More on Race, The Witcher, and How to Move Forward

SO: I originally made this post in the forums but the spam-bot saw all my damned links and automatically banned me, which I think disappeared the blog post from the forums, too? I'm not sure. Anyway, I decided to just post this in a NEW blog post so that we could see it all at once. For those just tuning in, this is a response to some of the comments on my post from earlier today on The Witcher 3 and race. I'm linking this post in the Witcher 3 forums because it is an extension of that previous conversation. ANYWAY:

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Hey everyone!

Still don't have a ton of free time right now, but I've been doing my best to keep up with the comments here. First, thanks to those of you debating civilly and smartly. Really love seeing that discourse, and I especially love seeing people hammer out the nuances of their own understandings and beliefs (even when they're not the same as mine! What can I say, it's the teacher in me, I guess.)

Second, I said this on Twitter already, but I'll say it here too: Thanks again for the folks who have brought in up to date demographics data on Poland, and to those who have provided sourced historical arguments (regardless of which case you're arguing.) I wrote this post in about 15 minutes (while waiting around for a ride to finally go get an desk chair for my apartment, yay), and knew I wouldn't have time to do the sorta research I wanted to. Still, I wanted to force myself to address the existence of a Slavic history of racialization and ethnic grouping. I meant it when I said that "This is super complicated," and I don't think you have to look any further than these very comments to see that. Some of the counter arguments to my line of critique are "Poland is almost entirely white." Yet, some different counter arguments to this post include some version of "Wait, since when are Slavic peoples white?", referencing a long history of Othering and oppression that the people in this region suffered from other European powers. So, having updated numbers on this stuff helps--though as one poster noted, the discrepancy isn't so big as to fully undermine the argument.

Third, I've seen a lot of folks throwing shade at the final few paragraphs of my post as "building a strawman," or reading those grafs as me arguing that if you disagree with me that "you're racist." To some degree, I can see where that read of those sentences comes from, so I don't want to dismiss that complaint full stop by saying "That's not what I meant!" I'm also not really interested in "walking back" anything I said here. But I am happy to clarify a bit.

So, the most contentious passage, I think, is this:

And some fans want to lay on a sword over this. And whether its intentional or not, when those fans say “Why should they include a person of color?” it ends up sounding a lot like “I’m glad they didn’t include people of color. It was right of them not to. The game would be ruined otherwise.”

The confusion in my writing centers around this pivot from "what is said" to what "it ends up sounding a lot like." If this had been a real piece, something I'd worked on for a week or more, I would've reworked this whole graf to focus in on what I'm getting at there in a more precise way. So, what I mean when I say "...it ends up sounding a lot like..." is something like this:

Given the long history of racial oppression, of the dismissal of criticism (polite and otherwise), and of cultural gatekeeping, when those fans of The Witcher say "Why should they include a person of color?" it makes me feel like that person, whatever their heart or intentions or politics, is not interested in pushing back against that history. I'm not making a claim about them here, I'm making a claim about how this reaction makes me feel. When the conversation starts at "Justify for me why people of color should be included in my media," I know, deep and suddenly, that this is a losing fight. This is why I cringe when (in this very thread) I read that the inclusion of people of color in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt "unnatural" to a player. It is a sharp reminder that my experiences and feelings of exclusion (which are shared by many) will, by some, continue to be coded as irrational, emotional, and a billion other words that orbit around "unnatural," instead of being addressed directly.

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(This is also just a clutch moment to link Jay Smooth's classic "'You are a racist' vs 'What you said was racist'" video.)

Fourth and finally, there are a couple of recent posts asking "is the inclusion of skin color really enough?" (And you can toss in the posts I saw that were something like "Race doesn't really exist, anyway, so why do you care about skin color?" for good measure).

The answer here, again is that it's complicated. Or at least, it can be.

The short answer, which I gave on an episode of Justice Points a few months ago, is that when I play games like Freedom Wars I'm really, deeply happy that I get to play a black anime #teen, but that I also wanna play a game that speaks to an experience of blackness the way Kendrick Lamar's good Kid, m.A.A.d city does, one day.

Race, as some argued, "does not really exist." But that's only true if what you mean is "race doesn't exist physically/biologically." But it does exist socially, historically, and culturally. And often, it is made to exist. (Instructive and straight forward here is Herman Goring, Nazi Officer, stating plainly "I decide who is a Jew." I'm also partial to the work of Ali Behdad, whose academic work examines how Western European photographers helped to "create" the mysterious and exotic version of North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian races in the cultural zeitgeist of the west.) And once racialization occurs, once a group of folks is set aside and told, "Oh, y'all are X, okay? I don't care that five years ago you were Y and you were Z, now you're both X," well, that process eventually leads to a real, lived culture and experience of race. (And this is why, for the record, I wanted to make sure not to easily group the Slavic cultures of Europe with the "White People" full stop--I know that Europe's own history is messy and interesting and brutal and beautiful, too.)

So yes, I'm black. No, that doesn't mean that I think I have any special, physical traits given to me by my blackness. But it does mean that there are people in the world who do believe that, and that is inescapable. And it means that I have lots of--not all, but lots of--experiences in common with other black Americans, and marginalized groups in general, too. (There was, for a long time, a cultural closeness between Black and Jewish populations in America built on that commonality.) But "blackness" will always expand beyond whatever cataloging I can do. Because race is a social construct and not a reflection of innate, physical reality, its boundaries are deeply porous and flexible and its shape is unfixed. This is a beautiful thing. And it's why I can smile both when I get to make a black anime teen in Freedom Wars and why I can hope against hope that some day we'll get the Kendrick Lamar of video games.

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So no, a few Zerrikanian traders or merchants or alchemists wouldn't fix the problems games have with race, but no single game will ever do that, in the same way that no single film solved the problem of representation in Hollywood cinema. But each time a dev takes a moment to think about how diversity might fit into their game--or, no, better: how it might have always been there, ready to be uncovered, ready to make their worlds feel more alive, more real--they add a brick to a wall of overall improvement. And sometimes that brick looks like a few brown faces in a crowd. Sometimes it looks like character creation. Sometimes it looks like a bi-racial lead character whose racial background is identifiable, but not directly addressed and sometimes it's a game that tackles the racial identity of its characters directly. It's all of these things and more, and none of them are perfect, and none of them can do it alone. How could they?

There is no silver bullet, no grand plan for creating diversity in games. There's lots of little steps that we can applaud, and that we can remind developers that they have access to. We do this constantly with other bits of games (Oh my god, please put the Nemesis System, or something like it, in a bunch of other games by this time next year, thanks). Why not also do it here? And if the answer is "Because this isn't as interesting or valuable or meaningful as X game feature," well, it is to me, so I'm gonna keep writing this stuff.

(And hey, side note: To folks saying that I'm "commenting on the hot topic of the week," I've been writing about race and games now for a long while. Most of it is available here. Start with the Animal Crossing piece at the bottom, if you're interested.)

Anyway, it's late and I need to get back to work. I'll keep peaking into the convo, because like I said, I really love seeing everyone work out their own positions--even those of you I disagree with. So keep it civil and keep the good info coming.

And believe me, this will not be the last time I talk race on Giant Bomb. And maybe next time you'll get more than a blog post.

-Austin

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poser

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Wait... you got banned?

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BradBrains

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appreciate the clarification. especially on that last line which obviously came off not as intended

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conmulligan

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SO: I originally made this post in the forums but the spam-bot saw all my damned links and automatically banned me, which I think disappeared the blog post from the forums, too?

Ha!

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SpasticAnomaly

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No sweat, Austin, whether people agreed or not it was an interesting article about an interesting topic. Keep up the good work; inciting a conversation says a lot about a piece's value, so don't take any disagreements personally :)

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supercubedude

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No wonder he didn't follow up in the comments, he was a spam-bot all along!

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BradBrains

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No wonder he didn't follow up in the comments, he was a spam-bot all along!

im glad hes back so he can help me make 3k a week and find singles in my area. where would I be without him

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Musubi

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@poser: He mistakenly banned himself or at least tripped something in the system that made it think he was a spam bot.

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austin_walker

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Edited By austin_walker
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Milkman

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Edited By Milkman

I tried to speak on the same sort of dismissal of criticism and cultural gatekeeping that you bring up here and how that could make someone feel a certain way even if that's not the intended purpose of the person saying something like "I don't get why there needs to be black people in this game" but I think everyone just ignored me so I'm glad you brought it up here.

And this has nothing to do with Witcher but I was really interested that you brought up this:

but that I also wanna play a game that speaks to an experience of blackness the way Kendrick Lamar'sgood Kid, m.A.A.d city does, one day.

because that is something I've thought about a lot. When I look at video games, there's really no black centric media similar to something like good kid, m.A.A.d city or Do the Right Thing or anything like that. I've often thought about what the kind of game would be like and I've never quite figured it out in my mind but I would love to see it one day.

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MrMazz

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thanks for follow up

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firecracker22

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Holy shit.

We can be auto-banned??

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Fear_the_Booboo

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Edited By Fear_the_Booboo

Thanks for the follow up and thank you for both blog posts.

Hey, it might not be Kendrick, but at least we will get the Kanye game... right?

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Fredchuckdave

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Edited By Fredchuckdave

Eastern European or Slavic definitely has minority status Re: Western Europe, except possibly the Russians because everyone's terrified of Russians due to various failed invasions and so on (also Russia absorbed a decent number of Mongolians over the years so they could almost be considered biracial in some respects). Though Russians are still viewed as "others," even if they're fearsome like the Chinese vis-a-vis America. But their skin color's not different and that's the only thing that matters.

This brings up a more interesting point: What if the Zerrikanians are white, but still a distinct ethnic group (like say, people from Skellige, or Nilfgaardians, etc.), what if everyone in the Witcher's world is white (don't need book references contradicting this, doesn't negate the point), does it actually functionally matter that you have to have a non-visual representation of a different culture or ethnicity?

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conmulligan

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@fredchuckdave said:

This brings up a more interesting point: What if the Zerrikanians are white, but still a distinct ethnic group (like say, people from Skellige, or Nilfgaardians, etc.), what if everyone in the Witcher's world is white (don't need book references contradicting this, doesn't negate the point), does it actually functionally matter that you have to have a non-visual representation of a different culture or ethnicity?

Eh, I feel the same way about that as I would making everyone's hair and eye colour the same. I guess you could do it, but it would be super distracting.

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joetom

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Man, if this is what you write on the fly I'm pretty jealous.

Anyway, you really made me rethink some things for sure. Originally I thought the issues taken were unfair, as dismissing The Witcher as a "white game" is super unfair to its Polish creators who very passionately made something uniquely Polish. I still think there's an American tendency to project its racial situation onto other parts of the world. A lot of people I know here in Canada tend to lump all of Europeans into "white people" and dismiss the vast differences that exist between, say England and Poland. That's how I saw the issues taken with The Witcher, people were dismissing the unique Polish-ness as more "white people stuff."

But I also now realize that I fell into the same trap people always do with these issues. Just because it doesn't bother me, doesn't mean it's not an issue. So yeah, I suppose it would have been nice if they'd included some merchants, or mercenaries or missionaries or whatever from Zerrikania. It actually might have added some cool perspective, an outsider not directly tied to all the politicking going on.

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deactivated-6050ef4074a17

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This is sort of slightly off-topic I guess, but I think one of the biggest reasons why people look at Dragon Age: Inquisition as "unnatural" or "too much" is because of how much information the modern game enthusiast is able to consume about game development. Bioware has talked a lot in the last few years about how much they want to represent various groups of people in their games as a point of pride, and so when you see an set of games noticeably different from the first to the third game in the series, a lot of people pick up on it, know what I mean? Had the world been set up in such a way from the beginning in Dragon Age: Origins, I think there would've be a lot less jokes at Dragon Age's expense.

And honestly, Bioware has had their pretty cringey moments, like Steve Cortez from Mass Effect 3, who is perhaps one of the worst written Bioware characters in their last decade and ahalf of game development. I was excited to hear about the first "strictly gay" characters in Mass Effect when that was on the horizon, but there's something to be said for not doing something at all if you can't do it well, and I say this as a gay dude. I'm still sort of shocked at how bad that character's romance story was, considering Kaidan's, while still romance-novel schlocky, was about as good as you can do with an established personality.

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hassun

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Edited By hassun

@fredchuckdave: It would be pretty interesting if there were a whole bunch of distinct races who may or may not hate each other but they all have the same skin colour, similar builds and features.

Maybe one group is blonde and the other group only has blue eyes and another group has a specific language or something similar.

I can't help but feel that, throughout history, people who basically looked exactly the same have found plenty of reasons to distrust, hate and murder one another.

Either way, having my own skin colour represented in games means absolutely nothing to me. I think it matters far less than having your gender represented in a game.

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Subjugation

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Edited By Subjugation

@austin_walker: Have you had a chance to view the "love letter" penned by a Polish developer illustrating how they (being the Poles) feel on the matter? Link is http://elysianshadows.com/updates/love-letter-to-person-who-demands-racial-quotas-in-witcher-3/ and yes, I shamelessly stole it from /r/games. I think it explains really well that The Witcher in particular is a celebration of Polish culture. One particular excerpt really stuck with me so I'll share it here, but I really encourage you to read the whole thing.

Now that we understand the sentiment Poles have to their culture, as well as Witcher's place in it lets see how racial quota demands look like in this context. To people from multiracial countries, demanding racial diversity in video game might seem like something good, a progressive thing. However the game is not just any game, it’s Witcher. Game made in country which battled through history to maintain it’s own heritage and language, game which builds upon slavic mythology and promotes it internationally. You're trying to shoehorn foreign elements into their culture, enforce your own standards onto theirs. In case I haven't hammered my point down strongly enough: you have people of a minority culture that were persecuted and discriminated against in last 250 years, who made this awesome work of art that represents them, and you're telling them to change it because it's not American enough.

What would be your response to this?

Edit: Wait, the original thread is completely gone? Can it be restored? Rest in peace 300+ posts of good discussion. This is lame.

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Deathpooky

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Edited By Deathpooky

I think the primary issue I have with all the complaints remains that this still seems to be a very strange, very bad target for this sort of criticism. A broader critique of diversity in games is something I'm all for. But targeting this game, with its very specific cultural and developmental circumstances, for this argument and admonishing them for not adopting or addressing largely American or modern western ideas for diversity or race just doesn't make sense.

From the ~15 hours I've played of the Witcher it does address ideas of othering, of attacking or punishing those who are different or who you don't understand, or of attempting to develop empathy for different points of view - all key constructs for anyone attempting to deal with issues of diversity and minorities within society. But it does them within their more specific history and within a society where historical differences aren't as much racial as they are religious or cultural. And where people have found reasons to hate and fear each other over the centuries, though not necessarily because of race or skin color, since its an extremely homogenous place from that perspective and their history isn't one where skin color hasn't necessarily had the same impact as it has in America.

The Nilfgaard army doesn't attempt to round up and stomp out various parts of their conquered peoples because they are black or asian, or because they otherwise look different, because there aren't those differences among the people. It does it because of their beliefs, stomping them out and trying to round up the practitioners of religions it doesn't agree with. You can make your own character make diversity and empathy-based arguments against them in some of the quests, arguing that they don't understand the practices of the people they're attempting to conquer and rule. It's a flavor of the same issues seen through a different cultural lens.

As I said, I'm completely on board with there being broader issues with how games deal with (or fail to include) proper minority or female protagonists or even characters, and for understanding that this game exists in a broader context. But you can't just use the context of games media as an excuse to ignore the very specific reasons why this seems like an extremely poor target for that criticism. This isn't Ubisoft saying "it would cost too much money to include a female character" or a big developer saying "we make white, male protagonists because that's what sells and we don't want to take a risk." If anything these attacks seem exactly what a liberal, culturally aware person should avoid doing - attaching our own values and perspectives and attempting to get them to only see things through our point of view, instead of learning from theirs and what their story has to say about these very issues.

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Edited By Zornack

I agree with a ton of what you say and it's good that race in gaming is getting discussed, I just feel that The Witcher is a bad game to spark this discussion. There are so many good, legitimate and rational reasons for The Witcher 3 to be so white while so many games release these days that don't have any of those reasons and which also handle race and minorities much worse than The Witcher does.

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chaser324

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chaser324  Moderator

Holy shit.

We can be auto-banned??

It's nothing to be worried about. It's intended to stop new accounts created for the purpose of spamming, and 99.99% of the time that's exactly what it does. If something happens and there's a false positive, it's easily reversed.

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austin_walker

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Edited By austin_walker

@subjugation: My response to this is in the initial piece: For a "love letter to Polish culture," it certainly has no problems borrowing from other cultural mythologies, histories, languages, and narratives. Which is fine! It's great! It's part of what makes The Witcher so cool: This core, Slavic mythology mixed in with all this other, international stuff. It's a "have your cake..." moment. If there's room for djinn, then maybe there could be room for the sort of folks who coined the term "djinn," you know?

Edit: Also, I think the framing that piece does of the critique as "demanding racial quotas" is (at the very least) unfair and ungrounded. My response to what we need (and it's not to fill a quota) is in the post I made above.

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Otogi

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Really wish I had more to add, but I'll just that this a good read and a really good follow-up to your first post.

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sdhero

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Yeah, I just personally can't understand the impetus that you shouldn't seek to add diversity when adapting a story or characters to a different medium. I genuinely love JRR Tolkein's novels, I'm one of those few who actually digs the Silmarillion, and I would never change a word of his work, it is what it is, and we can talk about its merits and faults. That said, the idea that movies or games that adapt his work or exist as an offshoot of it can't toss in more diversity just rubs me the wrong way. I can't see how a black hobbit or what have you ruins the setting or disrupts it so completely.

I think too that when we talk about a game as large and expansive as The Witcher 3, it also becomes progressively weirder that diversity is lacking. Like you said, a couple Zerrikanians does not give you a racially diverse game, that in and of itself doesn't fix the whole problem. But, when there are so many towns, so many numerous NPCs that you meet, it starts to feel a little crazy that none of them could possibly be non-white. It just starts to seem unnatural, and in that regard, deliberate. I don't know that Skyrim had anything substantive to say on race, but there were people of different color around the game even if you still spent a lot of time talking to white people.

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Edited By novadth

So, how do you feel about the Yakuza series? It exists in a time where airplanes exist, where Japan is a tourist destination, where people move from all areas of the globe, yet there's very, very few characters that are of anything but Asian descent.

None of those things can be said about The Witcher, we can presume that travel is arduous and deadly, where people don't readily migrate long distances because of the risks involved, where cultures aren't as friendly to others as they might be today.

Should we expect this argument to pop up again when Yakuza 5 is released? Will you be writing an article on racial diversity for that game? Because it makes far more sense for those games to be racially diverse than it does The Witcher. This isn't a sarcastic or rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious. If you don't take issue with those games being quite non-inclusive, why not? What makes a game made by Polish people more ready for criticism than a game made by Japanese people?

I'm sorry if this sounds antagonistic at all, I'm dying for some different perspectives and cultures to be represented in gaming as a whole. I just don't understand why The Witcher is being singled out when there are tons of games that fit the criticisms better. I think these questions SHOULD be asked. But asking them of this game just seems a little... off to me.

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hoodcommando

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Edited By hoodcommando

@austin_walker

Hey Austin (if you're reading this), I hope you won't mind me playing the white devil advocate for the sake of interest in this discussion :P I will admit from the very beginning of this post that I am personally not even a hundredth as invested in this subject as you are, merely interested in discussing it. (PS: God, this post was really long, I went on for quite a while here, sorry about that, I don't blame anyone who doesn't want to read through this)

when those fans of The Witcher say "Why should they include a person of color?" it makes me feel like that person, whatever their heart or intentions or politics, is not interested in pushing back against that history

I feel like in a fantasy world, you need to try to add as much sense of realism to try to combat the fact you are essentially playing a fantasy out of a nerd's imagination. This doesn't even necessarily mean actual realism, it just means the illusion of it, something that your mind backhandedly thinks "Oh yeah, that makes sense" and registers as a nice touch. That's why The Witcher 3 (and all Witcher games, for that matter) are successful in world building. For every Goblin-with-a-different-name-and-slightly-different-flavor and Dark-evil-magic-element, there is at least five different small touches to balance those out. The way people would naturally react to monsters, the pragmatic outlook throughout the villages, the clear effects of war, the people having to be worried about dumping those buddies before more corpse eaters come out of the woodworks to trouble people.

Race is another element where that plays in. The complexion of people, the way they speak, the culture they all carry and share, and the slight differences in it between places. So when people are asking why they should have to add black people, what they're asking is why should they add people of color entirely for the sake of adding people of color. Because really, isn't that likely to be what would happen? As we can clearly see from the past three games, the people behind the world of the Witcher games don't think that people of color fit the universe other than a few exceptions (from a very distant place and culture, inside the game's universe). The world that they are envisioning is based on Poland's white-dominated culture (and whether this was true in the past or whether Polish people were even white to begin with is not necessarily important, it's how the creators of the game see it). So if on an imaginary fourth game there were, say, far more people of color all over the game, and if someone on the internet were to say "This was clearly just added to please the people criticizing the past games lack of diversity", I couldn't help but think "Hmm, maybe you're right". Because they sure didn't seem to think people of color fit in the universe. What made them change their mind?

Which brings me directly to another, more pressing point.

This is why I cringe when (in this very thread) I read that the inclusion of people of color in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt "unnatural" to a player. It is a sharp reminder that my experiences and feelings of exclusion (which are shared by many) will, by some, continue to be coded as irrational, emotional, and a billion other words that orbit around "unnatural," instead of being addressed directly.

It kind of sucks to be that asshole and say something, knowing in advance it's not pleasant to the person it's aimed at, but here I go dropping in a few weights in to your cringe-balance. I have to agree with the sentiment that Bioware always seems to be forcing this kind of progressive thinking in a way that comes across as, if not phony, then slightly unnatural.

People of color, homosexuality, even transgender issues, these are the kinds of thing that Bioware has often added to their games in a way that, to me, seems forced and lame. To try to make up an analogy on the spot, it reminds me very much of my 8 year old cousin, who has an aunt (my aunt as well) that is in a lesbian relationship, and he loves to constantly say "My aunt is loving this other aunt, they're both women, this is natural" in the most carefree kind of way. The first time I thought it was cute and kind of endearing, but when he repeated to himself in the same conversation over how natural that relationship is for the literal fourth time, I couldn't help but think "Man, you sure are stating this a lot, do you want a cookie or something?". Now obviously he's a kid, and Bioware consists of grown men, I'm not trying to say that they're infantile.

But the same sentiment is kind of there to me, from the way Bioware delivers its dialogue about the subject in what I feel is very sloppy, it feels like it wants a cookie for being progressive, and constantly tries to remind us of such, still looking for that damn cookie.

Now, I can't end my post right here without feeling like an asshole, so I will instead offer a self-rebuttal and give you an example of a setting that approached different people and different cultures in a way I enjoyed. Pillars of Eternity is a recently released CRPG that maybe banks a bit too much on its nostalgia, and has its fair share of flaws, but that I enjoyed a loooooot. Far more than Witcher 3, Dragon Age Inquisition or any other game this year, in fact. (Apparently an expansion is being announced this E3, so I'm excited for that)

In Pillars, there are different races of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and the other slightly more original races. Speaking exclusively about Humans, there are Meadow Folk, fair skinned people from the edges of the world that have traditionally hanged out with Elves. There are Savannah Folk, olive skinned people that have almost been incestuous and very closed off back in the Ixamitl Plains and then there are the Ocean Folk, dark skinned, arguably the oldest race, originating from the Grand Empire of Vailia, and in fact, the most widespread race around.

All three of these races have their own distinct culture, backgrounds, characters and place in the setting of the first game, I read all about them in the lorebook that I was provided as a backer, but all of it is clearly and well established in the actual game as well. You also have immigrants and people that have lived generations outside the usual comforts of their races. It all feels very natural, very realistic and not forced at all, unlike the Dragon Age universe. It wouldn't be surprising at all if an expansion or a sequel to Pillars of Eternity (hopefully, there will be many of them) would be set in different places, and one of the best potential places is without a doubt the isles in the Vailian Republics, a confederation of a dozen city-states forming a hierarchical and noble electoral council that controls the huge international mercantile power the republic possesses, all of this huge and important area is predominantly occupied by Ocean Folk, and there are a few many great reasons that I won't go into detail right now on why this would be a very interesting place to explore out of the entire Pillars world.

So yeah, to summarize my shamefully long post: Different cultures and different races can be done right in video games, and have been done right. But by the same token, I don't think it should be a necessity of every fantasy world (especially ones that are clearly indifferent towards them) and that in fact, they can be done wrong and feel like nothing but pandering.

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cornbredx

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@austin_walker: You're a good writer, and I understand you wrote this quickly (off the cuff) so hopefully you don't take this personally, but there is a few things you should get yourself in the habit of doing. To make yourself a more efficient writer- if nothing else.

Don't write "graf", please. Just... don't shorten words in general, please. Pretty please. *insert blinky puppy dog eyes* Respect your words and always spell them out. I know it's a quick and easy thing to do, (I guess it's just my opinion) but when writing something long form of this nature (even as a blog or forum thread) it reads better if you don't do that. Ever.

You should also make a habit to try and find ways to complete your thoughts without using parenthetical statements. I do it a lot, too, but when I write long form I try to phrase my thoughts completely instead of having to addendum them all the time. It's tough, especially when you're mind races with all the things you want to immediately counter pops into your head. I personally always try to limit it whenever I can (and sometimes fail- like this one, those ones above, and more I'm sure I will do below).

This, however, is a problem:

(There was, for a long time, a cultural closeness between Black and Jewish populations in America built on that commonality.)

It's not the sentence, mind you. You placed this after a punctuated sentence, so it's basically hanging out there on it's own. Try not to ever do that when you write. It's good practice so you don't end up doing it when it counts.

Also, I've noticed (even on your articles) you tend to begin sentences with: And, But, Not, etc. Try to avoid that too. Again the best way to practice this is to always do it- even when you're writing something less significant like a letter, forum thread, blog, or whatever. It just helps establish habits when you write, and since you're doing it professionally it's good to create writing habits for yourself.

This is, of course, merely my opinion based on my own experience and I state it to help, not to put you down. Hopefully I don't start getting the typical "grammar police" name calling replies, but I really only wrote this as some advice (as we all need advice sometimes I guess) because you're better than those things (does this come off as patronizing? I don't know a better way to say something uplifting here, but that's what is intended).

Keep up the great work.

Edit: Oh, and I know "graf" is publisher/editor slang. As a guess, that's probably why you picked up that habit. ;)

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probablytuna

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You'd think having the Staff tag would prevent you from getting banned, like the fourth prime directive or something. Great post though, looking forward to more in depth articles!

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DougCL

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@novadth: In Yakuza 4 (and possibly the older ones, i just cant remember) there are definitely Black pedestrians walking around, theres a sidequest that has you squaring off with a multi-racial immigrant gang, and there are major plot points involving a chinese immigrant community.

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joshwent

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@austin_walker Thank you so much for elaborating on your previous thoughts. And I'll echo what was said above, that if this is what we get from off-hand Austin, I can't wait for some real in-depth deconstruction!

I especially appreciate the bit about your own racial identity and how that is represented (and more often not) in games. But it's been brought up before that that kind of culture/race specific portrayal is exactly what the Witcher series is for Polish people. Yes it's a fantasy world and they can make whatever they want so they can freely include people of color. Yes the mythology draws from some other cultures that wouldn't be considered "white". But as you astutely point out, Slavs themselves weren't considered "white" until relatively recently, and are still seen as second class citizens outside their own country.

Side Note: Although I'm an American living in Philly, I watch a ton of British panel shows, and it's staggering the amount of blatantly racist (ethnicist?) jokes that are made exclusively about Polish immigrant workers, even by extremely liberal comedians.

Anyway, I'm basically saying that the Kendrick Lamar of games you (and I and many others) yearn for is CDProjekt Red for that specific group. So when we try and urge them to include even more, especially points of view from outside the culture the game was created in, it feels like we're overlooking the unique perspective that they're already giving us.

(Also, regarding the "commenting on the hot topic of the week" replies that ignorantly dismiss your writing wholesale, I'd urge you to not even pay them any lip-service. Not to compare you again, as so many others have already, to Patrick, but a constant pitfall of his was to only engage with the most lamely trolling or baselessly provocative posters, leaving the rest of us who may disagree or have different takes on a situation but earnestly wish to have a fruitful discussion to gain nothing but a thread gone to waste. I can't imagine how upsetting it might be so see that aggressively disappointing reaction to your hard work, but I think it's better for everyone if you're able to disregard that shit as much as possible. I'm doing my part and wielding that "Flag" button with no remorse. ;) )

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conmulligan

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@cornbredx: Wow. Have you read any of Austin's actual long-form work? The guy really doesn't need grammer and composition advice from forum randos.

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AdequatelyPrepared

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@subjugation:

I like this article, this is a good article.

Simply said, Poland has not been that peaceful of a nation for many years. My parents had to grow up living on food stamps and being forced to learn Russian, because that's what the situation was in Poland just barely over 30 years ago. They also had to live through martial law, and witness the slow destruction of Communism from within the nation through politically charged movements such as Solidarność (Solidarity).

Even before that, Poland was the punching bag of it's neighbours for quite a while, with its territories being constantly split up and taken over by its neighbours, and barely existed as a nation for many years. Hell, for 123 years, it wasn't even on a map, as it had been split up and taken over by its neighbours. Not many nations would be able to re-establish their place in the world after an event like that.

Because of these factors, there is very much a feeling of national pride amongst Polish people, and because of the enormity of The Witcher 3's success, I feel as though people are forgetting that it is a Polish game, through and through, based on a well-liked Polish series of novels and a celebration of the successes and (mainly) mythology of Poland. It is basically the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. of Poland. Hell, this is stirring up enough pride in me that I'll probably say 'screw it', and buy the game in a week or two.

It does crib notes from other cultures, but this is not an uncommon in any medium, especially fantasy involving fantastical creatures. SMT as a series is almost completely based on this in filling out it's roster of demons, yet no one decides to use that as an argument as to why there isn't more cultural representation among it's human cast in those games. Why? Because people understand that it is a Japanese series made by Japanese developers. I don't understand why this logic is not being brought across to The Witcher 3.

This is a weird debate that has sprung up around a game that is not a suitable battleground for such a debate. I'm not going to play that new game, Sunset, and complain that there are not any white people. If some Chinese games development team decides to make a game based on some historical dynasty, I'm not going to complain that it doesn't feature white people.

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cornbredx

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Edited By cornbredx

@conmulligan: I have. He makes these kinds of mistakes often.

But again, I was giving unsolicited advice. He doesn't have to take it.

I accept that I'll get these responses, though, because people think when you correct someone it's an insult- when it's not.

Thank you for your reply.

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firecracker22

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Edited By firecracker22

This was my last post from previous thread:

@baronsamedi said:

I think all of these arguments being laid out from either side are just bananas. Historical accuracy and fiction as far as I'm concerned are just fluff arguments on both sides of the spectrum. There are some very basic questions that could be asked here which are also easily answered. For the purpose of the questions I will use the absent race from within the fiction Zerrikanians.

Would the addition of Zerrikanian characters to The Witcher 3 actively hurt the game? No.

Is the abscence of Zerrikanians puzzling considering they're apart of the fiction and have shown up in prior games? Yes.

Would adding Zerrikanians races as generic NPC's hurt the game? No.

Would adding Zerrikanians as generic NPC's that do nothing significantly improve the game? I honestly don't think so (this one is contentious.)

Would adding a Zerrikanian questline that deals with Zerrikanians being stuck within the northern realms during wartime significantly improve the game? You bet your ass it would.

Did CDPR actively go out of their way to exclude Zerrikanians? I highly doubt it.

Does every video game have to adhere to a certain racial diversity checklist? No.

But then again maybe I'm missing the point of this entire debacle. I've never felt the desire to self insert or relate to video game characters. I'm more interested in well written and multi-layered characters no matter what their race or cultural background is. In this regard The Witcher 3 has that in spades.

Well...maybe. I can see how adding Zerrikanians COULD hurt, and make things worse. I think the Zerrikanians fit into the "savage" trope, where the diverse ethnic group is tribal, seems uncivilized, and is seen as a savage. I think that can, by quite a few people, be viewed as racist for reinforcing and inadvertently showcasing racial stereotypes. I think if you look at how people are angry at how racial diversity is used on Game of Thrones, you see what I mean by how it could create a different problem. I'm all for showing the Zerrikanians. I just worry at how they might be received, is all.

The absence of the Zerrikanians is actually not puzzling, considering the source material. I've read more than half of the novels that have been released, in which the games are based and continue from. And I can tell you, I don't remember the Zerrikanians being mentioned even once, much less there being characters from there. And there are different characters, and political intrigue in those novels. Evidentally, Zerrikanian characters appear in a short story in 'Sword of Destiny', which is being translated and released this December. The Witcher, on PC, featured a Zerrikanian as well. So...to be brutally honest...the games have done about as much with the Zerrikanians as the novels have. Not an excuse, but we shouldn't misrepresent the books. The games have very much been in lockstep with the novels, for better or worse.

Honestly, I think patching in NPC Zerrikanians would make things worse because it'd actually be tokenism. The right way to include the Zerrikanians, and do right by them, is to try and do a questline in the upcoming Expansion "Blood and Wine", which is supposed to take place in Nilfgaard. That expansion won't come out until next year, so maybe it can be done there. Maybe.

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qrdl

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@subjugation: My response to this is in the initial piece: For a "love letter to Polish culture," it certainly has no problems borrowing from other cultural mythologies, histories, languages, and narratives. Which is fine! It's great! It's part of what makes The Witcher so cool: This core, Slavic mythology mixed in with all this other, international stuff. It's a "have your cake..." moment. If there's room for djinn, then maybe there could be room for the sort of folks who coined the term "djinn," you know?

It's funny that you mention the djinn. I was a child when I read those books and was enamoured. The ironic take on fantasy mixed with Brothers Grimm and stories which were blatantly about the shortcomings of my society. I especially loved that it stripped war of all its pomposity. It was like a much needed shower after reading all the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz (they read great but by the end I felt like I was being pushed hateful propaganda). That djinn was like a smack in the face. Not only did it come from a completely different cultural sphere but also was a sentient magical being granting wishes - a sort of a demigod and a childish idea. Thankfully such a misstep was never repeated in the later books. Although, there is also that stereotypical eloquent vampire who always reminded me of Settembrini from Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain"...

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firecracker22

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Edited By firecracker22

@adequatelyprepared: That's amazing to hear. It was kind of incredible to read up, after I got interested in the Witcher novels, just how recent Poland became a democracy. Kinda nuts to know that I've been alive longer than Poland has been democratic. Which, it seems to me, played into why The Witcher, or Wiedzmin, novels were so embraced since it seemed like an example of Polish creativity and literature so soon after the fall of communism. The Gamespot preview coverage that Danny did with CDPR was really informative, too, and really seemed to indicate that CDPR has helped with Poland's economy.

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fangrim

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I commented on your previous article about this but my opinion stays the same. Im all for having people of colour in games. I think the way this issue was brought up (in a review) may have made people think that the issue is

"Witcher 3 is a bad game because it has no people of colour"

Which is why people are arguing against that and with a lot of passion. There is a lot of miscommunication going around / heated arguments were both sides are passionate for the opinions they are bringing to the table. I feel like people are having a hard time hanging out criticism in a well mannered way and other people are being quite reactive to the criticism they are getting.

I think the witcher 3 quest designer brought it up best.

"I know it is a shocking concept, but you can accept and welcome criticism while disagreeing with individual points of said criticism."

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Makayu

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Edited By Makayu

I agree with Austin here 100% and its why I think the Witcher is so interesting personally. It's an expression coming from a distinct cultural group, with its own history and traditions. I would love to see the Kendrick Lamar of video games, but either the ways games get made needs to change or signifigantly more black people need to start making games. Enough to form a large studio. Either this or the creative lead would need to have background with the subject. Those stories are out there waiting to be told but honestly when presented with the option of making a game versus some other form of expression (like music) I choose that because it's much less complicated than game design. I feel like others might feel the same. So I guess my point is game making needs to be more wide spread and less commercial for this to happen.

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firecracker22

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Edited By firecracker22

@catsakimbo: There's actually an NPC, in White Orchard (the starting area) who gave some heartbreaking backstory about how anti-gay sentiments in the community had completely destroyed his and his partners lives.

Geralt's "Sorry..." reply felt fucking poignant, I must say.

Bigotry is a big theme in The Witcher. There are more instances where bigotry, from different sides, are tossed. Elves being so anti-human, and humans being so anti-elves, with Dwarves being caught somewhere in between.

Really, oppression is a key theme. Whether it's oppression over the poor, or sorcerers, or other nationalities, or races, or even sexes.

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nophilip

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This is perhaps the most salient point I've read in this whole discussion. I totally agree that a lack of diversity is a pretty big problem across games as a whole, but this is absolutely the wrong game to have this debate over. I get that it's happening because Witcher 3 is the hot new thing right now, but this very valid debate can only be undermined by having it centered around this game.

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YoThatLimp

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@nophilip said:

This is perhaps the most salient point I've read in this whole discussion. I totally agree that a lack of diversity is a pretty big problem across games as a whole, but this is absolutely the wrong game to have this debate over. I get that it's happening because Witcher 3 is the hot new thing right now, but this very valid debate can only be undermined by having it centered around this game.

I just don't understand how having dark skinned characters in their games should somehow undermine their unique perspective? CDProjekt Red is great, it doesn't mean they can't improve on things, right?

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mr_creeper

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Hey, @Austin_Walker, thanks for these write-ups. I fall into the category of people that don't really care about these sorts of things, but I find your posts interesting, nonetheless.

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firecracker22

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@yothatlimp: Absolutely. I just think it's less to do with CDPR, and more to do with the property they're using that they didn't create. The Witcher was an established, and very popular, franchise before CDPR made the first game. Anytime you're dealing with an established properties...there are limitations if you're not the creator.

Cyberpunk 2077, for example, will give them much more freedom on world building and everything. There's even a promotional video on the official Cyberpunk 2077 youtube page, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYxt7cwDk4E

It's an overview with Mike Pondsmith on what Cyberpunk is, and in the information section it's noted that he's collaborating with CDPR on Cyberpunk 2077. And Mike Pondsmith, if you anyone doesn't know or hasn't clicked the link, is a black man. So, I would be very, very, very, shocked if Cyberpunk wasn't a racially diverse game. I just think this is the same kind of situation that any developer who might work on a Lord of the Rings game might find themselves in. With Cyberpunk, I don't see that happening.

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nophilip

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Edited By nophilip

@yothatlimp said:

I just don't understand how having dark skinned characters in their games should somehow undermine their unique perspective? CDProjekt Red is great, it doesn't mean they can't improve on things, right?

You totally missed my point. I'm not saying that having dark skinned characters in the game would undermine it at all. That would be an incredibly dumb thing to believe.

My point is more that focusing this extremely important discussion on this game in particular is a poor choice because it's a very underrepresented culture being celebrated by members of that culture. It absolutely could have been more diverse in terms of skin color without "damaging the game" or anything like that. I just think there are way, way better targets for this discussion than Witcher III.

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yeliwofthecorn

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This is an amazing follow-up post. Not just because I got two ethnic shout-outs. I've also read some really interesting work on how The Witcher specifically may be excusable in this criticism, but it does serve as a good starting-point for having a conversation about lack of diversity in Fantasy in general. Great to see so many people coming at this thing from so many angles and seemingly mostly actually listening to the other side.

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Gyrfal

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@nophilip: But what is it about people of color that is inherently not part of the culture of Poland? It's a country whose history has a lot of complex dealings with the Middle East. Poland has had black MPs, and the entire fiction of The Witcher is about the marginalization of people.

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ArtisanBreads

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Edited By ArtisanBreads

Thanks for expanding Austin. I did criticize your wording but don't think you mean it offensively. I don't agree with all your points but good discussion to have regardless of that. Just in relation to this game I should say. The diversity issues in many games are clear but to me this clearly isn't one of those games. Like a lot of good fantasy that tackles deeper issues, it does so through it's fiction, but you can easily see the relationship between different groups in the game translating to our world.

@firecracker22 said:

Really, oppression is a key theme. Whether it's oppression over the poor, or sorcerers, or other nationalities, or races, or even sexes.

Agreed. This is what I said in my post. They do some direct stuff with sexism and homosexuality, but then I think clearly we can see the dwarves and elves and their plights in the game as analogues to racial issues that go on in the real world. I can't think of a videogame that has handled oppression and bigotry better than Witcher 2 and now 3 so like you and @joshwent put so well, there are better targets.

I feel like this game gets what it needs to do done, with a wide scope, lots of nuance, clear relations to real world issues, and all while maintaining a faithfulness to source material. It's really impressive and I love seeing gaming, and fantasy, tackle issues like it does. To me, worthy of celebrating.