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Binders Full of Women: Collecting All the Ladycards in The Witcher – part 2

August 8, 2014

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.

Please don’t even breathe on me.

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.

Not a great screenshot, sorry, but trust me, her forearms are SPIKY AS HELL and I totally would.

 

5. Gossip

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.

He’ll be sure to tell her if he meets any.

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.

Next time: Green lady Kirk-sex and why Gerard is not a cunning linguist.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2014 00:48

    This is really interesting (and funny, and sad) – just got me thinking about sex scenes I’ve encountered in games I’ve played and they’re just so utterly devoid of any emotion, when I was younger I was curious to see what happened (usually a woman making some noise and a blank screen) but it’s something I choose to avoid if possible now.
    Reading about them in The Witcher I’m just not sure what you actually get out of this at all? Is there an achievement or anything like that? Maybe it’s just for completionists who want all the cards? (If the latter, why is it sex that gets you cards?) I just can’t imagine people can get any sexual gratification out of this, which makes me ask myself again, why include totally un-sexy sex?

    The lack of any ‘game’, or meaning, or much artistic investment (I’m thinking of the skin swap-out of ‘Unnamed Peasant Lady’ and ‘Gossip’) in it gives me a marketing vibe, someone told the devs we need to have X amount of sexual encounters to tick a box, so it’s implemented in a mundane fetch-quest/dialogue option – but that’s just a guess. Looking forward to part 3!

  2. ebrky permalink
    August 17, 2014 15:26

    I’ve only played the second game,but I’m really surprised to see how idiotically sexist the first game was. Of course I wouldn’t claim that the second game is completely gender-equal, but it features strong female characters not dependent on men and iirc it did touch upon violence against women. If you can handle seeing Geralt (well, at least he’s much more appealing in this one) without vomiting, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the second game.

    • Kateri permalink*
      August 17, 2014 15:57

      Several people have told me that the second game is a lot better. I do plan on getting to it eventually, it’s in my gog.com library somewhere.

    • Faxmachinen permalink
      September 14, 2014 02:40

      Having just completed both games, I find the opposite to be true. Regardless of the slot machine traits the female characters display in the first game, they mostly seemed way more bad-ass than the ones in the second game.

      First game:
      Abigail: Prepared to fight a lynch mob on her own if necessary.
      Shani: Risks her life to help dying people throughout the game.
      Triss: Knows her shit and doesn’t take no for an answer.
      Carmen: Willing to risk her life to save someone she cares about.
      Adda: Tries to have you executed, also literally a monster in her spare time.

      Second game:
      Síle: Fair enough, Síle’s bad-ass.
      Triss: Kicks some ass, then stays damselled the other half of the game.
      Saskia the Dragonslayer: Has the right attitude, but can’t even defeat a fat pig with a crown in a fair duel.
      Ves: Gets damselled and refrigerated.

      That being said, the story branching means our experiences are likely to be different, so your mileage may vary.

  3. Micheal permalink
    August 17, 2014 16:24

    Very Interesting and entertaining read.
    In my play through I just avoided all of this.
    Rebuffed wherever I could and got on with it.
    It just felt a bit, well, sleazy.

    I do find myself wondering how much the original material influenced the inclusion of this.
    Having not read the original polish work, but knowing how some fantasy novels like to paddle in the titillation pool, I can’t be sure.

    Even if that was the case, the collection was a poor implementation if that was the intent.
    Glad it was dropped from the sequel which is enjoyable and superior for more reasons than just that.

  4. August 17, 2014 19:35

    Fantastic coverage of this.

    One of the odd things about all this is that the imagined target audience – this sort of macho-geek male dude, or whoever they are – is probably a power-gamer. You do the thing that gets you the most EXP and gold and whatnot. And, more often than not, the sex doesn’t accomplish that. Take the sex workers, for example – you spend money so you get a crappy sex scene and that’s that.

    So, as you say – what’s the point? I actually suspect the vast majority of players don’t think this is sexy, either – that they go through with this either out of morbid curiousity, or because we’ve been so hard-wired to collect shit. It’s almost like the devs realized their sex scenes were pointless and unrewarding and added the nudie cards in order to try and get people to engage with it anyway.

    It’s always possible that we’re missing some cultural context that makes this make *somewhat* more sense, but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. August 18, 2014 00:52

    This article made my day.

    I had been carrying yellow roses for Shani for the longest time. When she finally started accepting gifts, she declined the roses: “Did you know that different colours mean different things? Red roses, for example, symbolize love.”
    Nobody knew how to make facial expressions in those times, but I’m pretty sure she was propositioning and/or patronizing me. I went back to the gardener, then made sure Shani received my big red package. I couldn’t help but feel a bit used though.

    To quote my other favourite journalist, Cara Ellison: “JUST TELL HIM YOU WANT TO FUCK HIM!”

    • Kateri permalink*
      August 18, 2014 01:16

      ahahaha you are predicting part 3, I was just writing about Shani and her bloody roses! I like your version better though, as I did not think to make jokes about big red packages, le sigh.

  6. Aankhen permalink
    August 18, 2014 10:03

    ‘herbzoned’ is my new favourite word.

  7. August 18, 2014 13:43

    I’m not sure “macho dude” goes together with “geek power gamer”. In any case, I tend to want to me a heterosexual male monogamist in games that let me, except for The Witcher, where I tried to bed all the women… because I got cards. I don’t know if I consciously analysed it at the time, but it was basically “oh, OK, collecting cards is a thing the game wants me to do. I must collect them”. I also was very surprised at the first sex scene because I honestly wasn’t expecting it. “I’ll engage in mild flirting with the NPC OH MY GOD WHAT!?!?!?”

    The lack of fuss the women show does at least imply that sexual attitudes are a little less based around “women must be virgins until marriage” than our world was (and still is)

    I wonder how things would be different if certain women didn’t want to sleep with you if they knew certain other women had. I spent ages in STALKER:Clear Sky working out how I could do as many missions for opposing factions as possible so I wouldn’t miss out on game content by being too partisan to one side. I wonder if I’d have done the same trying to maximise card acquisition?

    And yeah, the witch was icky.

    • August 18, 2014 17:40

      Had the same problem with Gothic, Fallout and pretty much all fraction based games where you get XP, what actually causes bad roleplaying because you have to act out of character to to maximize your accomplishments.

      I know the sex scenes don’t even give XP, but I think games trained me to find as much content as possible.

      Anyway, nice read and looking forward to the next part. Once this is finished, I would really like to know views on the 2nd game in comparison, especially the fountain scene, as I remember it to be quite good. Biased triple book series reader though

      P.S.: As sb asked about the books, there are is some casual sex stuff in the early short stories, but the actual 5 book sage cuts it to a total of 2 or 3, can’t remember if Triss was still in or not

  8. jerf permalink
    August 19, 2014 23:00

    After you finish Act IV of this game, would you care to read the following Kotaku aricle http://kotaku.com/the-witchers-fourth-act-takes-rpgs-to-the-next-level-1623958861 ?
    I wonder what you’ll think about it.

  9. Melandrhild permalink
    August 20, 2014 17:19

    Oh my god, I’m female and I don’t think the cards or even the Witcher is sexist at all, lust for women has always had the world go round, and it’s just a game. People are so bored those days they just overthink about anything…

    • neutrinosunset permalink
      August 21, 2014 09:59

      Holy crap this took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to find a balanced objective appraisal amongst all this pained offended outrage.

    • Happy of Myself permalink
      September 15, 2014 20:10

      Just because “lust for women” (which, by the way, really is not the same thing as female objectification, which is what fallingawkwardly is talking about here) has existed for ages means it’s A-okay? That’s the exact same argument people used to defend slavery, dude.

      (Also, saying THE GAME’S NOT SEXIST BECAUSE EVERYTHING’S SEXIST RAWR makes exactly no sense, but, hey, whatever floats your boat.)

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