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