(Witcher 3) Stepping out of the Uncanny Valley
This post will likely feature a little bit of spoilers for a bit of the main story for the Witcher 3. It’s basically a sub story involving the Bloody Baron, it doesn’t impact the main story, but I want to talk about it. I’ve been playing video games for a long time. Basically as long as I can remember. They’ve been a big part of my life and something I deeply enjoy. Frustrating at times, but ultimately if I could go back in time I’d not skip them.
Even though they hurt me in school they’ve ultimately been the driving force behind me getting the jobs I have and the life I’m currently living. Is it perfect? No, but it’s one of those lives where you can see the glow of perfection just on the horizon. I’m hopeful and I do genuinely think video games have been integral in getting me there.
In all my time playing them though I’ve only had a few fleeting moments that really captured me. Moments in my life that I wished didn’t happen. I take stories very seriously, far more than I think most folks are willing to. For me these are very real worlds that exist in some kind of pseudo universe. They are as real from the thoughts of their creator as a photon is to your eye. They emerge from the impulses of a brain and live on just fleetingly enough to be documented on paper. Yes they have come and gone, but their universe existed for its entirety internally. We merely move along on our own timescale.
Like a housefly to a human. They live and die in the blink of an eye. The value of life, though, is not necessarily in its length but rather its breadth.
With that in mind when I reach these moments that are well written and, occasionally, unexpected, I’m hit very hard. I find myself think “No, please no.” But the events still happen. I used to play games over and over hoping I’d find the secret path to avoiding the outcome but most have not allowed me such respite.
Along comes Witcher 3 and the Bloody Baron. By most accounts he is a terrible person. He beats his underlings, kills those who slight him, and has an air about him of egocentrism. Worse still he’s a domestic abuser. In most games, indeed even in life, he would be seen as a one dimensional monster. The longer you play the game around him the more you get to know him. He’s still a bastard in many ways, Geralt certainly won’t have any of his shit. But when he comes to terms with what he has done, what he has been doing, you see a broken man become a shattered one.
He has to face the very personification of his wrong doing in the most tragic way that I think any game has presented it. His expressions tore into me. I wasn’t watching a monster get his come uppence. I was watching a human being be torn asunder. The very fabric of his being shredded and frayed. Following these events you find out that he has stopped eating, stopped drinking, he just sits in the garden beside his manor. He stares at flowers and reminisces about why they are all there. You speak with him and you can tell he wants anything for it to all go back to the way it was before his last big mistake.
Does that redeem him? Not necessarily. But this is something I love about the Witcher. They do not give you one dimensional monsters. They give you real people. Some slanted more to those negative traits we despise than others but ultimately always multidimensional. It’s a bit like Daredevil where, if you are like me, you find yourself uncomfortable, maybe even sad, by the end. The hero has won and somehow it doesn’t feel like a victory at all.