The Witcher 3: Racism and Fantasy

By Bob Case Posted Wednesday Aug 15, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 213 comments

We’ve now arrived at the part of the series where I talk about – well, it’s not quite the elephant in the room. It’s maybe something like the hippopotamus in the room (hippopotami, while smaller than elephants, are still pretty big). You see, when The Witcher 3 was first released, there was nary a person of color to be found anywhere in the game. Some in the games media noticed this, among them Tauriq Moosa, who wrote an article for Polygon titled “Colorblind: On The Witcher 3, Rust, and Gaming’s Race Problem.

I’m not aware of any reliable statistical measures by which one can measure the size of an internet brouhaha, so I usually just eyeball it: the brouhaha was medium-sized, and, as brouhahas go, I think it was more productive than most.  Any time a hot-button issue like this gets raised, some percentage of the arguments that follow are made either in bad faith, at cross purposes, or both. Accusations of racism unavoidably activate people’s defensiveness, and, well, you know how the internet can be.

I’m aware that as a white person, I risk making a hash of this, but the only other option is to not talk about it, which can be harmful for its own reasons. Paraphrasing the many objections to the absence of people of color in The Witcher 3 is a tricky business, but paraphrasing one of the most common defenses isn’t. It goes something like this: “Why would you expect there to be people of color in the game? It takes place in a setting based on medieval Europe, and partly on Slavic mythology, and it’s made by a developer based in a country that’s overwhelmingly white. There’s no sinister motive here.”

I happen to agree that there’s no sinister motive. I don’t think CDPR’s developers ever sought to deliberately exclude non-white characters. But I also think that racism isn’t only gauged by intent – it can also be gauged, and perhaps more accurately gauged, by its effect. Meaning something can be racist by accident. If anything, it’s more common than being racist on purpose.

This picture comes from a book called the Cosmographia, written in 1544. On the far left is a Sciapod, from Ethiopia. They have such big feet because they use them like umbrellas to escape the hot Ethiopian sun. Second from the right is a Blemmyae, from India. His face is in the middle of his chest because he has no head. Scholars now believe that 16th-century European depictions of non-Europeans may have contained inaccuracies.
This picture comes from a book called the Cosmographia, written in 1544. On the far left is a Sciapod, from Ethiopia. They have such big feet because they use them like umbrellas to escape the hot Ethiopian sun. Second from the right is a Blemmyae, from India. His face is in the middle of his chest because he has no head. Scholars now believe that 16th-century European depictions of non-Europeans may have contained inaccuracies.

The idea that everyone of consequence in medieval Europe was white is neither accurate nor politically innocent. It’s an idea that has, over the centuries, been deliberately crafted by a relatively small group of people, and then spread through unconscious habit by a much larger one. I have neither the time nor, frankly, the qualifications to make this argument comprehensively, but I can link to a website that makes it far better than I can: this series of articles by The Public Medievalist, which is also the source of the image above.

What this means, to me at least, is that the whiteness of The Witcher 3 at release (since then, CDPR has added some dark-skinned characters – from the fictional region of the Witcher universe called Zerrikania thanks to the commenters who pointed out they’re from Ofieri, not Zerrikania – in the Hearts of Stone expansion) is not something that should be regarded in a vacuum. CDPR didn’t deliberately steer towards racism, no, but neither did they successfully steer around it.

It bears mentioning, at this point, that accusations of racism can be aimed at things rather than people, and can also be made in degrees. Forgetting to include non-white people in a video game does not put CDPR up there next to the guys Gene Hackman went around punching in Mississippi Burning, and from what I’ve seen very few people are claiming that it does. Tauriq Moosa’s original article was full of praise for the game, in fact. A direct quote: “I’ve currently put in a total of 170 plus hours into it, and it’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.”

I think it’s pretty clear from this series that I have a high opinion of the game as well. Pretty much everyone does, it’s one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. Which if anything, I think, makes it more important that critiques like Moosa’s get something approximating their day in the court of public opinion. It wouldn’t bother me much if some obscure asset flip from the deepest caverns of Steam reinforced damaging cultural habits. It’s precisely because the Witcher series has been successful that it should be examined.

I often evaluate fantasy fiction based on the quantity and quality of its dwarves, areas in which The Witcher series scores high marks.
I often evaluate fantasy fiction based on the quantity and quality of its dwarves, areas in which The Witcher series scores high marks.

Now that I’ve said that I agree with some of the criticisms of The Witcher 3, it’s time for me to express reservations at others.

At various points earlier in this series, when discussing the games’ depiction of female characters, I’ve noticed how the writers can skillfully navigate around some sexist tropes while stumbling head-first into others. There’s a similar pattern evident in the games’ relationship to racism. In fact, I think that the series’ depiction of racism, or more broadly of discrimination, is rather strong.

In the Witcher games (and the books), the victims of racism are not non-white humans but non-human fantasy races like elves and dwarves. This dynamic is sometimes met with eyerolls. I’ll try to paraphrase the average objection again: “So even the depictions of racism erase people of color from the narrative. Why can’t you depict real racism?”

This is one area where I think cultural myopia can risk mistaking itself for a progressive critique. Very often, implicit in the criticism of “fantasy” racism is the assumption that American-brand white supremacy is “real” racism, and other kinds are somehow fake. But Polish game developers are going to have a different conception of racism, and different life experiences with it, than those of us from other countries (the USA, in the case of many of the criticisms), and this is going to affect how they build their worlds.

To explain this one way, it always seemed to me like the discrimination faced by dwarves in the Witcher universe is not “fantasy” racism and is instead much closer to “fantasy” anti-semitism, an area in which Poland has a tragic wealth of experience. With this belief, I’m much less inclined to scoff at anti-dwarf discrimination as a milquetoast depiction of racism designed to minimize discomfort in white audiences, and more inclined to see it as coming from a place of a genuine, and distinct, understanding of how discrimination works. (Just in case it’s not obvious, let me say that I’m not accusing Sapkowski or CDPR of anti-semitism. Their depictions of anti-dwarf discrimination are clearly meant as condemnation, not endorsement.)

To explain it another way, a depiction of discrimination in a fantasy setting can benefit from a layer of abstraction. As with discussions of racism, depictions that are right on the nose trigger people’s defensiveness, and even well-intentioned ones can end up hamfisted and damaging in ways the creators never intended. Whereas “fantasy racism,” for lack of a better term, can, at its best, avoid at least some of that dynamic.

I don’t mean to imply that fantasy fiction is some perfectly objective Archimedean Point from which all illogic has been banished. Fantasy doesn’t exist independent of reality; it’s generally only a short walk away from it. But even taking a short walk away can give readers a new perspective on a familiar human foible.

This is the sage Avallac'h. Forget the ears, you can tell he's an elf just by the cheekbones.
This is the sage Avallac'h. Forget the ears, you can tell he's an elf just by the cheekbones.

This one example of this that I want to cover next time. If you haven’t guessed from the above picture, it’s Avallac’h, Ciri’s mysterious elven companion. I had originally planned for this entry to cover Avallac’h and the Aen Elle, but the introduction to that post just got longer and longer until I decided it had to be an entry unto itself.

Long story short, Sapkowski did something very clever with his elves, and CDPR successfully adapted it into their games. More on that in the next entry.

 


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213 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Racism and Fantasy

  1. Shamus says:

    EDIT: I have cheated and moved this comment to the top by changing the timestamp, in the hopes that more people will see it before commenting. (Related: “First!”)

    Wow. This topic is a powder keg. To try and reduce the odds of an explosion:

    One of the most damaging problems of our racism debates is the word “racism” itself. Saying something is “racist” can mean it’s hateful and declares some group of people as sub-humans. It can also mean, “Slightly insensitive or thoughtless towards certain groups of people”.

    One person is trying to say, “You could have handled this topic better and been more understanding of this racial / ethnic group” and the other person hears “You are a monster, your art is deeply offensive, and you are a bad person for making it.”

    So sometimes racism=careless and sometimes racism=”Nazi”.

    That’s HORRIBLE, since it blurs the line between accident and ill intent. That sort of confusion would be deeply destructive to any dialog, much less one dealing with such a sensitive topic.

    And because this is the internet, no matter how politely you suggest that the artist was careless, they (or their fans) might still act like you called them a Nazi. Likewise, no matter how innocuous the perceived artistic slight, some people feel the need to engage in recreational outrage and accuse the artist of racism in the Nazi sense.

    And so otherwise reasonable conversations where people might gain a better understanding of each other instead spiral into a flame war where the overly-defensive clash with the overly-hostile. After all, some people are always looking for a fight. (This also ties into the thread from Tuesday: There are people who are abrasive jackasses about it because obviously this topic is too important to allow someone to be misinformed and therefore we must object with maximum hostility.)

    Just keep this in mind. We can’t fix the stupid broken language we use to talk about race, but if we go in aware of the pitfalls it might help us avoid them.

    Is English the only language with this problem? I’d be surprised if it was.

    1. Len says:

      Recommended reading for discussions of racism definition. Main point:

      Here are some of the definitions people use for racism:

      1. Definition By Motives: An irrational feeling of hatred toward some race that causes someone to want to hurt or discriminate against them.

      2. Definition By Belief: A belief that some race has negative qualities or is inferior, especially if this is innate/genetic.

      3. Definition By Consequences: Anything whose consequence is harm to minorities or promotion of white supremacy, regardless of whether or not this is intentional.

      Bob is making a very tenuous argument for Definition by Consequence, which is also how the word ‘racism’ is pretty much never used, because that would lead to absurd consequences such as for example…

      …by this definition, it becomes impossible to assess the racism of an action without knowing all its consequences. Suppose the KKK holds a march through some black neighborhood to terrorize the residents. But in fact the counterprotesters outnumber the marchers ten to one, and people are actually reassured that the community supports them. The march is well-covered on various news organizations, and outrages people around the nation, who donate a lot of money to anti-racist organizations and push for stronger laws against the KKK. Plausibly, the net consequences of the march were (unintentionally) very good for black people and damaging to white supremacy. Therefore, by (this definition), the KKK marching the neighborhood to terrorize black residents was not racist. In fact, for the KKK not to march in this situation would be racist!

      Personally, I felt that CDPR was just going for law of conservation of detail. The story didn’t need any anything race related that wasn’t already covered by the fantasy races, so there was no need to include non-fantasy races. When they did need a foreign power in Hearts of Stone (as a way of getting Geralt in trouble without affecting the main plotlines), they introduced one without much fanfare.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        This makes me wonder how much of SlateStarCodex’s readership overlaps with TwentySided’s. The two blogs are very similar in tone, in political outlook, and have similar comment sections.

      2. Majromax says:

        > Bob is making a very tenuous argument for Definition by Consequence, which is also how the word ‘racism’ is pretty much never used

        Not exactly. Bob is making an implied argument based on “systemic racism,” which is the idea that an objectively race-neutral (or race-blind) can have systematic negative consequences along racial lines.

        Here, the issue is representation. It’s an objectively bad thing if games don’t represent people of colour. But it’s neutral if any individual developer (here CDPR) represents their settings in a justifiable way that just happens to be monoracial (from the American standpoint, mind).

        However, this terminology goes right up against our gracious host’s core argument. “Racist” and “racism” are more often (colloquially) terms used in a personal sense, implying a motive of racial animus or prejudice. Systemic racism is almost a term of jargon, in comparison.

        So ordinary people hear “that’s (systemic) racism,” and they think “the developers are being called racist!” That leads to the kerfuffle.

        > Personally, I felt that CDPR was just going for law of conservation of detail.

        That’s the systemically racist part. A bunch of white characters is “normal” in our media environment in a way that a bunch of black characters (or aboriginal characters, or Mongolian characters, or Japanese characters, etc) is not.

        Any individual instance of this is benign, but when it’s replicated across an industry it can be a poor gestalt.

        1. Majromax says:

          > an objectively race-neutral (or race-blind) can

          My apologies, a word was accidentally. This should have read “an objectively race-neutral (or race blind) system, process, or organization can”

        2. Len says:

          Same problem with defining racism applies even if you call it ‘systemic racism’.

          Is it a system that harms minorities? A system that believes minorities are inferior? A system that irrationally dislikes minorities? Bob is still going for the nonsensical consequentialist definition.

          > A bunch of white characters is “normal” in our media environment in a way that a bunch of black characters

          There’s the America-centrism again. Speak for yourself. The normal media environment for in China will be full of Chinese, in Japan full of Japanese, in Mongolia full of Mongolians. Why are you privileging American media and American consumers?

          > Any individual instance of this is benign, but when it’s replicated across an industry it can be a poor gestalt.

          For one, it’s not replicated across the industry. I can’t remember any recent big game set in an American city (or multiple countries) not to have many different races.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      It’s very much not, we have a similar linguistic issue in Poland.

      It also doesn’t help that taking the accussation of racism to the extreme also makes it easier to defend yourself or dismiss the whole topic altogether. The other person is effectively calling you a murderer, a nazi, they are clearly deluded and you don’t have to deal with the nuances of the situation.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its really weird that english is a language with such a problem,considering how many degrees it has for other stuff.You can assault someone,you can batter them,you can berate them,you can charge at them,you can attack them,….and all of those words have slightly different meanings.But when it comes to racism you can be racist or not racist,lacking the full spectrum the word can describe.Heck,all of bigotry words are weirdly lacking in spectrum like that.How come a language with so many invented and loan words can still lack descriptions for such common things?

      1. Erik says:

        It’s because language trails culture. This battle is still active, so we can’t yet find a common voice to describe the features of the battlefield.

        Once it’s less trenchant, people will agree on clearer descriptors. But for now, every new invention of a less loaded set of descriptors is seized by both sides as new weapons to use against each other.

        Humans. It’s how we roll.

      2. Fizban says:

        Speculation of the “because people” variety:

        People in power want to subdivide negative actions as finely as possible, so that even when they do something bad, they can claim it was only so bad. They are incentivized to invent and use these words. Meanwhile, a minority oppressed by that power needs words to describe their oppression, but they are incentivized to use only one word: it’s far easier to rally people to your banner with a single all-encompasing word.

        Alternatively: I’m no linguist, but all those words for different types of aggression are derived from different words. But when you’re trying to describe all of the same things, but motivated by or contributing to on specific factor, you’ve only got the one word for that factor. Turn that word into a descriptor, add a dash of people stopping as soon as they see that descriptor, and you’ll never get more than one word.

        The latter linguistic problem is really the main one. If the language was built from the bottom up so that every action/event/thingy had to include a motivation/result/whatever descriptor in order to form a complete word, then simply introducing the new prefix/suffix would generate a full list with all the same degrees.

      3. Vinsomer says:

        I think it’s because people become so defensive at the mere idea that they might be racist, especially if, in their head, they aren’t part of a cross-burning lynch mob.

        And, it’s also because calling something racist is a label which essentially ruins someone’s character. I can understand why people feel like it’s thrown around too much.

        If people actually listened and confronted their own ideas when accused of racism, and if people at least offered the chance for forgiveness to those who do try to learn, the conversation would be much better.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          If people actually listened and confronted their own ideas when accused of racism, and if people at least offered the chance for forgiveness to those who do try to learn, the conversation would be much better.

          Ok,now imagine that all those words for assault Ive listed dont exist,and english has only one word:Murder.If you kill someone,you murdered them.If you punched someone,you murdered them.If you flung a swear word at someone,you murdered them.Now,you get a bit peeved and tell someone “fuck off”,then some third person comes and tells you “Wow,you are such a murderer!”,how would you react?Would you actually listen and confront your ideas,or would you become defensive because youve never actually taken a life?And if you actually sincerely apologized,do you think many would forgive a “confessed murderer” for atoning for their sins?

          1. Vinsomer says:

            It’s less like calling people murderers, and more like is the word used for murder was ‘assault’. Then someone assaulted someone, was accused of assault and then said ‘I didn’t assault them, look, they’re still alive!’

            I’m not really going to keep going because this is going off topic. Ultimately, while some people use the word ‘racist’ as a bludgeon, it’s not always used as such and many times it *feels* like it is when you’re on the wrong end, but that’s not the intention. Regardless, people have to own how they react to things. And, if when accused of whatever wrong your response is to become defensive, deny, dismiss other perspectives and to refuse to listen, then that speaks to your character, your lack of empathy and your intellectual immaturity.

            Because sometimes people are called racist and they’re not. But immediately dismissing a minority perspective is itself racist. I don’t expect people to flagellate themselves and prostrate at the altar of political correctness whenever they get a call out or clapback. But at least getting into whether your words, actions or thoughts are racist is better (on an individual and societal level) and more rational than blanket dismissal.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Ultimately, while some people use the word ‘racist’ as a bludgeon, it’s not always used as such and many times it *feels* like it is when you’re on the wrong end, but that’s not the intention.

              I get that.But my point is that it would be much easier if there were a word to describe its use as a bludgeon and a different word to describe its use as a scalpel.Currently,its on the listener to deduce which meaning was used,which is possible,but often difficult.If there were multiple words,the speaker would be able to convey their intent easier.There would still be problems,of course,but many of the existing ones would be mitigated.

    4. Furo says:

      The LessWrong crowd has a workaround for discussing cases like this. If contradicting opinions are stemming from different definitions of the same word – why, the discussants just taboo this word in this particular discussion and use their definitions directly.

      The common example for this is “if a tree falls in the forest” conundrum. With the word “sound” tabooed, the opposing points of view become “the tree produces airwaves” and “nobody hears these airwaves”.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats actually a good policy

      2. Ander says:

        Man, that got me trapped in a LessWrong hole. Good times.

    5. lurkey says:

      Thank you for “recreational outrage”. For a long time I was looking for the name of “that thing when people froth at the mouth at little insignificant pop-culture nonsenses with passion that should be reserved only for those who mean harm to their immediate family”.

    6. N/A says:

      One of the things that it’s worth keeping in mind in any discussion about racism in the Witcher verse is that any call to historical accuracy, whether as defence or condemnation, is totally and utterly bunk. As a series, the Witcher stories are not, and make no attempt to be, historically accurate. The setting is notorious for being riddled with anachronisms, such as discussing transhumanism by name, and mages identifying “beta versions” of magically created monsters, by checking their production numbers. The amount of ahistorical nationalism, industry and military logistics present in the Witcher stories is plentiful, and so trying to talk about their ‘historical accuracy’ is akin to discussing pre-Christian Irish textiles by referring to Cu Cuchulainn as depicted in the Fate/Stay Night anime. It’s ludicrous.

      The Witcher stories are not, and are not intended to be, a depiction of archaic Poland. They’re a mythology of MODERN Poland, as it was at the time of writing; to a native Polish reader/player, the Witcher books and games are packed end to end with discussions, examinations and condemnations of modern Polish conservatism (religious, political, and otherwise) and bigotry (including but not limited to the anti-semitism Bob referred to). Sapkowski never cared about historical accuracy, but he cared very deeply about writing a compelling world with a distinctly Slavic atmosphere to it, something that reminded his readers of their homeland in a way that big-name foreign works like the Lord of the Rings did not.

      As a series, the Witcher stories are fantasy of and, more importantly, for, modern Poland.

      And this, then, is the strongest argument I can find in defense of the lack of non-white characters in the Witcher games. Yes, historically medieval Europe played host to a remarkable variety of ethnicities, and yes, medieval Poland in particular was a cultural melting pot due in part to its status as a geographic nexus of travel and trade.

      None of that matters a damn.

      What does matter is that Poland TODAY is ethnically homogenous. Overwhelmingly so, in fact; the largest ethnic minority in Poland is of Vietnamese heritage, and it constitutes less than half a percent of the national population. You can live your entire life in a Polish city, and literally never see anyone of a recognizably different ethnicity.

      That is the ethnic makeup that the stories, in any form, are concerned with representing, and to step away from laying out context and assert my own position…

      … why shouldn’t they be? Who are we to demand that the work of a Polish author about modern Poland in allegory, conform to the cultural makeup of America, or Britain, or France? The Witcher series is one of the very few, perhaps the only, artifacts of Polish culture to have entered into the wider global awareness, what possible right does anyone have to demand that it be altered to be irrepresentative of its homeland?

      Keep in mind, Poland is not some mighty colonial power like America or Britain. Poland has suffered hugely at the hands of history – until this century, Poland was a conquered nation, carved up by occupying powers! It is right and good that the Witcher series represent Polish culture in a wider media that is for the most part blind to that, and to accuse it of racism for not conforming to the ethnic makeup of foreign countries because of their dominance of modern media and the cultural zeitgeist is, frankly and straightforwardly, cultural imperialism. It should not be borne.

  2. Wiseman says:

    This expectation that all media reflect American reality is something frequent online, since all of us are assumed American until stated otherwise.

    1. kunedog says:

      How many Japanese games have zero non-white people? Or zero white people? Are those accidentally “racist” as well? It’s just such a ridiculous accusation on the face of it, whether it’s against Witcher or Zelda or KC:D or Metroid or whatever.

      This goes further than expecting media to reflect American reality; it’s demanding that media cater to the American far left.

      1. DW says:

        Japanese fantasy games regularly feature a variety of skin colours. To use your Zelda example, an obvious example would be the Gerudo. There are barely any NPCs in the Metroid series, but Metroid: Other M (I know) does feature a black character at least.

      2. Kamica says:

        Your second paragraph is getting riskily in politics area =P.

        As for the requesting of adding more diverse skin colours and such to games all over the place (especially medieval fantasy games though), is because people like to see people like themselves represented. They want to be able to go “Oh look, a person who looks like me can be a badass” or “This person who looks like me can be a villain, or a hero, or a [insert other things]” Naturally these people aren’t incapable of thinking that people like them can be those things, but just imagine that, instead of medieval fantasy, the dominant fantasy genre since just under 100 years ago was African Medieval Fantasy, with Mali being the go-to source for cultural references, and African people being ALL the characters, in EVERY game you see, ALWAYS. You’d really appreciate for them to bend the rules a bit of the source material, and add some people who look like you in it I reckon =).

        (Having said all of that, I reckon a fantasy game based on medieval Mali would be awesome actually…)

        Anyway, basically, representation is important to people. It makes people feel like they too can star in cool stories =).

        1. Kathryn says:

          This is an argument I have NEVER understood. I’ve heard it often enough that I have to believe it’s a real thing, but I have absolutely no personal experience that even comes close to substantiating it.

          My personal fictional hero growing up was Geordi LaForge. I’m not black, blind, or a man. (I am, however, an engineer. And a reader.)

          My hero now as an adult is Hermann von Helmholtz. I’m still not a man. I’m also not German, nor am I a physicist, and I’m definitely not a genius and out of the box thinker who made notable contributions to *any* scientific fields, much less seven of ’em. (I am, however, a biomedical engineer, and I like to call HvH the first biomedical engineer. I can go on about him for hours, so don’t get me started XD)

          And I do belong to a demographic that is never represented in fiction (profoundly deaf people who speak, don’t know sign language, and are part of mainstream society). It never occurred to me until I started seeing this “representation” argument that this was the case. And after noticing that it is, I still don’t care.

          So again, I guess I have to believe it’s a thing, but I cannot empathize at all. It’s baffling to me.

          1. Kamica says:

            Which is fair enough, not everyone feels a need for representation =P. I personally am absolutely sick to death of white male protagonists, being white and male myself. But I’ve seen several of my friends from various ethnic backgrounds get super excited about even moderate representation of their ethnicities or cultures.

            Nothing’s universal =P. There’s always exceptions, and I’m not sure if you, or they are the exception, but there’s indeed plenty of people who wish to see representation, so I personally think it’d be worth it to consider representation =).

          2. Kathryn says:

            I should add, I’m not saying I’m right and other people are wrong, or vice versa. Just saying I have a very hard time understanding this argument because it is SO different from my own lived experience. Which is true of all of us when we run across these kinds of differences. For a less controversial example, in the workplace, some people prefer to receive brief, direct emails, while others feel put off and wonder if brevity means the person is mad at them. If you are annoyed by having to dig down 5 sentences to get to the point, it can be hard to understand that other people actually like doing that. (Guess which group I’m in…)

            1. Misamoto says:

              While that’s another “ism” I don’t understand the argument of not including female protagonists because girls don’t play videogames. While that in itself becomes less true with every day, my point is that I as a male enjoy playing female characters, and my “free creation” characters are always female. Why would I want to stare at a white male? I see him in the mirror every day

  3. grampy_bone says:

    The issue here comes from judging a game by a quasi-religious standard. It’s unfair and makes no sense. Saying the game is “racist” is the same as saying it’s blasphemous or heretical, and is about as meaningful.

    1. Collin says:

      I wish this blog had some kind of upvote button. You said it exactly right, thank you. It’s a religion with really good PR criticizing a commercial sector with not-great PR.

  4. Henson says:

    Hoo boy.

    It seems that you’re making the argument that having only people of one colour in your story-world is evidence of unintentional racism. This, I find, is far too much. ‘Racism’ is a very strong term, for good reason; it shouldn’t be used to describe a situation such as this one, where no race is either lauded or belittled, intentionally or unintentionally.

    Now, you could argue that a lack of any races other than White minimizes the importance of those other races by making them less visible. While I understand that opinion, I would have two counterpoints: (1) This idea essentially requires every story to have a variety of skin tones. This seems to me an arbitrary checkbox for storytelling, and possibly censors stories that might benefit from a largely homogeneous population. (2) The Witcher is only one series of games. There are plenty of games with a large range of skin tones and, as such, visibility is not really negatively affected by this one series. To put all that responsibility on a single title, or on every title, is rather silly.

    Personally, I think we should be concerned mostly with believability. Is it believable that a medieval setting, plus monsters, would have a minimum of immigration between climate zones?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      With monsters, yes, but also with magical teleportation.

      1. Henson says:

        True, that’s certainly something to consider, as well as the details of teleportation: range, whether the caster requires knowledge of the destination, and number/proportion of spellcasters capable of teleportation, to name a few. My guess is that since the Northern Realms and places like Zerrikania have very little to do with each other politically, there would also be little motive for most spellcasters to teleport cross-continent, either.

    2. RoboticWater says:

      In response to (1), that’s too much of a slippery slope. Clearly, if there’s an explicit reason for everyone to be of a specific skin tone, then that’s fine (obviously, the next question would be why they all must be that skin tone, and what seems to be that thematic intention behind that decision). The issue is that there’s no especially good reason not to have non-white characters in this universe, as there is not only historical precedent for it, but it’s a fantasy world, so why the hell not? Non-white characters are generally underrepresented in media these days (and often only appear as certain racial archetypes when they do), and there appears to be a false narrative that non-whites weren’t present in medieval Europe at all, so I don’t think it’s’ unreasonable to critique a piece for not working against that. And again, no one’s claiming that The Witcher 3 is intentionally or maliciously racist here, but maintaining the status quo is as much an action as breaking it, not deliberately in this case, but I feel like bystanders shouldn’t just get a pass.

      As for (2), I brought it up briefly, but representation in general for non-white characters isn’t all that great, so every little bit helps. Saying “well, there are other games” is like saying “well, my vote doesn’t count much anyway.” The expectation that others will just handle it is just another means of maintaining the status quo, which I don’t think is all that fair right now. This is especially true when you’re a high-profile work of art, and there aren’t that many others “casting their vote” for you. Of course people are going to put this expectation on every piece of art they see. If you care about a social issue, wouldn’t you advocate for it in all circumstances? You wouldn’t change anything otherwise.

      I should also say that the reaction to critical race or gender theory is often misconstrue as rabid condemnation rather than the usually loving critique that it is. It’s not “this game is racist, it should burn in Hell,” it’s “I like a lot of what’s going on here, but man, it’s falling into a few traps that it would’ve been better off avoiding.”

      1. Len says:

        Law of conservation of detail applies. You don’t include all the different skin tones for the same reason you don’t include all the different religions, even if you can because it’s a fantasy setting where everything goes. They don’t contribute anything to the setting and they don’t contribute anything to the story, and so they can be left out. When CDPR actually needed to get Geralt into trouble without affecting the main plot lines, they introduced Zerrikania. In that case, a different culture was introduced for a purpose. The world serves the story, not the other way around.

        (2) Your argument only makes sense if your worldview is completely America-centric, and assumes that representation is empowering somehow. No. Rest of the world here don’t give a shit about representation. You’re basically asking for every work to become even more America-centric, and frankly, we have enough of those.

        1. Ander says:

          “assumes that representation is empowering somehow”
          What can I say; that is a common assumption in America. It’s basically axiomatic. Hopefully, though, most Americans would also ask what I’ll ask now: What are other opinions on that statement from other worldviews? Does it come off as a silly/pointless issue to some people?

            1. Ander says:

              Thanks for bringing up GitS; that’s what I thought of, too. I remember a columnist online (American) responding to the linked video, lamenting the fact that many Japanese didn’t seem to care about the casting decision, like, “Oh, they don’t realize they’re oppressed.” It came off as…well, not very good.

              1. lurkey says:

                It came off, I guess, as author doing “White man’s burden” thing, caring about those poor oppressed minorities unable to see their oppression until some first-world-problems-ridden wealthy whitey helpfully points the way. I wonder if social media activists who say things like that (or think that casting, say, a Chinese or Mongolian actress in this role would make everything ok) do really not notice the irony.

                On subject. The majority of fantasy in fiction is Anglo-Saxon based with a dash of Vikings. You know — dwarves, elves, dragons, knights, Arhur, Lancelot, Tolkien lore, what have you. Then, suddenly — boom out of nowhere — a game based on Polish (and by proxy Eastern European) mythology (also issues and problems) becomes a huge hit…and the critics from grossly over-represented Anglo-Saxon camp are all, “You know what guys, your thing isn’t representing enough of contemporary American values”…yeah. There’ll be backlash and heated emotions.

                1. RoboticWater says:

                  “Then, suddenly — boom out of nowhere — a game based on Polish (and by proxy Eastern European) mythology (also issues and problems) becomes a huge hit…”

                  OK, so immediately, you’re mischaracterizing what’s happening. It’s not that people are just suddenly and randomly jumping on this game because it’s big and they can get clicks or whatever. Critical race theory is always going on (less so for games as they have a much smaller academia); it’s only because the game is big, and reached so many people, that these critiques are falling on people’s ears. The same happened for Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

                  “Anglo-Saxon camp are all, “You know what guys, your thing isn’t representing enough of contemporary American values”…yeah. There’ll be backlash and heated emotions.”

                  Again, there is ample evidence for non-white people in medieval Europe, so it’s not really about “contemporary American values,” it’s about this evidence being almost entirely ignored by popular media. Obviously, race is touchier in America, so that’s where most of the critical theory is going to come from, but that doesn’t really change the veracity of the evidence.

                  No, it’s not a huge issue, and I doubt random people on the street would care, but like I said, it’s something they could do which is technically accurate and would make some people happier. I don’t know why people like you seem to get so stressed about the suggestion that there could be some alteration which would make the game better for some people. It doesn’t really affect you negatively, and it can only positive affect others.

                  1. lurkey says:

                    I don’t know how did you deduce that I suggested “[…]people are just suddenly and randomly jumping on this game because it’s big and they can get clicks or whatever” or why do you think I am stressed or opposed against alterations in games to include bigger variety of people. I just said that passions and backlash are to be expected.

                    Also — “Obviously, race is touchier in America, so that’s where most of the critical theory is going to come from, but that doesn’t really change the veracity of the evidence” — yeah, well, precisely because most of the critical theory is going to come from America it does change the veracity. One cannot completely get rid of bias when debating something as fluid and subjective as societal disparities.

                    I wonder how much additional confusion difference between definitions of race brings in. I’ve been taught 3 races in school — Africans and aboriginal Aussies (and parts of Southern India, I think?) one, Asians and American Natives two, basically everyone else, three. And I noticed that Americans assign, say, Latin or Arab people to be of different race from pasty Anglo-Saxon whiteys when in categorization I was taught they are totally the same race. In that case, evidence of non-white people in medieval Europe sounds less, heh, outlandish if non-white means, e.g. Romani and Jews rather than Africans and Asians.

                  2. Michael says:

                    “there is ample evidence for non-white people in medieval Europe”

                    Non-white people in Europe were (and still are) incredibly rare. Even then, it would have been North Africans and Arabs, not sub-Saharan Africans. And even then, they were merely traveling through and not living in Europe permanently.

                    There’s also the fact that Europeans don’t have the same conception of “white” that Americans do, and don’t have the same hang-ups about blacks. Expecting a foreign-made game about foreign mythology to pander to American preconceptions is incredibly insensitive.

                    1. Hector says:

                      You are 100% correct, historically speaking.

                      It wouldn’t have been impossible for non-European (“White” is an abritary, meaningless, and changeable category invented by overt racists and I do not like using it) to travel within Europe and no doubt some did. But it was relatively rare following the fall of the Roman Empire. There was almost no contact between Europe and Sub-Saharan African until the Portuguese began inching down the coastline a thousand years later – even though geographically there’s not that much distance. It would have been reasonably common for a few people to be visiting from other countries in the major cities – but even then, you’re mostly talking about neighboring lands within Europe… because those’re closest.

                2. Gwydden says:

                  There’s a very good reason why Japanese don’t care about this, and that’s because Japan has its own thriving film industry (and video game industry, and literary output, and so on) and doesn’t need Hollywood to represent them. Asian Americans are a different story, and they are the one who tend to take issue with whitewashed casting. That role could have gone to an Asian American actress, but it went to a white woman instead. Hence the problem.

                  1. Stuart Worthington says:

                    Yep, this is it. I don’t know why people have a hard time following this. It ultimately didn’t matter what Japan thought of the casting decision, since they didn’t really have a stake in it. Japanese Americans, on the other hand, did.

                    Asian American actors and actresses continue to struggle getting high-profile work in Hollywood, and the GITS movie was one of the very few instances where Hollywood had little excuse not to give one of them a turn in the spotlight.

                    (And yet…)

        2. Abnaxis says:

          I would go so far as to say having a diverse cast goes beyond breaking Conservation of Detail, and actually makes the story worse.

          Race is not, and has never been, purely about skin tone. It has always been about cultural boundaries and tribalism, where skin tone is used as an easily identifiable external feature that people use as shorthand to identify tribal membership. I.e. if you skin is black, that means your ancestors came from Africa and therefore I will blithely assume (X, Y or Z) about how you were raised, where you were raised, what you believe, your intelligence, etc. Races only exist in a context where geographic and tribal boundaries are socially important.

          If you have more black people in Witcher, it undercuts the whole dynamic it has between humans and elves and dwarves. It shows that humans are bigots about the factors that separate them from dwarves, but somehow whatever factors separate them from different skin colors don’t matter? That’s OK handwave away in a story where prejudice and bigotry aren’t central to the themes, but it undercuts the message in something like the Witcher.

          The only alternative is to ACTUALLY make race matter in the world, but then you’re back to dodging landmines as your fantasy black people and white people are compared to real-world black and white people.

        3. shoeboxjeddy says:

          I think it’s ENORMOUSLY begging the question that you are stating that “They (different skin tones) don’t contribute anything to the setting and they don’t contribute anything to the story.” That… is actually a whale of a statement. You have so nakedly assumed white as “default” that you’re actually insisting on a specific reason for why non-white humans SHOULD EVER be included. Imagine if you did this with women. “This story isn’t about breeding, so why include women at all?” Hopefully you’d see how bad the statement comes off there. The purpose of different ethnicities of people in a story isn’t just so the game can directly dialogue the topic of race or include a story about discrimination or whatever.

          1. Len says:

            I’m Asian and I don’t live in America. A white society is the default setting I assume when the game is inspired by a Eastern European/Tolkien mythology, like I expect a game set in Japan to default to the Japanese, and a game in Malaysia to default to the Malays.

            If you want to include a White guy in a Three Kingdoms kind of setting, you should have a good reason as well.

            Also, you’re the one asserting that women are only good for breeding, not me.

        4. RoboticWater says:

          I feel like you can’t really apply the law of conservation of detail to an open world game that has, despite a wealth of good content, a sizable amount of unnecessary fluff. It’s really a matter of what they decided to put time into. Furthermore, sidequests, as a narrative device, exist to explore concepts which are thematically germane, but not absolutely essential to the plot, so a game like this, by design, doesn’t strictly follow the law of conservation of detail. And for a game with such lavish sidecontent as The Witcher 3, I’d say that making a quest or two with custom NPCs of different races is, in fact, more reasonable than just about any other game.

          This means that the inclusion of another race in, say, a DLC is fairly easy. There was no reason not to have this kind of small representation in the main game, so the question remains: why didn’t they? Again, it’s not a condemnation, the answer is likely: they didn’t think about it. That’s fine, especially for a game that covers racism in a different regard, but I think its fair for a medieval scholar to critique modern portrayals of medieval narratives for not including different races, as it perpetuates a false mythology of their absence. Obviously, it’s not a massive deal, but why not go against that myth if you can? It doesn’t even need to be about empowerment; I think it’s fair to say that we like media that bucks trends because if nothing else, it’s something new—it isn’t the trend.

          I’d also say that one can easily critique what detail is “conserved” in a limited story, as that detail is consciously chosen. It’s perfectly reasonable to critique a work for everything it does and doesn’t include—the ideologies it represents explicitly or implicitly by doing so. Obviously, this particular case isn’t all that damning, but that doesn’t mean the critique can’t happen.

          Again, this isn’t calling The Witcher 3 terrible for not doing a thing, it’s saying “here’s a thing it could have done to break from the status-quo.”

          “(2) Your argument only makes sense if your worldview is completely America-centric, and assumes that representation is empowering somehow.”

          It is. People generally like stories because they can relate to them. They can see themselves in them. That’s not to say people need their race to feel included; that’s not the case, but there are specific issues, tied to the lived experience of being a particular race which might be overlooked if not portrayed by a writer sympathetic to these race issues. I would ask that you produce research that shows otherwise. My own understanding of the literature is quite contrary to your position.

          “No. Rest of the world here don’t give a shit about representation.”

          A bold statement to make without any supporting evidence. I feel like I see a lot of gamers make this claim that “we don’t care about representation,” but that’s kind of an easy position to take when yours is the race being adequately represented. Not only do many of these people then turn around and bitch about women in Battlefield (not saying that you’re one of these)

          Further, as I alluded to earlier, I don’t even think you need to be altruistic to care about representation. Often times, it just makes the story better to have perspectives from other cultures that you haven’t considered before. Incidentally, I’m glad The Witcher 3 represented a very Polish perspective. It’s part of what made it interesting. However, race in Europe isn’t often a position that’s presented. I think it would be interesting to see a story like that.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I’d say that making a quest or two with custom NPCs of different races is, in fact, more reasonable than just about any other game.

            You know whats sad?Witcher 3 has npcs WITH MISSING LIMBS.While making a character of a different race is easy,you just slap a different texture onto your standard npc model and you are done,making an npc with missing limbs requires you to make a different model.And yet,all that effort is unnoticed because “yeah it has cripples,but they are white,so WHO CARES”.

            1. RoboticWater says:

              Why do you claim it was ignored? I’m actually quite glad there were people without limbs in the game, because it shows the effects of war in a very personal way. Other games would often just have dirty people just lying around. CDPR went further. What about any of this has to do with the lack of other races?

              You’re basically saying “why do you care that this bucket doesn’t have blue marbles, IT HAS GREEN MARBLES.” OK, sure I’m glad it has green marbles. No one’s complaining about green marbles, but it could also have blue marbles, right? This is just pointless whataboutism.

              I don’t really understand your position here. You seem to think that asking for more representation would mean getting rod of other representation. Why would anyone want that?

              Also, removing a limb in videogame development may actually be easier than making the right texture and facial structure, and getting the right voice actor for another race. Like, I’d be pretty sympathetic if CDPR said “we literally just couldn’t do it with our resources; it just wasn’t a priority” (granted, with the scale of that game, I’d be a bit skeptical); I just think it’s a shame that it wasn’t a greater priority. Not a big shame, but a shame.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                I mean ignored by the press.Ive seen a lot of things praised about the game,but not this.Meanwhile,Ive also stumbled around a few “its too white” articles before this one,and none of them mentioned this either.

                Im not saying that one of these cancels the other,Im saying that Im sad that people who dont care about the representation did not notice it because “eh,who cares about the models of minor npcs,LOOK AT TRIS!DAYM!”,and those who do care did not notice it because “but everyone is too white!”.

                1. RoboticWater says:

                  Why would it be covered by the press? The press usually covers negative issues, because people probably care more about a lack of something than hearing “this thing has a thing, isn’t that nice?”. I’m fairly certain that this particular issue was brought up in several blogs about the game’s effective depiction of war. Why would an article need to bring that up to make the point about the historical lack of race representation in medieval narratives? Sure it could have, but there’s no real reason to. Again, I just think this is a pointless non-sequitur to try to mitigate the actual issue at hand.

                  Im saying that Im sad that people who dont care about the representation did not notice it because “eh,who cares about the models of minor npcs,LOOK AT TRIS!DAYM!”,and those who do care did not notice it because “but everyone is too white!”.

                  But that’s not even true. Do you really think that everyone or even most people who cared about representation in The Witcher would say, “yeah, but screw the people with disabilities, race representation is all that matters.” I feel like it’s a gross mischaracterization to claim that this is what people were clamoring for (if we could even describe what happened as clamoring).

            2. CraigM says:

              I’m going to call this claim flat out wrong. Sorry.

              Part of the reason Witcher 3 is so loved and critically commended is precisely because of this world building detail. In so many ways the game excelled at showing a world in conflict. You get a sense of the war from the refugees, the dead villages, the battlefields, the people hanging from trees. It is a brutal, ugly, world and the art and design match that.

              So saying ‘no one notices because they are white’ is disingenuous. That is a highly inaccurate portrayal of the perspective of people who comment on the fact the game is entirely white. It is entirely possible to praise the world building diversity of people’s in terms of body type, ability, size, looks, style, and language, while at the same time noting the lack of diversity of skin color, especially in a port trade city where at the least you would expect to see foreign traders by the docks, which would only add to the world building verisimilitude. It is not an all or nothing proposition.

              So the game does a great job in creating a world, and paying attention to many of the details to help it feel real. And having it be worn and damaged with people who clearl show the effects of the story? That’s admirable. But you can acknowledge that at the same time as saying they fall into the all too common trap in video games of never questioning the ‘white default’, and considering if that really makes sense. I, and most people, aren’t demanding they insert other skin colors. Merely that this baked in assumption be challenged. That rather than thoughtlessly plowing on, occasionally stop and think about this. Because clearly CDPR care about their world, they stopped to think about how war would affect the world and people in it, and the game is far richer for it.

              So why not this as well? Think if it makes sense, and maybe it won’t, and your game can be made richer for it.

              That said if Cyberpunk had the same issue, the response would rightly be far more harsh. There the lack of that type of diversity would not be missing a chance to enhance verisimilitude, it would actively be working against it.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                I’m going to call this claim flat out wrong. Sorry.

                I fully admit that I could easily be wrong,because its the impression I got from reading some reviews,but definitely not ALL of them.So Ill just concede the point and say that I was mistaken.

      2. Ander says:

        “I should also say that the reaction to critical race or gender theory is often misconstrue as rabid condemnation rather than the usually loving critique that it is.”

        The distinction that’s still there is that it’s often a moral critique rather than an artistic one. “This work would have more artistic merit with more representation” is an artistic statement. “This work would avoid a tradition of ethical issues with more representation” is a moral statement. Either statement might be questioned, but the first is a bit harder to defend in isolation. I get the impression that many critics default to the latter (moral), assume it to be true, and assume that it therefore results in the former (artistic).

        I appreciate your clarification. This is simply how I often see the criticism you’re talking about, and I may be reading said criticism wrong.

        1. RoboticWater says:

          Not to get mired in philosophy but all artistic statements are necessarily moral. To make an appraisal of some piece of art, you need a measure, and this measure is chosen by some moral. If nothing else, the subjective experience of a work is directly tied to the ideology of that piece as much as its technical construction. A beautiful piece of Nazi propaganda is, despite its beauty, still Nazi propaganda. It shouldn’t be surprising if people act in revulsion, even if the video has excellent mise en scene and framing. Thus, we should be able to critique a work for its ideology, implicit or otherwise and consider that critique as part of the whole. I don’t think anyone said The Witcher 3 had a worse art style for not having representation, but one can easily make the claim that the game, overall, is worse (if only slightly) for not having representation.

          ““This work would have more artistic merit with more representation” is an artistic statement. “This work would avoid a tradition of ethical issues with more representation” is a moral statement. Either statement might be questioned, but the first is a bit harder to defend in isolation.”

          I disagree, I feel like it’s fairly easy to defend. Race issues in medieval works are hardly covered in popular media. This issue would be fairly unique in a story. If nothing else, it would simply be novel; however, if you cared about representation or were the race represented (and assuming it was done well), you would probably identify with the story more—and gain more enjoyment—if your particular lived experience as this race was portrayed.

          Again, the underlying moral claim behind representation isn’t “representation is inherently good,” it’s that greater representation will make media more diverse, and thus more novel to the majority population, and more appealing and accepting of the minority population. These are easy moral positions to defend in both a political and artistic context.

          1. Ander says:

            I agree that art is moral, though I think we can discuss moral components and artistic components with some level of separation.

            I see and appreciate your points. I disagree with the amount of assurance you seem to have (in my reading of your response) that more racial representation makes for a better story (even if well-implemented), but I understand that it is very possible that it can.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not to get mired in philosophy

            But,I love philosophy.And I disagree that in order to judge an art piece you have to measure it by some moral.For example,optical illusions like this one.There are really no morals there,just pure skill and understanding of how our vision works.

            To me,art is judged emotionally.And while emotions and morality can often be tied together,they dont have to be.Being in awe of a natural phenomenon doesnt really mean you think of it is as something good or bad*.And theres art that can be as apathetic as nature(art of nature itself,for example,or illusions like the one I linked).

            Unless,of course,you consider being apathetic to morality as a moral stance on its own.Which,yeah,I guess you can do that.But I find that a bit iffy.

            *It could be,if you personify the nature,but thats not a requirement.

            This issue would be fairly unique in a story. If nothing else, it would simply be novel

            True.But novel is not automatically good.Mankind divided tackled the race issue in a novel way(at least for a deus ex game,but probably broader),and it did not do it properly.Novel is also not automatically appealing.The current direction of dc movies is a rather novel take on those characters,and its really not that appealing.The current direction of marvel movies mostly hinges on the tried and true formulas,and it has much more appeal.Im not saying that this would hold true for everything,just that doing something because it was not done (much) before is not the best way to deal with art.Novelty should play a role there,just not the most important role.

      3. Agammamon says:

        The issue is that there’s no especially good reason not to have non-white characters in this universe, as there is not only historical precedent for it, but it’s a fantasy world, so why the hell not?

        1. Sure there were non-white people in Europe in the medieval period. Were they really so common that you’d expect to see them wandering around all the time?

        2. What’s the especially good reason to have them in the game? Its not that they don’t exist in this universe, its just that the characters don’t encounter them. Its also a fantasy world, so why couldn’t it be one where all humans/elves/dwarves have only one race? Wouldn’t including them then require the storywriters to include commentary – including racist interactions – with them like they do for the dwarves and elves? Or does including human minorities come with the requirement that ethnic diversity among humanity is celebrated (or at least unremarked upon, ala Skyrim) despite the people of different *cultures* in this game not liking or trusting each other even (or especially) when they’ve been neighbors for a generation or two?

        Its kind of like you’re saying that the social meta requires minorities to be included, story be damned, and so the story must be modified to accommodate them. Maybe its just that this is a very complex bit of world-building and the writers/director decided to not include anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary in order to reduce their workload.

        I find the latter is more likely and, unlike our esteemed author, don’t find in that lack evidence of ‘unconscious’ racism. Merely evidence of writers of a different cultural outlook (one where non-whites *are* rare in real life) and are, at worst, guilty of not remembering to pander to the prejudices of their American audience.

      4. DHW says:

        >The issue is that there’s no especially good reason not to have non-white characters in this universe, as there is not only historical precedent for it, but it’s a fantasy world, so why the hell not?

        That’s a bad argument, because it applies to everything. It’s a fantasy world, so why the hell not say that horses have six legs? It’s a fantasy world, so why the hell not have King Arthur’s knights wearing digital watches? It’s a fantasy world, so why not assert that a Roman legionary is a type of fruit? It’s a fantasy world, so why not just have the world explode halfway through and the story end right in the middle? Anything can happen!

        1. RoboticWater says:

          No, they wanted to be realistic; go for that low fantasy vibe. Luckily, there’s ample historical evidence to suggest a medieval society like The Witcher‘s would realistically have people of other races wandering around.

          Further, it’s really easy to suspend one’s belief that there are darker-skinned people than there being digital watches. But six-legged horses? That’s not the biggest stretch. If there was a particular moral reason to consider adding them, like there are for other human races, then why not?

          1. DHW says:

            Luckily, there’s ample historical evidence to suggest a medieval society like The Witcher‘s would realistically have people of other races wandering around

            Not to be too snarky, but I have to wonder where all these people of other races vanished to the moment the camera was invented.

    3. Syal says:

      So I’m going to bring up Horizon: Zero Dawn, and say every tribe containing people of all colors with no comment made it feel like a political obligation. With the first half of the game bigoting it up against Aloy, the setting effectively demands either racial tensions or homogeny; the lack of them makes the whole setting feel fake.* (The late-game explanation comes late and doesn’t really solve it.)

      *Not at all helped by the “You are leaving the Play Area” message when you climb a border mountain.

    4. Joe Informatico says:

      Based on the one medieval setting that actually existed, the one that had extensive trade networks across three continents, no, it’s not very believable that a society that has plate armour and spices and potatoes and continent-spanning empires with standing armies wouldn’t have a regular flow of people between geographically distinct areas. It would require some additional world-building notes to justify otherwise, e.g. establishing the Nilfgaardians have workers building roads ahead of their armies, because the prior existence of roads would acknowledge that trade and communication happened between realms well before Nilfgaard conquered them.

  5. Sleeping Dragon says:

    As someone who lives in Poland my whole life I’m just going to say that I’m willing to put this squarely on blindness. Relatively few people of colour live here and you can live in a centre of a big city and not see one for days or weeks so it doesn’t trigger that “something is wrong with this picture” instinct. To be fair if you’re making up a world with dwarves and elves (something that you do not see in Poland either) and you are tackling racism as one of your themes it should have come to mind.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I’m not sure why the peculiarly American form of racism would come to mind in Poland. There’s clear discussion of racism across ethnicity in the game. Among the humans, there’s a great deal of Northern/Empire racism, which I am told mirrors the mutual animosity of Polish and German and Russian people. I think Bob is almost certainly right that the Dwarves are stand-ins for Jews (something that has precedent in Tolkien, as well). I did not get the impression that the Zerikanians are particularly discriminated against in Hearts of Stone -but that’s like 80% because there simply aren’t that many Zerikanians in the Northern Realms. So they get classified as “foreign curiosity,” which has a great deal of historical basis in Europe and former Imperial lands (and the US, for that matter -the northern states only escaped having massive numbers of lynchings because there were so few African Americans there -but after WWI and the Great Migration, the number of lynchings and riots skyrocketed in places like Detroit, Chicago, Omaha, New York, and Boston).

      I’m not even sure the story would benefit from including a new form of racism to discuss, given that it is already discussing 3 (Empire -standing in for ethnic hostility, Dwarves -standing in for anti-semitism, and Elves -standing in for I’ve no idea what, but look forward to the next installment). Would an inter-northern racist theme have been too much to chew, or would it have blended well with the current set-up?

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        To be clear I didn’t mean that the game would be better if it also had racial tensions between Northerners and Zerrikanians, I meant that the idea of “aren’t like all of our characters white?” should have occurred to someone who is very consciously exploring fantasy racism as a theme even if they’re not used to racially varied society in their everyday life.

        1. Droid says:

          But that’s just the thing. You seem to think all people should think “white vs. black” whenever they think about racism, but nothing in Polish history warrants such a position. There was no widespread oppression or exploitation of black people in Poland. There was no social stigma other than being very obviously an outsider.

          Just think for a moment how strange it would sound if a German complained about *insert-favourite-sci-fi-series-here* not having Space-Jews despite looking at stigmatisation and ethnic repression through the lens of inter-species conflict fanned by opportunistic leaders. And that person then going on to assert that not including Space-Jews in their fantasy setting despite having humans in them is clearly antisemitic, or better yet, Nazism.

          1. Vinsomer says:

            But at the same time, CDPR made the Witcher as a global product. They didn’t make it just for Poland, but for the entire world. And, in doing so, maybe they should have considered the rest of the worlds, well, non-whiteness.

            That’s not to say CDPR don’t care about minorities. But cultural context is key: a world without black people means something different in Poland and the US. Of course American critics are going to react differently to it.

            It reminds me of the Jynx controversy in Pokemon (another game which curiously omitted POC). Something might not be intended as offensive but different cultures can and will react to things in different ways.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              And, in doing so, maybe they should have considered the rest of the worlds, well, non-whiteness.

              Why?Where does it say that the rest of the world cant enjoy a product if their race/religion/sex/whatever isnt represented?This reminds me of that backlash against ghost in the shell where they interviewed japans in japan and their reaction ranged from “Yeah,so” to “Cool,she looks pretty”.

              1. Vinsomer says:

                It’s not that people can’t enjoy it. I played the Witcher, I enjoyed it, and I definitely relate to Geralt more than some badly-written black characters.

                It’s just… it kinda sucks when people like you rarely get to be the main characters in games, film or TV series. Yeah, it happens, but it’s not representative of our society or the viewership at large. Why are we always expected to put up with bad representation, and asked to do so by people who always have good representation and therefore don’t know what it’s like?

                It would be nice to be acknowledged more often, and not relegated to side character/comic relief as much. So when minorities are asking to be given a bone every now and again, even if it’s not exactly wrong to not include them in a certain narrative, I really don’t think it’s fair to polarise the argument like that.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  it kinda sucks when people like you rarely get to be the main characters in games, film or TV series.

                  Sure,if you consider that someone is more like you when their skin tone matches yours,or when their genitals matches yours,….then I get it.But isnt the point of representation to have someone with your personality and beliefs better?Are people just their external features disregarding their minds and emotions?

                  I find myself better represented by Victoria Coren Mitchell or Neil deGrasse Tyson than Alex Jones.I wanted to see Idris Elba as james bond more than Daniel Craig.

                  Or am I only allowed to identify myself with nico belic,even though he is so not even close to anyone in my vicinity,but he does (technically) come from my country(ish)?

                2. lurkey says:

                  How do you feel about RPGs with real time with pause mechanics? Because I’d like to recommend “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire” to you — the second* biggest group of people in it is black, and it’s neither big deal nor emphasized in any way, it’s just how things are. Oh, and also it’s a really good game. :-)

                  *the biggest group is kind of shark-toothed Polynesians.

                  1. Vinsomer says:

                    Thank you for this. I already have POE (got it in a humble bundle) but didn’t get around to it. I might move it to the top of the backlog on your recommendation.

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            I’m going to elaborate on my point a bit more but I reserve the right to bow out of the discussion afterwards because I can already see that in several places (not necessarily in this specific thread) it’s heating up past the point I’m comfortable with. I would also once again point out, in case I haven’t been clear enough about it, that I am from Poland and I have lived here my who life.

            I’ll repeat again that nowhere did I claim, and in fact I specifically said it was not my intention to do so, that Witcher should deal with “white vs black” racism. My initial statement was in fact meant to illustrate that yes, there are societal differences, a person from an ethnically and racially varied society (like many parts of the US) will react differently to the same image than a person from one that is more homogenous (like Poland), hence why seeing a game with an all white cast does not trigger the same instincts of perceiving omission in some of us that it does in others.

            Having said that this game tackles racism as a major theme, this means that the handling of the topic both in general and in specifics must have been discussed a lot during many stages of the game’s production, especially seeing how triggering it is. Even if “white vs black” racism is not something that immediately comes to a mind of a Pole (and this is in itself a multifaceted issue) I just find it odd that a large team of professionals, including highly qualified writers and PR specialists, with experience in dealing with the international market and I assume at least some awareness of what is going on in game related media have not once during those meetings considered that the lack of racial diversity within the human populace in the game might be something that many people will find troublesome.

      2. Droid says:

        (Empire -standing in for ethnic hostility, …)

        There’s more to it than that. Afair, the Northerners in the game, at least the common folk, are more prone to hostility towards Nonhumans than Nilfgaardians are, with the latter actually offering Nonhumans more rights and basically being, in short, ‘egalitarian by not giving a fuck either way’. That’s a big step up from “Harvest this year has been bad, I wonder if the villagers will want to lynch me again.”.
        On the other hand, we can see that Emhyr is not above escalating racial tensions to further his own opportunistic goals, as seen in his support of the Scoia’tael and the Elves of Dol Blathanna, so maybe an Emperor’s whim is all that it takes to change course on that.

        And I also haven’t really encountered a scene where the Nilfgaardians think of the Northerners as genetically inferior, they just despise the Northern way of life, most importantly their individualism. But all in all, I think they are usually more on the side of “with enough work, time and soap, we will make them civilised yet!” as opposed to “we must make sure those barbaric animals are kept on their leash!”. Somewhat similar to Roman vs. Gallic culture, I guess.

      3. Henson says:

        For accuracy’s sake: the people in Hearts of Stone are Ofieri, not Zerrikanian.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Thanks, I’ve seen your comment below, for whatever it’s worth I have not actually played the DLCs, though to be fair I’d probably mix it up anyway since I’d be like “Zerrikania… yeah, that sounds like it was in the Witcher games…” I’m horrible with remembering names and stuff like that.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What bothered me about the game is its out of character sexism.What I mean is that while the things depicted in the story were fine,the people acted like real people,but the camera deliberately moved away from geralts butt while gleefully ogling womens butts aplenty.Dont get me wrong,I dont mind the depiction of sexy women without their clothes,I mind the deliberate exclusion of the same depiction of sexy men without their clothes,even during the sex scenes where geralt stops below the waist(he literally has no dick).Granted,this is not as big of a deal as in some other games,or even previous witcher titles,but it was still noticeable precisely because the game was so good in other places.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Kind of with you.
      While I didn’t find this sexist, I did find it a sort of…adolescenceabout nudity in the game. There were a lot of breasts on show, but no genitals at all. Sleep with a prostitute, and she’ll mysteriously have her knickers on as she kicks you out the room.
      Sauna in Skellige? Boobs as far as you can see – of course – but apparently all the women keep their panties on.
      And of course, lots and lots of cheesecake, but almost no beefcake.

      It might be a matter of ‘we have to do this to keep the rating down and market the game here’,
      (did other releases of TW3 in less prudish countries feature full nudity?)
      or it could be that ‘Most the audience is going to want to see X and not Y*’ – we might even get complaints.
      Bet yeah, for a game that does so well in its depiction of sex and nudity** compared to other games it was a noticeable deficiency.

      *Hey, unintended chromosome pun!
      **Good points: the way Triss, Ciri & Yennifer’s default costumes are practical & non-revealing; that one woman in the skellige sauna is old, with wrinkled, saggy tits; and the way hiring a protitute goes from being sexy funtimes to, ‘right, your time’s up, get lost’ really quickly.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        (did other releases of TW3 in less prudish countries feature full nudity?)

        Just naked female butts.Which is slightly less than the full frontal of witcher 2.

        While I didn’t find this sexist, I did find it a sort of…adolescence

        Yes,but (straight) MALE adolescence.Female adolescents also like naked bodies that come out of nowhere(shirtless twilight scenes for example).

  7. acronix says:

    If the game was set in fantasy Africa, and there were no white people anywhere, Polygon (and I imagine the Public Medievalist) wouldn’t complain one bit and proclaim it’s 100% accurate.

    This line of thought just lead to game developers adding characters of every single ethnicity to fill the checkmarks, as if it was a Captain Planet cartoon.

    1. Rymdsmurfen says:

      Yes, indeed. And that’s makes me think that the people who make these kind of accusations maybe should look inside first when they go digging for racism.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      This CLEARLY makes the Black Panther as one of the most racist movies ever towards white people. Everyone is black except the token white character/comic relief :D

      JK :D

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Tauriq Moosa actually addresses why he thinks thats ok,and Bob expands on that:Its because people look at the world mostly through american culture.And hey,in black panther,thats fine,seeing how it was made by americans.With witcher 3,a different lens is needed however,as Bob has pointed out in the whole dwarf segment.

        1. Matthew Collins says:

          “Its because people look at the world mostly through american culture.”

          No, Americans do that. And then, if you’ll excuse my generalisation, assume for some reason that the rest of the world is doing it too. Oh, don’t get me wrong, American culture has been cast far and wide, and is the “second language” of most nations, culturally-speaking, if you get my drift. But only Americans see American culture as a default (and even then it isn’t truly “American culture” but “my faction’s narratives about American culture that may only apply to certain areas in America if they match reality at all”)

          Also, I feel like what I’m going to say next is a perfect example of how pointless much of the “racism” conversation is: I find the phrase “people of colour” to be blatantly and hilariously racist; it’s literally just the old blanket pejorative “coloured people” phrased slightly differently, drawing a false divide between “people with pale skin as one category” and “everyone else, as one category” — a distinction that, once again, only really makes sense within a very particular and narrow historical/geographic perspective that forces certain Western European-derived cultural standpoints onto all of humanity globally and historically.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Tauriq Moosa is not american,yet he deliberately mentions american culture in the linked article.There are also brits who are constantly trying to integrate american views,as was seen with those black lives matter protests in britain.

            1. PPX14 says:

              Oh god that was so annoying. Never mind people blindfolding specific matters into the context of American-history and current affairs, we Brits apparently wish we were (or think we are) American to the point of doing it to ourselves.

          2. PPX14 says:

            Someone used the term on Ru Paul’s Drag Race I was watching last night, and though not a perfect parallel it occurred to me that it sounds as silly as calling a woman a “person of gender”.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              You vill dress as a woman of the opposite sex

              1. evileeyore says:

                /twitch, twitch, twitch, twitch, etc…

                I think something integral just broke within my brain.

          3. Steve C says:

            Ditto what Matthew said. It is a Polish game dealing with Polish culture. Viewing it with an American lens only serves to bring along uniquely American baggage that doesn’t really apply outside the US.

    3. I mean, it’s true that Polygon and Co. wouldn’t take issue with such a game, but that’s because we hardly get any games with predominantly black casts, and white faces dominate western culture’s narratives to the degree that black perspectives are excluded from the kinds of narratives told by games.

      It’s the same reason “White” or “Black Power” don’t have anywhere near the same connotations of each other. The former has historically been the rallying cry of oppressive groups, while the latter has been an affirmation of the worth of the oppressed. Same words, on paper they should mean the same thing, but it’s obvious that they don’t. Cultural and historical context can’t be stripped from the phrases.

      (Plus, I can pretty much guarantee that if such a game came out, there would be a totally different set of people writing thinkpieces on the subject. Thinkpieces I could not read, because they would make me too angry.)

      Me, I’m reminded of a tabletop campaign I ran through high-school. We came to the end of the first big, year long chapter, and I asked what my players thought, and one of them said she enjoyed it overall, but it bothered her that there weren’t really any significant women in the cast.

      Immediately, inside, I puffed up defensively, and I thought of a bunch of reasons why it actually made sense for basically all of the NPCs to be men – it was trying to emulate a specific genre, it took place during a historical war when women didn’t serve in the military, I didn’t want to presume to take on a female perspective while not being, myself, a woman. This all played through my head in silence, thankfully, over the next second.

      Truthfully, though, I knew that the real reason was that it hadn’t occurred to me. Anytime I came up with a character, I made them male without examination, and that thoughtlessness had wound up bothering my audience in a way I hadn’t intended.

      I’m sympathetic to the idea that CDPR’s lack of characters of color was just a factor of their limited perspective, and the lack of diversity in their environment, even while agreeing that it was an oversight that probably marred the game. Some people will tend to view later steps to rectify the lack of characters as “tokenism” or “appeasement,” but I’m much more inclined to believe that the move was genuine.

      But then again, I guess I’m not really the portion of the audience they needed to convince.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        The former has historically been the rallying cry of oppressive groups, while the latter has been an affirmation of the worth of the oppressed.

        The constant reduction of the world to a collectivist view of oppressed/oppressor groups as an excuse for double standards is one of the biggest problems in politics today. “Black Power” has been associated with a hell of a lot of out-and-out racism against white people, and I’m never going to let that be handwaved away with “Oh, but black people were oppressed!”.

        People need to start cleaning up their own act before throwing punches at other people for percieved slights.

    4. Lars says:

      You mean, like the rage about Resident Evil 5 is racism, because it only had black zombies and the heroes were white/latin?

      One very successful Captain Planet Cartoon-ish game is Horizon: Zero Dawn. It felt alien to me to see this black, white & asian living in harmony theme in the stone age village up in the cold mountains. Like making Bretons and Kajit common in Skyrim. When I reached the desert and jungle areas this thought vanished very quickly into oblivion. Surroundings and people did fit again.
      However: Zero Dawn played played in a post-apocalyptic scenario, where the races pre-apocalyptic did mix. The Captain Planet Cartoon-ish style makes sense, story-wise.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Well the problem with RE5 was that it was (mostly) black zombies being gunned down by white people.
        (Also, after a bit apparently the zombies started living in mud huts and throwing spears at you apparently?)

        And while I’m firmly in the – to quote ZP – ‘Capcom aren’t racist, they’re just thick’ school of thought here, I get why people would be upset about that.
        An overreaction, to a dumb decision, in a dumb series of video games, but I get it.

    5. Vinsomer says:

      I think this is a bad way to engage with this sort of argument.

      When left wing people talk racism, they’re not talking individuals, or even specific instances. They’re talking ages and systems.

      Nobody is saying ‘The Witcher 3 is racist because it has no non-white characters’. Well, maybe some are. But Bob isn’t, and I’m not.

      What we’re asking is, in the view of an industry and a culture which does not represent stories of ethnic minorities (and when it does, it’s usually in service to the greater narrative of white characters, or harmful tropes and stereotypes), what does it mean that this game has almost no non-white characters? How does this affect the game’s world? Is it accurate? How important is accuracy to our medieval period in a fantasy world?

      What your question is completely missing is the difference between experiencing culture as a minority and experiencing it as a part of the majority.

      It’s not about blaming CDPR. It’s about asking what fantasy should do for minorities, if it does enough, where the responsibility lies. And that’s a question that’s harder to answer than it seems.

      So, yes, if a big budget RPG was set in fantasy Africa, it’s be great. Because black narratives almost never get the spotlight in AAA gaming.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        When left wing people talk racism, they’re not talking individuals, or even specific instances. They’re talking ages and systems.

        Whenever left wing people talk about people, they’re not talking about individuals, but you as a representation of your race/gender/sexuality/etc. Case in point:

        It’s not about blaming CDPR. It’s about asking what fantasy should do for minorities, if it does enough, where the responsibility lies. And that’s a question that’s harder to answer than it seems.

        This is pretty easy to answer, actually. Nobody is obligated to devote their art to your political cause. The writers for CDPR are not just “white people”. They’re individuals who have their own goals, histories, desires, and things they want to say. They have their own culture that they want to represent. They’re 100% free and morally justified in choosing their own priorities when it comes to the game that they’re putting their own time, effort, and money into.

        The responsibility for creating games with more representation lies with the people who are demanding that they exist. They’ve got no more business demanding that everybody else priorities their wants and desires than anybody else with any other agenda does.

        1. Shamus says:

          Protip for the thread participants in general: Avoid making broad generalizations about groups like “left wing people” or “right wing people”. (Particularly if you’re taking about your opposition.) When you do that sort of thing, the argument will fork off as people counter with:

          1) You’re attacking a strawman. Here, let me show you a bunch of left wing arguments that are nothing like this… (Etc.)
          2) Right-wing people do the same thing / something equally bad. Here, let me list them in detail… (Etc.)

          You’ll get sidetracked from the point you’re trying to make and instead end up in a doomed argument about the true nature of left / right wing people, the definitions of same, and which one is worse.

          The best case scenario is that the people you’re generalizing will see you don’t understand them and start ignoring you. The worst case is a flame war that destroys any hope of getting your point across.

          1. Misamoto says:

            I guess it’s as good (or as bad) a place as any to ask – what’s with American right-left arguments? World views aren’t dual, which seems really obvious to me. So what’s the point of arguing against, basically, half your country, that probably includes just as many people with your own views as your side does?

            1. Shamus says:

              I agree that it’s really strange to try to stuff everyone into one of 2 buckets. There’s no reason economic policy A needs to be bundled with foreign policy B and social program C. For years I entertained this theory that this was a result of our voting system. We use first-past-the-post, which is an AWFUL system that naturally creates a political duopoly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo

              Once FPTP has its way, we’re whittled down to two deeply entrenched parties. They survive by courting swing voters through fear mongering: “Don’t vote for the other guy! He wants to abolish sno-cones and handicapped parking! What a monster!” After that, tribalism kicks in. We might not love OUR party, but we’ll eventually come to really HATE the other one. And once we see how much the other side hates US, we have no choice but to vote against them in self-defense.

              While this provides a tidy explanation, I’ve come to conclude that it doesn’t really work. Other countries have terrible voting systems but don’t suffer from the same 2-tribe mentality. Maybe we can blame the internet for making things worse, but this problem existed long before net culture.

              So I dunno.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                You guys have successfully managed to boil down your entire political scene into US vs THEM.That is certainly an achievement.

                1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                  But we haven’t -that’s the beauty of it. The parties are so large, by necessity, they can’t actually command majorities. Serving one part of the coalition necessarily alienates another part of the coalition. We have no permanent majorities here, not even permanent coalitions. Donald Trump was elected by people who voted for Barrack Obama at least once -but felt he hadn’t served them well, and jumped ship. Obama was himself elected by people who voted for Bush at least once. And Bush by people who voted for Clinton.

                  And they aren’t the same people. A Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump voter probably exists, but are many fewer than a Dole-Bush-McCain-Romney-Clinton or a Clinton-Gore-Bush-McCain… you get the idea.

              2. Redrock says:

                This always happens in two-party systems I’m afraid. But, to cheer you up a bit, a two-party system is also the best defense against tyranny. In multi-party systems there’s always a risk of a super-party forming and taking enough seats in the parliament to effectively bypass any checks and balances built into the system. In a two-party system, however, you’ll always have a strong enough opposition which should prevent anyone from taking total control and redesigning the political system to stay in power indefinitely. So, there’s that.

                1. Droid says:

                  “Our system of eternal hatred has the upside that occasionally people are deserving of that hatred.”

                  Sorry, not trying to misrepresent your point here, I just thought of that and it made me chuckle, so I hope it’s okay.

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  But, to cheer you up a bit, a two-party system is also the best defense against tyranny.

                  Except its not.The usa does have a tyranny,the tyranny of the wealthy.Regardless of which party is in power,they consider the interest of those with money over those without money.

              3. Henson says:

                Actually, some political theorists have posited that the two major parties have fundamental differences in approach that shape their stance on the issues. Thomas Sowell, for example, lays out his hypothesis in one of his books. I won’t expand on it here, since it’s politics, but I think it’s an interesting idea.

              4. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                This being officially my job:

                1.) It’s not new. It dates back to at least Andrew Jackson.
                2.) American voters cover a -by world standards -fairly narrow band of ideology. (We go from conservative liberals to liberal liberals -we have a shortage of real Communists or Monarchists here -even the DSA or the guys at Jacobin are pretty tame by world standards, and the Monarchists here are so rare they don’t even have an established group to name.)
                3.) However, within that band of ideology, there is a very sharp divide in the American public between economic liberals and economic conservatives. There is a much weaker divide between social liberals and social conservatives. (This is based off surveys that are then run through the NOMINATE factor analysis.)
                4.) The parties have sorted along that economic axis. (And again, this goes back to Jackson’s feud with the Bank of the United States, and at least until about 1850, subsumed the slavery debate -which really flared up somewhere between the Mexican War in 1846 and Dred Scott in 1857)

                The reason it seems new is because for a period of time between about 1930 and 1970 there was among American voters a consensus that masked those divisions. This consensus was brought about by the systematic exclusion of everyone who disagreed with it. Which included a lot of racial minorities, but also included Evangelicals and ethnic Catholics, and Southern middle class whites (of whom there were few in 1930, and many more in 1970). Civil Rights in the 1960s, the implosion of the Democratic Party in 1968, Roe v. Wade in 1973, and the conservative takeover of the Republican party in 1976 dismantled the old party system that enforced the consensus, and we reverted back to the fairly normal American political system.

            2. TheCheerfulPessimist says:

              Basic tribalism in a two-party system, I think. For some reason third parties have never really gotten entrenched in the U.S., leading to a constant dichotomous distillation of complex political topics. It’s a real barrier to political discourse that is obviously not unique to the U.S., but something about our system exacerbates the problem as compared to, say, much of Europe where meaningful chunks of government are held by three or more different parties.

          2. Geebs says:

            You could probably solve this with a quick technical fix; simply filter and replace any references to “the left” or “left wing” with “the side”, and simultaneously filter and replace any references to “the right” or “right wing” with “the side”.

            1. Rick C says:

              Doing this, though, leads to a clbuttic problem (if you are talking about automatic filtering).

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Seems as good a place as any to say this, as it’s pretty similar to what Bloodsquirrel said:

          It’s not – necessarily – a work of art’s fault what other people read into it. Especially when it’s as tenuous as this. ‘Where are the black people’ is a valid enough thing to ask, but to then say that CDPR has to do something because of that…

          On another note: One of the things I liked about the racism in the game was that it tried to say something more than ‘racism is bad’.
          Trish out-an-out says at one point that mages are being persecuted because they have money; money that Radovid needs to fight a war. And it’s only after the mages flee that the Church of the Eternal Fire turns on the non-humans – which leads to the line ‘witch hunts are never about witches’.

          That was a lot more profound to me than just asking ‘why aren’t there black people in this game?’.

        3. Kamica says:

          I don’t think that in this specific situation, people are demanding that the Witcher 3 adds more variety, more of a “It’d be nice if there was more variety” (I haven’t actually read the articles though, I’m sure there’s some people who are demanding it, but let’s ignore those for now, as I agree with you that artists can choose what to put in their art… to an extent).

          The point here, I think, is more to remind developers that, hey, there’s a very low percentage of representation of minorities, maybe it’d be an idea to include them, because then these people will feel appreciated, and you might suddenly have a larger group of people who’ll buy and enjoy your game!

          It can be very easy to forget, or not even think about these types of things, which is why it’s a good thing to remind developers that, “hey, diversity is a thing, it’s cool, maybe you could add it to your game! It’d be appreciated the various groups you represent!”

          You get what I’m getting at?

          1. Vinsomer says:

            The point here, I think, is more to remind developers that, hey, there’s a very low percentage of representation of minorities, maybe it’d be an idea to include them, because then these people will feel appreciated, and you might suddenly have a larger group of people who’ll buy and enjoy your game!

            See, this is really all that needs to be said. Nobody expects a rainbow cast for every game. Just, it’d be nice if people kept us in mind more often. And I really struggle to see how someone can reasonably be against such a simple request.

            1. Droid says:

              It’s probably most often the implicit assumption that whoever you are talking about should give you the treatment that everyone else obviously already gets (this also comes out in your other comment where you complain about the white majority pushing back on this). As a non-American white, I will say that not a single character in video game history that was not 100% a joke character ever came close to representing my cultural, national or social background (notice the ‘or’, I’d be content with one match).
              So I, and I am sure many others, have not had the privilege of getting “their” character represented, but are treated like they were part of the problem by the people most vocal about the representation of minorities by the very ironic act of reducing us to nothing more than our skin colour and, based on that, throwing us into the “doesn’t have a right to complain” basket.

              That said, it’s not like I was personally attacked by any game dev’s decision to include or exclude any specific type of ethnicity, nationality or culture, or anyone’s reaction to that decision.

              That ALSO said, the Witcher games always felt more familiar, more real, in a sense, than whatever was currently trending on the stage of American pop culture, and reading through the comments here has made me realize that that is in no small part because the fearful, riled up peasant mob just hits so much closer to home for me than any American social injustice.
              So if seeing more black characters in video games makes you feel better understood by the game, the way the Witcher does for me, I can see why you would want that in every game.

              I’ll still object to being seen as part of the spoilt “upper class” of gaming because of my skin colour, though.

              1. Vinsomer says:

                You’re entitled to make this point. I’d definitely love to see more cultural representation than ‘gruff white american’. It’s just a bit of a case of the squeakiest wheel needing oil. There are so many black and asian people living under the noses of those who make much of our games, you can’t see their omission from the stories they create as anything but

                Which is why I don’t really want to come down on the Witcher 3. Because, in the West at least, Slavic (forgive me if I’m wrong on this) culture is itself a minority perspective, and it was made in a place where there are so few ethnic minorities. I’ve seen someone else suggest that CDPR didn’t have confidence including other races because of this, which is fair. No black people in the Witcher is fine, if not exactly perfect. No black people in Cyberpunk is a far bigger deal.

                Ultimately I can’t say how much someone can relate to media. Can I relate to Black Panther, despite Wakanda being a fictional country far different to both of my countries? In a way, yes. But in a way, no. Can I relate to Mafia 3 and its black protagonist, despite not being American? In a way, yes, in a way, no. I think it’s both that blackness is so visible, and all black people are stereotyped as black, that black representation matters. The consistency of racism has essentially galvanized all black people together which is why our voice can get so much louder than other minorities at times like this. I think there’s a risk of the argument becoming too granular, or, worse, that being stretched to its illogical extreme by people who are arguing against the idea of diversity. It’s one of left-wing politics biggest weaknesses that, in talk of systems and races and entire classes of society, the simple individual gets lost in the shuffle.

          2. Bloodsquirrel says:

            I don’t think that in this specific situation, people are demanding that the Witcher 3 adds more variety, more of a “It’d be nice if there was more variety” (I haven’t actually read the articles though, I’m sure there’s some people who are demanding it, but let’s ignore those for now, as I agree with you that artists can choose what to put in their art… to an extent).

            Even putting aside the “well, people are saying that, but let’s ignore that because it’s inconvenient to my point”-

            I find this to be a false claim of moderation. If it really was a “It’d be nice” then the response to “No, we’re trying to make a game that reflects *our* culture and history” should be “Okay”. Everyone can be “only asking” until they’re told “No”.

            I don’t think CDPR needs to be reminded of anything. They made a deliberate decision to represent the mythology of their country. What needs to happen is for people to respect that as a perfectly valid choice.

          3. DHW says:

            The problem is, what happens if the developer politely declines to fulfill this request? Say, because they were making a game based on their own country’s mythology, or a game that was supposed to be highly historically accurate? Or they just don’t want to go back and make huge changes to a project that’s nearly done?

            Because too often that’s when the mailed fist comes out.

        4. CraigM says:

          ‘I like superhero movies, but there is a distinct lack of female characters. It’d be nice if women got more of a role’
          ‘What about a non white superhero? It’d be neat to see a story like that. Maybe it’d have a unique perspective.’
          ‘I love tv sci fi shows, but they disappears in favor of cheap reality TV. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a show for people who loved Battlestar Galactica’
          ‘Cyberpunk is great too, how about one of those!’
          ‘While wishing for unicorns, how about some good old fashioned terrestrial sci fi, you know like The Man in the High Castle or The Handmaidens Tale. Not every sci fi novel has to involve space ships and lasers you know’

          Not everyone has the access to the millions of dollars and crews to make these things. And demanding that nobody can point out these issues unless they make one themselves is blindingly wrong. These are inherently corporate in nature. People with the ability to decide what gets financed respond only to what they know, to whit what has sold in the past. And an outsider is going to have an exceedingly hard time, nearly impossible, to get something made that can make it mainstream in the slightest.

          So pointing out the lack of things is the right thing to do. It’s the only way that change can happen. Because not everyone has access to a studio and millions of dollars. And why should the burden be entirely one sided?

          No, by asking the question and saying you’d like more of thing X, you might be able to grow a collective voice, a voice that, ultimately, becomes large enough that people who want to make money selling to an audience take note of.

          Do we get Wonder Woman if people didn’t ask for a female superhero?
          What about Black Panther?
          The Expanse fills a hole that had been sitting for a decade, and arguably Star Trek Discovery and The Orville fit the same.
          Altered Carbon made me extremely happy as a fan of the cyberpunk genre. Seeing it do well gives me hope for more.
          Amazon made both those shows because people expressed an interest.

          Studios are inherently reactive. Gaming, film, and TV alike. They aren’t leading the charge most of the time, but come from a place of ‘what will people buy’. Arguably CDPR is going the other way, creating demand by designing something well by having a passion for it. But, still, they made it because they thought they could sell it. But that is only rarely the case. All those other shows and movies I mentioned? They got made because the studio saw an audience, an audience that had voiced their opinions frequently enough that they got noticed.

          And let’s face it, the entire industry has defaulted to this notion of medieval fantasy being exclusively white. When your fantasy world has less diversity than a 15th century novel set in England? It might be a problem. Even medieval authors included characters from different races and areas. Modern ones have really no excuse. This is not a condemnation of any one person, but an eye rolling ‘really people’ at the whole industry.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Not everyone has the access to the millions of dollars and crews to make these things.

            …which is why we don’t always get what we want. Nobody else gets to go around making a moral issue out of it when their niche isn’t being filled. Nobody else gets to demand that hundreds of millions of dollars be spent to produce material out of scale with audience demand. I’ve more or less been driven out of AAA gaming due to the current industry trends. Why don’t I get to accuse developers of being bad people for not making the kind of shooter I want?

            So pointing out the lack of things is the right thing to do. It’s the only way that change can happen. Because not everyone has access to a studio and millions of dollars. And why should the burden be entirely one sided?

            The burden should be exactly as one-sided as the demand is. If it’s what you want, then you should expect to be the one to pay for it.

            I can certainly tell you that I, and quite a lot of other people who belong to that supposedly homogeneous mass knows as “white people” don’t feel represented very much in media at all. If you can’t comprehend why getting more black people into medieval fantasy isn’t everybody’s number one priority then you need to step outside of your own bubble every once in a while. It’s not all about you.

            No, by asking the question and saying you’d like more of thing X, you might be able to grow a collective voice, a voice that, ultimately, becomes large enough that people who want to make money selling to an audience take note of.

            We’ve passed the “collective voice” point a long time ago. What we have now is a log of angry stamping of feet that developers haven’t fallen lockstep in line. Now that we’re in the age of crowd-funding and indie development there’s no more excuses. Stop pushing the responsibility off onto other people. If you can’t find a single group of people within your movement who are willing to step up and start a Kickstarter campaign then it doesn’t speak very well of your movement.

            What’s more, there’s a deeply unhealthy disregard here for the creative aspect of AAA media. Yes, being a multi-million dollar project has to be aimed at a fairly broad audience, but that doesn’t mean that the work has to be creatively sterile or that it can’t have a very specific, even challenging vision behind it.

            This is not a condemnation of any one person, but an eye rolling ‘really people’ at the whole industry.

            I keep hearing this defense, and it’s wrong. There is no “whole industry” to roll your eyes at. There are just a lot of individual developers. There’s a fundamental untenability to the idea that something can be a collective responsibility without being each individual’s responsibility. You can’t say that the industry as a whole is somehow guilty and not be saying that each developer is guilty, because the industry is the result of their individual contributions.

            Saying that “somebody” should do something is a cop-out. If you can’t make a moral case for why one developer, specifically, should do something, then you can’t handwave the failure away by abstracting it to a group of developers.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Why don’t I get to accuse developers of being bad people for not making the kind of shooter I want?

              Are you british and do you have a youtube channel?If the answer to both is yes,than you totally do get to do that.

            2. Shamus says:

              Serious question: How would you say the demand for a broader range of character types differs from my near-constant demands that game stories be less terrible? In both cases we have a smallish group of people saying, “Hey! I’d like this a lot more if it were a little different.”

              1. Droid says:

                The people in command actually have a faint idea what “give us more customisation options” means?

              2. Len says:

                Disregarding the budget for hiring better writers (which probably isn’t that significant in the big list of video game production expenses), having a good story is unambiguously good. At worst different people may have different ideas of what a good story is like, but nobody would say having a good story is a bad thing.

                Deliberately introducing “diversity” in a game however is far from an unambiguous good thing. In fact, done properly it is necessarily something that warps the world and the story. Your world must be designed to account for minorities (where do they come from? why have they come here? what do they eat?). Assuming your setting isn’t some cosmopolitan city, you need to portray how everyone else reacts to those minorities. You probably have a quest that involves their culture in some way. It’s no different from adding another fantasy race into your game in that sense, and that’s not a decision you undertake lightly.

                Because if you don’t do that, you threaten your credibility as a storyteller. Imagine adding in the Ofieri runewright merchant to Witcher 3 without the Blood and Stone storyline. He’d stick out like a sore thumb and make you question why he is even in the game. Arguably they already are even with the questline that involves the Ofieri prince. Properly integrating another race/culture into the game is hard.

                Imagine telling a Grimm’s fairy tale, and randomly going “oh, by the way, Cinderella’s step-sister was Indonesian”.

                Besides, where exactly do you even want to draw the line? Is it enough to have two different races? Three? Apparently fantasy races don’t count. Must it be the humans that are diverse? It’s not even clear what people who want “diversity” want exactly or what they would be satisfied by. Because I don’t think anyone really wants every game to contain as many character types as its narrative and setting can support.

              3. Bloodsquirrel says:

                First off, I’d say that it’s a poor comparison, since whether a story is terrible is largely subjective, and there’s nobody explicitly disagreeing that stories shouldn’t be less terrible. I’d start off by replacing it by saying something more specific, such as “games should have more humor in them”.

                That done, I’d say that there are two big differences.

                The first is the moralism attached to it. Nobody is claiming that developers are bad people for not being funny enough, and nobody is pretending that I have a moral obligation to support them in their demands for funnier games. It isn’t treated as morally wrong to say that you prefer serious games.

                The second is the absoluteness of the demand. People who ask for more humor in games generally don’t demand that every game be full of jokes. They acknowledge that, while they would like to see more of this one thing, that it isn’t the only thing that should exist. They are not, for example, demanding that Spec Ops: The Line have a scene with a pie fight.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Okay, thanks for the clarification. So let’s say someone constructs an argument where they argue for diversity on aesthetic grounds, to make it more in line with someone saying games should have more humor in them. Something like:

                  “I think this game would look better / be more interesting / engage me more / whatever if it featured a greater variety of races.”

                  Would you object to this argument?

                  I’m not trying to trick you, or get you to agree to A and then claim you’re inconsistent because you don’t agree with B. I’m just trying to get a feel for where the root of the disagreement is.

                  1. Bloodsquirrel says:

                    That really doesn’t change things, because the problem isn’t the “I want more diversity” part, it’s the “games without diversity shouldn’t exist and you’re a bad person if you want them” part. That’s the aspect of it that makes it political in the first place.

                    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to see something in a game because of out-and-out political reasons. I’m not shitting around when I say that people should go make those games if they want them. It’s not a bluff. I might not take any interest in them if you do, but I’m not sitting around being bothered that people want those things. Wanting to see representation of yourself is fine in and of itself.

                    It’s the inability to leave people who don’t want those things alone to play with their toys that’s the problem. I don’t care what it is that you want in a game; but you have to be able to accept it as your personal agenda and not something that everybody else should be beholden to.

                    Someone could say “Hey, more diversity in the character design in this game would make it easier to tell the characters apart” and they might or might not be right, depending on the game. But that’s a much more limited statement that imposes far less onto someone who decides to disagree with it.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      Well now I’m genuinely confused. I proposed a hypothetical argument mechanically identical to “I’d like this if it was more to my tastes”, and you’re still arguing against “games without diversity shouldn’t exist and you’re a bad person if you want them”. That wasn’t part of the argument I offered. Neither was “the inability to leave people alone”. Those ARE arguments people make, but they’re not part of the one I offered.

                      As far as I can tell, you’re dragging the macro-level culture war into individual-level conversations. Yes, there’s a lot of posturing, public shaming, recreational outrage, and “you’re racist if you’re okay with this game”. Yes, that stuff is obnoxious and deeply counter-productive.

                      But that shouldn’t matter, right? I’m really against DRM. So are a lot of pirates. But I despise it when publishers frame the debate such that being against DRM makes you a pirate. The fact that other people oppose DRM for bad reasons doesn’t negate what I hope are good and persuasive arguments. Or more broadly: Having jerks on your side doesn’t make you wrong.

                      So I don’t understand why you’d respond to my proposed position the way you did.

                    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

                      As far as I can tell, you’re dragging the macro-level culture war into individual-level conversations.

                      That’s because removing the culture war from it removes that part that I object to.

                      “I think this game would look better / be more interesting / engage me more / whatever if it featured a greater variety of races.” is something I might agree or disagree with depending on the individual game. It’s not answerable in the abstract for me because I don’t attach the answer to a broad moral principle that overrides the individual concerns of the game. I would find a game placed in New Orleans that didn’t have any black people as strange as having anachronistic demographics in TW3. A game with a very visually boring slate of characters might benefit from it. A game with an existing, already beloved cast of characters might not need it.

                      Why people want diversity is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I don’t care if they want it because of politics, or because the existing cast is would genuinely be more interesting with it, or because they’ve just got a thing for Asian girls and want to see one in every game. Without the two differences I pointed out above it’s no different than “health packs vs regenerating health” or “how hard should a game be”. I might have my preference, but there’s no harm in somebody having their own and looking for media that fills it.

                      I don’t think “having jerks on your side” covers it. The difference between “I want this” and “I deserve this and you’re obligated to give it to me” is far more significant, and the two lead to two complete different places. I’ve never argued with someone who just said that they wanted diversity for their own personal sake and didn’t frame it as a moral obligation on the developer’s part. But when people do it’s a point worth standing against.

                      To be more specific to your DRM example: I don’t consider people who are against DRM because they think that all software should be free to be “on my side”. They’ve reached the same conclusion as me on one point, but that’s irrelevant compared to the differences in core principles. I don’t think they’re just being jerks about it, I think that their fundamental viewpoint is wrong to the point where I consider it at least as much worth arguing against as DRM itself.

                  2. Len says:

                    No, I won’t object to this particular opinion (any more than I object to another bad opinion), if people actually believe it. Thing is, nobody really believes that particular formulation. Adding more races to the game is almost always framed as to “empower other races”, “the morally right thing to do” or “-other races- may find it more engaging”, as opposed to something that makes the game personally more enjoyable.

                    There’s practically nobody asserting they personally find a game less enjoyable because their race isn’t represented it in.

                    Anyway, even assuming a sizeable amount of people believe that adding more races to games would truly be better for them there’s probably an equal or greater number of people who believe that deliberately adding more races to games will make it less enjoyable for them. Aesthetic sensibilities (along the lines of “all games should have more humor/healthpacks/difficulty”) are highly subjective and contentious by nature.

        5. Vinsomer says:

          Whenever left wing people talk about people, they’re not talking about individuals, but you as a representation of your race/gender/sexuality/etc.

          They’re not talking about you as a representation of your race/gender/sexuality. They’re talking about you as an intersection of several different factors which all form you as a person. Identity isn’t static, it isn’t all-encompassing, it is a social construct and therefore has purpose. But it matters, and which identities are prioritised over others is a huge signifier of structural inequality, which has a very real human cost and is considered, by left wingers, as the main source of injustice today. Agree with them or not, fine. But identity is not that simple.

          Nobody is obligated to devote their art to your political cause.

          Is it really that political for someone to ask for better representation? Like, really think about it. Someone saying ‘can we have some more characters that represent us, a part of your audience?’ is political? Isn’t it by extension political to oppose this? Isn’t any opinion on the matter political? Why is having a minority character political? Was the first Tomb Raider political? Is Overwatch political? Is Street Fighter political? Is Gears of War political? Are any of these games less political than the Witcher 3 in its current form?

          Why is changing the status quo always seen as political, but maintaining it isn’t, when the motivation (self-interest) is the same for both sides? Especially when industry veterans like Ken Levine have spoken about the pressure to prioritise male experiences over female? Or, the better question is what can be gained by painting an opposition’s argument as ‘political’, and your own as apolitical?

          The responsibility for creating games with more representation lies with the people who are demanding that they exist. They’ve got no more business demanding that everybody else priorities their wants and desires than anybody else with any other agenda does.

          Well, ignoring the obvious structural inequality, the biases in the hiring process etc., there’s one simple thing you’re overlooking: as businesses, they’re leaving money on the table. The big appeal of Bioware’s RPGs is how representative and inclusive they are, and it’s made EA millions. There are many, many successes in both film and gaming, for example Black Panther and Wonder Woman both outperformed many of their straight white male counterparts. More representation is really just a matter of time because it really does make money.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            They’re not talking about you as a representation of your race/gender/sexuality.

            This is just flat-out untrue. This entire discussion comes from an inability to get past the idea that CDPR, as white people, have an obligation to non-white people. It’s bathed in the assumption that I’m the one who is represented well in media because I’m a white person. Every part of it breaks down when you stop considering people collectively and start looking at them as individuals.

            Is it really that political for someone to ask for better representation?

            Yes. You’re engaging in the common fallacy of “it’s only when people disagree with me that it becomes political”. No one person gets to decide when things are or are not political. If there’s disagreement over them that reaches into the political sphere, then it’s political.

            You’re demanding “diversity”, while others are demanding creative freedom. Their demand for creative freedom isn’t an unprovoked attack on your pure and innocent desires. It’s something that’s important to them, and that you’re trying to take away. If you can’t recognize why your own positions are political, then, quite frankly, you don’t understand other people well enough to be speaking about these subjects with broad authority in the first place.

            Or, the better question is what can be gained by painting an opposition’s argument as ‘political’, and your own as apolitical?

            I never said that my argument was apolitical. The difference is that I can recognize when my arguments are political, and I don’t demand special consideration for them. You’re the one who is trying to deny that your demands are political and that it somehow makes it more acceptable for you to make them.

            Well, ignoring the obvious structural inequality, the biases in the hiring process etc.,

            I don’t have to ignore anything. It doesn’t change the fundamental truth: If it’s something you want, then it’s up to you to work for it.

            as businesses, they’re leaving money on the table. The big appeal of Bioware’s RPGs is how representative and inclusive they are, and it’s made EA millions. There are many, many successes in both film and gaming, for example Black Panther and Wonder Woman both outperformed many of their straight white male counterparts. More representation is really just a matter of time because it really does make money.

            If representation is so successful right now, then why is it so critical that it be shoved into TW3? Are minorities underrepresented, or is it big business right now? Make up your mind.

            1. Vinsomer says:

              I don’t have to ignore anything. It doesn’t change the fundamental truth: If it’s something you want, then it’s up to you to work for it.

              Fine. I’ll take this to heart. But making your opinion heard, being vocal, putting pressure on companies to include us, etc is working for it.

          2. Kathryn says:

            >>They’re talking about you as an intersection of several different factors which all form you as a person.

            This is my biggest disagreement with the intersectionalism crowd – those factors *don’t* form me as a person. What forms me as a person are my choices, my values, and my interests. Frankly, when someone sees me as an intersection of physical characteristics, they are so far away from anything that defines me that I feel dehumanized. Especially when I get lumped in with everyone else who is vaguely similar and treated like part of a monolith. I’m an *individual*.

            (Suddenly I feel like those psoriasis medicine commercials – “See ME.”)

  8. Len says:

    Correction: Zerrikania wasn’t in Witcher 3 or Hearts of Stone. The region that was in Hearts of Stone was Ofier, featuring the Ofieri Prince and Runewrights. It’s basically the Middle-east analogue to Zerrikania’s Africa.

    After making my above comments, I thought Zerrikania sounded a bit off, and double checked.

    Ironic, isn’t it? Turns out all dark-skinned people are the same.

  9. Fnord says:

    The Public Medievalist series contains good information, but I’m not sure you’re understanding it correctly. The series points out, correctly, that it’s inaccurate to say that medieval Poland was overwhelmingly white because the concept of whiteness in the modern racial sense didn’t exist in medieval Poland.

    But that’s not the mistake the The Witcher 3 is making. It specifically doesn’t make that error: addressing things like rampant Antisemitism and other conflicts between different “gens” that were (as the Public Medievalist also points out) real and serious issues in that period of history. If anything, it’s the naive criticism that claims everyone in The Witcher 3 is white that is making that error.

    There are valid, non-naive criticisms of The Witcher 3 to be made on the issue of racism. Including, but not limited to, historical accuracy not being the end-all-be-all. But claiming that it ahistorically presents everyone as white is not one of them.

  10. Gumsoon says:

    The world isn’t the USA, people can have different experiences and points of view regarding race and ethnicity. I perceive this as incredible arrogance and disrespect towards the creators of a piece of art (a game, in this case) to come in with your arbitrary checkboxes and the oh-so-right view towards “representation”.
    I completely agree with the above posters, this is a case of conservation of detail and why the hell should it be otherwise.

  11. RJT says:

    The Witcher series does deal with racism, although it is strangely difficult to see the presence of those themes if you are not from Poland (or maybe that’s just me). I can’t decide whether leaving out people of color was deliberate or not. From the perspective of the developers, it may take a Herculean effort to realize that people of other countries would view the game as “obviously” lacking. Even modern Poland is pretty homogeneous. On the other hand, Witcher One had several people of color (that alchemist guy and quite a few characters with Spanish names, if I remember correctly) meaning at least some of the people who are/were in the art department will sometimes make NPCs-of-color if not otherwise directed. If it was deliberate, I think probably it was supposed to be another sign of the terrible times (there are a lot of other ones). I don’t think it was a good idea to make this choice if choice it were. Even if it does not feel insensitive instinctively to a Polish dev, it is I think universally acknowledged that one-race Medieval settings are overused and hackneyed at this point.

    Some random thoughts:

    1. Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, which is to my knowledge of the very few games ever made in Africa, is set in fantasy historical sub-Saharan Africa. The developers included characters of a wide variety of races! They certainly didn’t have to, and they could have argued that their vision of fantasy sub-Saharan Africa didn’t include non-black people. I think its admirable that they chose not to make that argument.

    2. Deliberately making the entire population of a fictional country one modern race is a little weird. There would have to be a strong ideological reason (e.g., Japan during an isolationist period, which also was conveniently geographically inaccessible), and then your story would be about that or would have a theme. Your country doesn’t have to be a merry potpourri like the modern US, but it is better to have at least a few characters of other races because historically there always were people arriving from elsewhere, and it gives your minor characters a little more flavor. The reader/player/whatever can imagine these characters have had Adventures and have a Story to tell without you the author having to actually write one. I mean, even Arthurian legends from the straight up Middle Ages managed to vary the color of the cast a bit.

    1. DHW says:

      >Even if it does not feel insensitive instinctively to a Polish dev, it is I think universally acknowledged that one-race Medieval settings are overused and hackneyed at this point.

      Is it? I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw one.

      >There would have to be a strong ideological reason (e.g., Japan during an isolationist period, which also was conveniently geographically inaccessible),

      The thing is, every place in medieval times were geographically inaccessible, at least for certain values of inaccessible — there were no aircraft, no mass transportation or indeed any transportation accessible to the common man beyond walking. Most people never traveled more than twenty miles from their birthplace in their entire lives. Even wealthy and powerful people would need months to travel far enough that they were likely to no longer be the same race as everyone else around them.

      It’s plausible that someone of a relatively high social position might encounter a diplomat, scholar, or merchant of another race from time to time. It’s not plausible that you’d have anything close to a modern multicultural city.

  12. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I don’t know, as much as I care about proper representation and I love Mr BTongue (and I love him so very much), this article doesn’t convince me. A link to a website is not an argument, I’d rather the article contained a short explanation as to why we should expect to see more non white people in the fantasy equivalent of Poland.
    Note however that if Cyberpunk ended up being almost entirely white I would be very confused, such a setting should very well be cosmopolitan unless there is a very good explanation why not.

  13. In every video game that allows me to create my own character I make a point of trying to create a black female character. Sometimes it’s possible, but more often than not I end up with a tanned white woman.

    This is not acceptable to me. People of color (and women!) exist in the world and their existence should be accurately depicted in the media we consume. Their omission may not be intentional by the designer, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic.

    1. PPX14 says:

      I tried to make my face in Mass Effect – an Indian man – and ended up with a ~Mexican man. However come to think of it making an Indian looking woman did work a bit better.

  14. Tobias says:

    There are currently almost no white people in the Witcher series, even though there were some when the games were made.

    After the Boston bombings, American racists stopped stopped using “Caucasian” as a code-word which meant white and of anglo-saxon (and maybe germanic) descent.

    Now the white race in American English is again explicitly excluding Slavs, Jews, Irish and Caucasians from being white.

    As most stories written by people uninterested in racial politics, the Witcher series represents the racial makeup of the subculture of the author.

    Which mean Geralt is not white, he is Slavic and so is most of the cast.

    And if CDPR decided to explicitly include racial minorities, they should start with Caucasians, Jews, Roma and Sinti and other racial minorities in their region. Not try to reflect American racial makeup, which seems to be hard even for Americans.

  15. PPX14 says:

    This puts me in mind of that clip of the (white) American reporter asking the (black) British Olympian what it meant to win as “an African American”, and not understanding why he kept telling her that he wasn’t one.

    “I’m not African American, I’m British”

    “Yes but as an African American British athlete”

    “I’m not American, I’m British”

    :D

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      That and the people of color are some of the worst euphemisms of the american language.

      1. PPX14 says:

        I honestly double take every time I see “person of color” used. In the UK that sounds like a term from the olden days racist times. No Blacks, No Coloureds, No Irish.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Yeah, sadly ‘coloured’ exists in British english as well.

          But it does reminds me of that scene in Arrested Development where Lucille Bluth is alone and paranoid in her flat – so Michael asks his brother-in-law Tobias to visit her. Unfotunately, Tobias is trying to get hired by the Blue Man Group, so is wearing full-cover body paint.

          So she calls him on the phone:
          “Micheal! I found a coloured man inside my house!”
          “Oh my – …wait, what colour?”
          “Blue!”

          The dangers of imprecise language.

        2. Gwydden says:

          Funny thing is, I see Americans react the same way when Brits casually drop the term “Oriental.”

      2. zackoid says:

        Neither of those are euphemisms?

        1. Nick Powell says:

          African-american certainly is – it’s a phrase with a clear literal meaning, but a different actual meaning

          1. zackoid says:

            Maybe I’m dumb but I can only think of the literal meaning. What’s the actual meaning?

            1. Droid says:

              I’m guessing it just stands for “black, no matter what country you come from”?

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.

          Substituting “coloured people” with “people of color” because the first one is offensive and the second one (somehow) is not offensive,thats the definition of a euphemism.Same goes for “black” -> “african american”.

          1. zackoid says:

            In the US, “colored people” came to mean black. “People of color” means non-white. They’re not synonyms. Elsewhere this might not be the case, but even so calling PoC an euphemism implies that colored is somehow the true term.

            Likewise black and african-american are not synonyms. The former means anyone with dark skin (not necessarily african, nor american); the latter is usually referring specifically to native-born americans who are descendants of enslaved africans, but is always referring only to american nationals with african ancestry.

            Finally, black is not offensive so there’s no reason to have a euphemism for it, though some people incorrectly assume that it is.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              calling PoC an euphemism implies that colored is somehow the true term

              No,it means that both are referring to the same group:Non whites.To me both are equally offensive and I find it silly how just jumbling the words around makes the phrase somehow better,when it obviously is not.

              latter is usually referring specifically to native-born americans who are descendants of enslaved africans, but is always referring only to american nationals with african ancestry.

              As that conversation PPX14 quoted,that is not the case.And I too have heard a few of american news people refer to non american black people as african american.Also,not every black national of usa was there because their ancestors were slaves,yet they are still referred to as african americans.Most well known example:Obama is not a descendant of slaves brought to the usa,yet he is still referred to as african american.But there are plenty of others,whose parents emigrated from europe,yet are still considered african americans.And white people whose parents were from africa,but are not considered african americans.

              So yes,the phrase IS a euphemism that americans use instead of saying black person.

              Finally, black is not offensive so there’s no reason to have a euphemism for it, though some people incorrectly assume that it is.

              Youd think that,and yet there is a shift from black people in the usa being called black americans to black people in the usa being called african americans.American language is full of euphemisms like that.

            2. Redrock says:

              Heh, it may get plenty tough to keep track, as Stephen King brilliantly showed in The Drawing of The Three. Was a time when Negro was the word black people in America used to describe themselves and “black” was considered offensive. All that changed after Malcolm X, and now, as far as I can tell, Negro is considered a bit too close to the “N-word”.

              1. MelfinatheBlue says:

                Yup, and oh, the fun of arguments with elderly people in my youth who kept insisting “colored” was fine because of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

                Come to think of it, has there been a game that’s explored the ideas of racism vs speciesism? Would humans band together and ignore race in the face of a “greater other”? How would that shift based on travel/population mobility and the rate of cultural integration (or lack thereof)?

                Not expecting the Witcher to tackle any of that, mind, I just think it might be an interesting thing to explore.

  16. Bubble181 says:

    I have to agree with some of the earlier posters: while there may be some unintentional racism to be found here from an American perspective, TW3 actually has a more diverse make-up of the population than Poland.
    Non-European minorities make up just 0.3% of the Polish population, and that’s mainly Asian ethnicities. People with a dark skinned African decent are nearly non-existent and, outside of Warschau, you probably won’t find one.
    There are several minorities in Poland that have been demonized and discriminated against, and some of those can be found in TW3’s NPCs. Skin color simply isn’t they’re main identifying characteristic. Slavs, Semites, Caucasians, Roma, Silesians,… would probably all be classed as “white” by modern-day Americans. But with, say, Italian or Irish decent were considered “foreign” and definitely “different” from white up until a fairly sorry while ago.
    Poland’s unwillingness to take in asylum seekers and refugees (along with Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia,…) is certainly a political problem and speaks of state-level racism which is, to a point, internalized by many of the people living there – the Other is still very much Different and something to be afraid of. Much of central and eastern Europe is fairly monocultural and wants to remain that way.
    It’s unfair to expect an American mix in a Polish game though, and this diminishes the very clear position TW3 takes with regards to racism and discrimination in many ways.

  17. ColdDeath says:

    “The idea that everyone of consequence in medieval Europe was white is neither accurate nor politically innocent.” this seems to be a strawman to me, cause from what I gathered at the time, no one (or at least hardly anyone) was making this argument… Europe as a whole area was and still is far too big to be uniform in its distribution of races.

    Just like with the arguments that happened against a certain other game, this argument seems to ignore that the general area where the people live that made the games / the general area the games are set in / based on, were rather distant to the areas where through trade (silk road and such) there actually was some more diversity in races going on.

    “Forgetting to include non-white people” well for one I think that would need a citation that they FORGOT, not the circumstantial evidence that they did include some in the expansion, but besides that, what do you suggest with this? Limit creative freedom and screw over depictions of quite a few settings by mandating quotas? Besides not believing this would help in any way, you seem to have thrown this in without any second thought to it.

  18. Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

    If I have to be totally frank, I feel compelled to ask the question nobody wishes to ask: What is the problem?

    A video game’s subject matter is squarely with the prerogative of it’s designer. In our time the most objective measure of succes for a video is how well it performs financially. Critical and popular reception should not be discared of course but I’m hesitant to believe that what is being adressed in this post genuinely falls under either of those.

    1. Gwydden says:

      My answer to that is: yes, so? Developers are entitled to make whatever game they want to make, but the flipside of that is that the audience is entitled to criticize them for what they choose to make. You can use creative freedom to dismiss practically any argument leveled against a video game.

      1. Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

        Indeed, but as I alluded to in my original post I don’t really see the subject of this article as an example of a genuine critical or popular critique against a specific videogame. I need not remind you that engaging in racism is considerd to be among the most detestable action and that in many countries acts of racism are punishable by law. In this light and given the general reception of the Witcher 3 I don’t think an attempted accusation of racism has much popular or legal standing.

        1. Gwydden says:

          This is the semantic issue Shamus mentioned elsewhere, where those on opposite sides of the debate use the terms “racism” and “racist” to mean drastically different things. Most people who call TW3 racist do not mean it in the same sense that a Klansman is racist, or even saying that CDPR themselves are particularly racists. It is just that some question the implications of a fantasy universe where only whites exist, for all practical purposes.

          Now, we can argue whether “racism” is an appropriate word in this context. I’m not a fan myself. We can even, more meaningfully, discuss whether TW3 is at all problematic when it comes to race and other such issues, and whether there is a moral imperative for fiction to worry about diversity and representation. But first everyone has to understand what everyone else is saying, otherwise the field is ripe for strawmanning unintentional or not.

  19. Scott Waguespack says:

    It didn’t take more than a couple of sentences into the blog you linked before recognizing it as woefully agenda-driven, and even after scanning multiple articles I couldn’t find anything that actually supports the claims that medieval Europe was actually racially diverse by our current definitions of “race”.

    Sure enough, the sire contains “evidence” of this caliber: A french knight during the 4th crusade encountered a Nubian king in Constantinople who was there as part of a pilgrimage. Since the author can’t find a ton of other sources mentioning the meeting, he therefore concludes that it must have been a super-common occurrence, and so clearly Europe must have been full of black people. This is despite the fact that the knight’s description of him reads like he’s never seen a black person before.

    And… oh lord…

    Swastikas were used in early medieval art. But that doesn’t mean they should be worn by reenactors.

    Brief explanation: Wearing authentic replications of medieval patterns that have swastikas (which are incredibly common, since the swastika has been historically incredibly common) as a minor part of the pattern is badwrong, because when it comes to historical authenticity vs. political correctness, political correctness should always win.

    The entire site is a garbage fire that is transparently driven more by the desire to call people Nazis than it is to engage in any kind of scholarly analysis. I wouldn’t trust anything I read on there, even if I could find something that was actually concrete instead of the author’s wild bloviating.

    Frankly, I’d suggest finding something a hell of a lot stronger to hang your hat on.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      And with that, Shamus lost his patience and the entire discussion was shut down.

      So, maybe that site isn’t a great source. But you’re using needlessly inflammatory to complain abut somethng that isn’t TW3, which is exactly how other threads ended.
      The site also does not represtent Bob’s opinion.

      I’m enjoying this discussion, please don’t get it shut down.

      EDIT: See Cinnamon Noir’s post below, which is very similar in content to yours but less likely to start a fight.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        But you’re using needlessly inflammatory to complain abut somethng that isn’t TW3, which is exactly how other threads ended.

        The site that Bob linked is needlessly inflammatory, and that’s being rather gentle.

        The “it’s only inflammatory when I disagree” attitude is why discussions keep getting shut down. Be more careful about where you throw punches before you complain about things turning into a bar fight.

        1. Shamus says:

          I still haven’t read the site that Bob linked, but I’ll take your word that it’s inflammatory. Fine. The problem is that you’re bringing that tone HERE. Moreover, a lot of folks here haven’t read that other site, so to them you’re the most intense voice in this debate. Also, “Someone else did it first!” does not make it okay. If you think I’m being an unfair moderator, then fine. (I try, but I’ve got biases like everyone else here.)

          But you’re not OBLIGATED to match the tone of the opposition, and I’d really appreciate it if you would be more gentle. And like I said on Tuesday, strong wording just makes it harder to persuade others.

          1. Oliver Edleston says:

            For what it’s worth, I agree with Scott’s intent though not the tone of writing.

            The site Bob linked is very inflammatory and does a rather poor job of providing sources for the most egregious commentary. We as readers are very much required to take the authors word for things. The articles are very articulate and point to historical examples at times, but do make some leaps of logic and cast many aspersions on large groups of people quite liberally. The author is from an academic background and so should have appreciated the benefit to be gained from a more neutral stance and greater rigour as regards references and citations.

          2. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Fine. The problem is that you’re bringing that tone HERE.

            I don’t think that’s fair. It’s not like this was a site that I choose to link to, or was being discussed round-aboutly, or was even linked to by somebody arguing with me. It’s part of the actual blog post, being presented as “making an argument well”. I don’t it’s fair to say that I’m the one who brought it here when it deferred to by Mr. Chase to make part of his point for him.

            I’ve commented on this many times, and I think this is a very good example of it. This blog has been straying more and more into these discussions lately, and more and more I’m seeing these kinds of things thrown out there with the expectation that they not be challenged. I think it’s only fair to show as much caution in making statements as you expect from the people responding to them.

            I don’t think it’s healthy for discussion to develop a culture of letting inflammatory comments from those who are willing to push boundaries slide because it’s the open disagreement with them that gets criticized. It puts other posters in the position of either acting like self-appointed moderators, always telling others what’s welcome here or not, or not being able to engage in discussion because it’s been laden with land mines.

            I know that I’m blunt by nature, and I don’t mind when people are blunt back to me. But I wish that people would at least be more conscious of how charged the statements they’re making are and accept the responsibility for them.

            1. Shamus says:

              “I don’t think it’s healthy for discussion to develop a culture of letting inflammatory comments from those who are willing to push boundaries slide because it’s the open disagreement with them that gets criticized. ”

              Well, I don’t think it’s healthy to engage in tit-for-tat escalation.

              I’m singling you out for your tone, not for any of your beliefs. In fact, several other people here are taking up positions roughly similar to yours. They are doing it without being so combative and their arguments are stronger for it. (I’m quite enjoying some of them, which is another reason I’d like to see this thread stay calm and for everyone to have their say without things turning nasty.) Your thoughts are welcome here, but the tone you were earlier isn’t. If you really can’t participate in this discussion without importing the tone from that other site, then just give this thread a miss.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          The site’s also not representative of my views.
          (I’m looking now and, full disclosure, can’t be bothered to read the articles given the tone of the titles*, but I’d probably more-or-less agree with your analysis using different language.)

          Another thing is that I don’t (personally) care whether or not medievil Europe featured other ethnic groups, as it’s not relevant to the discussion of The Witcher, a fantasy game that’s not historically accurate.

          But anyway, I’m not attacking you. Just asking for the language to tone down a bit.

          *and the choice of cover pictures, and the general ‘vibe’ I get from the site.

    2. Gwydden says:

      I think you are reducing the matter to an overly simplistic binary. The further back you go in history the more balkanized the world becomes, so naturally you would struggle to find places as diverse as, say, the modern United States. That does not undermine the fact that Europe was never as white as traditional historiography would have it. And there’s the rub, because the unbiased historian is a Platonic ideal that does not in fact exist. There has been a recent push among historians to reexamine the role of often neglected groups such as women and nonwhites, but that is not any more agenda-driven than the choice made by earlier generations to dismiss and minimize them, conciously or not.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        I think you are reducing the matter to an overly simplistic binary. The further back you go in history the more balkanized the world becomes, so naturally you would struggle to find places as diverse as, say, the modern United States.

        This isn’t exactly true. You would find a much greater range of diversity and ethnic mixing in, say, the Achaemenid Persian empire than you would in medieval England, or even modern Japan. It’s not a function of how historically recent it is; the large, sophisticated empires of the ancient world moved people around a lot more than the feudal, heavily provincial states of Europe that arose after the fall of the Roman Empire.

        That does not undermine the fact that Europe was never as white as traditional historiography would have it.

        The problem is that it hasn’t been established as fact.

        1. Gwydden says:

          I was speaking in general terms, and the trend I mentioned becomes most apparent when you go to the extremes e.g. no Bronze Age civilization could have come close to the cosmopolitan nature of the modern United States. Of course, there is always a range to speak of and medieval Christian Europe was fairly homogeneous relative to contemporary China and most, if not all, major Muslim realms. In that we agree.

          Also, I very much think it is a fact, because while saying “nonwhite people were commonplace in medieval Europe” is a controversial statement, particularly without concrete definitions of what is meant by “nonwhite people,” “commonplace,” and “medieval Europe,” the assertion “there were no nonwhite people in medieval Europe” is patently wrong. And yet, quite a few individuals assume that is the case because it has been the dominant narrative for so long.

  20. MadTinkerer says:

    So which side of this debate do you agree with:

    1) All Manji should be scrubbed from public view in Japan because tourists are constantly getting triggered by the similarity to Nazi swastikas, and it’s really quite culturally insensitive of Japan to not acknowledge the problem that swastikas cause internationally.

    2) What is your problem, you ignorant jackass, they’re clearly religious symbols that predate the Nazis, not Nazi iconography from the other side of the planet. Do we demand that you get rid of all your crucifixes just because of the Shimabara Rebellion?

  21. Vinsomer says:

    I guess I’ll throw in my two cents, given that I’m black so my opinion might be different to others.

    Generally speaking, I don’t think the Witcher is racist. Or, at least, not deserving of the label. At worst, the only real accusation against it is one of omission. I don’t think that the world of the Witcher is one in which non-white people don’t exist: they provably do, given Hearts of Stone. And when we did see the Ofieri, they were skilled, erudite, driven and generally nice people (not the ones Geralt fought on the beach, mind you). It’s just not set in those parts of the world.

    Do I think the Witcher is harmed by its lack of diversity? Well… maybe? I don’t think it ruins the game, but I definitely think a few more non-white characters could have been added. Just a quest or two, maybe a traveling diplomat in Vizima has heard the tale of this great witcher. Maybe throw an Ofieri in the Gwent tournament. Maybe a merchant from a distant land is trapped in Velen, unable to pass the blockades to the north or the battlefields to the south and needs Geralt’s aid to return home. Just a couple of quests could have made a huge difference and it would have given the game a feeling of having more beyond the unexplored borders of the map.

    But, for me, what is more important is the ideas of the text, and not the colour of the character on the surface. And the Witcher is a very strong indictment on racism, far-right populism, fearmongering, scapegoating certain classes of society. It unequivocally portrays its racists as hypocritical, self-serving, sadistic and cruel. If anything, you could say its depiction is too scathing, it makes the Witch Hunters too evil to be understandable – but then again, racism isn’t rational, it’s emotional, and not all emotions deserve to be understood.

    What’s more, I actually prefer that the game doesn’t have real world racism. Compare the game to Dragon Age. DA has plenty of fantasy racism which the player, given their background, can experience first-hand. It makes sense that elves and dwarves are more othered than different coloured humans because they are more different and racism wouldn’t develop in the same way in that universe. I don’t think it’s an attempt to sanitize racism, I think it’s an attempt to deconstruct it. Presenting the mechanics of prejudice while removing it from any real-world bias players might have obscuring their experience.

    And I think the criticism is somewhat ethnocentric – we expect a game made in Eastern Europe to reflect the ethnic makeup of the USA, a far more diverse country. And I definitely agree that the message is being ignored in some of the more superficial criticisms.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      …I don’t think it’s an attempt to sanitize racism, I think it’s an attempt to deconstruct it. Presenting the mechanics of prejudice while removing it from any real-world bias players might have obscuring their experience.

      Quite. This is one of the reasons/strengths for setting your game in a fantasy world: it isn’t like ours. Why should it reflect the real world in this way?

    2. CraigM says:

      This is a wonderful post that captures largely how I feel. It’s not that the lack of other skin tones harms the game, but rather than inclusion could have helped it. The trader trapped by the blockade is exactly the kind of detail that would broaden the world, and help draw you in.

      And I fully agree that they largely do a good job of dealing with the root topics. TW3 is fantastic, and far better than most games, at dealing with those types of issues. Which is why it’s a shame this was missed, I believe they could have done something interesting with it.

      I’ve not played the expansions, should do so at some point.

  22. Cinnamon Noir says:

    Mr. Tongue, I’ve admired your videos for some time…which is precisely why I disagree with your claim that the people at The Public Medievalist make the argument “far better” than you can. That series of articles presents almost no direct historical evidence whatever; most of its text is dedicated to deconstructing the idea of “race” itself or addressing modern white-supremacist attitudes about race and their consequences. The tone of those articles is not history; it’s sociology and politics.

    The one set of concrete historical claims I could find was in the second article. It presented the following evidence:

    -France was right next to Al-Andalus
    -England and France owned parts of each other
    -The Vikings went everywhere

    This is pretty small potatoes for making the claim that, for instance, your average French peasant would be familiar with black- or brown-skinned people living in his community. As a brief for putting black characters in stories about medieval Europe, it’s extremely weak. The second and third points have no real racial implications at all (except, in the case of the Vikings, running into people with even lighter skin), and the first is debatable because most of northern Spain was inhabited by Visigoths from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Reconquista. Aragon and Al-Andalus aren’t the same thing.

    Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that gangs of Muslim bandits took over French towns and raided through France during much of the 7th and 8th centuries. Charles Martel’s principal accomplishment during his reign was to drive them back, which is what paved the way for the Carolingian Empire. The French would certainly have been familiar with these foreign people, but only as enemies on the field of battle. Muslims and Christians didn’t coexist peacefully in the Middle Ages except on the fringes of Christendom like Spain, and even then it was more like Cold War detente than peaceful coexistence.

    Mr. Plinkett made the point in his The Force Awakens review that children, both black and white, tended to identify with the simple and engaging characters of the original Star Wars series. You don’t need to be white to identify with Luke Skywalker or Ben Kenobi for the purposes of enjoying the story. Fictional characters don’t need to be a mirror image of the viewer to be good characters, and I think the modern obsession with “representation” in fiction stems from a complete misunderstanding about how art is made.

    I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be racially diverse characters in fantasy stories. There are a lot of interesting stories you could tell with that as a basis. But criticizing any given work of fiction for not doing this is asking the author(s) to follow your inspiration rather than theirs, and discounting the value of the story they want to tell. I wasn’t convinced by your video about the Witcher two years ago, and I’m certainly not convinced by this.

    1. acronix says:

      I’ve reached the same conclusions after browsing through that site. The historicity of their articles is not very historical at all.

      What’s worse, though, is that in the very first article (or maybe the second?), they say that “white europe” was a myth started by a small group of ideologically motivated people and spread further by a clueless public. This is the very same thing they are doing: starting a myth with ideological motivations, then waiting for the clueless public to spread it further.

    2. Gwydden says:

      I think the Public Medievalist could do better, and they often get distracted and start pontificating rather than focusing on the evidence, but they’re not wrong that there more nonwhite people in pre-industrial Europe than is often acknowledged. This was specially true of Southern and Eastern Europe, which were next door to Africa and Asia — not to mention that many southern Europeans are far from lily-white even today —, but even Northern Europe wasn’t entirely homogeneous. We have evidence of North African people in Anglo-Saxon England, for example.

  23. Redrock says:

    Like many people already said, the main reason this discussion is so problematic is because a large amount of game critics are American and, as such, only have a very America-centric idea of representation and other social and political issues. I think the criticism towards CDPR was never fair because the Witcher games and books do a good job of portraying anti-semitism, as Bob mentioned. As a person with Jewish roots living in Russia I always found their portrayal quite poignant – and it’s extremely annoying to see the portrayal of these issues dismissed as “not progressive enough” simply because it focuses on prosecuted minorities other than those the progressive media in the USA currently support.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Yeah, the ‘dwarfs as jews’ metaphor worked really well. I remember at one point I went to Beauclair and without thinking, said: ‘Hah, if course it’s a dwarf who runs the bank here. Wonder what his interest rates are.’
      (Mostly because earlier I’d borrowed a measly 100 Crowns from Vimme Vivaldi via a mis-click and he’d charged me THIRTY PERCENT interest when I instantly tried to return it.)

      Which of course, says a lot about how prejudice takes root and can be manipulated.
      …and possibly that I’m racist against dwarves.

  24. slipshod says:

    Another key point to consider here might be the following: when preparing to expound on a topic, one must consider if one possesses the necessary qualifications to opine on it.

    Most make-believe is rooted in some form of real-life experience, acquired either in person or via proxy (i.e., by observing a close acquaintance). As a writer, I tend to steer clear of drawing inspiration from events of which I do not have intimate knowledge, because the message comes out unintentionally diluted. Is it possible that CDPR made a similar decision?

    Eastern Europe has close (and abysmal) ties to poverty, persecution, usurpation, and, for the lack of a better word, “castes”. It does not have a history of Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Harriet Tubman, Malcom X, or Martin Luther King. That is not to say Eastern Europe does not have black racism. It’s just that I would not expect an ode to MLK to originate in Poland, just as I would not expect a musical about Alexander Hamilton to originate in Poland.

    Tl;dr – art is tricky. Pleasing everyone is impossible.

    All of the above written from a place of complete serenity, acceptance, and respect. As a Lithuanian living in NYC, I sympathize with both sides.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      As a writer, I tend to steer clear of drawing inspiration from events of which I do not have intimate knowledge, because the message comes out unintentionally diluted. Is it possible that CDPR made a similar decision?

      I just want to point out the compare-and-contrast here with some of the points brought up in the GTA series about the humor of Rockstar. Their satirical take on American capitalism and corporate greed, along with many other aspects of Americana and American culture, comes off, according to Shamus and quite a few of the commenters, as if they are ionly “informed”, not actually lived – they’re satire on a culture the writers didn’t fully grasp/understand.
      CDPR writers – from Poland – sticking to Polish sensibilities and inequalities to address, instead of trying to touch directly on American cultural history and historical sensibilities, strikes me as a smart thing to do – in an attempt to talk about American-style melting pot culture and its racism, they risked coming off tone deaf or even openly insulting to people in the situation.
      to make up an example, if there had been a troupe of actors going around the countryside in TW3, with blackface and all the trappings of minstrel shows, and these had been cheered for by a few and condemned by Geralt and other “enlightened” characters, what are the odds this would’ve been pulled off entirely properly? And what are the odds this would’ve hurt more than it would’ve helped?

  25. C.J.Geringer says:

    I would like to hear your opinion on this post:

    https://www.giantbomb.com/forums/the-witcher-3-wild-hunt-9137/on-the-witcher-3-culture-and-representation-1773068/

    Basically the poster, who is polish, talks about how until playing the Witcher he hadn´´ t realized he never felt represented in games because even though he is a white male he is polish, and thus culturally distinct from people from USA/UK/etc…

    1. Ander says:

      “many people have this misguided notion that culture and tradition is skin deep”
      Ooo, that’s good.

  26. Shamus says:

    Heads up: This morning I woke up to find a bunch of messages caught in moderation for no good reason. A few of these could be blamed on my capriciously hyperactive spam filter, but not all.

    There are two ways to wind up in moderation:
    1) The spam filter
    2) If you try to delete your own comment.

    When you try to delete, the message gets moved to moderation. The system is supposed to email me saying “so-and-so wants their comment deleted”. However, if I don’t see the email there’s a risk that I’ll just re-approve the comment and it will be restored, even through the author wanted to delete it.

    I haven’t gotten one of those emails since moving the site, and I’m wondering if the system is broken.

    Consider two scenarios:

    1) Bob writes a comment. The spam filter captures it. Noticing this, Bob just writes the comment again with different wording. The second one gets through and everyone gets on with their day.

    2) Bob writes a comment. Later he does a gut-check and rereads it, realizing it’s not really what he wanted to say or he’s worried he was too rude. So he requests to have the comment deleted and writes another, more temperate one.

    Without the notification email, it’s impossible for me to tell these two scenarios apart.

    TL;DR If you tried to delete a comment and it re-appeared, please let me know.

    1. Shamus says:

      Update: Thanks to Bookwyrm for helping me test this. They posted a comment and then deleted it as a test.

      The email system DOES work, but it’s inexplicably slow. It took a half hour for the message to appear in my inbox. I don’t know if that delay is constant or random, but either way it’s enough to cause confusion.

      Stopgap: If you want your comment deleted, edit it to say “Delete me please” at the the top and THEN use the delete function.

      I’ll see what I can do to sort this out.

  27. SupahEwok says:

    I took a look at that Public Medievalist website, and… found it rather lacking. In response to the question, “Was Medieval Europe white?” their answer was to expand the definition of “Medieval” and “Europe” until their preferred answer was right. Places like Moorish Spain, North Africa, and the Islamic empires of the Middle East are all neighbors to the European continent, but they aren’t part of European history save for border conflicts at the edge of what it meant to be European (and in this time period, the idea of “Europe” isn’t actually around; the most broad yet significant cultural trappings for people on the continent would have been “Christendom”). As such, I found attempting to say that Medieval Europe wasn’t white by deconstructing what Medieval Europe means to be an acknowledgement of the weakness of the author’s position: he can’t win on his argument’s on merits without shifting the goalposts.

    Really, I should say “authors” since the slate of articles were written by different members of a group, but the point stands regardless of if the argument is the result of the efforts of an individual or a collective. The historical record, to our best understanding, says that things like the Japanese embassy to Rome were remarkable occurences that only happened once, and witnessed by very very few outside of nobility; that trade on the Silk Road was not undertaken by single great merchants traveling from China to Italy, but were rather whole chains of merchants trading from China to the Gobi to the Arab kingdoms, town by town, to the Mediterranean sea. Trying to warp and twist historical accounts and individual instances to support a narrative is just as much historical revisionism as the “white-washing” these folks rail against.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Wait… you’re seriously trying to argue Spain ISN’T part of Europe to make your argument work? So it couldn’t be that your argument is flatly incorrect on its face, it’s that “technically” Spain isn’t part of Europe because… we don’t want to consider it that way because it hurts our preferred designation of things. Suuuure

      1. acronix says:

        His argument works because he is not using “europe” as a purely geographical location but as a cultural norm. The reason to not consider Spain european in such a definition is that Spain got conquered by the moors in the eight century. From that point, the Islamic and Christian cultures began to mix (mostly in art, architecture, food and some words), even though the religions never did. Plus the spanish actually waged war on the moors until the Reconquista seven centuries later. You wouldn’t call a moor of Spain “european” in the cultural sense, but you would in the continental sense (because after the conquest many were naturally born there).
        But to say that the moors in Spain became european in any other sense just by conquering it is as silly as saying that the English who colonized India became Asians by colonizing India. Culturally they are far apart and remained distinct enough, even if they shared the same geographical location.

        1. Viktor says:

          So the argument is that Spain doesn’t count as Europe because there’s too many foreigners in it? That kind of proves the point that there was diversity in Europe of the time, it’s just that our popular versions of it ignore anything and anywhere that would question the established narrative.

          1. DHW says:

            Not really, because the argument isn’t that “the continental mass known as Europe, extending from Spain to Norway to Turkey, had people of different skin colors in it.” The argument is “if you were in a small town in the middle of the forest in Central Europe, you’d see black and brown people.” Which, well, no, it’s extremely unlikely that would happen.

            1. Viktor says:

              But Geralt isn’t a dirt farmer in the middle of nowhere. He visits 3 distinct metropolises, trades with every merchant in the area, and in general meets a much wider variety of people than the average person. If POC exist in the region, he would be running into them. The fact that he doesn’t means that CDPR decided to make Witcher 3 exist in a country where everyone is white, which is ahistorical and sends an uncomfortable message.

              1. Supah Ewok says:

                “The fact that he doesn’t means that CDPR decided to make Witcher 3 exist in a country where everyone is white, which is ahistorical and sends an uncomfortable message.”

                If you insist on getting that picky, he visits 3 regions, not even an entire country. Of them, one of them is mostly country-side with a single small hamlet that has recently been conquered. The next is a swamp between 2 cities which is an active war-zone, which means any foreign traders have either had their goods conscripted or have fled, with no reason to return. The last are a collection of isles in a colder climate and which are home to famous naval raiders. All of which are natively white, all of which are based off of historically white cultures.

                Geralt also visits these places within the span of a few months. That is practically a snapshot of history, and from the perspective of one man! You can find instances of singular travelers ranging far from their homelands and interacting with Europeans, such as Ahmad ibn Fadlan visiting Vikings or the Japanese embassy to Rome, and of Europeans traveling to far off lands, like Marco Polo to China. These are remarkable, well-known occurrences, [i]because[/i] they are so [i]singular[/i], and they are spread out over very many years, across very many miles, and being witnessed by, historically, the very few. They were not permanent inhabitants in an even geographic distribution over extended time periods.

                Honestly, look at that image that was included, that shows a European’s conception of the people of far away lands. Do you think somebody who’d witnessed such people, even secondhand, would come up with depictions so ridiculous, yet are meant to be taken seriously? It really acts as a point against all of this nonsense of the commonality of foreigners in Medieval Christendom, even if it was meant to illustrate it.

                Look, I’m sympathetic to the notion of representation. There are people who aren’t white who say it would enhance their experience, and who am I to deny them their feelings? My own, personal horse in this race is objecting to the attempt to bend history as a tool to accomplish it. I wouldn’t be happy if people were saying that, say, Europeans had invented coffee either, just because a certain region within the continent had popularized the coffee house. Make your points that a remarkable man like Geralt can meet remarkable circumstances, such as those one in a million trips of foreign emissaries to a far away land. Don’t try to twist the historical record into making it sound like such an event is not actually remarkable and as a matter of fact should be expected. And [i]absolutely[/i] don’t try to use made-up history to pass moral condemnation.

      2. SupahEwok says:

        You’ll notice I took a moment to state that the idea of Europe as a continental identity, in reference to the idea of “Medieval Europe”, did not exist in the time period we consider to be Medieval. It was Christendom, the land of the Christian peoples. Which did not fully include Spain until the conclusion of the Reconquista and the Inquisition’s purges, centuries after the Medieval period. The idea of a continental identity didn’t begin to manifest until after the Protestant Reformation, when Christianity was split in twain and the people of the day needed a new identity for the shared aspects of their culture.

        So yes. Moorish Spain was a foreign entity at the borders of Medieval Europe. As I said. Europeans fighting with the Moors would have been exposed to them, as enemies. I find it doubtful that your average Pole ever saw one.

        Frankly, trying to use modern definitions of Europe to revise the demographic make up of the popular consensus of Europe as given at that time period in the historical record is the kind of dishonest historical revisionism I was talking about. A Frank and a Ravennate had a shared culture heritage as being part of Christendom that either of them lacked with a Spanish Moor. It is that shared heritage that we today call Europe.

        As an aside, I don’t appreciate the condescension. You could have asked me to expound on my point without the insult.

  28. Kamica says:

    To counter your point though: Why does skin-colour and other ethnic physical features have to dictate geographic origin? It is a fantasy world after all, and though I understand you can’t just break physics and all sorts of other things in a fantasy world, you don’t have to stick with Earth everything either.

    These ethnic differences could be considered the same as hair-colour differences. As an example of a setting that is relateable to fantasy (but is actually sci-fi I suppose =P) which has a lot of ethnic diversity in it: Horizon: Zero Dawn. I know there’s a legitimate in-game reason for this, and because it’s post-apocalyptic, it’s different. But it shows that it could work I reckon.

    As for your argument about the tribalism and such going on: Humans came into the world thanks to the Conjunction of Spheres. Thus already you have a significant difference between humans and non-humans, where there wouldn’t be as much difference between white humans and black humans. To the humans at least. Much like there’s no tribalism and racism going on between black-haired and blonde-haired people. But sorceresses and magic users in general are mistrusted. Likewise, non-humans often have other reasons besides their appearance to warrant mistrust from humans.

    Racism isn’t actually about skin-colour, or even appearance, though that’s the easiest manner in which it often shows itself. It’s simply about differences, and if the differences between humans and non-humans are greater than the differences between white and black humans, then humans aren’t going to throw a fuss about people’s skin colour. Especially if they’re as intermingled as black, blonde and red-haired people. If they’re not different, separate groups, then racism doesn’t usually work, only if they actually have cultural and historic differences does racism tend to apply.

    Hence there is racism against Scandinavian Sami people, who are visually indistinguishable from other Europeans, but culturally are very distinct, and Jews, who, although having been mixed in with society, have their own cultural practices and history, separating themselves, but not against black-haired, brown haired or blonde haired people. I suspect the reason red-haired people are at times still discriminated against, is because they’re a bit rarer than the other hair-colours?

    So yea, there’s my slightly too lengthy argument as to why, in fantasy settings, and in the Witcher as well, you can totally have diversity represented =P.

    (Note: I’m not saying that the Witcher is racist, or that it’s any less good of a game necessarily, but just saying that most arguments against inclucivety(sp?) don’t necessarily apply to fantasy games. (For that matter, why does everyone speak English? Why is everyone white, as opposed to some other skin colour (Polish based, I know, but there’s arguments to be made that it doesn’t need to be, in other fantasy games: why have humans at all?)

    1. Kamica says:

      This was meant to be a reply to a comment… Why’s this down here? I don’t even remember to what it was a reply D=.

  29. Distec says:

    Not really Witcher related, but that first image brought back strong memories of the 1988 French animated film Gandahar (aka Light Years in the US). Or at least Mr Torso-Head did.

    https://youtu.be/FD-MgoM4y5E?t=10m26s

    I wonder if these depictions were informed by illustrations such as those in the Cosmographia.

    And not to ruin all things good in this world, but that’s a film I’d kinda like to see remade…

    1. WarLadle says:

      I guess torso-head figures are more common than I knew. My reference for them has always been Xingtian, a Chinese deity who used his nipples as eyes and belly button as a mouth after being beheaded.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xingtian

      The wikipedia entry also directs to entries about Blemmyes and Kabandha, Greek and Hindu counterparts respectively. I wonder what it is that makes it so that so many cultures have ‘headless men’ figures.

  30. Confanity says:

    The dwarf/Jew connection has precedent in fantasy literature, actually. In The Last Battle, the final book of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, he uses a group of dwarves as, to be blunt, a pretty ugly and antisemitic metaphor for Jews “refusing to see” the truth about, um, Aslan. I haven’t played the Witcher games, but I’d be perfectly willing to believe that depictions of the treatment of dwarves could be a comment on antisemitism.

    1. Ander says:

      I don’t think that’s quite the focus of the metaphor. Aslan says (and I misquote some words here no doubt), “They’re so determined not to be taken in that they cannot be taken out [of their blindness].”The dwarves represent people who, as Lewis says elsewhere, see through everything and therefore do not see anything. They’re determined to not be fooled by this nonsense of a loving…lion…taking them to a perfect undying land. The dwarves are skeptics in the vein of the overly-intellectual friends in Screwtape Letters or NICE in That Hideous Strength. If that matches Jewish rejection of…Aslan (and I’m not sure it does)…it is not because of race.

      But that’s the reading of someone who likes CS Lewis way too much. It is, in my opinion, informed regarding Lewis’s thought processes, but might of course still be wrong and is certainly biased. I’ve definitely heard of the Jew/dwarf connection in fantasy before re: Tolkein; I don’t buy it, but still.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I concur that the dwarves are just stubborn, not Jewish, in the Last Battle.

        Tolkien talks at some length about the Jewish character of the Dwarves. Their language is Semitic, they are without a home of their own, they are melted into other cultures -so much so that they don’t even speak their own language as their first language, but instead speak the language of the humans among whom they live, only speaking their own language in private and in religious ceremonies.

        1. Ander says:

          Ok, thank you. I’ve read LotR, the Hobbit, and the Silmarillion. The parallels are there, but I didn’t think it was necessary for the cause to be referring to the Jews. I didn’t know Tolkien spoke to it.

  31. baud says:

    The idea that everyone of consequence in medieval Europe was white is not accurate. I have neither the time nor, frankly, the qualifications to make this argument comprehensively, but I can link to a website that makes it far better than I can: this series of articles by The Public Medievalist.

    I’m sure you are right, but I find your reference of choice a little weak, since the series of article does little to disprove the idea, only offering arguments of why it’s a terrible idea brought by nasty people for political reasons.

  32. Cilvre says:

    I’m surprised you left this post up. It’s not going to fuel a creative discussion and I don’t think touching on perceived issues like this should be handed down this way. It just creates a vile back and forth where some have to pick a side and the rest of us get dragged along into reading all the nonsense. I’m not done reading the site, but I am done reading Bob’s work.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      So while I agree that there’s a high chance of this issue becoming just another of the internet’s dumpster-fire arguments, it’s not actualy guaranteed.
      And hasn’t happened here (so far).
      There’s quite a lot of good discussion here and some interesting viewpoints (check C.J Geringer’s post out above for example).

      And of course no-one makes you read the comments section if you don’t want to.

  33. Viktor says:

    Europe had trade lines stretching throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle Ease, and eventually the Americas. Norsemen raided from the Americas to Africa and recruited everywhere they went. Mongols and Moors conquered chunks of Europe and installed their own people as leadership. Not to mention groups like Jewish people and the Roma. There were POC in Europe. How many is much more debateable, but they existed. So a creator can either include POC and provide representation to people who don’t always get to see themselves in stories, or they can exclude them and further an inaccurate view of the past. That’s up to them, but they shouldn’t be surprised when people they ignored get annoyed at them for it.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      …a creator can either include POC and provide representation to people who don’t always get to see themselves in stories, or they can exclude them and further an inaccurate view of the past.

      Or, they could make a fantasy game that only roughly draws from human history and thus isn’t obligated to be 100% accurate?
      (and, if people want to point out that they’d like more humans of different races in said game, then sure, why not.)

      As other people have pointed out, TW3 (and presumably the other games) do say a lot about racism & predjudice: they just use the bog-standard magical fantasy races to do it with. Which is great for making a more general point about racism without having anyone’s preconceptions or real-world politics getting in the way.

  34. Shamus says:

    Okay, acronix posted a comment that was (for some reason) placed into moderation. It took SIX HOURS before the system notified me.

    I have no idea what to make of this. The automated systems have always been wonky, but this is a new flavor of broken.

    Once again: Sorry for any confusion and please be polite to each other.

    I’ll probably close the thread before I go to bed for the night. I appreciate everyone who took part and was patient with their opposition. Thanks.

  35. Extremely Anonymous says:

    Speaking as an (American) creator, I’d like to put my cards on the table:

    I don’t want to be pilloried. And I do want to tell stories.

    These are my primary goals.

    Suppose I write a novel and all my characters are of unspecified ethnic background. In the event anyone reads it, a complaint will come: “Why don’t you have any nonwhite characters?”

    OK. Draft Two, be more explicit about the skin color of a character or three, maybe find an appropriate subculture in my novel and specify that they are of nonwhite race. I need to make sure that this isn’t introducing any negative stereotypes – behavior that was unobjectionable on a presumably-white character could be seen as any of a number of negative stereotypes for a black character – and I need to go through all the casual mentions of skin color, hair color, blushing, et cetera, to make sure it looks right. Some extra work.

    New complaint: “This is tokenism! The [foo] character has no grounding in the culture his ancestors to come from, because you don’t understand anything about the [foo] culture!

    OK. Next step is to read six different books about [foo]. A general overview of the history, a famous work from the culture, four biographies. There we go.

    New complaint: “Your sole [foo] character is a stereotype! You need more [foo] characters!”

    OK, fine. Next book, I’ll set it in a space colony descended almost entirely from people of Indian ancestry, or in a fantasy inspired by Tang China, or in Egypt during the Muslim conquests.

    “A white guy writing in our settings, about us, is cultural appropriation!”

    – – –

    Has this actually happened to me? No. I’m not successful enough. My words here are driven by naked fear; I see lots of works that I found nothing objectionable in getting one or another of these responses, and I panic. Generally, the more they try to appeal to the social-justice community, the more of them they get; don’t engage, and you’ll be lost in the crowd, unless you happen to be big enough that you get posts like the one this is a comment on about you.

    Am I responding by not writing any stories about nonwhite people? No. I bow to the whims of my muse. I actually *want* to write a fantasy story about someone doing his best to provide justice within the horrifying complexities of the Qing legal system. And I do feel some vague obligation to make a few moves in the direction of a representative cast, at the least representative for the culture I’m writing about.

    But I have found no safety. There is no reasonable set of moves you can make that will make everyone decide you don’t need to be burned at the stake, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to present it as being the case that there is. I wish there were. If anyone codifies one and gets everyone to sign on, I’d like to read it. Until then… I don’t know what to do.

    1. Shamus says:

      Confession: As a white guy who just wrote a book featuring an entire culture of alternate-world dark-skinned people living in a tourist hub and the strange cultural and political baggage they have with their mostly-white visitors, I kinda share this fear. I wrote the book I had in my heart, but there’s always this lingering worry I’ll get blindsided by transgressing on some taboo and end up getting called out and shamed by an angry mob.

      I really need to get this thing edited and get it out the door, for good or ill.

      Good luck, Extremely Anon. I don’t know what you’re writing, but I hope it pans out.

      And with that, I think it’s time to shut this thread down. Talking about racism is HARD, and I thank everyone who participated with patience. We didn’t get caught in the “same old rut”. The conversation actually lasted long enough that I got to hear a few new perspectives. I really enjoyed what people had to say on both sides. That’s not just me being polite. Several really good comments made me see this discussion in new ways.

      Thanks everyone.

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