…until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them”
I think that line came from some book, or something important at the very least.
Geralt of Rivia
Weird fact: I originally had little interest to play any of The Witcher series. At first glance I believed Geralt to be too bland a character, but it turns out he’s not. Now, I will never understand myself for not wanting to be a fantasy bounty hunter kicking monster butt and swinging a silver sword.
Geralt, the point view of The Witcher series–both short stories and games. For those of you who don’t know, this guy is the equivalent of Boba Fett while also being a Jedi in a late medieval era. Witchers, to put in little boy terms, are ridiculously cool bounty hunters with two swords, tight Alchemy skills, some magic, and slight superhuman ability acquired from genetic mutation. Geralt is the sickest one. Just look!
Boy moment over.
(Feel free to fast forward if you already know The Witcher series)
The world of The Witcher takes direct influence from European cultures of the late medieval era. Similar to how Supernatural includes mythologies of all kinds, The Witcher series doesn’t discriminate either. There are all species, categories, and types of Vampires, Werewolves, Sirens, Dragons, Drakes, Ghosts, Giants, Trolls, Spirits, Wisps, and anything else you can think of. There is also, of course, a grand array of magic in the form of sorcerers, witches, curses, and enchantments. The different races include but are not limited to Dwarves, Gnomes, and Elves.
It’s important to know that this isn’t light-hearted fantasy in the slightest. Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings as The Witcher is to The Legend Of Zelda. The Witcher is uncensored, dark, and not for everyone.
As I mentioned before, witchers are similar to bounty hunters. They tend to keep a neutral disposition in society, and live to kill monsters and get paid. The process of becoming a witcher is grueling as it includes genetic mutation and vigorous training in combat; very few survive the process. These mutated master hunters also scare most people (surprise!) so their role in society is rather simple: wherever there is a monster threatening people, the super human witchers are there to clean shop. In all of these jobs, witchers are often judge, jury, and executioner because they are the only people who can fix the problems and are unstoppable by any other human. This neutral and powerful role of a witcher, was just begging to be an open world video game.
No Really, The Setting is 🔥
Place one of the best witchers, Geralt, in a charged clash between nations and cultures and we’re at the start of The Witcher (2007). Each game is organized and progresses in very clear sections. Conveniently, the different realms in the world of The Witcher make the perfect changes in scene, dynamic, and intensity. A theme I noticed in all three titles was a very open, exploration-based beginning while showing the poor and more grimy areas of the world, a more enclosed city where the rich and politics are highlighted in the middle, and an ending focusing the plot and intensity on the bigger matters at hand (like the assassination’s of kings during war, or the Wild Hunt). This results in not only great game progression and change of pace, but sets the stage to explore the neutral disposition of a witcher in the various dynamics of the world.
Now that everyone is up to pace…
All three of The Witcher games use this setting for a lot of decision making. This quickly became one of my favorite aspects of the game, because it is actually done well. I have always been frustrated when games attempt to create “decisions with consequences,” because nearly every time it is an elaborate illusion. The prime offender and example of this is still a sore subject for gamers: Mass Effect 3. In short, Mass Effect spent three games painting illusions of choice when regardless of any choice you make you get the same explosion in a different color. It frustrated so many fans that BioWare released a small DLC to improve the ending. This isn’t to say that there are no consequences of any kind, as some decisions end up killing very beloved characters, but the default good/neutral/evil decision tree (see image below) does not improve the creative aspects of the game.
In order from top-right to bottom-right are the good choice, neutral choice, and evil.
The Witcher makes decision making smart, creative, personal, powerful, and effective. Rather than narrow it down to three simple paths–each of which create an utterly different main character with very minimal change in plot results–The Witcher series doesn’t attempt to give the common good/neutral/evil path. Instead choices are posed in ways that make sense, and are much more similar and harder to chose between. In addition, the story does not even attempt to conclude differently in any of the games. Rather than create two or three weaker conclusions to a plot, the story ends the same way, but the details are different. In any one of the games, the player will find these details becoming very important to them. The story doesn’t need to end differently for the player to care about the consequences of their decisions. Rather than spending the time trying to make a story that can end in multiple significant ways, why not focus on creating difficult decisions worth caring and thinking about? This way the player can connect to the character of the story more, and have a more personal experience. After all, I thought that was the whole point of making these decisions?
To be direct: Why make decisions available if the decisions don’t connect the player to the story and characters more?
On The Subject of To Kill A Mockingbird
I never did like how it ends. I do, however, think its a wonderful book, and I love the quote “… you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” That concept is one I try to live by, and embodies what characterizes video games. Literally, playing a game is walking around in another man’s shoes. Whether we gamers realize it or not, whenever we experience the plot through the looking glass that is a video game, we spend time learning another person’s perspective. Every art does this in part by laying out a window to peer into someone’s perspective albeit set in stone. Books are especially similar, because we translate the words in our imaginations, yet they still don’t compare to the weight of experiencing a character’s perspective through your own actions. Even the minimal decisions of the controversial walking simulators have this connection of user-input to reaction. However, when the decision knob is turned up to the point of The Witcher, there is a glaring difference that some argue is more game-like when compared to a walking simulator. I think that more-of-a-game feeling comes from the very same aspect that makes video games a unique art- the aspect of decisions. When there are more factors connecting a player to a story it becomes much more personal much faster.
What’s My Point, You Ask?
I am Geralt of Rivia. I am Link. I am Terra and her friends. I am Samus Aran. I am Red. The list goes endlessly on. If I’ve spent so much time being each of those persons what’s to stop me from using that practice to understand other people; carefully listening and seeing the world through other’s eyes? How can you love someone if you don’t try to understand what and who you are loving? Add this to my list of Reasons Why My Thousands Of Hours Of Playing Video Games Hasn’t Ruined Or Wasted My Life.
An hour into The Witcher 3, Geralt is forced to understand a Baron’s family closely. To finish the main story Geralt doesn’t have to resolve the deep conflicts in the family, but he can leave behind the Baron without a second thought of the drunkard and coward or he can continue to try and understand the Baron’s actions and learn that his wife is not so great either. If Geralt tries to understand the wife’s reasoning he can learn that while they have both done terrible things, they both have redeemable qualities. One of the better conclusions to this story is the Baron leaving his land to care for his sickly wife.
The earlier you pass judgement the more you will miss.
The first chapter of The Witcher (2007) involves a town haunted by a ghostly beast. The quests in the town practically spell out a certain witches guilt, but if Geralt choses not to judge quickly, He learns she isn’t guilty, the town just wanted her to be.
Again, The earlier you pass judgement the more you will miss.
The entire plot of The Witcher 2 is about understanding why someone assassinated some kings. When you dive as deeply into understanding this person as you can, you will most likely give him mercy when you see him.
AGAIN, the earlier you pass judgement the more you will miss.
Time and time again judging someone before understanding them results in the worst conclusion. Judging the seemingly obvious bad guy is often incorrect, or at the very least not the best conclusion. This point is driven across so much in The Witcher that it’s almost overdone.
While we’re on the topic of late medieval period, can we please stop acting like we’re the most broken generation to exist? Evil has been present in every generation, and just because it comes in different flavors doesn’t mean it’s worse than it has been or will be.
I’ve spent the most time with Witcher 3, and so I write my obligatory small but important music section on this game, only. The music director, Marcin Przybyłowicz, created an atmosphere brimming with cultural influences. The result is a melting pot; an effective summarization of the world of The Witcher. The highlight of this melting pot is its glorious instrumentation. A simple google search will show the multitude of instruments that are rarely heard on a daily basis, and heard even less in the same orchestra. And hey, any video game with well performed soloistic vocals is a score in my book (I’m talking to you Transistor and Bastion)