The Witcher 3 is not a Role Playing Game

Sorry guys, you go wrong. Let’s try again on your review.

When I wrote thoses lines, Steam says that I spent about 85 hours in The Witcher 3 : Wild. I finished the main story but something is wrong. I had fun but that’s not what I expected. The (french) theory of the role playing games ruins that. Aaah those froggies ! If you want understand, let me introduce you to Romaric Briand and his Maelstrom.

Romaric Briand is a role playing game’s writer. His masterpeace is probably Sens Hexalogie, a philosophical game that he extends on his podcast La Cellule. Year after year, Romaric and his friends give informations about Sens and give a critical opinon about role playing games. Show after show, conference after conference, Romaric begun to make a theory about what is a role playing game. He knows he speaks as an author. His theory has probably defaults but his point of view give us an important tool to understand our hobbies : the Maelstrom.

What is the maelstrom ?

If you speak French, you can buy Le Maelstrom here

The Maelstrom is a book compiling articles about Sens and Romaric’s theory about role playing games. For him, the fiction doesn’t exist in the role playing game. RPGs don’t develop specific story as a book or a film. It produces those interactions between players making a unique story. So if we kill the idea of fiction in role playing games, we see the heart of the RPG. And Romaric Briand name it the Maelstrom.

“When the idea of fiction diseappear, we discover a new definition of Role Playing Games, closer to our practice. RPG becomes an maelstrom. And game writers should direct it to produce the game that they want”

Romaric describe the Maelstrom as “fictional malleable contents”. So we just don’t play in a generic world as Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire, we evolve in universe generating by ourself. Game writer’s job just give us the rules of this world, the modelling clay. Game writers should give tools to create player’s story. The power is shared. That’s why RPGs are so intense and unique. And that why The Witcher is not a real role playing video game.

As many defaults as people

Morrowind : Your name is a part of the story, maybe the best way to the engagement.

The Witcher 3 had a good reception overall. Critics was eulogistic. Steamspy estimate CD Project Red sold 1,637,762 copies. So I’m not worry about their bank account. But this success doesn’t forgive all his default. Problems with the user interface design, machism, racism… Personally, I think his main default is his failure to get this Maelstrom.

The Witcher is a game adaptation to Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. It is a finished story, with his beginning and his end. I didn’t read the book, but Sapkowski said clearly the game is not canononical. It doesn’t respect his idea, his imagination, his part of fictional malleable contents. The video game tells a story by Geralt’s eyes, and we can’t deviate. We can explore an open world, sure. We have some junctions with ethical questions and big consequences. But we will see the world by only one point of view. And it is an alpha male, cisgender, heterosexual point of view. It doesn’t give a choice to have another one. This proposition creates a gap between the player and the game. We can’t feel any achievement in the game because we’re not a part of The Witcher, we’re just a button pusher in Geralt’s adventure. We just follow a story. We couldn’t generate a fictional malleable content.

That’s probably why the Elder Scroll’s series knew a fracture between Morrowind and his more recent episodes. Morrowind’s narration was textual and environmental. On his imperfect begin, you write your name, your gender, you race and let’s go ! Your character seems amnesiac, so you can be what you want (if you don’t follow the main quest). You should discover and interact with the world by yourself. You won’t have a pointer to tell where you should go, so you will get you bearings by road signs. Characters only speak by text, so they can tell your name. Recent games don’t do that because they want audio and they can’t record every names. So you are lost and named as you want. So you can be more immersed. If you are the main character and you can made your story on Morrowind, Skyrim and The Witcher are different. They propose a worlds with their schemes. And you can interact with them by a transparent character with no personality (as Skyrim does) or a precise point of view (Witcher). So the identification and immersion process, the production of “fictional malleable contents” are better on Morrowind. Not perfect, but probably better.

So what ?

My goal is not to say Morrowind is better than Skyrim or The Witcher. It is getting on now but still looks the best RPG than others recent famous role playing video game. I didn’t play games like Baldur’s Gate or Divinity, so I can’t tell if they’re good. Probably feminist, lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people have something to say about those games. And who am i to speak instead them ? Nobody. Video game are made of code. And it uses a binary code to describe unbinary people. But with the Maelstrom, I can say The Witcher 3 is a good action video game and his writing is the best of his generation probably. But it’s not a good role playing video game, it’s not a role playing video game at all.


PS : Here it is another example to show what could be (should be ?) a role playing video game. I prefered name it here because it’s not a french theory. But it’s good too !