Witcher 3 and Diversity

Witcher 3 is a fun game. It is also a game almost exclusively about white people. There are white humans, white elves, and white dwarfs with Scottish accents, and about a hundred different types of monsters that come in all shapes, sizes and colors of the rainbow. While playing the game you will encounter many Noonwraiths, Neckers, Drowners, Luberkin, Ghouls, Fiends or Warewolfs but you will not see a single person of color. Game critics picked up on this, because it’s 2015, so of course they would. Very predictably bunch of “gamers” jumped to defend it pointing out that game is based on “Slavic mythology” and that complete lack of people of color is somehow “historically accurate” seeing how the setting is supposed to resemble pre-Christian Poland.

As an actual Slavic person, who was born and grew up in Poland, I feel that I should chime in here.

Witcher 3 does not contain any people of color not because of “mythology” or “history” or “book lore” but most likely because CD Project Red never even considered adding non white characters to their game. They literally forgot that non-white people even exist, which is something that happens when you are a white person, living in predominantly white culture, and consuming predominantly white media. You can literally spend a few years making a cool video game, designing awesome monsters, and interesting characters, and not even once consider giving one of them a darker skin color. Folks who made the game not evil racists (at least I don’t think they are), they just happened to do a thing that white people very often do, which is to ignore everyone that does not look like them. By doing so they contributed to erasure of non-white people in the industry. Witcher 3 is yet another game that features exactly zero people of color. This is a problem.

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

It may not be a problem to you, but it is one to many, many people who love and enjoy video games. If you don’t understand why it is a problem to them, or why they would like to see themselves represented in their media… Well, you are a part of the problem.

If Witcher 3 was the only game released this year which was found lacking with respect to race and representation, we would not be having this discussion. But it is not. It is a part of a cultural trend that extends beyond video games and into all popular media we consume. It’s an issue that is bigger than video games.

Because of that, criticism that calls game devs out for lacking diversity it is valid, and constructive. This is something we most definitely should be talking about in reviews, so that CD Project Red (and the industry as a whole) can improve. After all, the dev team did not fail out of menace, but out of ignorance. And the only way to combat ignorance is to make people aware of these issues. Defending the lack of diversity in the game citing “mythology” or “historical accuracy” is incredibly silly and disingenuous.

Firstly, Polish/Slavic mythology isn’t really a thing.[1] You can’t talk about it in the same way as you talk about Norse mythology or ancient Greek or even Egyptian mythology. There is no concrete body of mythological lore you can print in a book and use as a game setting.[2]

The ancient Slavic people that roamed central and eastern Europe territories that we now recognize as Poland left virtually no written records. Most of their religious beliefs, customs, rituals and stories have been very successfully erased from history by the efforts of the Catholic Church. For example, there is no such thing as a Slavic people’s version of the creation myth. Doubtlessly such a myth must have existed, but we have no knowledge of it. It was lost to history.[3] While we know of a handful of Slavic gods that were worshiped, most of what we know about them is based on conjecture based on analysis of the precious few stone and wooden idols that were not smashed or burned by the Inquisition, and church records.

In fact, most of what we know about the religious customs of the day has been sourced from notes of Christian monks about three or four hundred years after the last Polish pagans have died. The same monks who have been actively suppressing that very knowledge for more than a few centuries. There are scant few bits and pieces of folklore that has survived to this day via oral traditions, customs. Some are enduring part of Polish culture to these days. But even those those were scrubbed and sanitized over the ages loosing much of their original meaning and significance. So anyone telling you that Witcher 3 is based on actual Slavic mythology is full of shit. We literally know more about the religion and myths of fictional land of Westeros than those of very real, pre-Christian Poles.

Monsters not in Slavic Mythology

Things that are not authentic Slavic mythology: dwarfs, elves, witchers and whatever the fuck that horned thing is.

Yes, some of the names of the monsters in the game are indeed based on Slavic, and more specifically Polish folklore. But the rest is almost entirely made up. The Witcher novels on which the game is based are pretty standard Fantasy with some “domestic” themes and folklore thrown in. In fact, A. Sapkowski’s entire shtick for early Witcher stories was to take a classic fairy tale (more often something from Grimm Brother’s rather than from actual Slavic folklore), apply 90’s style “edgy” filter by making everyone curse like a sailor, have the Witcher blunder into the mess and then reveal the good guys are actually the bad guys at the end. The books are standard Fantasy pulp, with very standard Fantasy elves and dwarfs imported directly from Tolkien. Geralt’s story arc pivots around fairy tales and trope subversions to ultimately fall into an Arthurian heroic archetype. Sapkowski swims in anachronisms and constantly winks at the readers to the point of breaking the fourth wall.

Also, Witchers, mutated monster slayers with super powers are not, and never have been part of Slavic mythology. Or any mythology for that matter. They are entirely made up by A. Sapkowski who, could easily trademark the term “witcher”, if he has not done so already.

Coincidentally he said pretty much the same things about Polish mythology in an essay he Publihsed in 1992:

Andrzej Sapkowski, Piróg alboNie ma złota w Szarych Górach, Berlin, November 1992

Andrzej Sapkowski, Piróg alboNie ma złota w Szarych Górach, Berlin, November 1992

Witcher 3 pedigree is as much D&D, pulp fantasy and Tolkien as it is Slavic mythology. Sapkowski never intended it to be held up as a celebration of Slavic mythology. He was mainly interested in writing interesting story, with interesting setting and cool characters. You can read the rest of the essay (in Polish) on Scribid.

So please, spare me the whole “based on Slavic mythology” excuse, because it is bullshit.

The argument from “historical accuracy” is also moot and void, because the game does not take place in a historical period, but in an entirely imaginary setting. But if we wanted to be sticklers about it and say it is supposed to be “based on” Poland as it existed at some point in time (but, you know, with elves, and werewolfs and drowners) it still would not make sense. As I mentioned above, we don’t know much about Polish history prior to year 966, when pagan chieftain Mieszko I was baptized and crowned by the Roman Catholic Pope. This was a shrewd political move as it legitimized Poland as an official Christian nation, and meant our western neighbors could no longer try to annex our territories in the name of “spreading the faith”. The story of Mieszko is literally page one of our official history as a nation. We really don’t know all that much about our pagan ancestors. We do know that Slavic people did travel and traded by sea and by land, and not just with their immediate neighbors because that’s what you do when you are in Europe.

Józef Brandt

Painting by Polish artist Józef_Brandt depicting the scene from a Polish-Ottoman war.

Poland, as you may be aware is not some lonely island in the middle of a Pacific ocean where it would be isolated from other cultures . It is a country smack dab in the middle of the big cultural melting pot that is Europe. At the height of it’s power, Polish and Polish allied territories stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Poles traded with, and warred with the Ottoman Empire, Tartars, Mongols and etc.. Polish medieval fashion was full of Eastern or Southern influences. The staple of Polish nobleman attire were ornamental silk belts, and Winged Husars (elite cavalrymen) would adorn their armor with leopard pelts. Neither silk nor leopards are native to Poland, but these materials were imported from Asian and African nations. That means traders, scholars, political envoys… Not to mention that Polish territories also have always had sizable population of Roma people.

I have not noticed it at first, but others pointed out that the map of Witcher 3 universe is essentially a map of Poland rotated in such a way as to specifically erase the neighboring regions that had significant non-white population:

The world of The Witcher books and novels is most emphatically not just the world of Poland. Great swaths of the third game take place in Nilfgaard, the plain-as-day Holy Roman Empire analogue. The Northern Kingdoms are rather obvious as the fragmentary kingdom of Poland before the time of Casimir the Great in the fourteenth century, although individual kingdoms like Temeria have strong flavor from other medieval monarchies like France. There is even a group of islands to stand in for the kingdom of Denmark! The Witcher is Polish, but it is definitely peddling a vision of neo-medievalism that encompasses the greater part of Europe. And, at least for me, what is the most striking aspect of the map? Well, it’s been rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise and cropped so that Poland’s eastern and southern neighbors functionally exist no longer. It’s just fuckin’ deserts and mountains there, move along. That means no Huns, no Avars, no Magyars, no Pechenegs, no Khazars, no Cumans, no Turks, no Mongols, and no Ottomans can have analogues here, none of the nomadic peoples of color who shaped the face of medieval and modern Europe. That’s really weird, isn’t it? A history of Poland without Hungary or the Golden Khanate is unimaginable to me, yet here it is, and people are defending it as “historically accurate,” whatever that means.

Granted, the world was not designed by CD Project Red. This particular bit can probably be entirely blamed on Sapkowski, and as an author he has the right to set up his world any way he likes. But people defending the game using “historical accuracy” should probably note how the map was manipulated to specifically exclude a number of Poland’s neighbors.

Literally Polish Knights

Winged Hussars, Polish elite heavy cavalry. Note the leopard and tiger pelts.

My point is that if you wanted to include a non-white person in a story set in Poland at any point in history, it would take a minimal amount of research to come up with a believable, and historically “accurate” back story for that character. In fact, this works for just about any region or time period in medieval Europe. Observe:

Q: How do we get Morgan Freeman into a Robin Hood story?
A: IDK, crusades or something.

Done. It makes sense (just as much as anything in Robin Hood story would), is historically plausible, and does not really require complex explanation. It’s literally that simple.

But, once again, the world of Witcher 3 is not historical Poland. You don’t really even need a plausible explanation. If CD Project Red wanted to be even a little bit diverse, they could totally do it. Perhaps by including some traders from the tropical Zerrikania that is mentioned but never described it in much detail in the books. Or maybe some people who live in Southern parts of Nilfgraad Empire happen be brown and some of them become soldiers in the army that is now occupying the Northen territories? Because, why not?

Someone could argue that this would be breaking with the so called “book lore”, but would it be though? The developers of the game already had to take many liberties with the source material when they translated and packaged it for English speaking audiences. For example, all the Dwarfs in the game have Scottish sounding accents. Why is that? Well, mainly because of Peter Jackson’s portrayal of Gimli I assume. Sapkowski never specified that his Dwarfs sound vaguely like Scots because in his books they do not. They all speak Common, a language which just happens to sound like Polish because Common languages in fantasy setting always happen to sound like whatever the fuck language the story is written in. It’s a fantasy trope.

But when the voices for the characters were recorded, the development team made an arbitrary choice to make Dwarfs sound one way and not another. There have been plenty of other arbitrary choices made to fill in the gaps, or flesh out things that were not described in much details in the book. Sapkowski never really said that all of his characters are intended to be white. Some characters are described as fair skinned or pale, but nowhere in the books does it say that everyone is. So would making a character whose ethnicity and skin color are never mentioned to be non-white a bigger departure from the source than say… Giving Geralt a plot induced amnesia and having him wander through the world, having weird non-cannon adventures in between the books. You know, like CD Project Red have been doing since their first Witcher game?

So please, stop using my culture and heritage to try to validate your own prejudices. As an actual Pole, and someone who read the Witcher novels before the games introduced them to English speaking world, I can tell you that I would not mind seeing people of color depicted in that universe. It would not somehow devalue my culture or heritage to see non-white people in the game loosely based on the beliefs and folklore of my homeland.

If you do mind, and the very idea of people of color existing in a setting based on our culture and folklore offends you for some reason, then that’s entirely on you.

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50 Responses to Witcher 3 and Diversity

  1. Matt Story UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I’ve been listening to GamerGate kids cry about history and mythology while knowing nothing about either for weeks now.

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  2. Serb UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I think the biggest problem is that this appears to be more a “Polish” problem rather than a grand-Slavic one. There is still a lot of confusion when it comes to Slavic people. As a Serb, our culture, religious beliefs, alphabet and other facets of life are very drastic different in comparison to Slavs from Poland, Slavs from Russia or Slavs from Slovakia. There is a reason why there are three sub-sets of Slavic people (West, East and South).

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  3. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    The problem of including ‘diverse’ characters in a historical setting is a lot harder than “IDK, crusades or something.” (That explanation in the Robin Hood movie doesn’t make sense, isn’t historically plausible, and simply avoids any explanation. Hint: There weren’t any crusades to sub-Saharan Africa. Freeman’s character is supposed to be a Moor, but Moors were Berbers, North African tribesmen. They didn’t, and don’t, look like that.) It’s only that simple if you’re a bad writer, writing a bad story. I say that as an actual historian, who actually writes historical fiction.

    Most writers want to include as much diversity as they reasonably can, and a good writer can find a plausible solution most of the time, but not putting any more strain on the reader’s suspension of disbelief is also a consideration. If you want black africans in the pre-Columbian Americas, for example, that’s going to be a pretty big stretch.

    Diversity is also complicated because we live in a world where people who look like this are considered ‘black’ but people who look like this are not. (Yes, I’m serious.) Purely fantasy worlds are different, of course, but for anyone who wants to write good historical fiction it’s just not always that easy.

    It also makes me a little uncomfortable when someone makes absolute statements of fact about what they think someone else is thinking, or what their motivations are. Such as, “They literally forgot that non-white people even exist.” It’s hard enough for most of us to accurately identify our own motives sometimes, much less someone else’s.

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  4. You just made early medieval historians/archaeologists and also ethnologists cry real tears UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    While I agree with the essence of the article, i.e. diversity is never a bad thing and Polish culture is inseparably intertwined with outside influences that could be depicted in game, you lost me at “there is no Slavic mythology” thing and “we know nothing about pre-Mieszko Slavs” (we know quite a lot, actually, even if we are still arguing about most of it, but, believe me, just because something doesn’t get a mention in a high school history book, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). The entire part sounds like you just read a Wikipedia article in which someone quoted preface to Gieysztor’s “Slavic Mythology” where he admits that, indeed, Slavic people don’t have anything as tangible as, for example, Edda, but, as proved in the rest of a few hundred pages long book, it definitely doesn’t mean we know nothing, Jon Snow. Let’s start with the fact that paganism in Poland itself didn’t just disappear with Mieszko, it was alive and well, as countless – very often at least mildly annoyed- sources had told us, for many many years (what also can be confirmed by archaeological finds, something most people like to forget about). While written sources are, indeed mostly, let’s call it, second-hand, it doesn’t mean they are not valid, especially if they are telling you basically the same things. And, no, they weren’t written only by monks. Again, we do have more sources for Eastern Slavs, that’s true, and they are interesting and colorful and generally fun to read, but it doesn’t mean we have a big fat nothing for Poland (well, the area that is now Poland, it’s a bit complicated).
    You lost me at this also, because the game doesn’t get anything from Slavic mythology/beliefs. It is, though, and always have been heavily influenced by Slavic folklore. And folklore and mythology are two different things. The rituals, customs and beliefs that are inherently pagan and therefore preserve some parts of original Slavic religion. People don’t just drop their customs because someone sprinkles them with water and says “you’ve got a new god now”, especially not on rural areas where belief is connected to naturalism. The Witcher games, all of them uses the folklore, the didn’t have to make up monsters and creatures, they were already there, “alive” for a very long time, because people feared/worshiped them for centuries. And it’s a part of the culture that is mostly dead now, it’s a part of a religion that has been ruthlessly destroyed (and it WAS ruthless, another thing they don’t tell you in high school it was how humiliating, how painful and how horrible christianisation actually was). And, yeah, maybe the historian in me is being sentimental, but I’d be forever grateful that CDPR decided to dig it up and present to the world AS a part of Polish culture.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Serb:

    Good point. I modified that section a bit to clarify I’m talking mostly about Polish pagan mythology. Thanks.

    @ Robert:

    Fair enough. I mostly brought up the Morgan Freeman bit for laughs, but you’re right. Not historically accurate, and very “fridge logic”. I should have probably used this Elsinore game dev blog in which they explain it only took a little bit of research to find a historically plausible justification for making their protagonist a woman of color.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ You just made early…:

    Fair enough, I am not a historian and I indeed made some sweeping over-generalizations over there. I guess my point was that we don’t have anything as intricate and well studied as say ancient Greek mythology. Which is not to say that we have nothing. So yes, good points. Thank you. :)

    And I agree that CDPR did a fantastic job on the game. It was not my intention to claim they have not done excellent research into the culture, customs, architecture, clothing, character design and etc. The game is absolutely fantastic in that respect and they deserve all the credit for that.

    The entire post was mostly written in a response to people trying to completely shut down any discussion of diversity in the game using “history”, “mythology” or “Poland” as an excuse. But the fact it’s problematic in that aspect does not make it a bad game, and does not make CDPR bad people. I do not regret buying it, and I’m glad to support them and their work.

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  7. Well-reasoned and argued post. I just got around to starting the first game a couple of weeks ago, and it’s full of references to concepts like genetic engineering and mutagens; the idea that this series has some sort of pure “historical” viewpoint is absurd.

    I’m also not particularly sympathetic to the argument that the whole diversity thing just never occurred to CDPR. These issues were raised when the first Witcher came out, and again when the second came out, and again when they announced the third installment. It’s not that these complaints were never raised before; it’s that CDPR has never felt the complaints were worth addressing, relative to other issues. Which is their decision to make, but it’s also fair game for criticism.

    Personally, when I see a cool open source project, the first thing I do is check the issue tracker to see if it’s an active project with multiple contributors. The second thing I check is how the project lead handles feature requests. If you want to know what a developer values, look at which issues they defer to WISHLIST, which ones they mark as WONTFIX, and how they handle that process.

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  8. Rob Google Chrome Windows says:

    I think colored people could have been introduced without issue, Poland in 1400 was close to the Golden Horde and only separated from the Ottomans by Wallachia (vampires!). Plus, historical accuracy aside, it’s always more fun to have a mix of groups in games.

    The series does represent minorities though: dwarves, elves, sex workers, poor people; skin pigmentation is not the only way to relate to something. The Witcher as a series is hardly the champion of social awareness, but it doesn’t carry a pro-whitey message up to where I am (Chapter 2 of Witcher 2).

    What interests me though is, if a game only had an African cast would that be a problem? Because it wouldn’t bother me. I’ve played the Yakuza games which are exclusively populated by Japanese people, with the only white person being a villain, and it never occurred to me as an issue.

    It sits uneasy with me the idea that if CD Project had just sprinkled a few colored characters across the map people would have taken no issue. There is more to our real-world cultures than skin pigmentation and perhaps CD Project felt they couldn’t properly represent them; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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  9. John-Henry Beck Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Good article. Covers the main points well with some bonus Polish history. (I enjoy history.)

    I know I’ve seen anti-diversity types claiming they’re Poles, and how implausible it would be to have non-whites from a historical perspective. That claim seemed pretty implausible even without doing specific research even if, as you point out, the historical argument was valid in the first place.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Rob:

    Uh, I don’t think the term “colored” is appropriate anymore. People of color is better.

    Rob wrote:

    What interests me though is, if a game only had an African cast would that be a problem? Because it wouldn’t bother me. I’ve played the Yakuza games which are exclusively populated by Japanese people, with the only white person being a villain, and it never occurred to me as an issue.

    I think we can’t really compare things like that directly, because African people and cultures are not the “default” fantasy setting the same way whitewashed pseudo-medieval Europe happens to be. Same goes for games like Sleeping Dogs. They are sort of the exception to the rule that you play as a white, or white passing dude all the time.

    Rob wrote:

    It sits uneasy with me the idea that if CD Project had just sprinkled a few colored characters across the map people would have taken no issue. There is more to our real-world cultures than skin pigmentation and perhaps CD Project felt they couldn’t properly represent them; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Right. I wouldn’t say this would be a “solution” but… A step in the right direction?

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  11. Isaac Rabinovitch Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Robert:
    You’re making all the mistakes that the author complains about. Morgan Freeman can’t play a Saracen cuz he’s supposedly from the Middle East? Do you think there are no Black Africans there? You’d be wrong.

    http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/trade/hd_trade.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_slave_trade

    In any case, what’s with this level of nitpicking in a movie where Robin Hood invades the castle by having himself shot in with a catapult? In this kind of movie, having an African American play an Arab is perfectly cromulent. As the author points out.

    (At least it’s not any worse than the time Alec Guiness played a Japanese man. But I digress.)

    And even if you find blanket psychological statements troubling (so do I) you need to consider these more carefully. I can point you to hundreds of examples where people assumed “person” meant “white person.” I’ve done it, I’ve seen other people do it, and I think if you indulged in a little introspection you’d catch yourself doing.

    Here’s a really nasty example: all the Hunger Games fans who thought that Hollywood “ruined” the story by filling District 11 with black people. Never mind that Suzanne Collins described the people there as having dark skin and hair. She didn’t say they were black, so they must have been white.

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  12. Gabriel UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    This is really an excellent resource and I hope more people get to read it. I think it’s interesting that Dragon Age, in the fictional country or Orlais which is clearly based on 16th-17th century France, has people of color not just appearing all over the place but even in positions of power and respect. They don’t just assume that everyone divides themselves up by skin tone, as too much fantasy does.

    I think you’re right in that it wouldn’t be that hard to “justify” the existence of people of color using historical allegories, but I’d also say that sometimes when this is done it’s also extremely problematic. It bothers me, for instance, whenever a fantasy world relegates most of its people with African skin tones as some kind of Moor-style pirates, or slavers (Game of Thrones does this frequently), or humans with East Asian features are given cultures nearly identical in style and philosophy to Japan or China. It’s kind of boring and racist, in that the white cultures of a fantasy world will be regionally diverse while the cultures that are predominantly of color will be treated as having only one culture that everyone adheres to.

    Anyway again, great post!

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  13. Rob Google Chrome Windows says:

    Uh, I don’t think the term “colored” is appropriate anymore. People of color is better.

    Sorry, I’m from Australia and those terms are unfamiliar over here, I assumed they were the same but I was incorrect.

    Right. I wouldn’t say this would be a “solution” but… A step in the right direction?

    It still seems strange to me though, a painted NPC is all that stands between a label of racism or inclusiveness. I just finished reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which was a counter text to Heart of Darkness; I’d love to hear his opinion on this type of thing, though unfortunately he died. His issue was with colonial narratives overriding the voice of native cultures, basically ‘whites writing as though they understood African culture’ and reducing those cultures as a result. CD Projekt could have inadvertently done the same as they would be writing from a European perspective. Imagine if the Elves had been re-skinned as Native Americans? They would have been accused of perpetuating ‘noble savage’ myths and all the racist paternal actions that follow.

    You mentioned Sleeping Dogs, that’s another game where the only white people are either villains, or women to be sexually conquered. Again, it didn’t bother me and I enjoyed that game. It’s not because I’m comfortable with a narrative that frames white people as villains either, I think it just seems understandable that cultures create self-referential media.

    We see it in film too, Ong-bak features mostly Thai people, with the white characters being villains who are involved in stealing prized cultural artifacts. Hong Kong cinema was pretty much the same for a long time, I haven’t seen any new Jackie Chan films though! Most cultures seem to be xenocentric when it comes to media, I’m not sure if that’s inherently racist, though I can see how it might potentially perpetuate racist narratives. The Witcher is placed in a context that makes more sense for there to be only one culture when compared to Yakuza or Sleeping Dogs though. Shenmue is another game that comes to mind. Amazing game, though it has maybe one person who isn’t Asian and I don’t think I have ever seen that mentioned anywhere.

    I think the gaming market has more genuine offenders than The Witcher. Look at Fallout 4 just recently: a series where you can make any character you want, and the trailer features a white male as the default lead. They didn’t need to do that at all! They could have just shown the world and story as there is no traditional main character.

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Rob:

    You are right of course. Darkening the skin tone of few NPC’s here and there is definitely not a solution. And trying to do so may even make the problem worse because because it is so easy to get it wrong with tokenism, stereotypes, offensive tropes and etc.. This problem is very complex which is why I think these discussions are constructive and important.

    My main reason for writing this was the amount of push-back I saw from people who sought to completely shut down this discussion using slavic mythology as an excuse.

    And yes, there are definitely much worse offenders out there.

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  15. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Gabriel:

    Yeah, that is a big concern. It is easy to get it wrong. So it is not surprising some devs choose to completely side-step the issue and simply not bother. But that’s why having discussions about diversity are good. Critics can help developers learn how to make their games more inclusive the right way.

    People shouting that discussion of diversity in Witcher is invalid because “Poland” is kinda the opposite of that.

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  16. Eric M Bacon UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    It is especially weird since in one of the trailers released to promote the game featured racism as proof of the depth of the living world of Witcher 3…. “and even racism.”

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  17. Chubsius UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Dude, Moors could totally be black. The term was used pretty loosely such that Othello has been portrayed by both Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Hopkins (in makeup). And have you forgotten Robin Hood: Men in Tights? Totes works, even if used for laughs. To quote the mighty Wikipedia: “Moors are not a distinct or self-defined people.[5] Medieval and early modern Europeans variously applied the name to Arabs, Berbers, Muslim Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans.” @ Robert:

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  18. Krm SWEDEN Safari Mac OS says:

    @ Robert:

    As an actual historian, you should know that the Moors weren’t isolated either. It’s one thing to make claims about a population as a whole, but in fiction you’re inventing backstories for individuals. If your ancestors were traders coming from the south African continent, it makes it even more plausible for you to get mixed up in the crusades.

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  19. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Isaac Rabinovitch wrote:

    @ Robert:
    You’re making all the mistakes that the author complains about. Morgan Freeman can’t play a Saracen cuz he’s supposedly from the Middle East?

    Here’s an interesting thing. I actually said none of that. ‘Saracen’ was a generic term for any Muslim. The character is specifically identified as a Moor, though, which is not synonymous with Saracen. It refers to a specific ethnic group. (A group not, by the way, in the middle east, or indeed anywhere near it.) I posted a link to a painting of what they looked like, which was nothing like Morgan Freeman.

    And yes, it was a bad movie, badly written, which was my point.

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  20. fronesis POLAND Mozilla Windows says:

    It would be easy for introduce people of colour. In IX-X century area which is now more less Poland, was intesively explored by muslim traders. Yes, especially slave traders, but not only. Muslim traders, merchants and scholar BTW creates one of the first written sources of polish history. For example this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_ben_Jacob

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  21. tulx IRELAND Mozilla Windows says:

    Come to think of it, Azar Javed from the first Witcher game seemed Negroid didn’t he? At least not typically Caucasoid like pretty much every other character. I don’t think I’ve seen any Mongoloid characters though.
    So in general I agree as well, yes. If CDPR had thought about and putting more diverse characters in and wanted to do that, they easily could have without compromising the feel of the world. It would have probably enhanced if by making it feel larger.

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  23. Ed Google Chrome Linux says:

    @ Robert:
    Actually, North Africans (see: Mamluks) did look like Morgan Freeman. You’re still in majority headset where the largest number of a people are the only people (see: white). Besides, plenty of Berbers were as black as Sub-Saharan Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans were trading salt with North Africans long before Europeans arrived.

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  24. Ed Google Chrome Linux says:

    @ Robert:
    Moor was actually the old English term for BLACK. That’s pretty standard knowledge.

    And you’re still assuming that actual ethnic Moors couldn’t be black as if black people only existed in Sub-Saharan Africa (that’s just bad history) like the races in a Tolkien book.

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  25. Gabriel UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Yeah I wouldn’t be surprised if the complexity of the issue turns some devs away, either. I guess in some respects that’s fine, but at a certain point I think devs need to understand that diverse representation is not just the socially appropriate thing to strive towards but also an important aspect to making your game approachable to a wider audience. For instance, it’s always bothered me that The Witcher doesn’t let you design your own character. It seems like a missed opportunity to me. Despite being a white guy with Slavic ancestry myself, I don’t identify with him as well as the characters I’ve created in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or Fallout. He’s too gruff for me, both visually and personality-wise. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to immerse myself in these games like I have the others, I think. So we can just imagine what it must be like for those who for whatever reason (be it related to their own identity or just plain old personal preference) they want to play as someone with darker skin tones or hell, a woman, as their main character? To me that’s what an RPG is about, anyway. How can you be “role-playing” when the role you’re supposed to be playing with is already largely set in stone? I’m not saying they have to do this, and of course these games are supposed to be based on a character from literature, but I think it’s actually in the best interests of games in general to care more about expanding the opportunity for players to engage with their game worlds.

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  26. Jess CZECH REPUBLIC Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Robert:

    Actually, if I recall the film correctly, Morgan Freeman’s character is refered to as Moor only by white people around him. That’s because in Europe the word Moor and it’s mutations are sorta racist terms describing any black person. (Wikipedia says that the term Moor is limited on North Africa people only, but at least in my country nobody would be that picky and it would be used to describe any black person.)

    So when Morgan Freeman is refered to as Moor, it likely does not state his ethnicity but rather the fact that he’s black.

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  27. aaa POLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ fronesis:
    “It would be easy for introduce people of colour. In IX-X century area which is now more less Poland, was intesively explored by muslim traders. Yes, especially slave traders, but not only.”

    Ibn/Ben Jacob is a part of standard school history curriculum in Poland. The only muslim (or jewish, I’ve seen conflicting sources on that) trader of the time travelling anywhere in the vicinity of Poland I’ve seen mentioned actually. Could I ask you for other examples? I’ve read a few books on early Slavic states years back, but he’s the only one I’ve found… I imagine that Great Moravia might have hosted a few back in IX century?

    It also seems to me rather unclear as to why this region back in IX-X century would be of interest to any larger amount of traders, slavers or travellers from far away. The present-day-Poland territory was among the least developed parts of Europe, with only one non-human resource being known in the Mediterranean world – and even then amber trade went largely defunct after the fall of Western Roman Empire.

    Slaves were the trademark export goods, sure. That being said, I’m pretty sure that the main customers would’ve been Germanic people in modern Germany or Scandinavia. Muslim slavers had extensive networks in Africa and Middle East – transporting people over Carpathian Mountains to the south or all the way to Iberian peninsula by modern Germany and France (or sea) just seems to be such a horribly cost-inefficient way… I can’t really imagine it being more than an anecdotal occurence. The southern Slavs in the Mediterranean region I’d expect to be fair game though.

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  28. aaa POLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Also, to the author of original post, specifically concerning the edit number 3 about Brückner’s book. It was published in two parts, in 1918 and 1924 – we’ve got some breakthroughs since then. It is also vital to consider that early-Slavic-culture research at the time was largely concerned with political goals – pre WW1 it was meant to legitimize panslavist politics of Russian Empire (Bruckner was working in Lviv), post war legitimizing/strengthening newly independent Poland… I imagine similar motivations concerning research in neighbouring countries.

    While it is true, that modern knowledge of pan-Slavic and local-Slavic mythology/customs is fragmented and largely second-hand, there have been multiple archeological endeavours and ethnological analyses of present-day customs that are slowly filling the gaps. It won’t ever be as complete as Viking sagas or Greek myths, but we’re getting better. :)

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  29. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ aaa:

    Care to post links to more recent academic work on this topic? People were spamming Brückner’s book at me as if it was a checkmate that completely invalidates all my points, which is why I included it. I’m sure there is more recent stuff, but like you said, we don’t have anything comparable to Illiad, Odyssey, or the legends concerning Ragnarok and etc.

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  30. aaa POLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Wish I had links,but the titles I’m mentioning below I’ve read as physical books a few years ago. Still, have you heard of chomikuj.pl? You might have some success there. :)

    Brückner is generally considered a “pioneer” in the field; his works focus more on rebuilding the mythos by comparing with other cultures. He had less archaeological evidence to work with, though.

    Regrettably, my knowledge on the topic is hardly up to date. I’ve been relying on works by Paweł Jasienica (wiki) and Henryk Łowmiański (wiki), which date back to 60’s and 80’s respectively. “Słowiański rodowód” by Jasienica covers archaeological excavations around (relatively) major settlements and cult sites, though quite a bit of guesswork is still involved.

    Łowmiański’s “Studia nad dziejami Słowiańszczyzny, Polski i Rusi w wiekach średnich” deals mostly with politics and administration structure, though it delves into possible religious landscape – suggesting that organized activity was mostly focused in a few places throughout land (Ślęża, Łysica, Ostrów Lednicki, Wolin and so on) rather than practised all over the land. His research has been conidered a leading “school of thougth” while I was at school, though I’ve heard some interpretations have been challenged since. “Religia Słowian i jej upadek” likely expands on the subject, though I didn’t have the pleasure of reaing it. :(

    While I have not personally read the entire book, only snippets (so damn hard to get a physical copy!), “Mitologia Słowian” by Aleksander Gieysztor (1982) is often cited as the most influential work on pre-christian customs and beliefs. We may not have anything as detailed as Ragnarok, sure, but there is enough to try some educated guesses. The exact make-up of Slavic pantheon is probably the most contested part (Who was at the top? Svetovid and Triglav? Rod an Svarog? Perun and Veles? Was it even consistent between tribes? :P ), but at least fairy tales and bestiary (the basis for Witcher series, really) are rather comprehensibly researched, with many traditional customs (like the Forefathers Night you’ve mentioned) also covered (it helped that the Catholic church tried to appropriate them rather than erasing completely).

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  31. fronesis POLAND Mozilla Windows says:

    @ aaa:
    Here is nice book about islamic contact with slavic world http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0140455078
    Here article about dirhams as a “marker” of trade (slave trade?) realtion between this worlds: https://www.academia.edu/1764468/Dirhams_for_slaves._Investigating_the _Slavic_slave_trade_in_the_tenth_century
    In article above – author is estimating slave trade in X c. Poland between 30000-60000 slaves, (but author is rather sceptical about “slave trade hypothesis”). Medieval Cracow – years later has around 20 000 people in it finest day. Even lowest numer of slaves is impresive (in X century with it demography). It means that it was important economic and sociocultural factor.
    Here is ice bok (in polish) about arabic sources about polish early history: Lewicki, Źródła arabskie do dziejów Słowiańszczyzny, Wrocław 1956,

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  32. Ravn7 Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    In The Witcher series, non-white people are represented – metaphorically – by elves and dwarves.

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  33. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ aaa:

    Thank you. :D Those are good sources, but as you yourself said, none of them are comprehensive and none of them can even give us an authoritative answer to the question “who is the top god in the pantheon”. Few of the sources that exist are available in English whereas I can go to the local library and get 17 books on Greek or Egyptian mythology.

    Which is pretty much what I said in the article. I mean, we could argue semantics and my sentence structure but…

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  34. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Ravn7:

    Yes, I know. A lot of fantasy settings do that, to show discrimination and racism through that leans. I can work if done well. But every time you do that you are running the risk of dehumanizing people you are trying to represent by these creatures. At the end of the day, isn’t saying that all non-white people in the game are “metaphorically” represented by fantastical creatures is kinda problematic?

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  35. dziko POLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I think this discussion misses a very crucial point – instead of trying to determine, on the basis of unreliable sources, how much people of color penetrated medieval Europe, try to check how many people of color were represented in medieval art. And, lo, you may be very surprised. Here, for example, is how XIV century painting portrays dark-skinned Egyptians and Israelites:

    Crossing the Red Sea

    It seems that medieval people were just like the CD Project people: they also forgot that non-white people ever exist, LOL :-)

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  36. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Ed wrote:

    @ Robert:
    Actually, North Africans (see: Mamluks) did look like Morgan Freeman. You’re still in majority headset where the largest number of a people are the only people (see: white). Besides, plenty of Berbers were as black as Sub-Saharan Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans were trading salt with North Africans long before Europeans arrived.

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  37. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Ed wrote:

    @ Robert:
    Moor was actually the old English term for BLACK. That’s pretty standard knowledge.

    And you’re still assuming that actual ethnic Moors couldn’t be black as if black people only existed in Sub-Saharan Africa (that’s just bad history) like the races in a Tolkien book.

    What manner of name is “Azeem”? Irish? Cornish?
    Azeem: Moorish.
    The character’s own words.

    Yes, terribly racist thinking that not everyone on a huge continent looks alike…. I’m assuming that actual ethnic Moors weren’t black because, well, they weren’t. No more than actual ethnic Irish, to pick an example at random. We know what they looked like, we have contemporary images. It’s not a matter of assumption, or speculation.

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  38. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    Jess wrote:

    @ Robert:

    Actually, if I recall the film correctly, Morgan Freeman’s character is refered to as Moor only by white people around him. That’s because in Europe the word Moor and it’s mutations are sorta racist terms describing any black person. (Wikipedia says that the term Moor is limited on North Africa people only, but at least in my country nobody would be that picky and it would be used to describe any black person.)

    So when Morgan Freeman is refered to as Moor, it likely does not state his ethnicity but rather the fact that he’s black.

    You don’t recall it correctly.

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  39. Rob Google Chrome Windows says:

    dziko wrote:

    I think this discussion misses a very crucial point – instead of trying to determine, on the basis of unreliable sources, how much people of color penetrated medieval Europe, try to check how many people of color were represented in medieval art. And, lo, you may be very surprised. Here, for example, is how XIV century painting portrays dark-skinned Egyptians and Israelites:

    Crossing the Red Sea

    It seems that medieval people were just like the CD Project people: they also forgot that non-white people ever exist, LOL :-)

    Yeah, most medieval media from what I’ve seen was very xenocentric. Here’s some images from an illustrated text, Livre du gouvernement des Princes c. 15th century: http://classes.bnf.fr/ema/groplan/flashs/rue/#

    It was supposedly written to educate young nobles on the value of shops and merchants. Given the trade focus you would expect to see some other cultures but apparently not.

    With that said, I don’t think it makes a strong case for not including people of colour in the game. The game would have been more exciting with some Ottoman or Mongol analogues; they would have been representing them from a European perspective though which ultimately somebody could take offense to.

    Someone above mentioned metaphorical representation through Dwarves and Elves, I can definitely see that. The Wild Hunt itself is something of an analogue to the Golden Horde, or at least the fear of foreign invaders. It doesn’t dehumanize real-world cultures either, in my opinion at least, because in the case of Dwarves & Elves the metaphor is for racial oppression itself, not any real-world culture. It’s a safe way to represent racial discrimination without insulting anyone, especially for games that lack strong writing.

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  40. fronesis POLAND Mozilla Windows says:

    @ dziko:
    Are You ever check it? Medieval world (early) has it center more in North Africa than in North Europe. For example person which link anquity and medieval epoch – st. Augustine was half – Berber and lived n North Africa. How often do You depict him in Your min as a non-causasian (to be honest I dont like this term, but I have to use it now).

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  41. Sheriff Fatman Google Chrome Windows says:

    Robert wrote:

    Freeman’s character is supposed to be a Moor, but Moors were Berbers, North African tribesmen. They didn’t, and don’t, look like that.

    Go to this page and scroll down a bit: you’ll see four photos of Berbers in a square. Have a look at the chap in the bottom-right picture. Then compare it to this photo of Morgan Freeman in the Robin Hood film.

    I think the similarity’s acceptable: same shape nose, similar skin colour. More believable than Kevin Costner’s accent, anyway.

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  42. Jess Mahler UNITED STATES Google Chrome says:

    @ dziko:

    If you are looking for representations of dark skinned people in Medieval art, check here:
    http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/
    Here’s a pdf from a museum showing on African people in Renaissance Art:
    http://thewalters.org/assets/pdf/revealing-the-african-presence-in-ren aissance-europe.pdf

    Scholarly book about the Black African’s in the Renaissance:
    http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/619

    Or just look at any map of the Ottoman Empire during the Renaissance. Because armies from Constantinople and Baghdad don’t conquer Hungary without their Polish neighbors noticing the ranks of dark skinned folks marching past them.

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  43. Vixianna Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Ed:

    Here’s the really weird thing about everyone complaining that the “Moors” didn’t look like Sub-Saharan Africans like Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman isn’t Sub-Saharan African, he’s African-American, and African-Americans African “blood”(as ridiculous as blood quantum is) comes from either West or North African peoples captured in the slave trade. In fact, AA aren’t black at all if the only “black” Africans are those from Sub-Saharan Africa according to Robert.

    In other words, the Moors probably looked exactly like Morgan Freeman. This weird obsession with making the Moors out to be as light skinned and close to white as possible kinda weirds me out.

    While that artwork he linked is one representation of the Moors, so is this:

    Any of those. Just…really black looking. Yeah.

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  44. dhasenan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @ Robert:
    The Coptic Church was well established during the Crusades, even if many Copts were under Muslim rule. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for an Ethiopian Copt to hear about the Crusades and decide to join in, feeling (unsurprisingly) more solidarity with Catholics from Europe than with Muslim Saracens.

    If that’s not good enough for you, maybe an Ethiopian caravan traveled through an area when people were recruiting and one of the guards decided to join in because the pay was better. Or maybe he’s part of a mercenary band that decided to hire on with the European side.

    And the same for a Berber mercenary. Berbers have dark skin, though they don’t look that much like Morgan Freeman (Freeman’s skin is much redder, his facial structure’s a fair bit different, his nose shape doesn’t really match, and his lips are rather thinner). The fact that North Africa and a fair portion of Iberia were controlled by Muslims would have eased travel between the areas, allowing for the caravan story to make sense.

    Plus it’s not like these areas were isolated from each other. People did immigrate. I’m quite certain there were a few natural-born citizens of England with skin that dark during the crusades.

    If you even try to think of a reason, it’s trivial to come up with a plausible one. If you instead try to come up with reasons to eliminate non-white people from roles, people might think you’re racist.

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  45. Megan Google Chrome Windows says:

    One small nitpick: “Giving Geralt a plot induced amnesia and having him wander through the world, having weird non-cannon adventures in between the books.”

    The Witcher games are post-canon, taking place after the books. Obviously this impacts your argument not a whit, but I’m sure that some pedant will take issue with it if you leave it up there.

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  48. TJ AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Perfectly stated. And well researched, I might add. Well done, good Sir! I doff my hat at you (and re-adjust my monocle). I came across some interesting trailers for Witcher 3 on Youtube (while watching BattleBorn, Fallout 4 and OverWatch trailers-all of which I’m way more excited about). Then I realised I couldn’t play as a female character (except Ciri, ‘sometimes’ and with extreme choice restrictions) and decided to save my $ for the games that appreciate my patronage (rather than tolerating it/accepting it as an afterthought). ;)

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