Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Witcher, Race, Fantasy Worlds and Other Controversial Things

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote here.  I'm going to make a conscious attempt to update this more regularly.

Anyway, recently the game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released, with rave reviews from nearly everyone.  However, the website Polygon also published an editorial criticizing the video game's lack of characters who aren't white (I've yet to play the game, but to the best of my knowledge the only nonwhite character is a succubus).  The article isn't exactly starting a witch hunt over race here, in fact it continues to praise the game.  It's basically saying "Hey!  This is an awesome game and I love playing it.  But for the next one, how about a more diverse set of characters?  That'd be even cooler!!"  Naturally, this reasonable criticism of a video game met with the usual metric ton of vitriol and hatred that has come to be expected on the Internet.

While I'm all for more diverse characters in video games, I chose to listen to a few arguments to why the world of The Witcher should remain whiter than a snowman's coke habit.  I heard a lot of pretty silly one's about historical context, but one had a rather interesting point to make.  The Witcher was based on the stories of Andrzej Sapkowski, which in turn were based on Polish mythology.  Long story short, the argument was that because Polish mythology involved white people, so should these video games.

This brings up an interesting point:  should a game attempt to be diverse if the subject matter involves regionally based mythology?  The inclusion of  (for example) white people in a Prince of Persia game wouldn't make any sense,  and while the God of War series has included people from Persia (as little more than people for Kratos to slaughter, but that's to be expected), it wouldn't make sense for Native American characters to suddenly show up in the middle of ancient Greece.

This would solve the issue with race in The Witcher 3......if it was regionally based mythology.

To the best of my knowledge, the world explored by Geralt in his games is NOT Poland.  It is a unique world based on the legends of Poland, much in the same way Marvel comic's Thor is based on Norse myth.  While there are certainly many things taken from Nordic myth (probably more things than The Witcher has from Polish myth), that did not stop the casting of Idris Elba as Hiemdall or Tadanobu Asano as Hogun the Grim.  The inspiration for The Witcher need not prevent the guys over at Projekt Red from including a more diverse cast, especially when the game setting covers an ENTIRE world rather than a single country.

This issue of race also brings up interesting issues about other fantasy settings.  Lord of the Rings is strongly inspired by Slavic myth, and while it's silly to ask for a diverse cast from a book written in the 30's, is that an excuse for Peter Jackson's films?  I've often said that because LOTR is such a coveted fantasy world among fans and LITERALLY the first example of modern fantasy, it gets a free pass in terms of race.  Now, I'm not so sure.

We can also look at the world of Rokugan in The Legend of the Five Rings RPG and CCG setting.  Rokugan is heavily based on Japanese mythology (with a little bit of Greek myth thrown into it's creation myth), and to the best of my knowledge is only populated by 'Asian' people.  Does Rokugan get a free diversity pass because Asians are less represented than white people?  A similar argument can be made for Poland, who've had a rough history to say the least.  Are they truly any more represented in video games than Asian Americans due to the color of their skin?

These are just a few of the things I've thought about since this controversy involving The Witcher was brought up.  I don't really answer these questions because I don't know the answer.  In the end, it's up to Projekt Red if they want The Witcher 4 or future DLC to include nonwhite characters.  As long as they know that many of their fans would appreciate this attempt at diversity, I think myself and the writers at Polygon have done their job.