I am relentlessly noble when it comes to my behavior in RPGs. When given the choice to define my character’s personality, I unfailingly defend the downtrodden, oppose the oppressors, steal from the rich and give to the… well, I keep the money because that sweet new gear isn’t going to buy itself. I enjoy adhering to a sense of honor and duty as I cut my way through my quest list, but it does create an overwhelming sense of sameness across my many hours of adventuring. The Witcher 3 (opens in new tab) has allowed me to finally shuck those bonds of goodness, however, and the result is exhilarating.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to be less-than-virtuous in games before; I made halfhearted attempts at joining the Assassin’s Guild in Oblivion and thought about being a ruthless Inquisitor, but the simple truth is that I can’t put myself in the necessary mindset to role play anything other than a fairly selfless hero. Part of that is my own personality and the fact that I don’t enjoy being a digital meanie even if there’s no consequences - I don’t see the fun in hurting people just because I can. Part of it, though, is that morality in most RPGs is boringly binary: you’re basically either a saint or a jerk, with only slightly graduated shades of gray in between.
The Witcher, however, allows for more nuance. Witchers, in case you’re not familiar with the game’s lore, are monster hunters for hire. Your town has a wyvern problem? A witcher will be more than happy to help you out, provided you can pay. This is an accepted fact throughout the world of The Witcher, and customers don’t expect to get something for nothing. Were this any other game, I wouldn’t dream of accepting coin from villagers who barely have enough assets to feed themselves. Were this any other game, I’d refuse any offer of recompense and simply put my sword to use for the greater good. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that. But this isn’t any other game. Geralt isn’t taking payment for his heroic deeds because he’s ruthless or evil, he’s doing it because that’s the way his world works. Walking away from someone in trouble because you’ve got more lucrative things to do isn’t immoral in The Witcher’s world, it’s business. Getting paid for doing hard work is something I can very much get behind, and so I find myself finally playing a different kind of hero.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt gives you opportunities to turn down payment for your deeds, but I never do. Yes, it’s tragic that little Timmy witnessed his father’s death and you’re right that my fee would do him a world of good. Pay me. Very sorry to hear about your daughter’s impending death, and why yes I could brew a potion that might save her. Let’s discuss my fee. I’m not being a jerk by expecting to get paid for my labors, I’m simply abiding by the lore of the game world. I’m not creating the character of Geralt, I’m interpreting him based on established canon, and shrugging off payment would be utterly out of sync with one of the core foundations of that character and that society.
My Geralt will do some stuff for free, sure; he’ll rescue peasants being kept captive by deserters and he’s not about to charge that nice old lady who wants the shrines restored. He’s a decent guy who’s very fond of his absent-minded horse, and he will absolutely expect a check upon completion of a contract. Indeed, freeing the soul of a woman who was raped and murdered should be its own reward, but it isn’t. Pay me.
Playing as Geralt has allowed me to abandon my characters’ typical grim optimism for a more practical pragmatism. The fact is that though people recognize the necessity for witchers, they don’t actually like them much at all. Even after saving a village from a gaggle of ghouls, Geralt will find himself insulted, sneered at, threatened (which is always amusing) and spat on by the very people he just rescued. Witchers are, literally, inhuman freaks, and the people Geralt encounters have no qualms about reminding him of that fact. I could spend the entire game being selfless and sincere, and it wouldn’t matter one bit; my Geralt will still be reviled wherever he goes because of what he is. And if I can’t change minds and make the world a more tolerant and welcoming place, then fuck it. I may as well get paid.
I don’t think I’ll be able to carry my new-found personality over to other RPGs. I’ll almost assuredly fall back into my usual paragon habits. But I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to explore a different kind of hero during my time with The Witcher 3. Oh, I’ll still save the world, don’t worry. Let’s just discuss my fee.