This article was submitted by Taylor King. It contains spoilers for The Witcher.
Geralt of Rivia, The Grey Player Character
The world of the Witcher is a bleak and dreary one. There aren’t many reasons for someone to want to inhabit this fantasy world like many others have. It’s a world that in a lot of ways reflects our own, exploring themes of racism, prejudice, literal witch hunts and the overall ambiguity of morality and the key decisions we make.
Other RPGs have you create your own character, to help you become immersed and attached to the events that happen as you play through the game. Being able to role play in this way means there is more opportunity for these games to have real emotional weight to the decisions we make.
Geralt is different.
He has a past (most of which we know very little about) and a future. His friends and peers hint at his solidified personality before you even begin to assume control of him. However, for the player, everyone’s “Geralt” is different to the next.
Geralt as a character is made to reflect both sides of a divided world. He is both human and non-human; accepted by neither side. This has moulded him – the result being a very shielded and stoic character. He may even play into the stereotype of the Witcher – amplifying his affective restraint, as though he really is unable to feel or express emotions. This perception leads to a general sense of fear and disregard for Witchers, and leads Geralt to a life of ostracization and resentment from the many races of the world.
With these elements as the character back drop, a canvas upon which to project your own self-image, you come into play. It is up to you to decide how to respond to certain scenarios. Will you give in to your anger and frustration, become the monster slayer they believe you to be? Or you will you challenge their expectations?
Through my own playthrough, I tried to take the moral high ground.
Subverting misconceptions where I could, being emotionally available when appropriate and at the very extreme of circumstances dealing out justice to those who disgraced that of being a witcher.
An example of the latter is one quite dark as most of the events that unfold in the witcher are. It’s a quest line called “Where the Cat and Wolf Play”, Geralt finds a notice saying a monster was causing distress in a nearby village and promptly goes to investigate only to find the village and its people massacred. On further investigation does Geralt realise that the villagers were not killed by a monster but a human, a witcher. Itching to find the culprit as a matter of pride, Geralt eventually tracks the bloodied witcher down, nursing his wounds in a cemetery.
Now as a player you have different options as to how you approach this. You can decide to question him, get his side of the story and then decide his fate. Or you can decide to kill him and ask questions later. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, to hear his side of how it unfolded. To my surprise, it seems that the villagers had hired the witcher to slay a monster, only to then try and kill him when they didn’t have to coin to pay for the job. The witcher responded in kind but went too far.
So the decision rests on Geralt, on you as the player. This is what The Witcher 3 does tremendously well, using Geralt as the subject for players to vicariously experience the world similar to our own in terms of the many societal problems, it challenges you to make decisions where the answer is never clear cut. The game never tells you that you made a wrong or right choice, there are just decisions that have both in game and real life consequences; and when I say real life I do mean that they challenge ourselves to question our individual morality and to become better moral “detectives” as it were.
And in the end, you’re left pondering your decision.
Whether or not you made the right one or maybe things could have gone differently. Geralt is a character that allows players to empathise with and at times assume the role of the monster slayer. How you would act towards those who have disregarded and ostracized you, your entire life. Would you become bitter and filled with hatred like the witcher from the village, or will you rise above those misconceptions?
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