Binders Full of Women: Collecting All the Ladycards in The Witcher – part 2
The inevitable continuation of my attempt to sleep with all the women in The Witcher and survive the experience with my faith in humanity/eroticism/videogames intact. Part 1 is here.
I’ve been in dark crypts and slimy sewers full of monsters, but the scariest moment I’ve had playing The Witcher so far was running through a hospital full of groaning near-death female patients coughing on the floor, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t have to have sex with any of them.
I was hoping for a nurse. That could have been an opportunity for an honest-to-god relatable brief sexual encounter. The stress and pressure of the job, her constant dealings with death and decay making her ever more aware of the flickering, frustrated flame of life and youth in her breast, pushing her to seek comfort in a gormless stranger. “Don’t talk”, she’d whisper. “Really, please. Your dialogue is terrible. Just remind me that I’m alive, that I’m still able to give and receive pleasure. That my body is capable of more than just changing the bedpans in ward 3.”
Or a nun! There’s this fantastic young novice by the hospital’s holy shrine, wearing these amazing spiked cuffs. Perhaps she isn’t yet sure that the chaste life is for her. Perhaps she’s never known the touch of a man, let alone an emotionally stunted dog-killer with stringy hair and a thousand-yard stare. Perhaps… oh, who am I kidding? We don’t get anything like that.
This is who we actually get: a near-identical copy of Unnamed Peasant Lady from Chapter 1, down to the palette-switch character model and screechy, caricatured voice acting. It’s impossible to assess her or our interactions with her as if she were an actual person, because she so clearly is not; she’s a cipher. She sleeps with Gesuald almost randomly, if you speak to her enough times (why would you though?) and you find the right line to say to her. It’s not a conversation, or a seduction, it’s just brute-force hacking, to use a really inappropriately-titled metaphor. And then you still have to give her a gift, because obviously. It scares me that this is how some men think you should actually approach women.
What really confuses me about these encounters is how abjectly unsexy they are, both in character, circumstance and actual pornographic content. Even the cards are terrible, and in the case of the Gossip, she is utterly incongruously wringing the neck of a chicke… oh God. Is that a… a reference to… oh no. I didn’t think it could get worse, but it just did.
What are we supposed to infer about our “hero” from all this? What does he get out of these charmless, connectionless insertions of Tab A into Slot B? If it was just a libido thing, surely masturbation would be cheaper, easier and more fulfilling? What gaping hole in his soul is he filling with these “conquests”?
This is supposed to be a fantasy game, but I’m not sure who would consider it an attractive sexual fantasy. For me, a fantasy about having sex with lots of short-term partners would be about a genuine love of people, of all the different ways they can be sexy, and a desire to discover what makes them tick (read:cum). The seductive protagonist would be a master of communication, sincerity and humour, with a touch of vulnerability, and what they want their potential partners to be thinking is: “This is going to be fun. They’re hot, and they think I’m hot, not just as a body, but as a whole person. I can trust them to respect me, be honest about what they want, and let me ask for what I want in return.”
Is that why The Witcher is meant to be a “dark” “gritty” fantasy? Because you can play a character who has such a profoundly damaged attitude to sex?
6. The Prostitutes
Obviously, you can’t have dark gritty fantasy without terrible depictions of sex workers. I put off entering the brothel, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know quite how bad it was going to be. The brothel turned out to be a nondescript house with two women quietly sweeping the floor. They weren’t doing anything salacious with the broomhandles, they were just sweeping.
In the (sexist, bullshit) commodity model of sex, where women are vending machines, all women offer sex in return for something, it’s just that sex workers are the ones who are honest and upfront about the exact price. So, the Gossip exchanged sex for some red gloves, but you had to guess at what she wanted, and that was part of the challenge. The identical and nameless women on the street helpfully labelled “Hooker” or “Harbor Whore” don’t actually tell you a straight-up price either, but it’s easy enough to guess – jewellery or gold over a certain amount. I have been wondering, in the absence of any actual sexiness, whether this mild puzzle element of figuring out how to sleep with the women is the point of including them.
So, you exchange your imaginary ingame gold for imaginary offscreen ingame sex, and I sit here wondering why. Why would a player choose this? Why would Gesicht? Is he that desperate for human contact? Is it a reaction to his mutation, his monsterism, his visible separation from the rest of humanity, that he needs to constantly reaffirm a physical link with his fellow creatures, via his cock?
I doubt it. That would be far too interesting for this game. There are sex workers because the devs think you have to have sex workers in a dark gritty game, and Gesper has to be able to sleep with them, because he is a man, and they are there.
But wait. There’s a quest you can take to protect them from assault, which rewards you with… go on, guess. I’m almost impressed by how this game manages to shoehorn one group of women into fulfilling both the commodity model and the rescued damsel sextropes at once! It’s also really unfortunate that while there are lots of generic, nameless NPCs in the game, the sex workers are so utterly identical and interchangeable. Not only would it reduce their score on the “sexual objectification” checklist, it would add important personhood to a class of people who are routinely dehumanised both in media and real life. Again, I worry what some people will learn from this game. On the more positive side, I do like Carmen, the brothel manager, and provided the game doesn’t do anything stupid with her in the meantime, I plan to write a bit more about her in a later instalment.
The first time I met one of the working girls on the street, I turned her down because I needed all my money to buy books. I may have been projecting my own priorities a bit, there. Maybe I’m not the best person to fully inhabit Gerald’s horny macho sexboots.
The scary part, though, is just how easy it is to slip into the expectations of this game. I met a lady herbalist who hinted coyly that she knew where the secret herbs were, and she couldn’t possibly tell me, but wouldn’t it be nice if she got a new scarf? Oops, she just dropped a “give gift” option into the conversation, how careless of her. So I spent some time buying all the scarves from the merchant and figuring out which one she wanted. And when I did… she told me where the herbs were! I felt cheated. I thought that was code for sex! I spent money on her, and she herbzoned me! Then I wondered what this game was doing to me.
I have another confession to make: I’m hoarding watermelons. Every time I find one in a cupboard, I add it to my stack. I’m hoping that soon I’ll find a girl who will exchange sex for it, so that I can play this gloriously apt parody of the commodity model:
You’ll be the first to know if I manage it, I promise.