Despite releasing over two years ago, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remains one of the most popular games in recent memory. Praised in every aspect from gameplay to story, the love for CD Projekt RED’sfinal game in The Witcher trilogy was certainly earned by creating this once-in-a-generation title. The excellent voice acting and narrative make spending endless hours in the title effortless. At the core of the story is a father looking for his daughter. This plot is not new to games, as other titles have also succeeded in a similar vein—The Last of Us being the most readily comparable. However, The Witcher’s story, through numerous gametime hours and choices, crafts an experience unlike any other. Fans of the series who have read the novels will immediately feel a strong connection to Geralt and Ciri; yet the studio manages to deftly adapt the source material such that either way the player sees just how deep the love of a parent can go for their child, even if they are not of the same blood. CD Projekt Red puts this father/daughter relationship center stage and builds their game around this very solid foundation, highlighting Geralt’s quest to protect Ciri from the eponymous Wild Hunt. That foundation works because the studio shows Geralt’s love for Ciri through the juxtaposition of his actions and interactions against other fathers in the game.
While Geralt does not reunite with Ciri until the player is deep in the game, her presence is felt from the very start, a bond reinforced if the player has read the novels. However, even without context, the studio shows Ciri’s importance to Geralt through how vigorously he pursues the quest to find her. Set in a world where the mutated, monster-hunting Witchers are rare, and the true monstrosity is seen in the actions of humanity, this fantasy backdrop grounds the characters in emotions relatable to the player. The ironic (and oft-mentioned by NPCs) idea that Witchers do not have emotions is soundly disproved by Geralt time and time again, and, if anything, this mutant shows more compassion to strangers than some human NPCs do. For all intents and purposes, Geralt is Ciri’s true father, an idea reinforced by the player’s first meeting with her biological father, Emperor Emhyr var Emreis, whose desire to find her is purely selfish. Again, without reading the books, the details of the matter can be hazy, but by the time Geralt is on his way to find Ciri, the player knows his investment in her goes beyond any political or financial gain. Having Emhyr as a foil to Geralt in this manner continues to reinforce the dichotomy between them; the emperor’s concern for his daughter comes from his desire to add her to the proverbial chessboard to protect his throne, which is a sharp contrast to Geralt’s genuine love and affection for the daughter he seeks to protect.
Thus, another foil to Geralt is Phillip Strenger, the so-called Bloody Baron. Players meet this character early in the story in one of the game’s most well-loved questlines, and his narrative revolves around his own role as a father. Strenger’s story is a familiar one: a man who gets too deep into his cups and abuses his wife, and then uses his daughter as an anchor to keep him grounded despite his atrocious behavior. However, the more Geralt interacts with Strenger, the more complicated and nuanced his character becomes. While his actions remain unjustifiable, Geralt (and therefore the player) nevertheless empathize with Strenger because of his estranged daughter and his efforts to right the wrongs he did to her and her mother. The importance of this questline factors into the game for several reasons, but Strenger’s role as a father is central to them all. This broken man highlights how a father can do bad things and still love his daughter, and that his moniker, Bloody Baron, is not all that he is. Their contrasting parenting styles allow the player to see how Geralt is a far better parent than Strenger. Nevertheless, their shared role in separate lives allows Geralt to engage with the Bloody Baron’s heartbreaking and sobering story. In this way, Geralt’s own paternal instincts are informed by this early encounter which shows how the Witcher stands apart from humans in caring for Ciri the way he does.
On the other hand, Geralt’s own father figure, Vesemir, shows where Geralt learned his parenting skills in the first place. When players meet the wizened old master Witcher at the derelict fortress Kaer Morhen around the midpoint of the game, Geralt has already proven he will go to any length to find and protect Ciri. In Vesemir, the player meets the man who shaped Geralt into the father he is and, through their interactions, shows how patience and understanding make for far better qualities in a father than drunkenness and temper. Geralt and his Witcher brothers, Lambert and Eskel, speak of their adopted father as if he were their blood, and show how this relationship with Vesemir from a young age has shaped them into the men they are. The theme of family resonates most strongly in these scenes at Kaer Morhen, and CD Projekt RED shows that, even in a world of magic and fantasy, the player can be touched by how very real the relationships between the characters seem.
Once Geralt is finally reunited with Ciri and the tears have been wiped away, the rest of the game focuses on these two characters all the way to the end. Ciri’s presence in the narrative allows Geralt to act on his paternal instincts, while also portraying her as a child who is thankful for a loving father, but also wishes to forge her own path. The strength and stubbornness of her character mirrors her father’s, and this expression of their bond is as moving and real as any other aspect of the title. For a game filled with choices, the fate of Ciri is based on Geralt’s interactions with her, yet some are not as overt as others. The studio wisely decides to test the player to see how much they have been paying attention to the relationship and if they can achieve a happy or sad ending. While options to comfort Ciri and shield her from the world exist, she also expresses her own desires in certain situations and benefits more from her father’s support than his coddling. An amount of subjectivity to which ending is best is a part of any art, but the one players achieve from being a comforting father figure who also respects his daughter’s independence ends up being the perfect note to end their narrative on. From simply throwing snowballs at each other to burying a friend fallen in battle, the choices players make that decide Ciri’s fate reflect decisions fathers must make with their daughters in real life. Even if Ciri is brought to Emhyr, he remains as cold and calculating as ever, paying for her as if the whole quest was a transaction. Even though players can indulge this avenue, the rest of their relationship built up until that point feels betrayed on doing so, and the game reflects that sourness.
While many games will focus on romantic or platonic relationships on which to build their story, The Witcher 3 takes the less common lens of a father/daughter relationship. What makes this instance work so well is how long the player has to observe and engage in the relationship, which at times falls from focus, but is always the underlying reason to keep moving forward. Few tales told even in other mediums can portray such a moving, beautiful story about a father and daughter separated—yet connected—by far more than physical proximity. In a time when fatherhood has many definitions, shapes, and forms, discovering that one of the most compelling fictional stories on the subject can be found in a fantasy RPG may be surprising. If ever a title has been able to elevate gaming to a higher echelon, to show human stories told against the backdrop of the non-human, and truly make art out of the beauty of parenthood, no doubt should be had as to which game earns that honor. If these past two years have proven anything, gamers will be talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for a long time to come, and for those wishing to introduce their father to gaming or share their passion with the family, no better title exists to do so.