The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Feminism

Ok now before I get started here, just let me quickly explain my reasons behind this post and what I want to gain out of it.  This is not me looking to set anyone off on a hunt for blood or me trying to kick off any sort of hate speech.  Nothing like that at all, this is simply me taking some critical analysis and analysing said analysis.  I’ve logged 106 hours with The Witcher since release, completing a large chunk of side quests and the story mode in it’s entirety, have played both of its predecessors and read most of the English translated works of Andrzej Sapkowski that inspired the series of games.  So basically, I’m bringing my points from a reasonably well informed place, though again I’d like to point out that I’m not saying any of the arguments I’m countering are coming from ignorance since I don’t know these people personally and I have no idea how much of the lore and previous works they have been exposed to.  So now we’ve got that part out of the way I want to make one more point very clear, there are spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from here on out, including end game content, peppered throughout the post.  You will also find some pretty harsh language but these are merely outside quotes and necessary for the post so apologies if this is a problem.  You have been warned!

As you will most likely already be aware of, The Witcher series follows Geralt of Rivia on various journeys.  The man is a witcher, a human transformed through a series of mutations and experiments, trained in multiple forms of combat to be the ultimate monster hunter.  These monster hunters were devised as a desperate effort after the convergence of the world we see and another, dark world.  This convergence brought magic and monsters into the regular world, causing chaos.  The level of desperation is evident, since the effects of a witcher’s mutations on their humanity were not even remotely considered, there was just a need for a force that could keep humanity safe.  It’s believed among the general population that the mutations witchers are put through strips them of all humanity and emotion, making them pure killing machines driven purely by the path and, therefore, coin.  I guess in a way, it could be viewed as a potentially life saving side effect of the mutations, leaving witchers to roam the land and do their jobs without any emotional ties or anyone that could potentially be used against them.  Regardless of what the residents of the world believe, Geralt is shown to have emotional depth on multiple occasions during “Wild Hunt”.

Geralt of Rivia

So to begin we shall take a look at a few tweets relating to Geralt himself, from someone called Jonathan McIntosh, a general pop culture critic who quite rightly points out a lot of gender discrimination in modern culture.  McIntosh weighs in on the emotional emptiness of Geralt or, at least, his perceived lack of emotion from Geralt which I happen to disagree with to some extent.  While I’m more than happy to say that, yes, throughout almost the entirety of The Witcher and actually, through most of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Geralt is an emotionally stunted weapon of mass-decapitation, his advanced age has brought him back in touch with his feelings and emotions.  First though, let us view the arguments.

Ok I reckon that’s enough to get us started.  Now while it’s not necessarily relevant to the discussion of “Wild Hunt” I just want to quickly touch on the final tweet I’ve quoted.  To an extent, I actually think McIntosh is kind of right.  If I see a male character in a game, wait, scratch that.  If I see any character in a game, regardless of gender, that is emotionally repressed in some form, I immediately feel sorry for them as most real people that are that way have suffered some sort of trauma or horrible grief in their life, which has pushed them into being this way.  I don’t see a male character who is cold and emotionless and think “oh that’s cool, he doesn’t give a damn about the people around him, I wish I was like that”.  But you probably know as well as I do that there are plenty of kids out there that are incredibly easily influenced by any sort of media that would think along those lines.  Do I think every character in gaming should be e wealth of emotional depth?  No, because sometimes a story requires someone to be closed off.  The beauty of The Witcher series, for me, has been witnessing the personal emotional journey of Geralt as he went from dead-inside-monster-slaying man whore to devoted father figure, life partner and friend to various people around him in the third instalment.

Now the first quoted tweet, that’s another story.  That’s just flat out wrong.  There’s no interpretation to this at all, it’s an incorrect point made by the author which can only have come from not playing a huge amount of the game.  I’ll use one example here since I feel I can get away with just using one against a point that offered up no evidence of its own as back up.  Watch this video, and watch Geralt closely.


Thanks to ReinaDCD for recording this clip!

Right from the get go, the very beginning of the conversation, he may not be smiling but Geralt is obviously aware of Ciri’s feelings and how to cheer her up.  If CD Projekt Red wanted Geralt to be cold and dead inside we wouldn’t have the option to start the snowball fight at all.  That aside, check out Geralt’s face at around 1:55.  He’s not grinning from ear to ear no, of course he isn’t, he’s been relatively closed off for his most recent years and it’s only really since he’s come back into contact with Ciri that he starts feeling again.  But look at his eyes, there is a sign of joy there.  It’s nuanced for sure, it’s the kind of tell that’s incredibly easy to miss and that’s part of why I love this game so much.  This series so much.  Nothing is “on the nose”.  We’re left to figure much by ourselves, much like it’s left to us to notice changes like these in Geralt since there’s no real focus put on the slight change in his eyes.  Now, you’re more than welcome to watch the whole video but for the sake of this post, skip to around 5:50.  If that’s not a smile on Geralt’s face then I don’t know what the hell is.  “Emotionally deficient in the extreme”?  Please, pay attention to what’s going on in the game you’re playing and I’d say it’s wise to hold off on such sweeping comments until you’ve delved deeper into the game.  The end of Triss’ story in Novigrad is another great example of Geralt opening himself to vulnerability, in front of Sigismund Djikstra of all people, someone I’d expect Geralt to be incredibly guarded around.  But this is the thing with The Witcher, much of it is nuanced and subtle, you need to pay close attention to the things going on around Geralt or you’ll miss key moments.

Now on the second point, about Geralt only breaking is stoicism to fly into fits of anger and rage.  Well, this is the point I find most interesting.  I found myself in a huge number of situations where I faced down one or more people being threatening either to Geralt or one of his companions and you know what I did?  I either talked the folk down, proving both Geralt and the people he was facing are capable of being extremely reasonable and failing at talking them down I’d use Axii to get around violent situations without violence.  This is the funny thing, “Wild Hunt” is an RPG, a game which you take the path you wish to take and play the way you wish to play.  So if McIntosh is finding himself playing a multi-choice RPG where his character is becoming violent and aggressive then that’s the way McIntosh is playing.  That speaks volumes more about the man playing the game than it does the main character.  There’s a great quote which I’ll take straight from Geralt himself, as proof that he doesn’t just go round murdering anyone.  Someone once asked Geralt if his silver sword really worked as well as it did and if his steel sword was purely for fighting monsters and Geralt responded with “they’re both for monsters”.  He is not a stoic macho man with an anger issue, and if you play the game right he can be a compassionate, caring and deep man.  It’s your choice, and if yours is prone to bursts of rage and you don’t like it, well, you’re doing it wrong.

I can’t help but feel McIntosh is trying to push an agenda here, he’s grasping at straws and trying to make a mountain out of a couple of small stones on the floor.  It’s a little off-putting for his other work to be honest, if he’s unable to look at something objectively then I’m not really interesting in looking at anything else he puts out.

Next up is Feminist Frequency, a Twitter profile set up by Anita Sarkeesian with the idea of bringing sexism in the gaming industry to the forefront and pointing out how stupid these people are.  Great!  And I mean that, genuinely, I am a firm believer in equality for everyone and if that means we have a Twitter feed dedicated to preserving those values then I think that’s genuinely fantastic.  The points made on “Wild Hunt” have a little more basis than McIntosh, not to say they’re absolutely on the mark mind you, but they’re founded on an opinion with substance at least.  So, here we go with Twitter quotes round 2!

Her first tweet here is more of a warning, now granted it’s a warning about a game rated 18 here in the UK and here’s the official rating off the PEGI website.

18

Game contains bad languageGame contains depictions of violence
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt S.A.
The content of this game is suitable for persons aged 18 years and over only.
It contains: Extreme violence – Violence towards defenceless people – Strong language
System: PC
Genre: RPG
Release date: 2015-02-24

Note the final part of the contents description already states that it contains strong language, though I appreciate that she’s more warning about the fact that they use gendered language against Ciri rather than the general use of strong language, which is fair enough.  There are undoubtedly women out there that would really enjoy a game like this but would take offence at the things said to her by some of her foes, I’m particularly looking at the Redanian “soldiers” Ciri fights in Novigrad.  I’m not about to be one of those asshats who tries to tell people what they should and shouldn’t be offended by, people are offended by different things and that’s that.  So, you know what, Sarkeesian’s first one is a good one.

Insults during Ciri’s combat kicked up some fuss.

The second tweet quoted is where it falls apart a little to be honest.  Now the words used probably aren’t entirely necessary, words conveyed in this way aren’t needed to provide a reason to fight these guys, they’re attacking you for shit’s sake!  If an NPC starts poking a sword at me you’re damn right I’m going to fight them!  However, if we take this in the context of Ciri and Geralt fighting exactly the same enemies then it seems like a bit of a silly complaint.  There does come a point where Geralt has to fight a whole bunch of Redanian soldiers, or at least he does if you follow a certain side quest to a particular end point.  I have a question, how are a bunch of male Redanian soldiers meant to make gendered insults towards their male opponent?  Of course they’re “decidedly not gendered” because he’s a bloke!  I put soldier in quotation marks earlier because those Redanians serving under King Radovid are common thugs, scum of the earth given swords and authority, serving under a completely insane king.  I’m not excusing their behaviour, I’m simply giving reason to it.  I also have to wonder, simply as a point of curiosity, if Geralt came up against a female enemy and she did use gendered insults what would that change?  Would it make the gendered insults against Ciri ok?  Would those insults be completely overlooked and ignored?  If the first is the case then, as I was taught when a child, two wrongs do not make a right which makes the argument feel hollow and pointless.  If the latter then this is no longer a discussion about equality, I do not agree with the way women have been downtrodden and overlooked for so long in our society and still are in many others, but we can not make up for all those years by reversing the roles and allowing the superiority complexes of certain individuals push men down either.  This should be a gender war, this should be a push for equality.  That means everyone!  If that’s the case then there’s no point even trying.

And the final quoted tweet, based around the idea that the use of the word “cunt” against Ciri is rooted in real life sexism is a bit of a stretch.  Does Sarkeesian know the writing and development team personally?  If not, let’s try to avoid calling them out as inherently sexist.  I don’t know them, there’s a lot of people that make all kinds of media that I enjoy on a regular basis that I don’t know personally and I wouldn’t make sweeping accusations about them as a person based purely on the work they put out.  The Witcher series looks at many things that are present in modern day society which are unfavourable, including the racism she mentions in her tweet.  A large part of the game has the player overcoming those preconceived notions and trying to get a job done, trying to save lives and trying to help those the character loves.  It’s a big old middle finger to those that try to push Geralt away.  These soldiers are successfully portrayed as scumbags of the lowest order, and yeah hearing them say words like that makes me hate them even more than I did before.  I really don’t like hearing them talk to Ciri in that way because thanks to everything I’ve read and seeing her in the game finally, she’s a character I’ve come to really like.  Do I think there’s deep rooted sexism in CD Projekt Red?  No, I don’t.  Neither do I think there’s deep rooted sexism in Andrzej Sapkowski, but if you ask me if I think there’s a deep rooted sexism in the world of The Witcher, one which mirrors the current state of our own society, including the gaming industry, then my resounding answer would be yes.

So to summarise my thoughts on these two, I think McIntosh is pushing an agenda with fabricated points made on foundations that just do no exist.  It undermines his position as a critic and even though I think there does exist a group of young, impressionable gamers that are easily swayed into thinking the way he thinks people do, the very fact that he seems to believe there’s no place for a character that is cold and emotionless is unbelievably flawed and makes me not give a shit about what he’s saying.  I can think for myself, thanks, everyone I know can do exactly the same.  Sarkeesian has points much more grounded in reality but I think she’s gone about it the wrong way, targeting a game and development team that probably could have done a bit more to prevent this kind of criticism, but isn’t inherently sexist but portrayed to be by her.  It’s the kind of unfounded attack I’d expect she’d understand is wrong, of all people in this kind of a position, considering all the crap the GamerGate crowd unjustly put her through.

Finally, to further push my point through I’d like to do a quick run down of three key female characters that play an important role in The Witcher series and also play critical roles in Geralt’s life.

Ciri
ciri_in_the_witcher_3_wild_hunt-wide
The driving force of the story in “Wild Hunt”, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon is the daughter of Emperor Emhyr of Nilfgard and heir to the throne.  The story initially takes the guise of the old “damsel in distress” trope as Geralt receives a vision that Ciri may be in trouble, hunted by the titular Wild Hunt, and so takes it upon himself to hunt her down and aid/protect her as necessary.  There are multiple segments throughout the game where you get to play as Ciri and from the very first try you get to see that she kicks a serious amount of ass.  As it becomes more apparent that the Wild Hunt are after Ciri due to her immense power, her combat capabilities start to flourish and by the time the end game comes around Ciri is shown to be wildly more powerful than Geralt.  Hell, she’s shown to be ridiculously more powerful than everyone else in the whole damn world, culminating in Ciri being the sole person that can prevent the fabled Ragh Nar Roog from obliterating the entire world and its population.  Regardless of the amount of pleading Geralt does, Ciri accepts her possible fatal destiny and steps through a portal to end the threat once and for all.  It’s not something Geralt can step in front of and say, “hey, I can do this too so stay back and let me handle this”.  The decision is taken completely out of his hands and must watch helplessly as Ciri potentially sacrifices herself to save everyone, including him (again, a really great show of emotion and despair from Geralt during this scene).  Probably one of the most powerful female characters I’ve seen in a game when you’re not actually playing as a woman, provided an incredible amount of agency and wrapped up in a well rounded, fleshed out and strong character.  Arguably, in fact, one of the greatest characters to have come out of this game.

Yen
the-witcher-3-wild-hunt-35050-1920x1080
Yennefer of Vengerberg is one of the most powerful magic users in the known world, being the youngest member of the Council of Sorcerers and a main headhunting target of the Lodge of Sorceresses.  By the time “Wild Hunt” is kicking off Yen is around 95 years old, so she has plenty of experience.  Yen is also the assumed adoptive mother of Ciri and the subject of Geralt’s first hunt in “Wild Hunt”, with his line of thought being that she’s probably his best hope at finding Ciri.  She’s a main advisor to Emhyr and has a wealth of connections in Nilfgard and is one of the main proponents in not only securing the safety of sorceresses in the Nilfgardian Empire but also in the reformation of of the Lodge of Sorceresses.  Yen also has one of the greatest moments in the game, when Geralt attempts to discuss their past while she’s trying to tune her megascope in Kaer Morhen.  She gets pretty pissed off with the conversation and teleports Geralt out of the tower and about 50 foot above a lake, resulting in him plummeting into the probably pretty cold water.  Left me in absolute stitches.

Triss
triss_merigold_the_witcher_3__wild_hunt-wide
Triss Merigold is yet another sorceress, one who played a key role through the entire series of games.  Yes, she was a love interest for Geralt throughout the series but as a key member of the Lodge of Sorceresses and key advisor to King Foltest in The Witcher 2, Triss has more than proven her worth and capability outside of Geralt and his influence.  During the events of “Wild Hunt” Triss single-handedly plots the evacuation of all of Novigrad’s mages, sorceresses and alchemists to prevent their deaths at the hands of King Radovid.  She might need the help of Geralt to pull of the plan, but all the hard work in the lead up to the evacuation is completed by Triss, who is ready to leave with them.  Only the admittance of Geralt’s true love for Triss keeps her from leaving, again resulting in a very sweet scene.

Interestingly enough, since both Yennefer and Triss are potential love interests for Geralt, there is the potential for seducing both women in the game however, unlike other games which either skirt around the issue or provide no consequence what-so-ever, “Wild Hunt” gives you a genuinely amusing scene of both women teaming up to show Geralt up and punish him for being a lying, cheating bastard.  I’ll leave you with the video below and, honestly, you think you’d get a scene like this from developers that didn’t care for women and carelessly dumped weak female characters in their game?  I don’t.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s