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My Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad: Poland

8 August, 2012

[Details of what my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad is all about are here.]

For the fourth post in this series, we’re coming back to Europe, but venturing into yet another medium: video games. It’s fair to say that Poland might not be the country you’d immediately associate with game development, but that’s been changing over the last few years with the release of The Witcher and its sequel (which I’ve chosen a picture from below, because I like the artwork more), the aptly-named Witcher 2.

The games are based on a series of books and short stories (which I’ve yet to read, hence my focus on the games) by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, and were developed by the Polish company CD Projekt Red. The ‘witcher’ of the title is Geralt of Rivia, a mutant, an amnesiac and a monster hunter who, in the games at least, frequently gets involved in politics (despite his assertions of wanting to walk away, he never seems to quite manage it).

The gamer takes on the role of Geralt and is thrust into a world that’s both violent and beautiful, and tends to feel more believable than the settings of many fantasy RPGs (Elder Scrolls, I’m looking at you). Along the way, there’s a vast cast of characters to meet and interact with, and dozens of choices to make which affect the overall course of the game. Whilst it’s impossible, therefore, to experience every option in the storyline without playing the game more than once (the same holds true for both of the titles), these choices provide more structure than many RPGs, and give a sense almost of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, in which the player’s decisions genuinely affect the story’s outcome.

Admittedly, these aren’t perfect games. The first Witcher game, for example (which I’ve played in more depth, of the two) was frequently touted as being mature and thought-provoking, but occasionally tripped itself up with some groan-inducingly juvenile moments, particularly where Geralt’s ‘relationships’ are concerned. The plot, meanwhile, had plenty of nice touches and some strong dialogue in places, but floundered if the player didn’t complete events in the right order, or simply couldn’t work out what to do.

Still, these are impressive games, more ambitious and more intricately-plotted than many similar titles. Geralt himself is also a memorable character, no matter what path you as the gamer make him walk down – and even if many of those paths come to something of a sticky end! Despite my love of RPGs, there have been very few games that have genuinely made me care how they’re going to end, but the Witcher was one of them, and I have high hopes that the Witcher 2 will be the same.


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