Of Battling (Virtual and Inner) Monsters

“Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, makes no difference. The degree is arbitrary. The definitions blurred. If I am to choose between one evil and another, I’d rather not choose at all.”

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


Video games always seem to find me at the right time.

When I fell into in a particularly deep depression two years ago, a second-hand PlayStation 4 that my brother had newly bought was sitting there in the TV room. I hadn’t played a video game for years at that point, until he roped me into playing a few multiplayer matches of Star Wars: Battlefront II with him.

The momentum built up from there, and I played God of War. Not long after I beat the game, my brother and I split our money to buy Red Dead Redemption II. And from that point on, life started to truly change.

I found great comfort in RDR2, as I not only identified with the character Arthur Morgan’s journey, but because it also taught me to find beauty in a world full of pain. I’ve finished the long story three times now, while most of my friends aren’t disciplined enough to reach the end of it even once.

RDR2 was so good that because of it, I now have a much higher expectation for how a game should be, especially in terms of its storytelling, the depth of its characters, and the overall level of detail. Perhaps the most notable illustration of this is that I hated Grand Theft Auto V — a wildly popular game that has been milked for three generations of PlayStation consoles. The biggest problem for me was the fleshed-out story, as well as the characters, as I felt that they were rather one-dimensional and unrelatable as compared to the ones in RDR2.

Some time ago I had found myself in a low point, mostly due to burnout from work and lockdown stress. While I’m grateful for having a job during this extremely dire time, I felt that it was ultimately unfulfilling. Life is short, and I couldn’t do it forever. The idea of doing something I dislike every day until my golden years scared me, because when I would finally be free to do what I want, I wouldn’t have much time and energy to go after them. Longing to recover from this state, I needed an adventure, a getaway to empty my mind, and to reevaluate my life and firmly decide where I’d be heading.

While going on a vacation is ideal, it’s obviously impractical. So, I went back to the Ps4 in the TV room instead. 

This time, I had The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It was highly recommended by a close friend, and I had bought it for cheap during a sale a while before, but hadn’t gotten around to start playing it. I have to admit, I was hesitant. Still very much attached to RDR2, the first question I had about The Witcher 3 was, “Does it have cowboys?”.

The next thing I knew, I would religiously play the game nearly every single day.

As with any fantasy story, it was initially overwhelming to take in. Yet, as with any well-written story, it quickly made me feel at home. The game is heavily inspired by Western mythology and folklore, and it’s beautifully woven with complex characters and engrossing tales. The game follows the character Geralt, and his search for his long-lost adoptive daughter, Ciri, who possesses the Elder Blood, a powerful and innate magical gift. He goes out of his way to make sure that Ciri’s gift doesn’t fall into the wrong hands — especially the Wild Hunt, a group of ghostly warriors who desire such power for their own destructive ends. But in doing so, Geralt also learns that as a parent, he must ultimately let Ciri be her own person and take responsibility for her own choices.

At first, I had trouble relating with Geralt. I thought he was gruff and emotionless, based on his brusque and sparse dialogue. Funny enough, the game actually addresses this preconception of mine. A popular myth in the story is that witchers are incapable of emotion due to the mutations they had gone through as part of their rigorous training. Time and again, the game shows just how much love and kindness that Geralt is capable of exhibiting towards others, even complete strangers. His quiet and stoic demeanor doesn’t represent emotionless, but wisdom, as he has learned not to carelessly judge a situation or jump to rash conclusions, from having endured a life full of suffering. 

When I reached somewhere near the end of the main story, I couldn’t help but feel a familiar kind of sadness, or grief, even. It was as though I had become so close to someone, that I wasn’t willing to say goodbye. But it was more than that. I badly didn’t want to finish the game, because I knew I can never experience it for the first time again. I knew that this experience is something I can never truly get back, even if I replay the game over and over again.

The Witcher 3 made me think long and hard about the unique gifts that we all have in our lives. 

As we see in the game, the characters struggle to find meaning in being who they are, in the experiences they’ve had, and the abilities that they possess. Ciri grapples with her gift of the Elder Blood, as to her, it largely means running away from those who want to take advantage of her power. Geralt and his fellow witchers, at different points, question why life had set them on the witcher’s path, as they were taken away from their families and were trained at a very early age. 

Nevertheless, the characters eventually find their purpose in being of service to those in need. They grow to become more accepting of their gifts, as they harness them in order to leave the world in a better state.

The thing is, our gifts might not always seem as gifts to ourselves. They might come in the form of painful past experiences, or even a calling or certain talents that we might sometimes see as a burden, as they might hinder us from belonging to the crowd, from living a “normal”, conventional life. But once we truly accept our gifts and follow the path that it leads us to, only then we could do what we are meant to do with gifts: to share them with others — with no expectations of getting anything in return. Seeing the smiles on other people’s faces becomes our primary reward; others are a by-product of it.

Another lesson that I learned is that even though we fight monsters throughout the game, the real monsters are in fact, ourselves. Witcher 3‘s ending apparently has 36 variations, as they depend on the many choices we make in your playthrough. 

The real fight is to preserve our character, to do the right thing, no matter how hard it may be. Life isn’t always fair, and there are always things we can’t change, no matter what we do. What’s more, we might even lose in the short term by doing what is morally right. But that doesn’t matter, as long as we keep our own scorecards. Every now and then, we are tested on whether we care more about serving others than being rewarded, whether we choose to be forgiving of other people’s mistakes or to be ruthless, and whether we choose to be faithful in our relationship with others or prioritize our own egoistic needs.

I believe that as an individual, I’ve grown a lot from having played The Witcher 3. But if I am really honest, even with everything I’ve learned, I still wish that I could somehow selectively wipe my memories away, just so that I would be able to experience this game for the first time again. 

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