The Witcher 2: No Sex Please, We’re Elvish

On January 1, 2013, Australia’s new R18+ classification for games goes into effect. In theory this means that video games can be classified as for those aged 18 and above and now sold in local stores, but in reality it hasn’t been smooth sailing for all states and territories to pass the appropriate complementary legislation (as I predicted). I-am-not-a-lawyer, but the complementary legislation is needed so that each state and territory can accept the amendment and enforce penalties if the law is violated.

So, outside of Queensland, all the states and territories managed to get things in place, even if it was pretty much in the final days of Parliament for 2012.

I bring this up because having an R18+ classification may have avoided an odd bit of censorship I recently experienced in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

You’ve Changed, Geralt

Just in case: ***PLOT SPOILERS*** for The Witcher 2 below.

Back before The Witcher 2 launched in Australia, there was a brief flurry of controversy when it was announced that some content that had sex as a reward was cut in order to see the title pass the MA15+ requirement. Then CD Projekt announced that they were no longer looking at IP for region purposes when The Witcher 2 was bought online, meaning that those particular edits were only in Australian retail copies.

I’d forgotten this when I picked up the Xbox 360 version cheaply recently, but my memory was jogged when I reached a certain part of the game. At the end of Chapter 1, you are given the option of chasing down the corrupt town leader or saving some Elven women from being burned alive due in a fire. I chose to save the women (which leaves the corrupt official in charge, but that’s kind of the tone of The Witcher – even your good choices don’t end up with things turning out well).

Then in Chapter 2, you can come across an Elven woman called Mottle who is someone you saved from the fire. She says that she’d like to thank you for saving her life by giving you “a bit of joy”. Having played through the first Witcher – where Geralt bedded various women, including a milk maid, a witch, an aristocrat, royalty, a dryad and a minor goddess – I was pretty sure where this was going, up to the point where Geralt said, “No thanks” and Mottle replied, “Your call, but I’ll not ask again.” It was then I remembered the censorship. Here is a YouTube clip of the full encounter if it was available in-game (but the clip itself is censored to remove nudity thus meeting YouTube’s requirements):

It struck me as an odd thing to cut. The Witcher 2 contains blood splatter, decapitations, torture and also sexual situations (including the opening scene, which contains more nudity than the entirety of BioWare’s RPG output), but this sexual situation was apparently a bridge too far. When I originally read the censorship decision, I thought that perhaps sex was an explicit reward – a “go off and kill ten rotfiends and then we’ll roll in the hay” – but it wasn’t. It was an unexpected reward, and one that you could miss if you didn’t find Mottle in Chapter 2.

Geralt standing next to Margot, the brothel madam in Flotsam.

It’s a fantasy game, so the prostitutes are generally all pretty with huge breasts. MATURITY in gaming, folks.

The Witcher 2 also lets you pay for sex with prostitutes, which isn’t an act that is legal across Australia. If you go down that path, you’ll see a very similar sex scene to the one shown for Mottle above. It’s interesting to me that an offer of sex that is plausible – you saved my life and I’d like to repay you when we next meet – is considered less acceptable than sex acts that are illegal in a number of states.

(The other censored sex scene in the Australian version comes – or doesn’t come, tish-boom – with the Succubus. If you elect to investigate things in her quest thoroughly and say she isn’t responsible for a slate of murders, she thanks you and gives you some items, plus the offer of sex. In the Australian version, Geralt turns her down flat but takes the items.)

It’s just another example of the weird attitude that games have to sex. The Witcher approaches the topic more maturely than most – well, as maturely as a series where you can have a foursome with three female vampire prostitutes allows – but current attitudes see that it is more acceptable for Geralt to cut through his enemies with a sword than have a semi-realistic sexual encounter.

To be completely honest, not including those sex scenes in the game did not impact on my enjoyment of the title at all. The Witcher 2 is a great title and if you like action RPGs, you should try it out. But it was interesting to see the censors in action and where the line was drawn.

You’ve Got Some Feminism in Your Fantasy

Philippa Eilhart and Síle de Tansarville from The Witcher 2.

Philippa Eilhart and Síle de Tansarville – being a sorceress is more then just magic; it’s also the plunging necklines and frilly collars. And betrayal. Lots of betrayal.

I’m not going to spend long on this issue, but I do feel that The Witcher 2 is actually a step backwards from The Witcher in its depiction of women. In The Witcher, there were a number of powerful, capable women, including Geralt’s on-off-partner, the sorceress Triss Merigold. In The Witcher 2, Triss Merigold is captured for a large part of the game and you spend most of your time trying to rescue her. The sequel has a tendency to show powerful women – pretty much all sorceresses – as being manipulative liars. In contrast, powerful men are generally selfish and brutish, but they at least appear to be achieving things and have a purpose beyond making people their puppets.

The Witcher is a dark fantasy world, where politics plays a big part of Geralt’s experiences, even if he doesn’t want to get involved. Monster hunting ain’t easy. Part of this darkness is that the people in it are rarely either completely good or evil – if someone is being manipulative, it is because they believe in their end goal and its better outcome. However, it felt to me that where The Witcher had women and men more evenly matched overall, while The Witcher 2 tends to put women in positions where they appear to be weak and in need of rescuing, or are powerful and lying to you.

Hopefully this doesn’t continue into The Witcher 3 – I’d like to see characters outside of Geralt or a small smattering of males (like Roche and Iorveth) who are capable and trustworthy.

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6 thoughts on “The Witcher 2: No Sex Please, We’re Elvish

  1. UnSub, just out of curiousity, have you read any of the books this series is based on? The Witcher universe is a horrible, dark, nasty, ugly place – it largely is intended to be a deconstruction of the bright and shiny high fantasy universes that most are familiar with. Most of the characterizations you object to are true to the source material. The books never make any attempt to glamourize this fact, either. Life is nasty, almost everyone is extremely (and openly) racist, sexist, ignorant, and generally out for themselves above all others.

    The Sorceresses’ Lodge is just one example – though they also are one of the most powerful factions in the world they inhabit, they are hopelessly corrupt and scheme against one another in the pursuit of power. The original author spent a lot of time (through Geralt’s more philosophical moments – there are plenty of in-game conversations to this effect as well) musing about how the most destructive and vile creature of the planet is humanity. It is central to the canon of the books, and now the games as well. You aren’t supposed to like most of the people, nor are they supposed to be trustworthy beyond their basic motivations. The books are about people being at their worst due to a long standing series of crises that created a horrific dark age. You aren’t supposed to expect much in the way of decency. The way women are portrayed in this universe is supposed to reflect on this.

    Just as an example- Triss is both a damsel-in-distress and an extremely manipulative schemer in the original books (several times over, at that, in both cases). She’s being played fairly true to character in the games’ depictions of her, as are the other Sorceresses. Is the depiction of women in the Witcher canon fair by an outsider’s standards? Of course not – but it never was even remotely trying to in the first place.

    I like the universe as it has been depicted so far, because it is supposed to be a horrible place. It is true to the form of the books, which is the core audience of the game series in Europe. My issue? I think they need to work a little more on their core game design, especially given how many patches were required to avoid killing the player in the first combat.

    • No, I haven’t read the books.

      However, given that the author has distanced himself from the games, there can be some separation between the two.

      I just felt that The Witcher was a bit more balanced in terms of male / female power situations than The Witcher 2. Both men and women were presented poorly for the most part, but the villains of The Witcher 2 are arguably all women. Letho is certainly a key antagonist, but he is a lot more understandable in his motivations.

      I certainly don’t want to see The Witcher 3 turned into a ‘happy’ fantasy, but I’d like to see both genders equally miserable if at all possible. ;-)

      • I suppose it remains to be seen if we’ll ever see Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri. She’s a bit more on the heroic side of the scale, but her fate at the end of the books was somewhat ambiguous at best (the games take place after the end of the book series). She’s scarcely been mentioned so far.

  2. I have to agree with you, even in my first few hours of playing, the way Triss was portrayed made it feel like the writers were trying to suck power out of her, true to the books or no. It was one of the things that put me off the title actually, that and the constant smattering of hard swears all over the place as if that somehow justifies the rating. It all felt a bit… deliberate, like “oh we’re 18+, here’s some swearing and boobies!” but maybe I should give it another go sometime. Lots of people seem to have enjoyed it.

    That Australian censoring does sound rather extreme – I don’t think developers should be forced to remove parts of their game. Ratings are fair enough, but encouraging developers to rewrite and edit out stuff is a bit Orwellian.

    Out of interest, did you play with mouse + keyboard or a controller? I really hated the controls using the keyboard and mouse.

    • Worse still – I played with my Xbox controller. :-)

      I really like The Witcher 2’s story – Chapter 2 is very different depending on which side you pick in Chapter 1. If I were to suggest a path, I preferred Ioverth’s story to Roche’s. Chapter 3 ends the same, but depending on what you do (who you side with, then who you rescue) you’ll get some different options.

      Don’t want to make this reply too long, but ultimately I prefer the Witcher 2 to Skyrim for the fact that in Skyrim you are completely central to events and are the hero of everything. In The Witcher 2, you are part of events, but you’re there because people need you / want you there. It feels a lot less Mary Sue to me than Skyrim.

      • Interesting, thanks for the pointers! I’m planning on getting my old 360 controller connected to my PC soon, so maybe I’ll give it another chance then. Everyone who says the game was good seems to have played it with a controller.

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