Monday 8 October 2018

Sex, the Iron Maiden, and NPC repertoire

Jutta and Geralt
I've written before, several times in fact, about the immersion-breaking poverty of repertoire of non-player characters (NPCs) in role playing games; but I've just tripped over a particularly egregious example in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which I think of as the best software role playing game yet written.

On the Skellige Islands - on the Island of Faroe - just east of the village of Harviken, there's a hilltop fencing arena, and in it you'll find Jutta an Dimun, a sword-mistress who has vowed to her goddess, Freya, to lie with only a man who can beat her in single combat. Thus far, no man has. She won't fight you unless you've proved to her that you're a worthy opponent, and there are a number of ways you can do this; once you have, you can fight her. If you get to her early in your path through the game she's a very tough opponent, but her level does not scale adaptively to the player's, so if you encounter her late in your game you're likely to find her rather easy.

If you do beat her, she'll invite you to her home in the evening; if you go, it's not so much a matter of her being easy to seduce as her actively anticipating sex. She's rueful that she's been beaten by a (sterile) witcher, but she's most certainly willing.

You can choose not to have sex with her; you can advise her to go to the other islands where she may find non-sterile opponents who might beat her. But realistically, I think, few players are going to choose that option.

The alternative is to allow the evening to take its course, and if you do this there is a very sensuous and erotic sex cut-scene; the most sensuous, I think, with any NPC who is not a major character. It looks like stonking good sex (although weirdly, unlike in sex scenes with Triss, both parties keep their underwear on, which you'd think would be a trifle awkward - but that's nitpicking). After the sex scene, you wake up, still in your underwear, beside Jutta.

And if you try to talk to her, she has literally nothing to say. Not a single word.

In my experience, good sex isn't like that. In my experience, good sex results in some degree of warmth, of affection, of companionship between the participants. You'd expect at least an offer of breakfast, a warm farewell, perhaps a discussion of future plans, almost certainly a hint as to whether another encounter would be welcomed.

Even very bad sex is rarely like that. After bad sex, you may have strained politeness, you may have anger and bitterness. But nothing? Just nothing?

You can go away, do other things, and come back; and still she has nothing to say. Nothing at all. If it's a sulk, it's an extremely persistent sulk.

CD Projekt Red were rightly (in my opinion) criticised for making seduction effectively a mini-game within the original Witcher game; many female NPCs were seducible, and you were rewarded with a little card for each one you 'scored', leading to a degree of motivation to seduce them all. But only two such encounters led to any meaningful engagement with the character; the rest were 'one night stands' in the strictest possible sense, making your interaction with these characters in effect pretty exploitative. In subsequent games this aspect has been dialled back sharply; opportunities for seduction are much less common, and are mostly with women with whom Geralt has established relationships, or who are significant in the plot.

I don't think it's OK that sex is just an opportunity to 'score' with no consequences. There should be some plot consequence to whether or not you choose to have sex with Jutta; and whether you do or not - but especially if you do - there really should be some repertoire that expresses her attitude to you after this encounter.

It just is horribly wrenching - utterly immersion-breaking - that there is just nothing.

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