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Sexism and The Witcher 3: What the Polygon Article Got Wrong

In what appears to be a customary routine with every new game release, I find myself having to attempt to address and dispel seemingly absurd claims regarding the nature of The Witcher 3’s content. CD Project Red, developers of this gorgeous, new role-playing epic, received some unexpected flak from Polygon, where journalist and editor Arthur Gies criticized the game for allegedly sexist elements. He even alluded to some potential racism in CDPR’s ranks, due to the lack of persons of colour in the game. It is astonishing how nonsense of this calibre is given a platform these days, and this faux-higher-moral-ground act is used to attack or censor artistic integrity, but I shall nonetheless put the game under a microscope and see if any of Arthur’s accusations ring true.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the article that I shall be using as a reference point for my analysis of the game, particularly the first three:

“the world CD Projekt has created is oppressively misogynist”

“Then it kills them [women], over and over. “

“the inclusion of so much violence explicitly directed against women feels like a clear, disconcerting choice. It’s not just present, it’s frequently a focus.”

“I don’t recall a single non-white humanoid anywhere “

I couldn’t stop looking for any example of a person of color anywhere”

 

I am rather late to the party, and we have already seen a number of notable figures rush to the defense of CD Project Red in light of this article, including Adrian Chmielarz, the mind behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Daniel Vávra, best known for his writing on the Mafia games. Their exploration and responses to the Polygon review are conversely profound and sensible…but not everything has been said yet and so I am here to fill in the blanks.

It would be an understatement to say I took the Polygon article with a pinch of salt because it is not the first time authors on the site have made some questionable remarks and done some questionable things, but nevertheless I kept an open mind, considering the possibility that there may well be elements in the game that are arguably sexist (or racist). That is why I waited till now, after having played over 60 hours of the game to harness, and ultimately present my views on the matter.

Pushing an Agenda

It is important that we begin by making a distinction- there is art that contains racism or sexism, and there is art that actually promotes or endorses a racist or sexist agenda. It would appear that Arthur Gies takes no issue with conflating the two, and hence I feel his comments depict a gravely unfair misrepresentation of CDPR’s intent. If you apply his logic to other forms of media like classic pieces of literature that portray racism, such as Of Mice & Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 12 Years A Slave, and even The Diary of Anne Frank, then you can come to the conclusion that these don’t merely contain racist themes, but are intrinsically racist even though they present the horrifying reality of racism at the time they are set (or were written), and doesn’t that just sound ludicrous? Not to Polygon, evidently!

Several treks around the mountain later and Geralt had yet to spot a single person of colour

Excuse me while I play the devil’s advocate but hypothetically, even if the game creators’ intentions were indeed to push a bigoted agenda, if you ask any self-proclaimed “progressive” liberal what harm this could cause, they come up rather short on answers. When I watched the Nazi propaganda film: Triumph of the Will, I didn’t follow up by donning a Nazi uniform, developing anti-Semitic views and setting up concentration camps. No, if I recall correctly, I believe I went back on Facebook for some film banter with my Jewish friend. As a multi-cultural, western society, we are too impervious to bigotry these days to let our real-life views and actions be dictated by a piece of entertainment, regardless of what agenda it may or may not be pushing.

For years, right-wing, religious puritans have warned us of the harm video games have upon our soul, and how they encourage violence and murder. Of course nobody with common sense, gamers and otherwise, have ever taken them seriously because the statistics and studies investigating this issue prove otherwise- as violent video game sales have surged, youth crime has plummeted and this cannot merely be perceived as an incapacitation effect, but in fact, certain styles of games can even increase empathy and encourage positive social behaviour.

So why is it that this repeatedly debunked claim has come back to haunt us once again, only this time from the left wing, with the assertion that video games cause, not only violence, but gender-targeted violence towards women? Arthur never once spouts this assertion, but his writing comes straight from the same school of thought of the Anita Sarkeesians out there who put forth this exact case. If I am now guilty of misrepresenting his views, then he is guilty of being petty and needlessly harsh, because otherwise why would the “sexist” themes even be worth singling out and deriding, if he did not believe that they have any real-world consequences?

“I told her not to read the Polygon article!”

A Diverse World

Within my first hour of the game, my impressions were “what a ghastly place”, and sixty hours later my perception has not changed one iota. Certainly, from a graphics standpoint, the vast meadows, fields, hills and forests look simply wondrous, on the other hand, there is a war going on, and the world is rife with tension and brutality. You will witness all manner of people being hung or burnt at the stake simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or for belonging to a different race, and lowly farmers being flailed for being unable to produce fresh corn for the army. In this world, violence and murder are a means to almost every possible end. As a result, slaughtered peasants lay eviscerated on road sides, others are strung up by nooses, bandits and cannibals await you in the shrubberies, stinking bodies are piled in mass graves, the village widows weep over their dead husbands, and orphans cry over their murdered parents. This is perhaps the bleakest world you will have ever encountered in a video game and it shows the worst of humanity, and non-humans alike. And thus, racism and sexism are not necessarily out of the question in this setting, along with greed, violence, lust, cruelty, deception, and all manner of evils.

Violence is the cause of, and the answer to all the problems in this world

In fact, race and ultimately “difference” plays a significant role in the dynamic between the NPC’s and the storyline itself. CD Project Red created a richly diverse society with endemic racial tensions as well as a disparity between the wealthy and the poor. CDPR also incorporate themes of homophobia, as Mislav a non-stereotypical but self-loathing homosexual hunter tells you about his male lover committing suicide after their love affair was discovered by his non-accepting family. You can choose to console him, and at worst, you can be neutral and not press him further, and just continue the hunt together.

It should go without saying that these are not glorified, but I felt it was worth noting before someone jumps in with buzz-words like “male power fantasy”, “toxic masculinity” or “patriarchal values”. If anything, we have to hand it to CD Project Red for being empathetic to a diverse array of people varying in race, class, gender and orientation and they are certainly not handled in a one-dimensional manner nor feel shoe-horned in.

About Steven Russell

Steve belongs to a species of gamer whose natural habitat is England. He is a rare animal that is most commonly found hibernating in front of a tv with a controller in his hand. Occasionally he is spotted at the pub with the rest of his pack (he's definitely the alpha male). He makes growling noises while playing guitar, to show dominance. He's a dangerous mammal that will rip a game to shreds if it rubs him the wrong way, but he's a lovable creature at heart that likes hugs and pizza.

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  • Disgruntled Goat

    You neglect to mention that CDPR already has a reputation of approaching sexuality in the first two Witcher games with the same level of maturity as a horny 14-year-old boy. It’s not like they didn’t know the criticism was coming or do anything to avoid it.

    • Alexander Yordanov

      Whilst such an argument CAN be made about Witcher 1 (and even then, mostly due to the cards), I fail to see how it might work with Witcher 2…
      I really dont.

      Also a similar argument to yours can be made for racism in the Witcher. One of the BIGGEST if not THE biggest themes in the books (and games) has ALWAYS been about tolerance. An allegory that can be understood easier by younger people in racially “pure” Eastern Europe.

      Did not stop offended Neo-Puritan American Arthur to try to trial a game whose major theme is against racism… as racist…

    • Marcin Berman

      So what? The game portrays medieval-like times. Why would anyone sugar-coat the history?

  • kumasaki-san

    I completely agree with you on this. Authenticity is mistaken for misogynistic propaganda which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s kinda depressing and sad, actually – that some gamers SO miss the point entirely that they feel the need to write an article about issues in the game that are in fact ONLY in their heads and do not really exist. This game empowers women, noticeably more than any recent game to date could even hold a candle to, and yet they don’t say a word about those games being racist or misogynistic. This is the most progressive forward thinking game that I have ever played and it is being accused of exactly what it’s not. Also, I agree that the state of video game journalism the way it is – is a FUCKING JOKE. Your article gives me hope though.

    • Steven Russell

      Thank you very much for your kind words!

      I think you’re spot on, the game is actually very liberal and indeed “progressive” but unlike Bioware, CDPR treated its representation of diverse characters in a very sensible and well thought-out manner. Frankly I don’t think identity politics should come into gaming at all, even for the games that are questionably sexist or racist. And so they should DEFINITELY NOT come into reviews for one of the most inclusive games ever made. The only way games journalists will learn is if people school them on how to have a bit of common sense and rationality.

  • PeregrineX7

    The sad part about all of this is that REAL issues involving REAL sexism and REAL racism are ignored for petty things like this. The Witcher 3 has extremely strong female characters, but becuase they are realistically looked down upon by men in the game, the game itself is considered racist. There are real issues in our society that feminism is needed to fix, but the extremist give it a bad rap and therefore hold it back from completing its actual goal.

    PS: Obviously there are no blacks in the Witcher 3, just like there were no blacks in medieval Europe before slavery!!!!

  • Marcin Berman

    This game contains several “people of colour”. Simply the reviewers were to narrow-minded to understand it. In witcher “elves” are what Americans call “negroes”. The fact that there is racism and it is bad is one of main points. If someone fails to see that he should not review games, literature, nothing.

  • blibblab

    This type of stuff needs to be called out. I feel this way on anything, games, politics, etc.

    Polygon
    banned me because I called them out on their new star citizen post
    (don’t go to them or the verge, every click supports them)

    Going
    to start by saying, I am excited to see this game succeed. It is a huge
    game and has so much hanging in the balance for success. I do understand
    it’s taking longer than they thought it would, don’t really care.
    Happens to games all the time, prefer them to do it right. Also don’t
    care that people are uncomfortable with the games progress and want a
    refund. Surprised they got it, but that’s another issue. My problem is
    the fact that these news outlets are twisting words to make a headline,
    but interestingly enough twist them in a positive light for other games.
    There should be no twisting and a simple error like this should of been
    rectified immediately. The article as it is, is inaccurate and
    seemingly bias.

    So I made a reply to their post and I will admit, I
    was taking stabs at them. This click baiting and possibly mud smearing
    tactics of theirs and all the gaming news outlets, hell news outlets as a
    whole should always be called out. It is suspicious and why haven’t
    they updated their post to accurately represent the situation?

    There
    was poster above me that nailed it in a extremely professional manner,
    calling them on their fact checking and proper reporting. He was very
    polite and made polite suggestions, no stabs, he got banned as well as
    many others that opposed their research. All their posts were removed
    and only up for less than an hour.

    This is the response they gave me:

    POLYGON:

    Instead
    of possibly refutinganarticle’s content and offering a correction, you
    made comments that were less like arguments, and more like attacks,
    comments like these:

    ME as quoted by this polygon moderator:

    “Wonder how much money Polygon is making from said publishers”

    and

    “Is
    Polygon getting paid by some publisher to continue to post these
    inaccurate headlines? You guys have had your fair share of editors
    involved in some fairly questionable events lately. So is this a smear
    campaign against a possibly successful fully community backed project? I
    would think that at least after making one erroneous quote of this
    refund nonsense in your previous article, you would learn to fact check a
    bit more.

    Star citizen has a long way to go and has many hurdles
    ahead of it, but these types of articles seem to be blowing something
    fairly trivial completely out of the water and in doing so seem like
    they are meant to destabilize the games progress. Could bust out the tin
    foil hat, but really don’t need to; This is just sloppy reporting.

    Hope all the swag you’re getting(from activision/destiny?) is worth the loss of your credibility.”

    POLYGON:

    Not sure what Activision has to do with any of this, but according to our Community Guidelines:
    Complaining
    about coverage: We cover a wide array of topics, not all of which are
    easy, comfortable, or reflective of your personal views and may touch on
    issues normally considered ‘outside’ of gaming such as feminism, sexual
    assault or religious beliefs. While we’re not against discussions of
    our coverage, comments containing plainly stated accusations of bias,
    complaints about the frequency of articles on a topic, and complaints
    about whether something is newsworthy are usually an indication that
    you’re not trying to be a productive member of the community. We’ll have
    words and remove posts to get conversation back on track. This also
    applies to review scores.

    Site bashing: Whether it’s Polygon, or
    another website – don’t bash them or their staff. It’s not cool and it’s
    disrespectful to a lot of people. Be the better person here, please.

    Personal
    attacks: Don’t attack or insult another user. It’s not helpful and it
    doesn’t make Polygon a friendly place. This includes calling other
    members trolls, fanboys, sheep, white knights, etc. If you’re thinking
    of using a specific term such as a racial or derogatory insult, think
    again about why that’s a bad idea, and don’t do it.
    As a result, we’re banning you from posting on Polygon.

    Polygon Mod Team
    You can read, but not participate on Polygon. You must acknowledge your banned status by pressing the button below.

    So, I can’t tell them they are a bias, lol?

    I was harsh, a little.. not really. That doesn’t explain the post before mine that was very
    respectful and suggested improvements being removed along with many
    others that disagreed with the article. All that is left is the anti-kickstarter, anti-star citizen post, which should be banned too because they constantly call star citizen fans “Fanboys” which is also against their policies. These news sites are a load of crap. They
    deserve a boycott.

  • Jennifer Robins

    Ok, firstly, I LOVE the witcher 3. Let’s get that out of the way. But seriously, can white DUDES please refrain from talking about feminism, or issues regarding women? Just LEAVE IT ALONE. The sad part is, you types will remain completely oblivious to how obnoxious and IRRELEVANT your viewpoint is. You are complaining about your choice to be “town sherrif” you put on your cowboy hat, and set off to police the ladies thoughts, opinions, and feelings about OUR ROLES in video games. I couldn’t even read past the first couple sentences. Sorry. STOP TELLING US WHAT TO THINK. There absolutely is sexism and mysogyny in the game. To say other wise is flat out denial l, and honestly people like you make the situation worse. You can’t walk past a male peasant without hearing him ask his mate for advice about how many times he should “beat his wench” analogies about “ploughin” a female. Etc. Let’s not get started in the sex conquest cards in the previous game either. I guess in every man’s fantasy world, women are 2nd class. Unless you’re a sorceress that would be on the cover of a Novigrad Playboy magazine. Then your slightly less 2nd class. As a fan of the game who loves all the other aspects, you can’t say it doesn’t exist. I wish authors like you would just flat out say what you’re all thinking , instead of writing countless pseudo intellectual smug patronizing shit like this. You’re not fooling anyone. It’s just fun to treat women like this in movies games etc. You like it, and you don’t want it to change. The truth is, That you will fight to the death to keep it that way too. You will deny, bully, sneer, threaten etc. If any woman says, “Hey guys, ya,know what? I’m getting pretty bored and irritated with the same archetypes in EVERY movie, story art etc. Can we do something new here?, because I’m losing quality of immersion in entertainment. I already get treated like shit at work as a female mechanic, so the last thing I want to do is come home, turn on my Xbox and see the same b.s” Women have just as much of a right to have heros to look up to too. I challenge you for one damn day, to at least TRY to look through the eyes of a female. The absurdity in all of this is, I honestly think angry white MRAS and 4chan nerds are more obsessed with feminists, than feminists are. From creating fake feminist accounts to get us to fight with women of color, to stalking feminist pages, to people like YOU who can’t stop writing about the issue like you’re some sort of credible authority on how women feel. It’s creepy. If sexism is non existent, why are you talking about it then? Can you just SHUT UP and write articles within the scope of what you actually have a clue about? Thanks.

    • Crafty

      Firstly;

      You state that you did not “read past the first couple sentences.” Yet managed to make a grand assumption of my views, gross attacks upon my character, made severe judgement regarding my intelligence and writing style and were very sexist and racist in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people like you saying nasty things, even if they are extremely discriminatory and insulting like your comment was. However you are the one claiming to take issue with sexism and, I repeat, you did not “read past the first couple sentences” so how can you be sure that any of the claims that you made are even true?

      Secondly, a lot of your conjecture could have been avoided if you were able to “read past the first couple sentences”. For example, when I explain the dichotomy between art that endorses sexism or racism (or other views/attitudes), and that which presents it. I am sure that a real fan of The Witcher would understand the artistic intent of CDPR. It also helps to have a primary-school level understanding of History and different cultures.

      Thirdly, when you exclaim in all caps: “STOP TELLING US WHAT TO THINK.”, I cannot help but wonder where you got the idea that I was telling you what to think. If you look at the top of the article it very clearly is categorized as an ‘Opinion Piece’- and as such, it is actually telling you what I think, rather than telling you what you should think. But I suppose someone telling me what I am not qualified to speak about, based upon my genitalia, who then goes on to say that I “police ladies thoughts, opinions, and feelings” is probably not going to recognise that kind of distinction.

      And lastly, I am sorry to hear about the “shit” you experience in your job. I cannot understand why anyone would ever be unkind to you, because you are evidently so lovely and tolerant.

      -Crafty (the author)