The Witcher 3, a much anticipated computer game from a Polish studio based on a series of Polish fantasy novels, is released next Tuesday. Reviews of it are already being published and I have been reading a lot about it, including one review on Polygon by Arthur Gies that spent a lot of words complaining about the lack of black people and the treatment of female characters in the game.
Another Polish developer, Adrian Chmielarz, whose studio made the acclaimed adventure game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, has responded. On the complaint that there are only white people in the game:
the fact that a post-modernist remix of fantasy and the Polish folklore made by Slavs does not feature non-white characters, is a non-issue.
Note that I am not sure that adding “strangers from the strange lands” to the game would solve anything for the chronically offended. Based on everything I learned about them in the last year, and I learned a lot, if you put a person or a few from any non-white race, they would be called “token characters”.
The Polygon review goes on to complain about the women in the game:
the world CD Projekt has created is oppressively misogynist. In some ways, the game deals directly with this — characters acknowledge again and again that it’s hard to be a woman there, that it’s a place of violence and terror and that women must work harder to be recognized and respected.
Then it kills them, over and over.
I get that the setting of The Witcher 3 is meant to be a dark, dirty fantasy. But in a world that so explicitly goes out of its way to build a believable, distinctive take on the genre, the inclusion of so much violence explicitly directed against women feels like a clear, disconcerting choice. It’s not just present, it’s frequently a focus.
When they’re not being murdered, women in The Witcher 3 are comically sexualized. Nudity is everywhere…
As we can see, The Witcher 3 apparently simply mirrors the real world (as according to Feminist Frequency).
This is a group whom the reviewer admires, and who argue that “violence against women is a serious, global epidemic”.
I have to assume that Gies understands that when compared to the actual real world, the violence is exaggerated in The Witcher 3. That it’s basically an often grim, often cruel fantasy world.
But …why is such a world a problem? Is the reviewer confusing portrayal with endorsement? Should art be propaganda for a peaceful life? Should art avoid disturbing universes?
There is a lot more; this is just a flavour of the debate. It is good to see people like Chmielarz standing up to this kind of criticism, because for a while it looked as if everything was going the way of those who would be offended by everything.
Also encouraging is that, if you read the comments on a news story about this debate at Gamezone, it appears that nobody really cares. They just want to enjoy games.