Life, The Universe And Gaming: The Witcher 3 Is A Reflection Of Your Personality
The title might sound a bit silly but given how I agonised over it before eventually deciding to just go with it, let’s just assume there’s a point to be made here.
All games are what you choose to make of them. That’s the commonly held belief. I would however argue that a fair majority are rather more heavy-handed in the messages they wish to convey. You could absolutely choose to see them as what they aren’t, but I would wager that nobody is going to consider Duke Nukem to be a bastion of artful expression and character development. The same however, might be considered to be true for Bastion. Most games are forceful in their execution; they tell you something, you understand it, you move on.
The Russians are the bad guys always, a shifty-looking character will eventually double-cross you, a family member must make tough choices to protect their family, if you pick the evil choice then you are a bad person. And so on and so forth.
However every now and then a different sort of game comes along, one that doesn’t want to hold your hand and push a particular set of beliefs onto you. It just wants you to play and decide for yourself, what you think of what’s going on. Oh you’re certainly doing a thing and it seems like a good idea… but is it? This might touch too close on reality for some but arguably that’s the point. This game wants you to think about the repercussions of your decisions, as much as it wants you to think about the presentation of the world. And ultimately it tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the world we immerse ourselves in. In this case, that game is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen anything like it.
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To break from that rather densely worded introductory section, the truth of the matter is that I began this column not really having much of a point to make here. I simply wanted to address some of the accusations thrown in the way of The Witcher 3. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was onto something here and so I went with it. Changed the title from The Witcher 3 Is What You Make Of It to what you see above, and here we are.
Last week we released our review of The Witcher 3 which scored it at 100/100. I’m not going to rehash that review here apart from saying I fully stand by it but definitely check it out for yourself when you have a chance, if you haven’t already. Rather, I’d like to talk about my personal experience of playing through the game — a time in which my dear and poor girlfriend has gone ignored, as have rather important email chains, my actual dayjob, and pretty much the entire world including social networks — and how it has shaped my thinking of this game, from prologue to where I currently am, which is smack bang in the middle of a crime war in Novigrad. Oh Geralt…
Prior to playing the game, I had read many, many, many think-pieces from a bunch of folks. Two particular points of criticism stuck with me. That The Witcher 3 is racist for only having white characters, and that The Witcher 3 is sexist for continuing to portray women gratuitously — both points best summarised here. The common argument seems to revolve around the idea of fantasy versus realism. “It can have monsters, why can’t it also have non-whites?” My typical response, “If the game is fantasy, why have clothes on characters at all?” Sounds silly but I like to think the entire thing is as silly as that retort, so the level of response is justified (plus I just think arguing on the basis of historic accuracy versus fantasy is besides the point — it’s a fantasy setting rooted in historical representation, take it or leave it). A further argument has been made that the game caters to the male fantasy of RPGs, and I will once again ask: What is inherently wrong with that?
All the same, let’s just accept these criticisms for the purposes of argument so that I may present two tweets of mine from this past weekend. Like so.
Just look at how sexist The Witcher 3 is– wait. pic.twitter.com/j8hpekWPQ3
— Cavie (@CaV1E) June 14, 2015
— Cavie (@CaV1E) June 13, 2015
The harsh truth of the matter is that when playing this game, I never even noticed many of the criticisms people had made of it. I tried at times. Actively forced myself. The only conclusion I could come to was that people making frankly utterly fucking retarded comments of the game had either not played it (this happens more than you’d think), or were suffering from a hearty helping of confirmation bias and although downright stupid, their opinions made it big on the internet because they touched on issues that are currently massive online.
To simplify: They imagined issues based on personal bias, and because those issues took root in hot topic discussions online, they blew up.
I’ve been accused time and time again of being a bit of an overly cynical cunt towards games. I don’t hold back and if I feel a game is overrated (see: The Last of Us, Watch_Dogs, Destiny) I will not just say so but do my best to explain why I think so. Not because I want to pee in everyone’s delicious chai tea but because I want to introduce an alternative perspective to the commonly held notion towards a game — lemon flavour, if you will.
I tried very hard, and I could not find something to really hate in The Witcher 3.
I mean I tried to pick on the glitches that are omnipresent and happen seemingly entirely at random, but the truth is none of them broke the game for me and most were actually rather amusing. I tried to pick on the cardboard-like look of the world especially when wind is blowing or rain is pouring, but there are sections of the world that look nothing at all like cardboard and are in fact some of the most well-crafted and delightful places I’ve ever visited in a game. I even tried to pick on the racism or sexism angles, and I just couldn’t see it.
There is one thing I particularly looked out for, and that’s the alleged jiggly boob physics. But after many hours of trying to figure out if it was just my imagination or the game, I concluded that you would have to be quite the pervert and actually physically spend every interaction with a female character staring at their breasts in order to determine for certain whether jiggly boob physics actually existed here.
But you know what else happened while I was holding up a magnifying glass and looking for cracks? I had played through some of the most magnificently crafted storylines to the point that honestly, I would be very upset if this game didn’t win every story-related award this year — or alternatively, I would be truly surprised if another game came along and had a better story to tell. And it’s not just the concluding bits (which I have yet to see but I’m told are golden) but even early content. Early on you meet a character who promises help with your quest in exchange for your help tracking down his family. What follows is perhaps one of the most deep, engaging and brutally mature questlines I have ever had the pleasure (or pain, given how it ended) of playing through.
I’m saying, this questline would make Game of Thrones, Vikings and House of Cards look like children’s animated series, it was that incredible.
And I got to experience that despite the game’s apparently rampant sexism and racism. Mind you, I royally messed up that mission but it was entirely my fault. I simply had not done the reading of the relevant book that would have given me the vital information I needed in order to achieve the outcome I desired for that mission. But ultimately, and here’s the kicker, I played the game the way I wanted to play it. The way I would have played it, were I Geralt. There was no good guy or bad guy choice to aim for. There was no this is the enemy and that is the friend exposition. Everything was entirely up to you, the player, to decide. You hated, loved, admired and felt sorry for the same characters all throughout, and you came out of it feeling as if you learned a valuable lesson in life. It was tragic and yet beautiful to play through.
And ultimately that is what The Witcher 3 is able to give you, if you’re only capable of experiencing it.
And hey, you can absolutely hold that a person’s opinion is their own and so it’s their right to have it. I will grant you that critique always has its place. But as much as a person has a right to an opinion, we also have a right to call that opinion utterly myopic and silly if we deem it so. Peer-reviewed or gtfo, amirite?
Importantly, just like every person’s right to an opinion, a game that is created by a developer has every right to exist as its own form of art. You are not being forced to play it, you are not being told that if you don’t play it you are a lesser person, and therefore the game has every right to be its own creation without being held to the internet’s expectations of what a game of this nature should be (and hey, if you really want games that deal with racism and sexism, those exist too!).
The choice is yours, and so you are liable for your decision to either play it or not. If the game doesn’t cater to your unrealistic expectations — and trust me, I know a thing or two about being hyper-critical of games — but everyone else is enjoying the hell out of it… maybe the problem is you?
I’ve probably spent around forty to fifty hours playing and I can honestly say I never once thought it to be glaringly white nor misogynistic (in fact, some of the strongest and best characters are women). Now you are more than welcome to accuse The Witcher 3 of being guilty of whatever the internet deems to be a crime against humanity this week (coincidence that it’s a popular game that will rake in the views, I guess?), and that’s your prerogative, but in the end it speaks far more of you as a person, than it ever will of the game itself.
And I think that’s absolutely magnificent.
To wit: Sod off, you SJW peasants.