Feminist Frequency and The Witcher 3 Part Deux
I promised to keep waving the monster hunter’s silver pen for a while longer, so here I am. Because Feminist Frequency lied about The Witcher 3 again.
I have to admit, though, that other than simply defending the creators from the Feminist Frequency’s venomous critique, I write these things for another reason, too. I simply believe that the longer we keep talking about The Witcher 3 — here or in hundreds of other places — the more copies it’s going to sell. And this games deserves to sell a lot of copies.
Let’s see… It begins with:
That, I believe, is not a controversial statement. Yes, fiction can be a great place to tackle various issues. Not exactly a revelation, it’s basically a truism, but at least now I know that one future day I will tell my grandchildren I agreed with Feminist Frequency once.
No, twice! This may shock the audience, but here I wholeheartedly agree again. Yes, there is a difference. Truism count: two.
And here comes the combo-breaker. But it was fun while it lasted.
“Regrettable” means “undesirable, unwelcome”. “Natural” means “existing in nature”. “Inevitable” means “certain to happen”.
So what Feminist Frequency says is that sexism and sexual violence are one of the building blocks of The Witcher 3’s world (“natural”), and, sadly — as the game presents these blocks as awful (“regrettable”) — some people will (“inevitable”) get affected by them.
I don’t know, is there any other world out there where sexism and sexual violence regrettably exist, despite best efforts of a lot of people?
Like, you know, the reality?
Why exactly is it a problem that the world of The Witcher 3 mirrors that reality?
Let me rephrase that tweet to:
Movies like Saving Private Ryan use violence for “gritty” world-building, presenting it as regrettable but natural and inevitable element of war.
However, one may also interpret “natural” and “inevitable” as “this cruel, sexist world just is this way, nothing ever changes.” I am not sure why “natural” and “inevitable” would be used otherwise.
Before I debunk this, let me just say that I would not mind dealing with such a world in a video game. We deal with various types of hell in fiction. The suffering in Dante’s Inferno is “natural” and “inevitable”, too, but I am glad the poem exists.
The thing is, however, that if Feminist Frequency accuses this world of never changing, it is simply not true, as the whole story of the game is about significant changes. The exact outcome depends on your actions, but there’s always a big change at the end of that journey.
I don’t want to spoil the game for those who have not finished it yet, so do not click on the link if you’re still playing — but here are two important and telling images from the ending(s). To anyone who understands them, it’s obvious that it’s impossible to for “inevitably, naturally sexist world in which the sexual violence never ends” and the world of these images to be the same world.
But I get it that the above is not the main point that Feminist Frequency is making. That point is the “problem” of window-dressing:
This is yet another case — it’s a recurring theme with Feminist Frequency’s critique of The Witcher 3/anything — when something would not be a problem if true, but it’s not true anyway.
Why would having sexism or sexual violence as window dressing not be a problem? Because games can be parallel universes we can simply be in. Not passively consume like it’s the case with books or movies. We can be there. Live there. And the role of holodeck simulators is to simulate worlds, not necessarily to be a morality tale. Simulators tend to leave it to the player which elements of the world they want to engage with.
As an example, imagine an open world game that takes place during World War II, and one in which you can either fight Nazis, become a German spy, or grow tomatoes. You won’t be able to grow tomatoes in peace, this is the time of war after all — but the violence of war will never affect you directly.
Feminist Frequency claims a game like that has no right to exist, as with certain player choices the war’s devastating violence would be merely a window dressing for the life of a farmer. In other words, all games should be morality tales, and cannot be simulators that leave choice and agency to the player. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what world simulator video games are.
It’s also worth mentioning that the whole “window dressing” thing is a myth anyway. If it provides “texture”, it also provides context and thus provokes reflection.
But, as I said, that is not an issue that The Witcher 3 has to worry about, because sexism and sexual violence are not the window dressing in this game.
Geralt is not omnipotent and cannot prevent or deal with every atrocity of this war-torn medieval universe. And yet he still actively fights — or, to be precise, has an option to fight — many of these atrocities, including hardcore sexism and sexual violence. We’ve been through this before. From fixing a small injustice to decapitating misogynist criminals, Geralt can be the flesh and blood white knight unlike any video game character before him.
And if he ever abuses the trust of a woman, he is properly punished (warning: heavy spoiler).
However, there’s way more important element of Geralt’s journey at play here, one that involves controlling his desire to influence a certain young woman’s — his daughter — life choices. Again, to avoid spoilers I won’t get into details, but to everyone who finished the game it should be obvious that just like Sixth Sense is not really about Bruce Willis’ ghost (but about a mother and her son becoming close again), The Witcher 3 is not really about Geralt (but about a father and his daughter growing up).
And all that fight and all that struggle lead to change. Every element of the story, every injustice fought, every decision made lead to a big, sweeping change. And at the end of the day, when you look back at the whole journey you’ll understand that the things that truly mattered all involved women, and in a quite particular way.
In case it’s not clear yet, yup, The Witcher 3 is one of the most feminist games ever created. It’s just that its story is told with respect for the sometimes harsh truths about our world. In other words, it’s a story for grown-ups.
To claim that sexism or sexual violence are merely the window dressing in the world of The Witcher 3 is to scream out loud that if a hypothesis does not fit the facts, then screw the facts.
We wrap this up with:
Truism count: three. When Feminist Frequency does not lie about video games, they shower their believers with truisms hidden behind buzzword, truisms masqueraded as profound revelations. Translated into human language, this tweet says, “If fiction wants to tell something about a subject it should focus on that subject”. Eureka!
They are, however, full of authoritarian ideas of what should and should not be allowed. Accidentally, if you want to get the worst ending in The Witcher 3, this is the way to play it.
See you the next time barbarians knock at the gate.