There is a lot of sex in the The Witcher series, and I’m okay with that.
Sex is a part of life, an important one at that, and as such it should have a place in stories and art. Video games are no exception, and yet most mature-rated games refuse to portray sex and sexuality beyond its implication or its most surface levels. Even though the sexualisation of female characters in video games is infamously commonplace, it’s uncommon for a game story to include sex scenes or even acknowledge actualy sexuality at all. In the rare instances in which sex scenes do take place in a game, it’s often in the most basic possible level, whether it is due to censorship or cultural expectations, and often presenting a version of sex and sexual relationships that ranges from gratuitous or innacurate to downright problematic.
The Witcher is one of the few exceptions. The series has always strived to tell a mature story, and one of the clearer aspects in which this is manifested is in the many, many sexual encounters that the player can partake in throughout the games. A lot has been written about the questionable portrayal of sex and women in the trilogy, as well as the supposedly inherent association of sex with maturity in a story, an idea that is dubious at best. While I do have a lot of conflicting thoughts on the matter, it might surprise some to read that I mostly approve of the sexual content in the games, and I’m generally glad that The Witcher is not afraid to have as many sex scenes as it does. It is true that a lot of it is most certainly gratuitous and it all panders to the male gaze, which is expectedly tiresome. However, even though a lot of the sex scenes in the trilogy could easily be removed without affecting anything, I believe most of them work on an individual level, and some of them are even very well told and presented, which is rare for sex scenes in any medium.
They’re (almost) all optional and they’re always consensual. In fact, it’s not rare that the women in the scenes are portrayed as being more interested in Geralt than the other way around. Even then, despite what the series’ reputation might lead people to believe, most women Geralt can sleep with are not portrayed as being exclusively geraltsexual, and they’re fine with him turning them down if he chooses to do so. Reciprocally, Geralt is certainly a ladies’ man and he goes out of his way to sleep with many of the girls she runs into, but he always gracefully takes no for an answer in the rare instances in which a woman rejects him. It is unfortunate that these simple facts are praise-worthy rather than being the bare minimum, but that’s the reality we live in when it comes to sexuality in video games. Nevertheless, the sex scenes featuring the characters Geralt actually cares for romantically are all quite good (from the second game on), and even though they do act as rewards for the player I believe the games earn them and the characters would be worse off if they were removed, which can’t often be said about sex scenes in video games.
The portrayal of sex in the series is far from being beyond criticism, though. Just like sex has a place in media intended for adults, its portrayal in such stories should also be subjectable to critique not unlike any other part of writing. There is a lot to be said about how The Witcher treat sex with women as a reward for doing them favours, as well as how almost all important female characters in the game can be undressed for the player’s pleasure, but that’s not what I want to focus on with this thread, at least not yet. Instead I want to talk about the one sex scene that really did annoy me, or rather, its lack thereof.
Throughout The Witcher 3, the player gets to play as Ciri in a handful of short but pivotal scenes. During the mission The Calm Before the Storm, after narrowly escaping the Wild Hunt, she ends up being rescued by a boy named Skjall, who takes care of her with the help of his family until she recovers from her wounds. Skjall and his mother and sister are a rarity in this series, stories in which it’s difficult to come across altruistic characters who would help a stranger out of the goodness of their hear, without expecting any kind of reward. Skjall’s family hosts, heals, nurtures, and befriends Ciri in a rare display of compassion, which Ciri can interpret as gratifying or hindersome depending on your dialogue choices. A player might be thankful towards the family, acting friendly with them when they understandably show curiousity about the strange girl they’ve rescued. They might instead consider that Ciri should focus on her quest, keep her secrets, and leave the kind but somewhat nosey family as soon as possible.
As always in this series, though, the player only has a limited influence on how the plot develops. Ciri is her own character and the person controlling her only gets to choose between decisions she would consider on her own, and they get no control whatsoever over other characters who have their own opinions and priorities. Regardless of what the player wants, Ciri will end up in a scene in a sauna alongside Astrid, Skjall’s sister, as well as their mother and other, nameless women.
Nudity in this scene, just like the rest of the series, is weirdly inconsistent. Astrid tells Ciri to undress completely before going in, but the player can choose to enter the sauna wearing a towel. Even if they don’t, though, Ciri will only be half-nude throughout the scene, keeping her bandages and anachronistic knickers on. The rest of the women in the scene are topless, but they also keep their bottoms on. Probably due to avoid censorship and legal troubles in some countries, the games don’t fully show any genitalia even in the most explicit scenes, which I’ve always found rather artificial and forced.
I have to wonder, though, why Ciri is not undressed for this scene like all the other women. Not that I mind that there’s at least one major female character who doesn’t get fully undressed in the games, but I’m curious as to what CD Projekt Red’s reasoning was to keep her and only her somewhat covered, even in this scene that is mostly there to provide easy fanservice and, to borrow a term from the criticism of Game of Thrones, sexposition.
There is the argument that Ciri is not shown topless because she’s injured in this scene, but that point doesn’t have much of a base. After all, she only happens to be injured in her chest to keep her bandages on, not the other way around, and her injuries clearly don’t bother her that much considering she acts like her usual, athletic self throughout this whole quest. In reality, there are two possible reasons as to why Ciri is kept covered.
First of all, it could be in order to maintain at least some sense of equality and fairness when it comes to the portrayal of nudity in the series. Despite being featured in many sex scenes throughout the trilogy, Geralt’s nudity is never explicitly shown on screen. This is likely due to the same worries about censorship and legal troubles in countries that are terrified of the sight of a penis, although it could also be because many men in the games’ player base is just as scared of such idea. Nevertheless, considering Geralt’s immunity to actually show nudity, perhaps it stands to reason that Ciri should get the same treatment. Personally, I would prefer it if both Geralt and Ciri were shown nude when a scene calls for it, as their exemption from showing their body even in sexual scenes feels like a strange and awkward exception in a series known to not be shy when it comes to showing off nude bodies, but that’s a minor point.
Secondly, it could be because the game is primarily Geralt’s story, and he’s after all Ciri’s father figure. It can be argued that Ciri’s nudity could be not just a disservice to her character, but also questionable given her relationship to the game’s protagonist. Personally, I find this idea kind of infantilising and demeaning towards Ciri’s character, an adult woman who has her own desires and whose personal story has very little to do with Geralt’s in this game. Characters like Triss and Yennefer are not diminished by their nudity when a scene earns it, and the same could be said about Geralt and Ciri if the game wanted to. However, I can understand that some players who are heavily invested in Geralt’s paternal role could be thrown off by her nudity, even if I think the choice to leave her covered (which is already in the game, without really doing much) should be enough to avoid any issues.
As mentioned, I appreciate that there’s at least one major female character who doesn’t get nude for the player’s pleasure, but I bring this up because even if that was the intention the game couldn’t help but put Ciri in a very inherently sexualised situation, as well as because I believe that the odd restrains placed on Ciri’s sexuality (and Ciri’s alone) foreshadow the point this thread is really about. If the game really didn’t want to sexualise Ciri, then there are several elements of this quest that should have been dropped. Instead, it tries to have its cake and eat it too.
During the conversation that takes place in the sauna, Astrid brings up that Skjall has a crush on Ciri and asks her guest if the feeling is mutual. Ciri can with a set of answers that amount to “yes”, “no”, and saying that she prefers women. This third option can be interpreted as a simple statement of fact, as Ciri flirting with Astrid, or as a nod to the books. Ciri is bisexual, and in the novels she has a relationship with a girl called Mistle. It’s a little hard to believe that Ciri would bring this up so casually to two near-strangers in an extremely heteronormative world, but I appreciate that the option is there.
This dialogue choice is merely for flavour and it just affects a couple lines, like most decisions in the game. If Ciri replies that Skjall seems nice, Astrid jokingly asks if he’s really that bad. Ciri can instead show that the interest is mutual, implying that she does fancy him by remarking how handsome he is. Astrid replies saying that half the village sighs when he passes, but he only likes Ciri. None of the three choices change anything when it comes to the subsequent scene, in which Ciri sees Skjall again.
In this scene, the player can make Ciri skip most of the conversation with Skjall, or they can make her tell him that Astrid told her about Skjall’s crush. Embarrassed, Skjall tries to end the conversation, to which Ciri can respond playfully saying that she’s not in that much of a hurry.
Any player who’s gone through this trilogy will understand that, in this context, this kind of flirtatious chain of lines is the path to a sexual encounter with another character. Therefore, it’s not a surprise when, right after Ciri’s not-so-subtle pick up line, she leans in for a kiss with Skjall. Afterwards, Ciri teases him coquettishly, indirectly asking him if he’s a virgin. Skjall admits that it was his first kiss, to which Ciri replies seductively, saying that she can teach him a few things in the short time they have.
And then the Wild Hunt attacks and just like that the moment is over.
Whitin a moment all the intimacy, romance, and eroticism are abruptly forgotten, and in the blink of an eye we’re once again in the middle of an action scene.
This is the only time the trilogy has really bothered and disappointed me with a sex scene, and it was because it decided to completely skip over it after setting it up. I wouldn’t mind at all if it happened to Geralt, he already have far more sexual encounters than he could ever need, but I am very let down by how this scene robs us from what could have been the only sex scene in the series that is presented through a woman’s point of view.
All sex scenes in The Witcher are told through a straight male perspective. It doesn’t matter whether they are scenes that actually matter to Geralt’s character and relationships, or if they’re mere fanservice moments designed primarily with the straight male player’s pleasure in mind. Whether they’re well presented or not, they’re always about a man getting a woman. This is not wrong in itself, but it makes for an extremely one-sided portrayal of sex in the trilogy. It presents sex as a reward for men and women as a trophy, further enhancing the idea that female characters are sex objects meant to be used and discarded for another one, rather than being active participants in an intimate, balanced relationship. While most sex scenes in the series are fine in a vacuum, they can become a problem due to the sheer abundance of them; having sex with Geralt is the primary purpose of far too many female characters in The Witcher. It’s basically a running joke in the series how much women want to sleep with Geralt, who only has to pick and choose from his personal harem while the women can only hope that he lets them in his bed.
Of course, this is partially because Geralt is the only playable character throughout the vast majority of the trilogy, a straight male perspective is all the game has to offer for most of the time. And that’s fine, but this scene with Ciri gave the series the perfect opportunity to amend this, to let Ciri have a moment of fun and intimacy in her story like Geralt gets to have so often…and the game chose to ignore this even after going through the effort of setting it up with a better and clearer build up than almost anything Geralt gets.
This trilogy has more sex scenes than almost any other mainstream video games combined. Geralt can have sex with almost fifty different characters in the three installments, and that’s not counting any of the courtesans or repeated encounters with the same woman; he could easily make many visual novel protagonists jealous. Some of his sex scenes are among the best I’ve seen in video games (although that’s not a high bar to clear), but most of them are completely superfluous and gratuitous, sometimes downright problematic, only there for the straight male player’s titillation. Only female nudity is actually shown in the trilogy (as long as it’s not a vagina, that would be impure), and Geralt is usually the most active participant, the one who expresses interest first and seduces his partner or downright pays for sex. The line of women waiting to raise their skirts for Geralt is so long that you can and will literally have sex by accident in these games because it’s that easy to initiate sex with them.
And yet, in a series with a mountain of skippable sex scenes, the one that would take place from a woman’s point of view is the one that we can’t have.
It’s almost anger-inducing how the game refuses to have one moment of eroticism that is primarily for the women playing it, women who’ll go through the entire trilogy seeing how female characters are often treated like sex toys and then will be denied the chance to be active participants in a sexual encounter for once, letting Ciri seduce a guy who likes her. Geralt can have sex with fifty women, even if he doesn’t even know them, but Ciri can’t be with a cute boy just one time, despite the mutual attraction between them. The disparity is so extreme that sometimes in the trilogy the game will stop time during a battle so Geralt can have sex out of nowhere during the pause, before time resumes so he can back to the plot like nothing happened. To Ciri, almost the exact opposite occurs and the game goes out of its way triggering a battle to prevent the sexual encounter it sets up.
I cannot help but think that this scene is not in the game, despite being built up far more elegantly than most actual sex scenes in the games, partially because many straight male players wouldn’t want to take part in a scene in which they seduce a man. I cannot prove this and I hope I’m wrong, but seeing how unapologeticallly male-oriented the sex scenes are in the series, I have to wonder if that’s the case. It would be extremely disappointing considering how straight female players have to sit through dozens of scenes of Geralt seducing women, but it’s not out of the question. As far as I’m concerned, if being able to avoid most of the Geralt sex scenes is enough for players who don’t want to seduce a woman, then making Ciri’s scene equally optional should do the same for people who don’t want to seduce a man. I also cannot help but wonder if the scene would be equally undercut if Ciri seduced Astrid instead…but I really doubt it. After all, it’s not a coincidence that Astrid, the character that by far matters the least in this short portion of the story, is the only one who does undress for the player.
To be fair to CD Projekt Red, it’s possible that their decision to not have a sex scene featuring Ciri had nothing to do with these hypotheses. Perhaps they simply wanted to avoid sexualising Ciri, maybe out of concern for how overly sexualised the female cast of the series was already during the development of The Witcher 3. If that’s the case, then the intentions are noble, but I can’t really say they were successful, nor that it was worth it. It wastes a perfect chance to become perhaps the first mainstream game with a sex scene targeted primarily at women, which would be particularly meaningful if it was done in a series that’s been criticised for its objetification of women. Even if they really just wanted to avoid sexualising Ciri that badly, for one reason or another, then they failed to do so the moment they put her in that sauna scene. It’s also possible that Ciri’s seduction goes horribly wrong as an attempt to reference the books, in which she has a similar experience with a man who dies horribly right before she’s about to have sex with him, but that strikes me as a pretty weak reason to forgo what could have been an important scene for both Ciri herself and the women playing The Witcher 3.
Ciri’s scene with Skjall is the one sex scene that needed to happen but didn’t, in a game filled with sex scenes that didn’t need to happen but did. I give credit to CD Projekt Red for challenging the idea that showing nipples on screen is the beginning and end of what sex can offer in video games, but I wish they followed the examples they themselves set more often. Maybe it’s for the best that Ciri still remains as the only major female character who doesn’t have sex in the series, but I’m not convinced that it was neither necessary nor worth wasting such an opportunity. The ultimate case of irony in this case is that, for a series so often accused of having too much sex, I’ll probably never be able to forget how it wasted a chance to make it amount to something valuable by skipping one of the few sex scenes that actually mattered.