Is The Witcher 3 Racist?
The Witcher 3 has come under a bit of flak recently for its lack of racial diversity, and the source of these concerns has mostly been Polygon — firstly in Arthur Gies’ review and then Tauriq Moosa’s opinion piece.
Before I directly address these concerns of race, I’d first like to point out why criticising The Witcher 3 specifically - for a wider problem that the games industry at large is guilty of - is incredibly unfair. While racial representation in games can be improved on in my opinion - all the way from the bottom in indies like Gone Home to AAA’s like Call of Duty - to target a fantasy game that references Polish mythology and is created by a Polish developer is ludicrous. The issue of race in The Witcher 3 is a non-issue: yes, there could be other ethnicities, but there is no reason why they should be included, other than for the token representation that Moosa wants.
The typical counterargument in favour of the inclusion of minorities, goes something like this:
Further, the defense of excluding people of color from a fantasy game is nonsensical. We are talking about being comfortable with the inclusion of wraiths and magic, but not the mere existence of people of color. Accuracy and realism flew out the window with the harpies.
So what if there are mythical creatures? The key asset of a good fantasy is suspension of disbelief. I’m not saying including a minority would suddenly break my immersion, but it certainly wouldn’t add to it, whereas having awesome monsters to slay and a unique folklore to surround myself with does - it’s part of the game’s DNA. The ‘historical accuracy’ argument might not explain away the lack of minorities, but the ‘realism’ - as in believability - of the historical setting is still central to the Witcher 3 experience, forming an important part of its cultural identity.
So what would injecting other cultural identities into the mix add to the experience? Very little, by my reckoning; in fact it might even detract from it, what with the dissonance of seeing any people of colour stand out like a sore thumb, and the writers having to justify their presence (yes, I am aware of Zerrikanians, but Zerrikania is a far-away land that hardly anyone in the population would have contact with, especially in The Witcher 3's time of war). Alternatively, they could do a palette swap for a proportion of the NPC’s, but that would be weird and pointless and do you see how stupid that sounds?
Besides, the game does tackle racism, among other social issues. It provides a progressive social commentary on everything from bigotry, gender roles and religion to drug abuse and wildlife conservation. Moosa seems to take offense though at the inclusion of elves and dwarves at the expense of minorities:
Indeed, it shows again that humans are white humans and everyone else is non-human and oppressed. I’m not against racism being depicted; the game actually shows racism and bigotry as bad. But even Elves have the opportunity to exist. People of color don’t.
Again: This is literal dehumanising of people of color. We are relegated to non-human species, their treatment is supposed to mimic real-world racist policies.
I cannot fathom how much of a persecution complex someone must have to take something as harmless as elves and dwarves in a fantasy RPG and construe that as “literal dehumanising of people of color”. Can I not indulge my imagination in a fantasy RPG adventure for one minute without it being turned into a political talking point? As a Chinese person, I would hate to analyse everything around me and make it about my race, so Moosa most definitely does not speak for me.
I actually vaguely agree with Moosa’s point that video games should have more racially diverse characters, but he is so far off the mark by pointing the finger at The Witcher 3, a mature game that does not shy away from difficult subjects. Any insinuations that The Witcher 3 has a “race problem” I feel are horribly uninformed, misguided and potentially destructive to the industry: if games like The Witcher 3 continue to come under unwarranted criticism such as this, how long is it before developers’ artistic vision is compromised?