OPINION: The Witcher 3 and Sexism Claims

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

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The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt | Wilderness

There was a bit of an online kerfuffle last night as the indie developer The Chinese Room posted the following message on their Twitter account.

That was in response to this Twitter post by GameSpot.

So it set off a bit of a firestorm online because this issue has been tinder ready to burn for a while and will remain as such for the foreseeable future. But this gave me an excuse to write an editorial about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which I’ve been wanting to do for a while. One of the leading candidates for what I wanted to write about was, in fact, the opposite reason this developer called them out. So, spoiler alert, I will come the the conclusion that it is not a sexist game, which should surprise hardly anyone who has actually spent hundreds of hours in that game. But, first, let me directly respond to that picture.

Is a woman in underwear posing for a motion capture and with android parts sexist? Well, what does it mean to be sexist? According to Merriam-Webster:

Full Definition of sexism

  1. 1:  prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially:  discrimination against women

  2. 2:  behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Sex, in this case, means gender. Which is what it meant throughout almost the entire history of that word. Sex, as in coitus, didn’t come into fashion until the end of the 19th century, early 20th century. That is important to understand here because that is one of the primary issues here, gender versus sexuality. Does a woman dressing up in a alluring fashion, in lingerie even, fulfill either of those two definitions of sexism? The one that critics may point to is #2. They may argue that it fosters a stereotype of a social role based on sex. But what would that social role be, to look beautiful while not wearing much? That would be an extreme stretch, and really that would lead more to the desire for diversity based on looks, than gender identity and roles. If women want to have that discussion regarding less beautiful women in games, I’m fine with it, but they would also have to convince me both that men are not idealized as well in video games, and also that expression of fantasy for either gender is somehow a negative thing. So, in my opinion, what we are talking about here is that the picture is sexy, as in physically and sexually attractive, not sexist. But how about The Witcher 3, since they were really making a judgement over that series much more than a single picture from a game that hasn’t even been fully developed.

I will start with the source of many other comments I’ve seen regarding the world of Geralt, and that is with the Witchers themselves. They are boys, only boys, who are given a toxic mix of chemicals that turns them into super-humans, if it doesn’t kill them. This is in order to make them more capable of standing up against the fantastical creatures that populate this version of Old Europe. They end up living much longer than the average human, if they survive the monsters that they must kill for work and the occasional mob uprising. However the chemicals also render them infertile. They are not a monastic order, so many of them will shack up with women routinely, after all those centuries can be long. But because of their duty and their infertility, they are never around for long, let alone the fact that few races are nearly as long lived. To some, I would argue those with limited imaginations, that may seem like a male fantasy. But before I render judgement on that, let’s discuss another creature of the world.

The Witcher III Yennefer

Much like many other fantasy stories, there are also witches in this world. However, these novels and games take that even farther and create the much more interesting, Sorceress. They are extremely powerful women, always women, who’s only rival in power are the Elven Mages not of that world. They tend to band together in a Lodge to teach each other how to better use and better control their powers and then to use their power and influence for safety and wealth. Particularly they are known for being advisers to royalty, both for their power and for their wisdom. They also live for hundreds of years and they are born infertile. Because of their long life, responsibilities, and infertility they tend to go through men (or women) partners and not tie themselves down for long. In this world they are the focus of some mob mentality against witches and witchcraft and magic in general. However a Sorceress is much less likely to fall victim to such mobs as a village witch/cunning woman or pellar/druid is, it will generally take a powerful ruler or a huge, and well equipped, mob to take her down.

PAX Prime 2015 Cosplay

There are a lot of similarities between those two different classes of beings. But, both from the description and from the experience of playing, you would have to say that the Sorceresses are generally more powerful and more in control of their situation than the Witchers are. Not only does that bare itself out in theory, but the three women being cosplayed above factor far more into your hero Geralt’s decisions than any other being in that world. Ciri’s father may rule most of their known world, but there is no question that Ciri herself is much more powerful than her father will ever be, and that Geralt will tear the world asunder for her far more than her father. So, we have discussed briefly the Sorceresses, but what about Ciri. She is the main focus of this story, but not only that, she is the most powerful being in this universe. Not only does she have extreme powers from her elder blood, from the elves, but she is also the first woman to receive full Witcher training, sans the decoctions. So throughout the story, she repeatedly shows that she can handle herself just as much, if not more, than the greatest male hunters. She takes out a boar with her sword, and what happens? What would happen to anyone else, they celebrate and tell tales around the campfire. And it is she that saves the Bloody Baron’s life from the Cockatrice, not his men. Not only that, but even though men help her at times in her overall quest, it is actually her that they all revolve around. She has autonomy and has to decide who is trying to use her and for what purpose. In fact, she does not even have any male romantic interests. For those who didn’t catch the reference, you should know that the rose on her thigh is not from a boyfriend, it was from her girlfriend. Ciri is, in fact, lesbian in both the books and the game.

The Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone | Shani

And that brings us around to, what I believe is, the crux of this whole thing. Ciri was, in fact, only wearing small underwear when you see that tattoo, she is otherwise naked. And she is certainly not the only woman to be naked or nearly naked in the game. In fact, you also see not entirely beautiful women naked as well, in that very scene is a woman that appears to be in her 50s-60s who is just as disrobed as Ciri is, it is a bath house, after all. Not only that, but men are frequently just as naked as women are. You don’t see any less of your Witcher hero than you do his damsels. Geralt can, if you so choose, have sex with 3 sorceresses, a mercenary, a spy, 8 prostitutes, and the above blast from the past (The Witcher), Shani with the first expansion. So, let’s address all of them to see if that is sexist of CD Projeckt RED. The 3 sorceresses are frankly more powerful than Geralt is, and he loves two of them anyway. If he even tries to play them both in order to keep them, he will end up with neither as they totally turn the tables on him at the end. And the other Sorceress that he can get busy with, he doesn’t have to sleep with her in order to finish her quest line, and she ends up dumping him for another Witcher regardless of whether he does or not. The mercenary is one of the greatest warriors in Skellege, of which there are many women warriors there, even more than there were in the source mythologies (which I will get to soon), and she has complete autonomy over her choice of sexual partner and marriage partner. As an aside here, you also find out while you are on Skellege that the female prospect to the crown is much more capable and leads to a much better future for those islands than her brother does. But back to the spy, she has her own agenda, and not only that, but it is she who requests to hook up for the night with Geralt, not him. She comes to him with a job, and she wants to reward him properly if he does it well. But also that is optional, and not only that, but she also steals some of your cards when she leaves in the morning (which you may not have noticed until you fail to get that trophy for all the cards). So that leaves us with the 8 prostitutes.

The Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone | Geralt Branded

I want to address the prostitutes separately in order to make two points about them. The first being that, while there are two brothels in the game, both of them are, in fact, run by women. In both of those cases you cannot sleep with either of the matrons, but the more high class one was a former lover of Geralt’s, and she has aged out of the business now. But she was so good at what she did that she was able to own the highest class brothel in the largest city of this game. Now she pretty much just takes care of the girls, and her establishment, and she also plays a mean game of Gwent. Quite the talented lady, all around. Although Crippled Kate’s is a bit of a dive, it is also run by women and you are tasked a couple times to help them drive out unwanted denizens. But they never pay you with sex, they pay you with money or with their thanks. But the second point about prostitution is more difficult for some people to understand, and it is this; prostitution is not inherently sexist. I know, that may cause disagreements with many, especially some of the feminists, but hear me out. As a societal ill, prostitution is a fairly new thing to be outlawed. Through most of human history it has been completely legal. And one of the primary reasons for this has been because humans are generally monogamous, but also generally not very good at monogamy. The later makes people seek sex outside of one partner, which is a natural thing to desire, and the former means that unpaired women by circumstance have often used their bodies to make a living for themselves and/or their children. This was especially true when women were not given the same schooling or job opportunities that men were, so if your husband or parents died at war there was often little choice or starve. Even now it is used in that function, as well as other things like porn and such. The question then remains, is it sexist in and of itself to sell your body no matter your reasons. Really, how can it be sexist if they are providing a service, for which they are compensated, in order to make a living? If you think a woman selling her body for sex is more morally wrong than a man selling his body to work in a coal mine and die much earlier, then your ethics are clouded by your view of sexuality. Sexism can happen in prostitution, particularly when a pimp uses their influence to squeeze money out of their women while the women do all the work. But you do not see that in this game, and that is also a side issue to prostitution itself. Travel to some other places in the world besides the U.S. and you will find that some of the best brothels are run by women, not men.

The Witcher 3 014

And that is my largest point, sex and sexuality do not equal sexism. In fact, by equating a naked women to sexism, you are far more in risk of the stereotype definition of the word. You are placing Judeo-Christian morality (typically in this environment and discussion) into that definition instead of ethics. And telling a woman that she should cover up and that she should be ashamed of her body, is far more sexist than anything contained here. Body shaming, whether from a man or from a woman, is a moral issue and not an ethical one, and I strongly oppose that moral stance. As well as I oppose the view that men and women are not allowed to take pleasure in the view of a naked woman. So, basically, I feel that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt one of the least sexist games to be made, especially with this large of a world and this old of a setting, so much so that it strains it’s own historical credibility because the past was far more sexist in general than is portrayed in this story. However, there is also a reason for that, and that will be my last point. What are the mythological sources of this story? Primarily they are sourced from Norse and Celtic mythology. And for anyone who studies as much mythology as I do, they would know that those two mythological systems had some of the strongest women and were the least patriarchal of any of the entire Occident. In fact, when the mythologies of the Levant, which were extremely patriarchal, took over Europe, those two systems were some of the last bastions of the divine female. This was expressed both in the worshiping customs of the goddesses and the passed down fables, but also in the day to day rights of general women in those regions. Foreigners were always shocked at how independent and how many rights those two groups of women had and, even as early as the Roman Empire, scholars wrote about this fact. You will find female goddesses and monsters throughout the world of The Witcher, just as you can find them throughout those mythologies. And that is the final nail in the coffin for the sexist argument. Women are not just prizes to be won in this world, they are not only just heroines as well… they are also monsters just like the men can be. It bears strongly to this discussion that the true rulers of Velen were The Crones, and not the Bloody Baron. And The Crones are not only monsters, but they are also based on a very very old myth. You get the sense that even if Ciri killed two of them, the Crones may be hiding for a while, but they will always come back in the end. They mock The Chinese Room and all others who would denigrate their power.

The Witcher 3 Crones

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.