Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Witcher made me fall in love with fantasy again

As a kid, I loved digging through my parents’ DVD library. I saw the South Park movie, an unfortunate choice, but also classics like Blackadder and The matrix. It was a movie library gold mine, but one day I stumbled on gold Gold – the good stuff. They all had three Lord of the Rings films – the Extended Editions. I saw them all in a single day which was a nice change from scootering around the village and doing the YMCA dance in front of the traffic – I was queer before I knew it. But it also shot my love of fantasy into the stratosphere, something only one other series has done since: The Witcher.

When I started the first game, I was drowning in the headlights. The fight is janky and it’s aged like milk in the hot sun, but I didn’t care. For me it was a sprawling fantasy epic with a rich world full of fascinating characters that I had never seen before. Shani or Triss? Hard, but Shani every time. Naive little James hadn’t even met Iorveth, the devilishly handsome, renegade elven freedom fighter. For the first time in years I longed to learn as much as possible about this world, to unpack all the rough edges, to tear into all the small details and to immerse myself.

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My first fantasy “love” was Skyrim. I can already hear you sigh, click out, and curse because I’m such a simple slut. I honestly don’t blame you. It wasn’t a great opener. The main story boils down to an angry dragon coming back to kill everyone, but that didn’t captivate me. I saw my cousin play as the vampire lord, burn Morthal down and kill everyone in sight. I was sold immediately.


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Fittingly, another game, The Witcher, pulled me back into my imagination. His world is captivating, taking mythological monsters and using Batman’s rugged edges to pit them against a whole army of Van Helsings. Of course I was addicted! But it really reminded me of what I love most about this genre.


I’m not a big fan of high fantasy, the happy worlds full of optimism and heroes who do good and win the day. It sure has its place, but I find that far less interesting than Dark Fantasy, mixes with horror and brings a dark atmosphere of horror into the mix. Sound familiar? It should. The title characters from The Witcher blur the line between good and bad. Likewise the people. The elves do that too. So do the monsters.

It is not a cut off and dry black and white world of light and dark that combats tyranny or subdues evil in order to save the masses. It’s about mercenaries trying to make money and Geralt trying to get better but often grappling with his own past and what it means to be a good person in the midst of a world doomed to fail.



It’s complex – there are so many conflicting motives, so many underlying prejudices and stories shaped by characters whose morals are never easy to pinpoint. It’s perfect for fantasy, a genre that already contains some of the best world structures in fiction, but it also reflects how much I’ve grown over the years and how my taste for fictional worlds, locations, and characters has evolved.

I’m a little more pessimistic, certainly less optimistic, and dark fantasies hold up a mirror of our own world in many ways. People may look good, but their hearts are not always in the right place, and they don’t always do it to do Well. Imagination can be an escape, but I love when it isn’t. The witcher gave me that, an alternative to bite into. After years of getting tired of the genre and brushing it aside in favor of horror and science fiction, The Witcher reached out a decaying, slightly charred hand to pull me back into it.


Next: The Witcher Interview: Anya Chalotra on bringing Yennefer to life


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