I recently finished my first play-through of The Witcher, and with that said, let me immediately digress for a moment to say that despite its many well documented flaws, The Witcher is one of the finest and most rewarding PC RPGs I've played in years, going as far back as BioWare's revival of the genre with the landmark Baldur's Gate series. It's a demanding game, due in no small part to its particularly Eastern European sensibility which, from a Western perspective, can rapidly shift from vaguely odd to downright bizarre in the blink of an eye. But underneath all that is a remarkable and compelling game that should be at the top of every RPG fan's must-play list.
One of the most notorious aspects of the game, at least on this side of the pond, is the inclusion of "sex cards," a series of virtual trading cards awarded to the player every time he steers the game's protagonist, Geralt, into the pants of one of the game's many comely maidens. While these cards were censored in the North American release to meet the standards of the ESRB, in the rest of the world they happily flaunted their assets in tasteful, hand-painted and occasionally disturbing images doled out over the course of the game.
I'm a firm believer in adult games for adult gamers, so when I learned the American release of the game was going to be censored in such a ridiculous fashion (decapitations and incinerations are fine but breasts are apparently beyond the bounds of good taste) I resolved to order the U.K. edition from overseas. I took some flak for doing so; my argument that it was a principled stand against censorship rather than simple lechery fell largely on deaf ears. Nonetheless, in short order I found myself the proud owner of a BBFC-rated copy of The Witcher.
My first in-game conquest, which took very little time to get to, was suggestive but fully covered and, thus, a bit of a let-down. The second, however, showed the goods in a big way, and with that we were off to the races. Killing monsters, it turns out, is the thing Witchers are second best at, and although I had no way of knowing it at the time, The Witcher would quickly have me raising my eyebrows, shaking my head and rolling my eyes as I wandered through a surreal, medieval sexual Olympiad.
A number of reviewers, our own Corvus Elrod included, had problems with the game's treatment of women, and while I don't agree with their assertions that the game is misogynistic, I did find myself wondering why the developers felt it necessary to have Geralt hopping in the sack quite so frequently. Midway through the third chapter it had become tiresome to the point of distraction, and I found myself complaining to a gamer friend that my interest in the game was waning, mostly as a result of the game's frat-boy mentality toward the hero's raging libido.
I began to wonder if this was the kind of "adult" videogaming I wanted; if the inclusion of wanton sex with no less than four separate species of creatures (and accompanying souvenir postcards) was really what we, the gamer collective, wanted to put forth to the world at large as evidence of our maturity. Is the presence of sex, seemingly for its own sake, a marker of gamers coming of age, or is it in fact the opposite: proof positive that we're all giggling, juvenile idiots? I never thought I'd say this, but I began to wish the developers had cut back on the naked girls so I could get on with actually enjoying the game.
So why, then, did I find myself calling "BOOB CARD!" to my aforementioned gamer friend each and every time Geralt had a roll in the hay? The fact that it was weird, infantile, even a little embarrassing, seemed lost in those brief moments of tittacular triumph. Instantly, the commentators who derided the game for its condescending attitude toward women would fade into the background, muted and forgotten. Geralt got some action; I got a boob card!