stories? Did adding in rape somehow make their characters more understandable? relatable? interesting? Not really. In Dead Rising 2, the woman you save from being forced into marriage and sex isn’t even distinguishable from any of the other dozens of survivors you save once it’s over.

What about adding rape for character “development”? When I was about halfway through The Last of Us, I was ecstatic that I had yet to see any questionable content about women. I knew how poorly the genre could treat women, and given the dark setting I expected to hear something that indicated women were a commodity in the post-infection world. But I didn’t. Then, Winter came. We were now playing as Ellie instead of Joel. Ellie gets taken captive by David, the leader of another group, who tries to assimilate her into it. When he realizes she’d never join them he decides to kill her. When she fights back and injures him, apparently killing her isn’t enough and he attempts to rape her first. Why? What purpose did this serve? We already knew David was a bad guy, this didn’t do anything to change that. We already knew Ellie was strong and could defend herself; her fighting off a rapist rather than just a murderer did nothing to change that. At this point Ellie had been captured, injured, faced with cannibalism, separated from her only friend in the world and feared for his life. She had been left alone – something she had earlier admitted was her greatest fear. If the goal was to emotionally traumatize her, they had done all they needed to do. And then, almost flippantly, with a couple of seconds of cinematic and 2 lines of dialogue, rape gets added to the equation. I guess she needed to be punished for being so uppity? Fucking awful.

While I think most authors add rape to their stories without worrying about the consequences out of laziness, ignorance, or a desire to be edgy, some seem to use the end of the world setting as a sandbox for depravity. The book Dead: Revelations is probably the worst example I’ve seen, where there are more female characters being enslaved and abused than not. That’s one zombie series I will not be reading any more of.

The only one of the examples above where the inclusion of rape adds any nuance or social commentary to the story is 28 Days Later. It raises questions about who the real monsters are and shows how those in charge of the safety of citizens can be the most dangerous ones, especially when it comes to women. That’s 1 out of 10 that doesn’t make my skin crawl too much, not a very good ratio. Incidentally, 9 out of 10 of these examples were penned by a male, with Dead Rising 2 being the exception.

A scary thing about this post is that I didn’t have to go looking for any of the examples I’ve used here. They’re all from books, movies, or games I’ve finished where the violence portrayed against women has stuck in my head. I’m sure there are more examples that I just don’t remember. The amount this happens in fiction and in the dystopic, end of the world genre in particular is staggering. Adding rape to fiction with fantastical elements, which end of the world stories often have, seems especially gratuitous and hateful. The dead getting up and eating people? Totally believable. The hand of God coming down and setting off a nuclear blast? Sure, why not? Women not getting subjugated and violated by men? No, never, not going to happen.

Media affects how and what people think. Lazily throwing instances of rape into dystopic stories in order to show how dark and dangerous the world is, to prop up male heroes, or to “develop” female characters normalizes it. Yes, rape is something that happens in the real world, but casually adding it or eluding to it in fiction is just not necessary and does more harm than good. Many people are all too familiar with it, and don’t need fiction to remind them of the trauma. We also don’t need reminders or reinforcements that men often have power over women’s bodies. We get to see that in the news, and in our governments. We get to hear men comment on a women’s physical appearance before giving any heed to the things she has to say. We get to hear the vocal subsets of small-minded, awful men who think women need to be punished for having sex, or not having sex with them, or wearing certain things, or just existing in their space.

If rape doesn’t add anything to the story… why add it to the story?