A troubling article written by Tarique Moosa for Polygon about The Witcher 3 came to my attention recently. It raises the fact that, and I quote, “Not a single human in the game is a person of color.” On the surface this could be seen as excluding “people of color” from appearing in video games. However, The Witcher 3 is the third in a series that has an established lore that goes beyond the games. So the main character, Geralt and his companions were always going to be the way they’ve been for years. So what about the people that inhabit this world? The country the third installment takes place in is, The Northern Kingdoms, based on Northern Europe in the 13th-14th century and presented in immaculate detail. So much so, it’s accurate to the fact that there wouldn’t be any “people of color” indigenous to that part of the World.
There is the argument that they could have used artistic license. After all, this is a fantasy game and it doesn’t have to be completely historically accurate. The question I have to ask is, would you really want that? The race of Humans in The Witcher 3 are horrible bigots that burn witches for fun. Like in all RPGs racist attitudes aren’t an ignorant hatred because of the levels of melanin a person has. It’s a mentally stunted intolerance of distinctly different species such as Elves, Dwarves and other creatures considered to be Monsters by Humans. Elves are actually treated as slaves and even forced to breed with whoever their master chooses. This is not too dissimilar to our own history of slavery that ended just over 140 years ago. Would you really want “people of color” being completely indifferent to this to a point that they’re actually slave owners? I’m not exactly sure how you could miss the fact that the pale skinned Humans are the main oppressors throughout the game.
This gives a hint at what the developers were going for with the Witcher 3’s overarching narrative. The message is clear without muddying the issue with such trivialities that are meaningless in the World of The Witcher. The oppressed minorities are anything that isn’t the race of Humans. They suffer from regular Human intolerance, being hunted to extinction and losing their habitats due to Humans encroaching upon it. Some are actually monsters and harmful to society, a few are hazardous but never meant to be and others just want to co-exist and aren’t a danger to anyone. To know which is which Geralt has to educate the player so they can make an informed decision. Education and understanding can certainly help us all to see the living being beyond appearance. One of the most horrific and impactful scenes is an innocent Changeling being burnt at the stake to the amusement of the Humans. I saw this action as symbolic of the tree hangings and witch burnings from our own history. It filled me with rage at such mindless intolerance towards another living being whose only crime was being different. You get to a point of realising the humans can be just as, if not more, monstrous as the Monsters they fear. I went around towns as Geralt and if I caught anyone saying, “There’s nothing like a good burning” I’d burn them alive with Igni while asking, “How much do you like a good burning now?”
The Witcher 3 wants the player to identify bigoted behaviour beyond the confines of mere skin colouration. As we all know such intolerant attitudes span more than just one thing. Also like in real life society you will see it on both sides often with an attempt at rationalising by the perpetrator. I would have thought while observing Geralt’s skin Tarique might have taken a second to look at his cat-like eyes! This is because Geralt is a mutant. As such Geralt and subsequently the player has to deal with the same intolerance and oppression themselves from both sides. Arguably for some, this maybe the first time they faced such a thing and it challenges them on how they respond to it. Do you hate all humans because the majority are bigoted? Do you side with those that are oppressed yet, are bigoted towards the race of the oppressors instead of the individuals? These are very interesting issues that mirror everyday encounters with other real life people being raised here. All, quite cleverly, without bringing skin pigment into it. This is most likely because skin isn’t the only thing people are ostracized for so it covers more bases than just the one. This is an experience shared by most gamers I talk to. All thanks to CD Projekt Red who found an original way to put important aspects of society across without being too on the nose with it.
All that said, there is a county called Zerrikania. According to The Witcher Wiki “Zerrikania is a mysterious land located in the south-eastern part of the continent. Its name is said to derive from a legendary golden dragon, Zerrikanterment. Not a lot is known about Zerrikania: its climate is hot, exotic animals (including tigers and antelopes) roam the land, and the inhabitants worship dragons. Zerrikania is famous for its tattooed warrior women, who are skilled in the use of sabres.” As they come from hotter climates they’re of a much deeper skin tone. So, why not have a Zerrikanian in the game? Well there’s this also form the Wiki “The Northern Kingdoms (the place The Witcher 3 is situated) have very little to do with that realm.” I know, very little doesn’t mean nothing at all, so why not an envoy of some kind? Well, the problem would still come back to representation in a classic catch 22 situation that developers face these days. To quote the Youtuber Ansgar Odinson who brought the Polygon article to my attention in a live chat with fellow Youtubers Bearing and Cognitive Thought;
“The only way you could make a piece of media that they didn’t care about, right? Is you would have to have every single body type, made up Tumblr gender, real gender, race, sexual identity and everything all in the same, like, the entire cast and nobody could be a side character because that would be marginalizing them. Then you couldn’t kill off anybody who is a minority because now you’ve killed off the only minority in the game.”
Full live chat can be watched here
The truth is, there’s no pleasing some, regardless of the steps you take, it will never be enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for different races in video games. I’m glad to have played as various races in games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Crysis, Prototype 2, The Onimusha series, Prince of Persia, Mirror’s edge and the list goes on. I’ve also played as, whoever the hell I want, usually a Woman with a far Eastern appearance in games such as Mass Effect, Dragons Age and Fallout. Never once have I felt it disconnected me from the character or had it hamper my enjoyment of a game. I wouldn’t want token characters shoehorned into any of those games just for the sake of representation. If it really irks you that much that certain races aren’t being represented as much as you’d like, then by all means, go and make your own video game. Make the entire cast whatever race you want, I would welcome it with open arms. Just remember, it will take great gameplay and a strong narrative that challenges the player to make tough decisions to take the game to the highest echelons of video games. Just don’t start moaning the industry is racist if it doesn’t sell because you’ve made a video game with terrible story line with all the gaming mechanical value of a brick.
Making a checklist of demands that effectively railroad freedom of creativity and expression in video games is just as wrong as asking them to remove things because it might offend you. Which brings me to my final point. It’s a mature rated game, aimed at mature minds. Maturity would be to not get so distracted by your own personal skin colour that you fail to pay attention to the game’s nuances that highlight a thought provoking narrative. Perhaps disclaimers should be printed on game cases and in digital downloads descriptions to prevent this in future. Something along the lines of, “Who you are in real life ceases the moment you start playing this game. This game is under no obligation to cater to your every subjective whim. You will play this bounteous game that has been provided. You will NOT act like an entitled idiot because the art design team created the world as they wanted it, faithful to it’s pre-established lore. This is OUR World, you get to experience OUR World, it’s NOT the real World, it’s NOT your World, it’s OURS! Whatever personal hang ups you have, get over it, then feel free to play our game.” I really hope it doesn’t have to come to that and we can all just accept games the way they were born.
Polygons full article about this non-issue can be read here
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