Video games have been trying to successfully convey narratives with paternity at their core for years now. They usually come in the form of a father/daughter relationship, and while some have had varying degrees of success, like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to The West, most of them don’t do much beyond a surface level. They ultimately boil down to two characters forming a certain bond that most of us immediately recognize. In The Last of Us, Joel cares for Ellie as a surrogate daughter, even if that goes unsaid, and the same is true for the lead characters of Enslaved. The Witcher 3 portrays yet another paternal relationship but succeeds by exploring some of the more nuanced elements at play and making the player an active participant therein, as opposed to just being an onlooker as in the games that came before.
**Spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt follow.**
Geralt of Rivia is the titular witcher, a sort of investigator and monster hunter in his world’s own terms, and he’s on a mission to find his adoptive daughter of sorts, Cirilla (or Ciri, for short). Ciri has powers that let her travel between dimensions, through space and time. It’s for this reason that she’s sought after by many figures in the world of The Witcher, including the game’s main antagonists, a party of phantom riders called the Wild Hunt. Having been trained in the ways of the witcher from a young age, Ciri can look out for herself to a reasonable extent. She flees the hunt, but she can’t run forever, and both she and Geralt know this.
The intro of the game finds Geralt at the witchers’ home base, the castle of Kaer Morhen. He’s there with Yennefer of Vengerburg (his on/off lover and maternal figure to Ciri), his mentor Vezimir, and a very young Ciri herself. Geralt watches a prodigal Ciri demonstrate some fancy footwork, he races her to the bottom of the keep, and he trains with her in sword fighting. Then the sky goes grey, the Wild Hunt comes sailing through the clouds, and Geralt wakes up. It turns out the intro sequence was actually a dream, but it articulates how Geralt feels about the characters involved and Ciri in particular, and we see echoes of that relationship throughout the game, even though the characters aren’t in close proximity to one another until the final act.
There are moments during Geralt’s journey to find Ciri where he explicitly refers to her as his “daughter,” and he doesn’t take kindly to anyone that may have hurt her or would seek to abuse her abilities. We’re occasionally treated to flashbacks that detail Ciri’s adventures on the run, where she uses the training she’s had from Geralt to defend both herself and others who aid her. When meeting a few characters later in the game, certain dialogue choices reveal that Ciri openly displays a deep admiration for Geralt while not in his company. Friends of Ciri reveal that she feels grateful to Geralt for having saved her on so many occasions and that she treasures the bond they share. When the two are together, they have a clear and mutual understanding of each other; Ciri respects Geralt’s intentions and wisdom, while he respects her determination and ability. This is more than a father/daughter relationship; it’s a partnership. It’s a professional and his young ward, and it’s the core that drives the entire narrative of The Witcher 3.
That’s not to say the vast (and I mean vast) majority of your time isn’t spent playing as Geralt. It is, and part of the experience is defining his morality, albeit on a limited spectrum. Once Ciri really comes into play during the game’s third act, you’re no longer just deciding how Geralt handles certain situations, but you’re also deciding how he’s going to influence Ciri’s own actions and development, if he will at all.
When Ciri is frustrated with training to learn how to properly utilize her powers, she comes to Geralt. The player then has the choice to take her drinking and imply that the training doesn’t matter. The alternative is to have a snowball fight with her, where either character can win. By making the second choice, Geralt supports Ciri and helps her relieve some stress. Another scenario sees Ciri nervous about having a meeting with the lodge of sorceresses, associates of Yennefer’s that once tried to train Ciri in magic and hope to continue to. Geralt can go with Ciri, and a scene will follow where he dominates the whole interaction. The alternative choice here is to push Ciri to see them on her own and stand for what she wants. Geralt and Yennefer stand outside the room trying to peek in and listen to the conversation. They’re worried, but they know Ciri has to be able to do certain things on her own.
Geralt makes a lot of choices in The Witcher 3 that determine the fates of various characters and even the current social order, but because of the nature of the narrative setup, most of his influence on Ciri is something that’s conveyed to the player. It’s during the last ten or so hours that the player must decide what that influence looks like going forward into the game’s conclusion.
Ciri isn’t naive to her reality, either. Most of the major characters you meet during the game that are invested in her fate appear to be so for mostly selfish reasons. Her biological father is the emperor of Nilfgaard, a nation currently at war. Yennefer clearly loves Ciri, but she has also been known to scheme to preserve her own wellbeing, and she may have more plans in place than what she’s honest about. Yennefer’s associates in the Lodge of Sorceresses once had plans to raise Ciri themselves and still wish to do so. The Wild Hunt wants to use her to move the population of their own dying dimension to another, and the Elven sage that aids her throughout the game is from the same dimension as the Hunt and possibly obsessed with the ancestor from which Ciri’s powers come.
Ciri is “The Lady of Space and Time” as written in Elven legends. She’s “the child of the Elder blood,” the ultimate weapon, and the key to winning wars, saving civilizations, stopping the apocalypse, and even a bargaining chip to gain political leverage. The adults around Ciri that know about her power and her potential literally objectify her, and the tragic thing is how she internalizes and possibly accepts this. It’s treatment she comes to expect from all, with the exception of ignorant strangers and Geralt.
Her reactions to some dialogue choices that, at first glance, seem like they would be comforting show she doesn’t want to be coddled or condescended to. She doesn’t expect that kind of treatment from Geralt, in particular. Ciri is anxious and frustrated at her circumstances. She wants to fight for herself, but she fears she’ll never be done fighting. She wants to be free, but she sees that as an unattainable goal. She’s definitely a good person on the inside and out, but she has no concept of self-worth, and it’s up to Geralt to help her find it.
The first time I played the last few hours of The Witcher 3, I made these observations about the characters around Ciri, but not observations about Ciri herself. I tried to look out for her and shield her from characters that I wasn’t convinced had her best interests at heart. I took her drinking, and when she was invited to meet with the sorceresses, I went with her. In the end of the game, Ciri sacrificed herself to save the world from complete and total annihilation—to stop an endless winter that destroyed the world of the Wild Hunt and would eventually destroy the world inhabited by Geralt and his friends. It’s definitely the game’s “bad” ending in the most traditional terms and by making the alternative, more positive choices presented in the scenarios above (as well as a few others) Ciri could’ve come out of the final scene alive and well.
You could argue this approach is a little overly-mechanical, and it’s difficult to really understand just how much weight these choices carry. However, the message, though it may be in retrospect, is clear: When we hold something dear to us, we must be mindful that by holding it too tight, we run the risk of suffocating it. By coddling Ciri, by trying to shield her, I actually did the same thing as the other characters, albeit in more benign terms. I never stopped to consider what Ciri herself wants or thinks. Ciri isn’t just the little girl Geralt raced and trained with at Kaer Morhen anymore. Everyone acknowledges her as a being with incredible power, but they neglect that she’s also a young adult with her own will and the right to choose her own path.
Throughout The Witcher 3, Geralt goes to Hell and back to find Ciri, but the real struggle comes once he finds her, and it’s a challenge that takes more than witcher training to take head-on.
(image via CD Projekt Red)
Ron Taylor is a writer based in Los Angeles, California. He co-hosts the RPG-centric podcast S.Link FM and has a taste for narrative analysis, but he can’t seem to get a grip on writing bios. You can follow his pontificating about various media and attempts at humor on Twitter.
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