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Binders Full of Women: Collecting All the Ladycards in The Witcher – part 3

August 24, 2014

Part 3 of an ongoing series – part 1, part 2.

Wotcha, witcherwatchers! Exciting news! Gerund has finally managed a non-squicky sexual encounter! I’m not sure I’d go so far as calling it sexy, but one step at a time, eh?

7. Morenn

I censored it because I can’t remember what was in the terms of service about nudity. Who reads that?

I suspect this is as close as The Witcher will ever get to having people of colour in it: green alien ladies! Sorry, sorry: “dryads”. She’s a dryad. Definitely not an actress in green alien facepaint, asking Captain Kirk to teach her this thing hu-mans call “kissing”.

No, she wants Gerbil to teach her how sex can be used for pleasure, and not just for procreation. Because this is absolutely a thing that powerful immortal mythical beings cannot figure out by themselves. However! I mock, but am not really complaining about a scene being a bit silly, in a tropey, trashy sort of way. I love that shit. What gets this pairing a gold star from me is that it’s a freely-entered screw between two powerful people who meet as equals. They’re both different from others, and that’s what makes them intriguing to each other. Plus, there’s no attempt to pretend that Gadget is some kind of charismatic charmer when neither his dialogue nor demeanour supports that idea. It could only have been improved if it had managed to convince me that more actual attraction, and not mere curiosity was at play here.

She asks you to bring her a wolf pelt, which you probably have several of in your inventory already, to prove you’re not a pathetic weakling. This works, because while the mechanics may be similar to vending machine gift-sex, the context isn’t. She doesn’t want your trinket to make up for having to have sex with you, she wants them to ensure that you’re strong enough to be someone she wants to fuck. See, I don’t think we need to throw out the entire concept of giving items to NPCs in a sexual/romantic context, but it really helps if it’s appropriate and expresses something about the nature of that relationship, rather than being purely transactional. Unless it being transactional is the meaning the developer wants to convey – whatever, as long as it’s done with awareness of the implications.

8. Half-Elf Woman

Look, I’m just going by what the game calls her – and the wiki, without which I would not have found this lady, since her quest is really obscurely located. Anyway, I rescued her from Thugs who had her tied up on the floor. This is never a good start, but it actually went somewhere slightly better than the usual rescue reward-sex.

Bonus points for plausible outfit.

As with Vesna, she told me to come to her house later. Naturally, I assumed this was for damsel thanksex, but when I went to visit her, she didn’t mention a reward. Her offer to help Gerald remember some Elven language emerged naturally from conversation, so I’ll allow it. She’s still pretty much a rescue-reward trope, but the writers have made an effort – the reward isn’t overt, and it’s not sex. Not yet, anyway. How the language lesson ends up leading to sex is actually pretty confusing for the first-time player, but basically it can go one of three ways:

– You give up on remembering any Elven and leave without anyone getting sexed up. I’m glad there’s this option, because it prevents the sex from being automatic, and therefore effectively a reward.

– You say, after she tries some Elven on you, “I don’t know what you just said, but I know what you’ll say next!”, which sounds like the setup for the most inane schoolyard joke ever, but totally gets you laid three seconds later. Somehow. I really don’t buy that anyone would be charmed by this.

– You succeed in remembering some Elven, and she is so enraptured by this that she tears your clothes off without warning. As in, if you choose the obviously-correct-but-unintelligible Elven response, you suddenly get a fade to black and a sexcard without the player realising that’s what they’re agreeing to. The scene is actually more nuanced than it first appears, but the trouble is, you need to understand that she previously said “Kiss me”, and you only find out the translation of “Abaethe me” if you chose the other, jokey dialogue option. So the first-time player can’t know what they’re saying when they make Gengar agree, although we are to understand that he himself does. It’s a reminder that while the player influences Gerunt, they are not actually him, and they don’t always know what’s in his head. Sometimes he will sleep with ladies whether we want him to or not! More on this, later.

9. Shani

I knew this was coming; she was far too pretty and friendly not to be available for carding at some point. And indeed she is, although with rather more fuss than most. If I were feeling cynical, I would say it’s because under the commodity model, a woman’s sexual value is higher the more effort, time and resources you spend getting her to put out. If I were feeling charitable, I would say it’s simply that the writers want us to realise that Shani and Godfrey are important to each other, that this relationship is significant, and so gives us time to get to know her, and provides questy obstacles to invest the player in winning her. Now, I’m always feeling cynical, but I will say that these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Either way, we are invited to care about Shani as a character as well as a collectable, which is a positive.

Because she’s more fun than you, dear.

Sadly, Shani did not endear herself to me when she threw a prudish, slut-shamey fit because I brought Carmen, a sex worker, to her party as my plus-one. I haven’t even slept with Carmen! Actually, let’s talk about her for a minute, as I rather like her, thus why I invited her in the first place.

### Carmen

Look – no number next to Carmen’s name! This is because you can’t sleep with her! She’s a young, pretty female character with a reason for being in the game OTHER than sleeping with Gelfling! I know! The bar is set low, but let’s celebrate someone stepping over it anyway, ok?

Carmen is, as she says, an escort, working out of the local brothel. However, while she flirts plentifully, she never actually invites Geraint to become a client! It is cheering to me that this game realises this is possible, that many sex workers choose who they offer their services to, like any other freelancer. Carmen is not a vending machine! We can hang out with her, play dice, and help her keep thugs away from the other street workers. For this service, she negotiates you a discount with them, but she herself is not part of the deal. I liked her, so I invited her to Shani’s party with me. She agreed, but insisted on charging for her time, which made me laugh and increase my respect for her. God knows I wouldn’t party with Geronimo for free, either. She put up with Shani’s rude remarks gracefully, was great company, then went home with her well-earned pay.

Later in the game, you find her out in the dangerous swamp, trying to find a cure for her boyfriend’s werewolfry. Even after you help her, she refuses to tell you who he is, seeing as you’re a monster hunter and all. Carmen is brave, smart, loyal, self-possessed and her sexuality exists on her own terms. She is depicted by the game as worthy of someone’s romantic love, and it’s not the player because her life doesn’t revolve around you. She almost makes up for the terrible characterisation of all the other sex workers I’ve encountered in the game. Almost.

###

Ugh, fine, back to actual-romantic-interest Shani. I apologise for the screenshots, but the party scene involves you getting very drunk, with associated screen-blurring effects. It ends with Shani kicking everyone else out in a fury, and your questlog instructing you to give her roses to apologise. The game makes super-sure you know the right sex-token for her slot, too: if you give her the wrong colour, she straight-up tells to go back and get red ones if you want into her pants.

Yes, yes, they are definitely an expression of my inner nature and not what you just told me to buy you.

To be completely honest, I almost didn’t register that Github and Shani were screwing now because I was too busy reeling from Shani’s revelation that her last boyfriend was Thaler. To be clear, this is Thaler:

I hate to be all judgey. But really. When did he last wash that thing?

He’s a local criminal and fence, whom we discover is actually a secret agent of some kind. Shani was all “I really liked him and thought we had a future, but I broke up with him when I discovered he was only pretending to be an alcoholic, gambling layabout, he was really a badass super-spy.” WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS WOMAN?

Anyway, so. The sex scene itself, how bad is it? Genlock and Shani have a past history informing their current relationship, even if he is too amnesiac to remember it. The rose-gift provokes a conversation in which he gets her to admit they used to be lovers, and I think it’s to Shani’s credit that she has kept this from him thus far. Perhaps she understood that if he didn’t remember, it would be inappropriate to bring it up – unlike Triss, who used it to seduce him. I’d prefer it if Gandalf weren’t blind drunk, but the dialogue proceeds as if he were in full control of his decision making, and Shani appears sober enough. So I don’t think the actual scene with Shani is terrible, in fact it’s one of the more natural fallings-into-bed so far. Still, something bothers me.

You see, I suspect we’re meant to find it endearing that Shani is jealous of Carmen, and looks down on her. I think we can also guess what Shani would make of Gossip, Vesna and the rest, named and unnamed. The sad part is that it’s clear the game itself looks down on these women, too: they exist to provide a card, that’s all. Shani is special, we are told. She’s not cheap, like they were. We still had to “purchase” her, but we had to wait almost two whole chapters of the game, so it has to mean something more, right? I don’t like the implications of this line of thinking. It could be a lot worse, but really, if the writers want us to value this relationship, then write the relationship in a way that encourages us to do so, and then trust in that, and don’t start throwing unnecessary gifts in. And don’t use other “bad”, “slutty” women to highlight how much “better” we’re supposed to think the “non-slutty” woman is. There’s nothing wrong with either wanting, or not wanting casual sex. There’s no need to play women off against each other using sets of arbitrary standards that are rarely applied to men at all. Although…

Something else odd. Shani is, at least, not a hypocrite who judges women who have a lot of sex, but exempts men from censure. While railing at Carmen, she throws in some jabs about how Gelato must have slept with her, and she wouldn’t expect that kind of promiscuous behaviour from him. Really? Interesting. Are we making Geralt behave out of character, by having him take these dialogue options to flirt with women? Doesn’t the fact these options exist at all imply that they are within the possible boundaries of his normal character? I mean, as we saw above with the elf lady, he’s frequently exercising a fair amount of agency beyond just what the player chooses. Perhaps his brain injury caused more than amnesia, perhaps it also induced a hypersexuality that was previously unknown to him! Or maybe Shani just convinces herself that he’s chaster than he really is, in which case it feels like a bad idea for him to romance her, because under my governance, the interminable, utterly gratuitous and mindless sexings CAN NOT and WILL NOT be stopped.

Next in part 4: Triss is Still Completely Terrible!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Faxmachinen permalink
    August 24, 2014 22:57

    The elven ladies do like to spring surprise sex on you when you least expect it, though. Like when you’re trying to give them cheese for their bread.

    In other spoilers: Gay sex still not invented yet, herbzoning ensues.

  2. August 25, 2014 00:13

    I am very much enjoying these articles, despite being a fan of the Witcher games. They have many merits but their gender politics are not among them. I was asked recently why I could tolerate the rather ugly misogyny present in them, and I don’t have an especially good answer to that. Part of it is that many of the worst aspects of it are dependent on player behavior — if go into these games intending to play a one-woman witcher as I did, you will miss a lot (but not all) of the unpleasant stuff. Part of it is an understanding that these games are based on books that, as I understand it, aren’t exactly enlightened on this subject either. Part of it is that I went into the first Witcher game expecting a terrible Bioware game clone and found myself pleasantly surprised by a lot of the ideas there, so I was perhaps more forgiving of some things I didn’t like than I would have been if I had gone in expecting more.

    I’ve been told by many people that the sequel makes big improvements, and I certainly like it better and have less trouble recommending it, but I think it’s important not to give the developers too much credit here. Yes, they dropped the cards. But they are still having women offer to pay Gumby for saving their lives with sex. If playing the game as the aforementioned monogamous witcher, there is an endearing (to me anyway) relationship to develop further with Triss. However if you were a Shani fan in the first game, tough shit, she’s not in the game and Gendry is sleeping with Triss in the intro anyway. (I feel bad for the Shani fans though, truly. If I had been one, I probably would have been angry enough to quit the game right there.) Ultimately if the developers matured between games, it was a pretty incremental improvement. As before, you can mitigate this with your behavior when playing the game but I don’t feel like that’s an argument in the developers favor.

    I have been wondering though about something you brought up in this post about the player character: is the availability of many sexual encounters in a game necessarily a mandate for the player character to seek them out? Should we interpret that as the more “in character” option, possibility spectrum as a definition for the character’s psychology?

    It’s a less interesting question than it might otherwise be in this specific instance because, based upon the presentation and my knowledge of the books this series is based on, Gumdrop really is intended to be a “ladies’ man”. But separating the question from this game in particular, I feel like there’s an argument to be made that a role playing game might include a large variety of sexual encounters not because the player is expected to seek them out in some Pokemon-inspired collectible game, but to provide many different ways for you to express your character to express who they are. One example of this kind of thinking that comes to mind is the Fable series, which let you woo and marry nearly anybody. That series represents sex as funny rather than sexy however, so perhaps that’s why nobody interpreted its mechanics as a de facto quest to bed all of Albion. (Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “nobody”…)

    • Faxmachinen permalink
      August 25, 2014 19:14

      “However if you were a Shani fan in the first game, tough shit, she’s not in the game and Gendry is sleeping with Triss in the intro anyway.”

      Not surprised. You get used to the game screwing you (both literally and figuratively) after a while. With any luck Triss will finally gotten over the whole Alvin debacle in between games.

      “[…] is the availability of many sexual encounters in a game necessarily a mandate for the player character to seek them out? ”

      I think it’s great to have “pointless” things to do in games. If there is no reason to do something in a game, you’d still do it:
      A. For fun (e.g. this article series)
      B. For roleplaying

    • September 15, 2014 09:40

      I completed Witcher 2 a long time ago and didn’t play the first one, but I honestly don’t remember ANY sex in the second one, apart from the first cutscene. I must have just skipped it, or I dunno. Casual gift-giving sex in Witcher 1 seems _extraordinary silly_, but I think this is more of an experiment with open-world games. Like you just implement a lot of extra features for them to be there, and generally most of them are rather clumsy.

      Like, for example, slave trading in Fallout (all of them, in various forms). Or marriage in Skyrim. They’re very peripheral, very awkward, but the fact they’re there is very cool. And you see, I didn’t take advantage of neither, and I think would completely omit sex in Witcher 1 if possible. Or role-play it (which is the task the system is well-adapted for, it seems – lots of choice for pretend stories, even with hasty writing).

      I would even argue that it’s perfect for role-playing Geralt – a practical, detached, stigmatized, traumatized etc. fella. In the sense that he just walks past all the ravenous sex-fiend women and doesn’t have sex with them. Or does, when he needs it for something. If you look at it this way (and ignore the cards) it looks like a good setup for writing Geralt’s position in the story and the (not sex-related) game world.

      The series is very funny, though. But in some respects, it’s close to the same level of reading the author’s thoughts into the game, as was the PC Gamer Skyrim Mod Madness Week (or something like that) series!

      • September 15, 2014 18:02

        I strongly disagree with the sentiment that developers should not be held responsible for the content of their games because some features could be read as “more of an experiment”*. To use the Fallout example, Fallout 2 allows you to join a slaver’s guild, but you take big hit to your karma and your character will forever be identified as a slaver to other characters in the game, similar to the consequences for being a child murderer.

        Whether or not this was an experimental feature, the developers made sure that it was one that was defensible from an ethical standpoint. The game is not just tossing in slavery for the luls, and it is not abdicating responsibility for that feature. It very clearly establishes a moral position on the subject and contextualizes it within the game world. It is making a statement about slavery, even if that statement is as shallow as “slavery is evil”.

        Even if we grant that the opportunities for sexual encounters in this game are a clumsy experiment, that experiment is still a part of the game and still communicates something about the world view of the creators.

        (* This in itself a shaky premise; even if you avoid the majority of the sex in either Witcher game, you cannot help but see the prompts and invitations placed liberally throughout the game. This was not a feature tossed in with hardly a thought.)

    • September 15, 2014 18:46

      It seems there’s only 3 levels permitted in a thread =)

      I agree with you! The sex mechanics in Witcher 1, as far as I can tell from this series, are completely, utterly ridiculous. Although I would say they’re so ridiculous as to de-fang them a little in the “dangerous” department. Anyway, they’re dumb. And I’ve read some of Sapkowski’s stories – they’re way better that anything that would include such penny novel sexo-rama =)

      Nevertheless, my second argument, which is more serious than the first, still stands. If we are to approach this (rather immaturely done) matter seriously, and RED Games deserve and merit this now, then it CAN potentially be a viable narration device. I don’t say it is in this case. But I can imagine how one could shape the world to shape the hero’s perception of it. For example, to outline Geralt’s character, I of course would throw in some anti-witcher slurs, animosity even from his clients, and universal fear of his pale visage. This is all of course used in Witcher games. So in the same vein, if I wanted to highlight HIS cynical view of the presumably “non-monster”, but corrupted human society, I really could throw in some revolting lecherousness, avarice, cuckoldery and false sentimentality. Like, you know, Taxi Driver-style. “This world is filth.”

      I think it deserves no less comment and thought than matters of political correctness or empowerment. After all, it’s some sort of art we’re talking about, with its ends and means – not just a transcript of some occurences and words.

      • Kateri permalink*
        September 15, 2014 18:53

        (Yeah, the comments system is terrible, sorry!)

        There are lots of things in The Witcher that could certainly be written about, or “deserve comment”, yes. I’m choosing to focus on a fairly narrow aspect of the game, otherwise this’d be even longer than it already is!

        However, I think you’re absolutely right about the way Geralt’s character could react to people very differently/more negatively, and it’s something I’ll refer to more in the concluding part of this blog series, when I’ll have a survey of “what went right” as well as what went wrong.

  3. Aankhen permalink
    August 25, 2014 08:15

    I’m loving these series and the G‐names are making me crack up. (I almost lost it at ‘Github’. Well played.)

    Carmen sounds great. It’s a pity there aren’t more like her.

    • Aankhen permalink
      August 25, 2014 08:15

      Pardon me, this series.

  4. Katy permalink
    August 26, 2014 12:34

    Yes, “Github” made me lol :p
    But seriously – wtf is up with Thaler?! Did they just grab an npc at random? I mean, fair dos, some ladies might go for … that kind of thing … but isn’t she meant to be picky or something?
    I don’t think she can really complain about Gaston’s choice of friends when she’s got Gollum lurking in the shadows to answer for.

  5. September 15, 2014 17:47

    The Witcher series is a stricter series than a lot of other RPGs in being based on what Geralt would do and know rather than what the player necessarily wants to do / would know.

    There is some sex in the Witcher 2, but not nearly as much and there are no collectable cards.

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