Topless damsels, seductive sorceresses, and brothel workers; The Witcher 3 has been greatly criticized for its sexualized depiction of women. And it’s for good reason: there are a lot of bare breasted women in the massive world CD Projeckt RED has created.
Within the past year, where appropriate representation has become a hot button topic, there has been more and more attention and criticism drawn to games that withhold misogynistic and racially insensitive undertones. Unfortunately however, this growing trend of commentary has occasionally come at the expense of recognizing what some games get right. I’m afraid that in this case The Witcher 3 – in some discussions – has become a target of partially merited slander.
During my 90+ hours with Geralt of Rivia, I was taken aback by the stark juxtaposition of damsels and sex objects – and various combinations of the two – next to some truly powerful, provocative, and inspiring women seen in the game (in many cases, this juxtaposition is all rolled into individual characters). Yennefer of Vengerberg, Triss Merigold, and Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (a.k.a. Ciri) are three prominent female leads in The Witcher 3, though many players take issue with their high heels, exposed cleavage, and fornicating dialogue options. So here, I would like to take the opportunity to direct attention to The Witcher 3’s un-sexualized women, female characters that captivate without the need of physical attributes.
Warning: Spoilers below!
Yoana: The Velenian Master Armorer
As the dwarven smith Fergus’ so called ‘subordinate’, Yoana is the true talented armorer within the duo. But Fergus wouldn’t allow you to believe that once you meet him, as he throws himself front and center in attempts to convince you that he’s a top-notch craftsman instead of the lackey that merely hammers horse shoes and nails.
After Geralt makes a request for master level armor – particularly one that’s both light and durable, Fergus is quick to deem the task impossible, “That all? Sure it shouldn’t need self-cleaning? And how about it wipe your arse after ye take a shite in the bushes?”
It wasn’t until Yoana’s interjection – and the activation of a new quest – where she informs Geralt that such armor can be forged with the proper tools that can be found in her homeland of Skellige. Of course Fergus wouldn’t tolerate such “insubordination”, as he ‘shushes’ Yoana, like the parent of some child that asks you to say “Hello” to his imaginary friend.
Upon retrieving the tools needed for the armor, Yoana describes the prejudice she faces from those who doubt her talents as an armorer next not only a male, but – within the context of high fantasy – a dwarven male at that. She then later challenges Fergus in front of a Nilfgardian lieutenant general to see who’s the best craftsman. To no surprise, she wins. But she’s not only proven to be the superior armorer, she’s put in charge of the only forge in which you can obtain master grade armor.
Tamara Strenger: Daughter of the Bloody Baron
Extreme content warning for those sensitive to domestic violence.
The story of Tamara, her mother, and her estranged father is arguably the darkest of The Witcher 3. Her father, the Bloody Baron, used war and heavy drinking as means for an escape from the unaddressed tension between he and Tamara’s mother, Anna. Tamara’s perception of her father, who once called her “The Apple of his Eye”, shifted as alcohol brought his violent nature home.
Throughout her 19 years, she has but one image of her household growing up, “I’d hear him screaming at mum, the thuds as he beat her, then her sobbing. I’d hide under my bed and long for silence”. Even as she feared and eventually vilified her father – as any child in a household thick with spousal abuse would – the Baron’s guardsmen would still send for her to pacify his episodes of violent rage.
The baron had hoped that a new child would mend their relationship, so Anna became pregnant again. But the drunken beatings persisted and finally boiled to a head, marking the most traumatic event that Tamara’s entire family suffered. Her father describes it in excruciating detail:
“I’d been soakin’ myself for three days straight. Anna came to me, said they were leaving. I begged them to stay. She refused to hear it. I tried to stop her. She wriggled like an eel, we struggled… she fell. Woke up in the morn, breeches heavy with me own piss, a large bump on my head. Sadly, they were gone.
“An’ then I went the bedchamber, but Anna was not there. Instead… there was blood, everywhere. I knew. She miscarried. My breath short, my throat locked, I neared the bed… and saw it. It lay there. A tiny thing, defenseless… on bloodied sheets… dead. And it was my doing.”
Interestingly enough, the miscarriage wasn’t actually the Baron’s doing, though it certainly appeared that way. Instead, it was the result of a pact Anna had made with the Crones, a band of powerful witches with undoubtedly nefarious plans. Tamara knew nothing of this, only that her mother was kidnapped by a fiend after they fled their home, and had since joined the Witch Hunters with the intent to save her. Once the Baron got word of his wife’s kidnapping, they unknowingly had a common goal.
Finding Anna was difficult for them both. T’was not the packs of Drowners and the massive fiend they had to defeat, it was witnessing for themselves the complete psychotic breakdown she had suffered from after being captured and manipulated by the Crones. It was then that they came at an impasse: Tamara wanted to protect her mother from the Baron ever getting the chance to lay a hand on her again, the Baron – a now sober, changed man – knew of a place where Anna might have a chance for recovery. Though it took some convincing, Tamara agreed to let her mother go with the Baron. She had both recognized the pain and remorse that hung over her father’s head, and also was also able to shelve the hatred and mistrust that she had for him for the sake of her mother’s well being.
Birna: The Disgraced “Queen” of Skellige
After the untimely death of her husband, King Bran, Birna saw that her political influence was in jeopardy as the jarls moved forward with their democratic traditions of electing a new ruler of Skellige. Birna pushed to “rewrite” the land’s customs, seeking to revert back to old hierarchical fashions of kingship through a family dynasty, which would put her and former King Bran’s son, Svanrige, on the throne.
There’s little good that can be said about Birna, especially since she ultimately sought to sabotage the election by orchestrating a deadly attack on a jarl feast. However, her argument against the Skellige elections stands as perhaps the most profound criticism on the modern democratic process in the history of video games, quite timely as we in the States are in the midst of a 2016 presidential run. When Geralt asks Birna if the feast is to her liking, she responds:
“This is no feast. It’s a farmers market, where votes are bought and sold like sheepskins.
“Take a walk, listen, and you’ll understand. The claimants already hand out land, promise privileges, titles, favorable judgements… They behave like whores lifting their skirts at every passer-by. A king that rules by the grace of votes is no ruler, but a debtor.”
Negotiating votes and over-promising policies? Sound familiar? Birna makes an undeniable argument, but one that isn’t justified by the deaths of over a dozen men killed at the jarl feast. Eventually she’s caught and sentenced to death which then, based on you choices, paves the way for a new ruler of Skellige…
Cerys an Craite: The Newly Elected Queen of Skellige
Cerys is a woman in an all-boys club. She may not be the best fighter, nor may she be able to beat the rest of the men in a foot race, but the pride she holds for herself and her intellect that’s recognized by even the most high ranking officials and advisers alone makes her prominent character in The Witcher 3.
Cerys has demonstrated her smarts on many occasions. One in particular shows her outsmarting Geralt in order to exercise a possessed jarl stricken with regret from abandoning his kid brother. She tricked Geralt into thinking he roasted the jarl’s infant child in an oven, thus bringing forth the hym that feeds off of one’s guilt. The manner in which she’s able to demonstrate a tactful approach to conflict is what enabled her father and clan leader, Crach an Craite, to see how she can make a good queen, the next ruler of Skellige.
After the attack on the jarl feast, while the men – particularly her twin brother Hjalmar – sought violent vengeance for the plotters of the massacre, Cerys insisted on uncovering evidence, assisting Geralt in investigating the crime scene for clues leading to the perpetrator. Sure, Geralt’s witcher senses allowed him to sniff out the assets used in the attack, but it was Cerys who put two and two together, which eventually led to Birna’s prosecution. Eventually none could turn a blind eye to Cerys’ detective work, thus she was crowned the new and first ever queen of Skellige.
Amongst King Radovid and Ciri’s father Emhyr var Emreis, by the end of The Witcher 3, Cerys is proven to be the most honorable of rulers.