Years ago I wrote about what I felt was the Witcher 3’s take on how are parents can influence us, even directly guide us, for better or for worse.
Video games have been trying to successfully convey narratives with paternity at their core for years now. They usually come in the form of a father/daughter relationship, and while some have had varying degrees of success, like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to The West, most of them don’t do much beyond a surface level. They ultimately boil down to two characters forming a certain bond that most of us immediately recognize. In The Last of Us, Joel cares for Ellie as a surrogate daughter, even if that goes unsaid, and the same is true for the lead characters of Enslaved. The Witcher 3 portrays yet another paternal relationship but succeeds by exploring some of the more nuanced elements at play and making the player an active participant therein, as opposed to just being an onlooker as in the games that came before.
**Spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt follow.**
Geralt of Rivia is the titular witcher, a sort of investigator and monster hunter in his world’s own terms, and he’s on a mission to find his adoptive daughter of sorts, Cirilla (or Ciri, for short). Ciri has powers that let her travel between dimensions, through space and time. It’s for this reason that she’s sought after by many figures in the world of The Witcher, including the game’s main antagonists, a party of phantom riders called the Wild Hunt. Having been trained in the ways of the witcher from a young age, Ciri can look out for herself to a reasonable extent. She flees the hunt, but she can’t run forever, and both she and Geralt know this.
The intro of the game finds Geralt at the witchers’ home base, the castle of Kaer Morhen. He’s there with Yennefer of Vengerburg (his on/off lover and maternal figure to Ciri), his mentor Vezimir, and a very young Ciri herself. Geralt watches a prodigal Ciri demonstrate some fancy footwork, he races her to the bottom of the keep, and he trains with her in sword fighting. Then the sky goes grey, the Wild Hunt comes sailing through the clouds, and Geralt wakes up. It turns out the intro sequence was actually a dream, but it articulates how Geralt feels about the characters involved and Ciri in particular, and we see echoes of that relationship throughout the game, even though the characters aren’t in close proximity to one another until the final act.
There are moments during Geralt’s journey to find Ciri where he explicitly refers to her as his “daughter,” and he doesn’t take kindly to anyone that may have hurt her or would seek to abuse her abilities. We’re occasionally treated to flashbacks that detail Ciri’s adventures on the run, where she uses the training she’s had from Geralt to defend both herself and others who aid her. When meeting a few characters later in the game, certain dialogue choices reveal that Ciri openly displays a deep admiration for Geralt while not in his company. Friends of Ciri reveal that she feels grateful to Geralt for having saved her on so many occasions and that she treasures the bond they share. When the two are together, they have a clear and mutual understanding of each other; Ciri respects Geralt’s intentions and wisdom, while he respects her determination and ability. This is more than a father/daughter relationship; it’s a partnership. It’s a professional and his young ward, and it’s the core that drives the entire narrative of The Witcher 3.
That’s not to say the vast (and I mean vast) majority of your time isn’t spent playing as Geralt. It is, and part of the experience is defining his morality, albeit on a limited spectrum. Once Ciri really comes into play during the game’s third act, you’re no longer just deciding how Geralt handles certain situations, but you’re also deciding how he’s going to influence Ciri’s own actions and development, if he will at all.
When Ciri is frustrated with training to learn how to properly utilize her powers, she comes to Geralt. The player then has the choice to take her drinking and imply that the training doesn’t matter. The alternative is to have a snowball fight with her, where either character can win. By making the second choice, Geralt supports Ciri and helps her relieve some stress. Another scenario sees Ciri nervous about having a meeting with the lodge of sorceresses, associates of Yennefer’s that once tried to train Ciri in magic and hope to continue to. Geralt can go with Ciri, and a scene will follow where he dominates the whole interaction. The alternative choice here is to push Ciri to see them on her own and stand for what she wants. Geralt and Yennefer stand outside the room trying to peek in and listen to the conversation. They’re worried, but they know Ciri has to be able to do certain things on her own.
Geralt makes a lot of choices in The Witcher 3 that determine the fates of various characters and even the current social order, but because of the nature of the narrative setup, most of his influence on Ciri is something that’s conveyed to the player. It’s during the last ten or so hours that the player must decide what that influence looks like going forward into the game’s conclusion.
Read the rest as published on The Mary Sue. Happy Father’s Day!