Videogames are often looked down upon in wider culture as the entertainment medium that isn’t quite as cultured, complex, intricate and just generally worth consuming compared to those that came before them.
It’s a tired old tradition for the latest technological advancement to be looked down upon by those people who’ve become set in their ways; it happened when instead of reading books and attending plays people watched television, it happened when music started to be created with electronic guitars and keyboards rather than violins and cellos, and it’s even happening right now with the way some gamers look down on those who only play games on their mobiles.
But while videogames are often so unfairly looked down upon by the uninitiated and the ignorant, there are some games out there, at least from a narrative perspective, that would be perfect to show to these naysayers that yes, in fact, videogames can be just as compelling and emotionally galvanising as the written word. I feel like I played one such game this year.
2015 has been the year for massive, sprawling open-world games that take an ungodly amount of hours to complete. World saving quests in fantastical kingdoms, family vengeance in apocalyptic wastelands and 80’s funk music infused trips in the desert are only the beginning, but, out of all of the massive adventures I embarked upon this year, up to now I’ve only managed to finish one in its entirety.
The journey in question was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and journey is a very apt way to describe it. Playing as the legendary monster hunter, the Butcher of Blaviken himself, Geralt of Rivea, you’re tasked with finding your former ward and, for all intents and purposes, your daughter, and save her from peril.
While the broad outline of The Witcher 3 may be as simple as it gets, what happens along the way is anything but: all the encounters, all the stories, all the discoveries, all the battles, all the kisses and all the scorns truly make it come alive, not to mention the fact the person you’re trying to save is an absolute badass who takes her destiny into her own hands, letting nothing be decided for her.
I mentioned that the engulfing world of The Witcher 3 felt alive just then, and that’s just another way in which it truly grabbed me and forced me to play for going on 100 hours, if not more. Even though the Northern Kingdoms are populated with elves and dwarfs, sorceresses and monsters of every shape, size and possible description, it still feels like a world that is very much grounded in reality. It does this because the people in this world feel real; they have their own lives, their own pasts and their own problems.
My mind always falls back to a hunter called Mislav who you meet in White Orchid. When talking to him, you have an option to either not pry at his obviously haunting past, or you can try and comfort him. After he called himself a freak, you reply by saying that you’re a freak too. You offer assistance: “If you’re a werewolf I can help” you start to say, before he interrupts, telling you how he and the Lord’s son were once lovers, how they were caught in the stables, how he was driven from the village, how his love hung himself, how the lord started drinking and how the estate fell into ruin. You feel like an utter tit for prying, for thinking: “You’re a freak too”, for thinking his problem was something so simple that it could be solved with a potion.
There are moments of astonishment, of heartbreak, along with moments of joy and happiness, scattered all throughout The Witcher 3, making any encounter with any character, be it one of the stars of the story or a man you meet once on a cliff side, all worth it.
The world is real because the people inside it feel real, and that’s why it’s so compelling, so much so that, after I completed it – for the first time – I then turned my attentions to the seven Witcher novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. I like to read from time to time, but I’m certainly not a persistent reader and it usually takes me so long to read something that I rarely start to begin with. I read the seven The Witcher books in three weeks.
And this is all because a game grabbed me so much with its world, it’s history but, most of all, it’s people, to the point that I had to consume as much of it as I could, from whatever means necessary. I even attempted to watch the atrocious Polish film too.
People who have spent their lives reading books and now look down and scoff at the medium of videogames should be shown The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, as I think it may just open their minds to a whole new world.