Monday, May 28, 2018

The Witcher 3's Romance Choice

Relevant to today’s rant but not something that really fits in anywhere is that when playing The Witcher 3, I played Geralt as heroically as possible. Yeah, it’s a game (and series) that expertly plays to the morally murky nature of life and humanity, and in most cases, there is no ‘right’ choice so much as the one that you feel is the better alternative. But The Witcher 3 is also realistic in that there are many instances within it in which the question of how Geralt acts is cut and dry, morally, and in all cases, I tried to do what was most morally positive. I just say this because later on in this rant, Geralt’s worthiness as a person will be relevant, so you should know that my perspective on him is built upon having played him as good as possible.

And now, for the rant:

Triss or Yennefer?

Pairing preferences are a highly personal and charged topic in fandoms, generally speaking, and fans tend to be prone to extremes of temperament when it comes to who they think should be paired with who. They both feel an overwhelming, giddy warmth at the pairing that they themselves support, and an overpowering hostility towards characters and pairings that they for whatever reason disapprove of.* And of course, in both cases, they like being vocal about it.

This is as true in RPGs as it is in any other entertainment medium. People are widely split on whether Piper, Hancock, Cait, Danse, or Curie’s love for Fallout 4’s protagonist is the purest, while Corrin’s ass is just about the most sought-after commodity in the entire Fire Emblem 14 world, with fangirls and fanboys squeeing in delight at whichever of the myriad possibilities of romantic entanglement best tickles their fancy. And while the intense enthusiasm fans have for romance usually stays relatively positive, all things considered, there are some moments when things sadly turn rather negative. I have come across more than a few forum-goers and fanfiction authors who insist upon making Aeris or Tifa out to be a soulless, thieving harpy intent on destroying all possible happiness for Cloud, in spite of, y’know, every fucking thing the game shows us of their characters and relationship dynamics.

The question of romance in The Witcher 3 inspires no less heated emotion in its players’ hearts than any other, and it has its share of negativity regarding the two women Geralt must choose between, Triss Merigold and Yennefer of Vengerberg. In this case, however...I can understand why significant negativity against either of these women might arise within the player, because both Yen and Triss have some notable flaws. So, which is the better choice for Geralt? Whose love story is the superior one?

Hell if I know. But since you’ve read this far, I can at least tell you which I picked, and how I arrived at that conclusion.

At the risk of being a Negative Nancy, let’s start by looking at the downside of each contender, starting with Triss, since hers is both much simpler to explain, and far more glaring. To put it simply, Triss is a manipulative snake who shamelessly stole her best friend’s boyfriend.

I generally disapprove of the idea of “stealing” someone’s significant other, since, generally speaking, that kind of implies that said significant other doesn’t have any responsibility for the affair. Humans in relationships aren’t possessions that can be stolen; they can be tempted, perhaps, and it may be morally wrong to attempt to woo someone away from the man or woman they’re with, but it’s also their decision and perhaps personal failing to be persuaded thus. In most cases of “stealing” one’s boyfriend/girlfriend, there is wrongdoing by some combination of the involved parties. Depending on the situation, the “thief” is potentially in the wrong for going after someone that’s already committed to another, the “stolen” is potentially in the wrong for choosing not to be emotionally and/or sexually faithful, and/or the “theft victim” is potentially in the wrong for treating his/her significant other poorly enough that they feel the need to seek emotional satisfaction and happiness elsewhere.

In Triss’s case, though? This really is actual, legitimate boyfriend theft. As The Witcher 1 opens, Geralt has lost most of his memories due to a plot twist revealed later in the series, and among the memories to go bye-bye was the knowledge that he’s romantically involved with Yennefer. So when Triss--who knows full damn well that Geralt and Yen are in love--starts putting the moves on Geralt and gets him to hook up with her in the first game and the majority of the second, she is straight up stealing Yennefer’s boyfriend, because the white-haired dope doesn’t know until it’s too late that he’s already taken. And that’s messed up.

On the other side of the coin, though, regardless of her immoral way of starting the relationship, Triss’s feelings for Geralt certainly give every indication of being genuine. Whether you believe this lessens its magnitude of wrong (I personally do not), Triss seems to have stolen her chance to be with Geralt out of an actual emotional affection for him, and not just for some sort of power play or because she’s just horny and wants the Butcher of Blavdickin’.** She wants to spend time with Geralt, she enjoys having conversation with him, she even tries to get a little domestic thing set up with him that really seems like an earnest attempt to have a happy little life together. Additionally, it’s clear from their interactions that the two have a real romantic chemistry with one another. They engage in playful banter and trade quips the way you see people do when they’re in love and having fun with the fact, yet at a moment’s notice can return to conversing as professionals engaged in their mutual task. They read each other’s mood in each situation well enough that they can drop in and out of affection and quips, and seriousness and concern, in a natural sync--or, when not in sync, one is working to calm and focus the other because they’ve lost their calm. Triss and Geralt connect, naturally and well, and all 3 Witcher games display this.

Just too bad it’s all a result of stabbing her best friend in the back and taking advantage of a horny amnesiac.

Let’s look now at Yennefer. First of all, I need to say that I have never read any of the Witcher novels. I’ve done a little looking into Yennefer and Geralt’s history together by perusing wikis and forums, but I have no firsthand knowledge of their interactions beyond what I have seen in The Witcher 3. So while I have gotten an impression that CD Projekt Red was, in fact, pretty faithful in their adaptation of Yennefer from Sapkowski’s books, I can’t speak with any authority on that.

So, the negative part of Yennefer and Geralt’s relationship is, er, well, their relationship. As in, how they interact and how they treat each other, mostly on the side of Yen. Yennefer doesn’t treat Geralt with respect. I mean, she does have respect for him, and I’m fairly sure that Geralt knows that, but the thing of that is, just because you do respect someone, and just because they know you respect them, that doesn’t mean it’s fine to make being disrespectful to them your standard for interaction. In their everyday interactions, Yennefer doesn’t treat Geralt like an equal, or even, really, as someone she even especially likes. She’s curt, sarcastic, patronizing, dismissive, and demanding...watching them speak and work together is like watching a master and a servant that the master clearly sees as lowly. She doesn’t tell Geralt the what or why of her actions, she simply expects him to hop to her wishes and help her perform them. Taking that problem further, she makes him an accessory to acts of wrongdoing, keeping the nature of what he’s participating in and aiding a secret to him until it’s too late for him to try to convince her to try a different method. She reads his mind without his permission, and dismisses his complaints at this staggering invasion of his personal privacy. And in fairness, there are also times when Geralt is sarcastic and mean-spirited right back, more than he needs to be.

Now, you might try to defend much of Yen’s attitude toward Geralt, and the occasionally bad attitude he returns, as being a case of their trading quips and bantering for amusement. Or perhaps you could see it, since they have been together for some time, as the way long-married couples are sometimes known to bicker, but for amusement, rather than out of genuine spite. Interpreting Yen is, I fear, highly subjective, and perhaps someone other than myself can watch and listen to her without hearing the same level of sincere aggravation. Well, perhaps that’s the case, indeed, but, myself, I just can’t say that I buy it. When Geralt and Triss make jabs at each other, it sounds and feels friendly; they’re having fun with the way their minds bounce off one another. When Yennefer and Geralt argue and snipe at each other, it feels sincere, and mean. Like a long-married couple that bickers constantly not because they find it fun, but because, even though they do love each other, they genuinely don’t like each other, if that makes any sense. There are moments where it does seem like it’s for fun and they enjoy their company, but too often, I feel like I’m watching Mom and Dad have a fight that they think I don’t notice because they’re not actually raising their voices. Knowing some of their history from their books and watching them interact in The Witcher 3, you can fully believe that these 2 are in love only because a Djinn enchanted them to be, not because they actually like each other enough to be.

Yennefer does, however, have positives. First of all, some of her actions, if not her attitude, can be forgiven in the game. A lot of what she does and drags Geralt into is motivated out of an intense and fearful love for her surrogate daughter Ciri, and the fact that Yennefer will do anything to find Ciri and keep her safe. When Yennefer does something truly distasteful and has dragged Geralt into unwittingly helping her do so, she is still disturbed and disgusted by what she has done--it’s simply that she will stop at nothing to protect Ciri. That doesn’t really absolve her, as I don’t believe that it’s okay to wrong others even for the sake of those you love, but it does make her instances of wronging others and Geralt at least far less deplorable, if not entirely forgivable. And though she does not tell Geralt what her intentions are at times, one reason she does that is because she is trying to spare him the painful conscience that she herself will have to suffer through--she’s trying to give him a way to justify their actions to himself as a case of his not knowing until it was too late what she was having him help her do. Her conscience restricts her less than Geralt’s restrains him, but she respects that fact and him enough to try to lessen what pain his sensibilities will suffer, and I can respect that. In addition, for all her haughty attitude, some of her secrecy, and perhaps even her meanness, seems born from insecurity, as she does, in fact, doubt at times that Geralt trusts her enough that he would support her as he does if he knew the full extent of what she was doing. It doesn’t answer for all of how she treats him, not by a long shot, but it nonetheless does lessen how poorly one might otherwise view her.

And finally, it’s certainly worth observing that regardless of how she treats him and takes advantage of his love for her, Yennefer does, in fact, love him. You have the option to do a side quest with Yennefer in the game in which she breaks the djinn’s spell tying their fates together, and once this happens, regardless of how Geralt feels, Yennefer finds her feelings are unchanged. Yen does love Geralt, of her own volition, and that’s important.

...Well, okay, I suppose she might just mistake lust and sense of possession of her little murder puppet for love, and that same feeling continues regardless of the djinn’s spell being broken, but let’s at least give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that it really is honest love.

So then, which is the better choice for Geralt? Should he be with a woman he loves, but who doesn’t seem to make him happy to actually be with? Or should he be with a woman he can love and who clearly makes him happy, but who is only even in the running because she took advantage of him and betrayed her best friend in an unconscionable way? Yennefer, or Triss?

When I hashed it out in my mind, it basically became a simple question of what I valued more: just reward, or just punishment?

You see, as far as I can figure it, the woman who makes Geralt the happiest in loving is Triss. To be sure, he’s willing enough in his love for Yennefer, but as Geralt himself intimates to Ciri if you do choose Triss, it’s so much better for him to be with someone who gets him, someone whose personality he’s not always at odds with. Geralt doesn’t just love Triss, he likes her, too, as a person, and she has no issues in making it clear that she feels the same way. But to choose Triss is also to reward a woman who did a truly despicable thing, to allow her to escape punishment for gross wrongdoing, regardless of whether it was out of sincere love or not.

Allow a person who has done much good a chance at greater happiness? Or ensure that a person who has done a great wrong does not enjoy the fruits of her deception?

Ultimately, my decision is this: if I must choose between rewarding a person for doing good, and punishing a person for doing bad, I shall always choose to reward he who did good.

Justice is an important concept. It is. But, if I may get pedestrian and cheesy, Wonder Woman says it best: "It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe--and I believe in love." There are times when Love and Justice cannot reconcile, times in which meting out punishment means losing an opportunity to do good, and vice-versa. And between the 2, I think it more important to us all that, when we absolutely must choose between them, we do good rather than justice.

I don’t like the fact that choosing Triss means that her selfish act of betrayal came through for her in the end with essentially no negative repercussions. I really don’t. But I do sincerely believe that being with Triss will give Geralt greater happiness, and even if she doesn’t necessarily deserve that happiness, he does. And that’s why, in spite of how this choice came to be offered in the first place, I had Geralt choose to be with Triss.

* Twilight Sparkle and Celestia are meant for each other, and all you crazy motherfuckers who pair Celestia with Discord or Twilight with Flash Sentry are going to burn in hell. Just so we’re on the same page about this.

** I’m not apologizing.


  1. The novel are really important to fully understand geralt and yennefer relationahip. I know many people that jumped ship after reading them. Triss had 3 games, yen just one. You need to know the whole picture to make a decision there imo.
    Also, i have yet to play tw3( need a better pc), but the existence of something as out of character as "king Djkastra" makes me doubt the accuracy of the portrayal of novel characters.

    1. Well, I can only go by what I have had experience with, which is the RPG trilogy--and the Geralt whose love life I'm playing Cupid with is the one from those games. Additionally, while it's true that Triss had 2 games to Yen's 1 (Triss's role in The Witcher 3 is too minor, prior to being chosen as a romantic partner, to really say she gets this one), Yen's role and screen time in the third installment is substantially greater, I feel, than Triss's from the first 2 games in the series, so while it is uneven, it's less so than it first appears. So I think it's reasonable to say that one who has played all 3 of the Witcher games has enough knowledge of the characters to make this decision, even without having experienced the novels.

    2. Well, the thing is that the game really isn´t that accurate in regards to the book characters. Be it Yen or Triss. Triss is much more of a pathetic person in the books, and while Yen and Geralt have their problems, they also develop a lot and have plenty of endearing moments. And since you get much more insight into both of their personalities, how they came about, and how they affect each other, it becomes kind of clear that Yen and Geralt belong together.

      And as for endearing scenes, this alone probably trumps everything that was in Witcher 3 (taken from the fourth book):

      "Yes, he answered in his thoughts, you’re not mistaken. There is only she, Yennefer, at my side, here and now, and only she matters. Here and now.
      And what she was long ago, where she was long ago and who she was with long ago doesn’t have any, doesn’t have the slightest, importance. Now she’s with me, here, among you all. With me, with no one else. That’s what I’m thinking right now, thinking only about her, thinking endlessly about her, smelling the scent of her perfume and the warmth of her body. And you can all choke on your envy.

      The enchantress squeezed his forearm firmly and moved closer to his side.
      ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, guiding him towards the tables once again. ‘But without such excessive ostentation, if you don’t mind.’
      ‘Do you mages always take sincerity for ostentation? Is that why you don’t believe in sincerity, even when you read it in someone’s mind?’
      ‘Yes. That is why.’
      ‘But you still thank me?’
      ‘Because I believe you,’ she said, squeezing his arm even tighter and picking up a plate. ‘Give me a little salmon, Witcher. And some crab.’
      ‘These crabs are from Poviss. They were probably caught a month ago; and it’s really hot right now. Aren’t you worried . . . ?’
      ‘These crabs,’ she interrupted, ‘were still creeping along the seabed this morning. Teleportation is a wonderful invention.’
      ‘Indeed,’ he concurred. ‘It ought to be made more widely available, don’t you think?’
      ‘We’re working on it. Come on, give me some. I’m hungry.’
      ‘I love you, Yen.’
      ‘I said drop the ostentation . . .’ she broke off, tossed her head, drew some black curls away from her cheek and opened her violet eyes wide. ‘Geralt! It’s the first time you’ve ever said that!’
      ‘It can’t be. You’re making fun of me.’
      ‘No, no I’m not. You used only to think it, but today you said it.’
      ‘Is there such a difference?’
      ‘A huge one.’
      ‘Yen . . .’
      ‘Don’t talk with your mouth full. I love you too. Haven’t I ever told you? Heavens, you’ll choke! Lift your arms up and I’ll thump you in the back. Take some deep breaths.’
      ‘Yen . . .’
      ‘Keep breathing, it’ll soon pass.’
      ‘Yes. I’m repaying sincerity with sincerity.’
      ‘Are you feeling all right?’
      ‘I was waiting,’ she said, squeezing lemon on the salmon. ‘It wouldn’t have been proper to react to a declaration made as a thought. I was waiting for the words. I was able to reply, so I replied. I feel wonderful.’ "

      Of course, you can´t be faulted for making your choice. This is pretty common actually. People who played the game tend to pick Triss. People who read the books tend to prefer Yen. Just a dissonance between adaptations in the end. Still, I wanted to make clear that there was absolutely much more between Yen and Geralt in the books than what the game lets on.

    3. Yes, that is a very endearing scene. Wouldn't say it trumps all the content in The Witcher 3 (at least, on Triss's side), but more of the Yen of this scene would have made a huge difference in my decision. But yeah, I'm playing the game and making my choice based on what's in front of me. Doubtless if I ever do get into reading the books, I'll be fully on board with Yen and Geralt from them, but it seems clear that there's enough of a difference in approaches to the characters and their dynamics that the books and the games must be seen as related but ultimately separate story entities. It's much like how Mass Effect 1's Saren is a villain of good quality, but his portrayal in the first ME book was cartoonishly evil and showed a shocking ineptitude on the part of the writer. They just have to be seen as alternate universes rather than a single continuity.