Yesterday, I mind-melded with CD Projekt CEO and owner of the most victorious last name ever, Marcin Iwinski, on all things Cyberpunk. Also, DRM. However, with those topics covered and safely underneath fluffy wordblankets of information, the conversation weaved its way toward the next natural stop. I’m speaking, of course, of Westeros. Read on for Iwinski’s thoughts concerning parallels between The Witcher and Game of Thrones, the male-driven nature of geek culture, and where E3’s utterly archaic reliance on booth babes and titillation fits into that.
RPS: Finally, the moment everyone’s been waiting for: let’s talk about Game of Thrones. You’re a big fan, and there are some obvious parallels between the way Witcher and Game of Thrones operate. Aside from the obvious ones – dark fantasy settings, a love of killing kings, etc – there’s the dreaded art of sexposition.
Iwinski: But it makes sense. Both in the show and in our game.
RPS: Some pundits say Game of Thrones uses it as a crutch, though. People talk a bunch, so they use it to keep eyes on the screen.
Iwinski: I totally disagree with that, but I have a story [laughs]. We were showing Witcher 1 for the first time… and I think it goes back to a different cultural perception of sex. In the US, it’s pretty much a no-go zone. It explains, for example, why you have a very thriving porn industry – which is a bit of a contradiction [laughs]. But, you know, business is business, one could say.
Back home [in Poland], though, it’s just a normal part of life. So with the famous – or infamous, you could say – sex cards, European journalists were like “Oh, cool.” And then we showed Witcher 1 to people in the US, and they were like [gasps in an impressively high pitch]. A lot of the key magazines treated the whole thing as a big feature, and they were writing how our programmer was excited about the sex cards in the game.
So there are different views on these things. But, for me, I read George R. R. Martin’s books after one of the journalists left our presentation of Witcher 1 and told me “Wow, it’s a bit like Game of Thrones!” So I went out and bought the books and read them straight [through]. And in the books, I think there’s even more sex and nudity than there is in the TV series. Is it problematic in the books? For me, it’s not. It just makes sense. It’s power, politics, and sex. It is how we are – how we humans behave. It’s all about power, money, and sex. Come on, look at [E3]. Look at the booth babes.
So [Game of Thrones’ TV producers] can be accused of abusing that, but I think there’s a part of George R. R. Martin’s creation that… removing sex from it would be kind of shitty. It’s just a part of this world. And this world is really hardcore, you know?
That’s pretty much the same in The Witcher. It’s a little dark, but it’s real.
RPS: Right. And, by and large, Game of Thrones presents this unabashedly male-dominated world. I mean, many of the best characters are strong females, but the structure of society is almost comically male-centric.
Iwinski: And I think it’s exactly the same way in The Witcher. And while there were plenty of stories about the sex cards when we were showing the game, a few talked about the female sorceresses – who have an immense power.
I think, at the end of the day, it’s all about making a great story. We’re not using things like sex for cheap tricks and draw some male audience to that. That’d totally make no sense.
RPS: Definitely. And when those works are taken on their own, they don’t really present a problem. But the culture that surrounds “geek” works and events like E3 is steeped in sexually discriminatory issues. For instance, you mentioned booth babes earlier. And did you see Ubisoft’s press conference? It was very clearly targeted toward some mythical Dew-drinking, female-fearing male demographic that doesn’t exist. Surely you view those sorts of things as problematic, right?
Iwinski: I think it will always happen as long as a part of your audience is male. The cheapest trick is to grab a fancy car and put a booth babe next to it. So yes, it’s there. I don’t think having a presentation where it’s a major part of a game is necessarily a problem. It makes sense, because the game is defending itself. So it’s just a part of the world. Some people will overuse it. Others won’t.
RPS: But isn’t that, on some level, disrespectful to the audience – female or male? I mean, it profoundly alienates women and assumes men won’t care unless there’s sex involved. Like you said, in the cases of Game of Thrones and Witcher, this sort of thing fits the world. But what about when it doesn’t?
Iwinski: Yes, it could alienate audiences, but you have to look at it from the quality of the product perspective. If it’s overused [in marketing], it probably won’t be a big product anyway. Really, I think the market is eliminating all the weaknesses and all the cheap tricks. But, at the end of the day, males are making certain decisions through hormones. People are paid to take care of the market and know it very well. Am I offended in some of these cases? Sure.
And when people don’t do [these sorts of things] well, it’s obvious and there’s a lot of criticism around it. But you really have to look at it on a product-by-product basis. And then it really depends on somebody’s taste. So with Witcher, we’re not a Dungeons and Dragons where kissing is prohibited. We’re not Barbie world. Game of Thrones is a testament to that. Where sex makes sense, put it there. Because that’s how it was during the Medieval times, and that’s how it is today.
You know, showing Witcher 1 at Gamescom, we had a fake hanging body of an elf at our booth. And we had the German authorities of the show coming to us, like, seven times and saying, “Take it down.” And we said, “Show us the regulation. Why should we take it down?” And they said, “Ehhhh, it’s a dead body.”
But we challenged that. We didn’t take it down, because it made sense in the context of the game. There’s tons of racism [against elves] in the game. It wasn’t just a cheap trick. We were just trying to show the world that it’s not black-and-white and beautiful rose gardens.
RPS: Thank you for your time.