Now and then a lot of hot air can be released, Pompeii style, on whether video games count as art. I personally lean to the side that believes they are and it could be said that video games contain more stylistic approaches and formats than the regular, modern art world put together. Another line of thinking is that for something to be considered art, said creative work must provoke a strong reaction or emotion. This is, at best, a bit of a nebulous concept; but now and then it does work.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is on course to become one of the best games in 2015. A huge RPG game full of magic, political intrigue and supernatural creatures, it is based on the series of fantasy novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski featuring the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Ambitious and wide-ranging in scope, it’s open-world can be a bit too huge at times and as usual with RPGs a few of the quests have the same wash, rinse, repeat feel to them (I still miss the sex card gathering from the first game, hey look, I’m a heterosexual male with a liking for naked women, so sue me). But one of the quests really hit hard and for me elevates The Witcher beyond it’s coding roots and into the art of story-telling.
The Black Pearl storyline is seemingly a nothing quest. The NPC Nidas, an aging ex-soldier, wishes to finally find a string of black pearls that he’d promised his wife Letta over the years and asks Geralt for his aid in doing so. Being the world that it is, there are sure to be perils and monsters on the way and what better for help than a monster slayer? Engine-wise, the story is just a device in getting Geralt to the Isles of Skellige for the next set of major plots and quests. There is no time limit on the quest so it can be done at any time. Best to get Geralt up to a decent level before going anyway.
When you finally reach Nidas in Skellige and obtain his pearls he then asks you to meet him where you first encountered him (huh-uh, you think. Screwed out of reward money again). Upon returning to the home continent you find Nidas in the bar. He willingly gives you your reward (which amounts to very little. As I said, this is a nothing quest, but hey; money’s money). Geralt asks if it was worth it. “I think so. I think Letta likes it” replies Nidas. The truth is a little more complicated. Letta is sick, forgetting everything and everyone around her. Nidas wanted the pearls to help her remember their time together but it has not worked. I may be wrong, but I think that this is the first time I’ve ever seen something akin to alzheimer’s mentioned in a video game even though the protagonists have no word for it.
Recently, my father-in-law died of vascular dementia and it was as traumatic for him and everyone around him as you would expect (Sarah will one day write a blog about it when she’s ready I’m sure) and I just wanted to thank developers CD Projekt RED for handling the quest in a sensitive and beautiful way that hits you hard at it’s conclusion (the fact that Geralt is his usual cynical self about the job until the end just adds to the poignancy).
So, a storyline provoked an emotion within me. Sadness, an overwhelming feeling of defeat. This is where something as supposedly mundane and throwaway as video gaming elevated into art.
Here’s the full walkthrough in case you’d like to see it all.