Binders Full of Women: Collecting All the Ladycards in The Witcher – part 1
To me, the sexiest videogame in the world is one with no sex, no nudity and no romanceable NPCs.
Years ago, when I was pregnant with twins, I was bored, nauseous and full of hormones. I was incapable of much more than playing videogames and lying on my bed thinking about sex. I didn’t want to HAVE any; that would involve moving. Instead, I played the first Guild Wars game, and imagined that my player character was an incorrigible, charismatic sex-fiend who slept with all the men and women in the game. Guild Wars has a diverse and beautiful world, full of diverse and beautiful NPCs. They are not romanceable, but they have just enough dialogue with you to give you a sense of who they are, and in my case, whether my character would want to fuck them, and they him. The rest, I could invent for myself. I would play a few quests, then script seduction scenes in my head. The chaste priestess, the gruff, taciturn ranger, the rebellious noble son, the distrustful, snarky assassin. It was great.
It was absolutely nothing like The Witcher at all.
I mean, obviously it’s sexist and objectifying to make a game in which every time you sleep with a woman, you get a collectable card with her picture on it. I’m not here to get into that. I’m at the point where I choose to find it funny, even as it demonstrates a lot of depressing eye-rolly things about the people making it, and their assumptions about their audience. But I admit, I was curious. As my Guild Wars adventures show, I am hardly averse to the concept of playing a character who sleeps with everyone. In my version, it had been fun, exciting, consensual and hot. It’s a challenge to keep findingnew and interesting ways to initiate sex scenes with people you meet! While the cards were sexist, the concept doesn’t have to be sexist, if you accept that people, notably women, can freely choose and enjoy casual sex, and are not cheapened or sullied by it.
I want to emphasise that, now. It COULD have been possible for this not to be a trainwreck. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. (Sorry. That might be the only dick-joke in this entire piece. I was hoping for so much more. That’s what she said. OK, two jokes.)
Well. Here, then, is the tale of Geralt and the Ladies of the Witcher, in the order he/I encountered them in Chapter 1 of the game.
1. Triss Merigold
At the start of the game, you are told you are called Geralt, you are a monster hunter AKA witcher, and that’s all you’re going to get, because the writers have made you conveniently amnesiac. This is never explained, and seems to bother absolutely no one, least of all Garrus himself (I could never remember his name either, and after a while I considered this roleplaying), who at one point implies he’s quite enjoying it. Exactly how much he remembers is very unclear. Being a plot-induced condition, it manifests in whatever way is most convenient. He can fight, he’s just forgotten his skills so the player can then put level-up points in them. He can remember language and social conventions, but not his name, job, or previous friends and lovers. He doesn’t talk a whole lot, and most of what he says is very generic and lacking personality, which could be charitably interpreted as a side-effect of his amnesia, but probably isn’t. He looks like this:
Very shortly after the beginning of the game, Gestalt is in the bedroom of a woman named Triss, a capable and confident mage. She calls you a friend and implies that you were lovers in the past, but it’s clear Gysahl remembers nothing. Triss swiftly propositions him, this guy she knows doesn’t remember her, doesn’t remember himself, has newly awoken to the world very recently, with unspecified mental injuries. Is he mentally a virgin, at this point? (Triss has also just woken up from life-threatening injuries, but people in The Witcher care nothing for this sort of impediment to Getting It On, and at least she seems compos mentis, which gives her a somewhat unfair advantage over Gerald.)
Seducing a recent amnesiac using claims of a prior relationship seems wildly inappropriate and manipulative to me but hey, I’m playing this game with an agenda, so we’re going to have all the possible sex. Anyway, this is a Dude Fantasy Game about Gravellyscar McDudefantasy, so we are clearly not supposed to ascribe actual human emotional reactions to him. That would be weak and girly, amirite? He is not traumatised by his amnesia, he shrugs it off and gets on with the fighting and fucking he is naturally ready for at all times.
We get a tasteful fade to black, and a less tasteful collectable card, which has a luridly drawn softporn “painting” (paint=classy) of someone who looks nothing like the character we saw ingame, in a pose I can’t quite imagine her actually engaging in. Anyway, re-de-virginated Gaspode is now ready to set out into the world and hunt out more women. Monsters. Whatever.
2. Unnamed Peasant Woman
Yup, this lady doesn’t even get an actual name. I nearly missed her, too, lost as she was among a million other generic identical NPCs with no unique dialogue. I was focusing on Hot Witch Abigail, who I thought (correctly!) I would be entering the pants of soon. I thought this purely on the basis that Abigail was a young, conventionally attractive named female character, because this game doesn’t think there’s any point of having those if you can’t screw them. But it turns out that generic NPCs can get their generic legs over with Garrett as well!
Unnamed Peasant Lady will offer herself to you if you give her tulips. She likes tulips, she says, because her previous lover gave her tulips. This would be the lover whose corpse you can discover out in the wilds, take the tulips off his dead body, then give them to his girlfriend in exchange for sex. I guess she really did just want the tulips; the giver/sex partner is interchangeable. I’m trying to think of a joke involving tulipomania bubbles, but I’m not sure it’d be worth it even if I found one.
3. Vesna Hood
A barmaid – with a name! A surname, even! She is encountered on the road at night, Beset By Thugs. So far, so tropey, but I award minor credit for the fact that she doesn’t immediately fall into bed with you. Everyone reacts to trauma differently, of course, but I think fantasy writers have a funny idea about what people are generally in the mood for after narrowly escaping sexual assault. She does, however, seem to understand that sex is the appropriate reward for her rescue, and makes a date with you the following night. She tells you to bring wine, and won’t put out unless you do. Does she require alcohol to deaden the experience? The implications are unsettling, but the scene’s played for laughs, so that’s me told, then.
I can’t resist a witch named after a teenage dirtbag from The Crucible, so I was sort of disappointed that Abigail’s scene turned out to be, if possible, even creepier than anything else so far. You are rescuing children from a cave, as heroes are wont to do, and have told the little tykes, who include a terrifyingly precocious and potato-faced psychic child called Alvin, to follow you to freedom. Except you first find Abigail, hanging out by the entrance to the dank cave, claiming there’s a mob of villagers baying for her witchy blood outside. And you should totally help her, and she’ll even sleep with you to sweeten the deal!
Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my romantic witchtrysts to be a.) not in dank caves, b.) based on mutual desire, not desperate, situation-enforced bribe attempts by a terrified woman trying not to be murdered, and c.) not right in front of small children waiting to be taken home. Especially not spooky possessed ones.
Then you get Abigail’s card, and it’s just the worst. She’s naked, leering and covered in bloody bone necklaces – not a bad look in itself, but hardly representative of the demure, village-friendly witch she presents herself as. The artist had clearly never even seen a picture of her, and was just going from the word “witch”. She must’ve been so mad when she got them back from the printers; I felt really bad for her. To top it off, when you leave the cave afterwards and face the angry mob, one of the dialogue options you can choose is pretty much “Yes, you’re right, that witch is totally evil, she even tried to seduce me with her evil demonic charms”. RUDE.
Here, then, are my predictions for the rest of the game: ladies will continue to fall into the basic tropes of gift/sex vending machine, or rewarding damsel. Gerome will sleep with Shani, because she is a named young lady, and it is therefore her JOB dammit, but he will consistently fail to engage with women as actual human beings who might freely choose to fuck him because he’s desirable.
The trouble is, the writers do need all these convoluted excuses for girls to throw themselves at Gaston, because he has the charisma of a wet rag. He’s not bad looking if you’re into that, sure. But his monosyllabic responses and dead-eyed stare make him the most gormless (least gormful?) dude to shamble across my screen in a while. I’m convinced that he would actually be terribly dull in bed. There are two possible reasons for this that I can think of. Either the writers have absolutely no clue how to write a character who is appealing to women, or they could, but they worried that if they made Goofus too interesting and alluring, their imagined male playerbase would no longer be able to identify with him. I’m not sure which possibility is sadder.