Sexual Politics in The Witcher 2

So I’m planning to keep on writing about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for two reasons. First, I question the productivity of having all writers everywhere write about a single game/book/movie for a few weeks before quickly and permanently moving on to something newer. Second, I’m a freelancer, and I don’t get review copies all that often. So when I do get one, I show my appreciation by being thorough both in my experience with the work and in my analysis of it.

So with that in mind, let’s talk about just how questionable the game’s sexual politics get toward the end there.

There are male mages in The Witcher 2, but all of them are minor villains—sexless area bosses who serve mostly to add some fireballs and such to important battles. Female magic-users are a different matter, uniformly attractive and, almost without exception, sexually available to Geralt.

When I say that they are uniformly attractive, by the way, I mean it: many of their animations, both for spell-casting and for flirtation or sex, are identical.

Come to think of it, most women in The Witcher 2 are uniform in that way, drawing from a handful of body-types and a somewhat shallow pool of movements. One sex scene late in the game (the one with that sexy spy sort of a sorceress) is little more than a palette swap of an earlier encounter with a recently rescued she-elf. The only action unique to the late-game sequence involves said sorceress slapping Geralt on the ass before diving into bed with him. Which marks her as—empowered?

In any case, the universal hotness and promiscuity of sorceresses seems innocuous enough—even if somewhat at odds with the “mature” or “grown-up” intent of the Witcher series—and certainly an improvement over the prudish, game-long courtships typical of Bioware fare.

That is, until the third act. Oh my, the third act. Men and women both get killed, but undeniably, the women fare far worse. Sorceresses are pretty much exclusively the ones to be shackled and imprisoned, beaten and tortured, and on and on and on. One unfortunate character gets blinded with a spoon.

In a game replete with choices and divergent paths, that rather grisly spoon-blinding business is inexplicably mandatory. And for God’s sake, it happens while Geralt is standing there watching. Geralt, whom the game has taken such lengths to establish as a man allergic to injustice—and who refuses to kill a war criminal literally seconds later—does not give the player the option to intervene and stop a then-defenseless sorceress from having her eyes gouged out. That’s bizarre, not to mention wildly incongruous.

My sneaking suspicion is that CD Projekt RED simply wanted to heighten the stakes of the plot and the grittiness of the world as the game drew to a close, and that the above was simply the most direct route to that destination. But that idea is more than a little upsetting. As Film Crit Hulk pointed out in the context of Arkham City, misogyny and violence against women are all-too-common go-tos for readymade videogame grit.

But whatever their reason, the game’s last few sections contain a hugely disproportionate amount of horrific and not-quite-necessary violence inflicted on attractive and partially interchangeable women. That’s a shame in a game that can and often does do considerably better.

2 comments

  1. You have to read up on the past relationship between Phillipa and Radovid to fully understand his actions, there is good reason those events occurred.

    Besides Geralt trying save Phillipa and take on the entire kingdom of Redania AND Nilfgaard?

    • Saving Phillipa would definitely have been a huge can of worms to open, plot-wise. I totally get why events play out the way they do.

      But what seems weird, I’d still argue, is Geralt just standing there and watching, with no perceivable reaction to what’s going on—no conflict, no horror, no firm resolve, just a video game character waiting for his next line. Granted, I didn’t have all the background information at my disposal, but the scene itself contains literally zero clues about why Geralt is acting (or not acting) in a way that seems so out of character.

      It’s especially weird since you’re gearing up to make that big decision about Letho. At the point in the game, “How does my Geralt feel about harm coming to his rivals and enemies?” is a key question for the player.

      As you point out, it’s a nuanced thing in terms of internal logic—but my point was that it’s just plain wonky in terms of tone.

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