Geralt of Rivia, at first blush, appears to be another gruff, straight white guy, who kills often and talks less. He grunts his way through quests with the diplomacy of a caged wolf, and his interactions with women are little more than one-note, Dionysian dalliances. You’d be forgiven for labeling him another entry in a staple archetype of action-adventure stories in TV, film, and games. But such a reading would be a shallow interpretation of the protagonist of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The Witcher franchise centers around the adventures of Geralt as he hunts down monsters, solves crimes, and stumbles into world-changing politics, despite a desperate desire to disappear from such spotlights. Based on the works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the third-person action-adventure games from CD Projekt Red — in particular, the third entry — have garnered well-deserved praise, awards, and replays. With the next-gen update now out on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X, it seems as good a time as any to revisit how Geralt subverts tropes in games, fantasy, and storytelling writ large.
Let’s begin with the very inciting incident that sparks his entire, world-expanding quest in The Witcher 3: his adopted daughter, Ciri, has gone missing. While he is offered a sizable reward for finding her, his motivation is primarily to secure her safety. Ciri is shown to be more than competent at protecting herself, not least because she’s one of the most powerful beings in the game. Geralt himself trained her. But, as it turns out, even more powerful beings are hunting her. And while the early hours hint at a nascent damsel-in-distress story, The Witcher 3 is anything but once the pair reunites.
Even if you do prioritize financial success or choose a blunt dialogue option every once in a while — it is a role-playing game, after all — Geralt is still, at his core, supportive, loving, and encouraging of Ciri. He’s never condescending, properly balancing being parental without being patronizing. It’s refreshing to play a father figure who is not cold to or controlling of his talented child, like God of War’s Kratos or The Last of Us’ Joel.
It can be easy to love someone who is family. Geralt, however, can show consistent kindness to the poorest hut dwellers and, in some cases, even monsters. He very rarely identifies as human, often comfortably slotting himself with outcasts and so-called “freaks”: In one case, he makes himself vulnerable to a hunter ostracized for being gay. His sympathy is genuine in the way it cuts through his gruffness, disregarding not merely appearance, but also species membership. He cares about motive and deeds, and will even relinquish contracts to kill when he realizes a monster is actually the victim.
In one quest, city guards are being murdered at night. After some investigating, Geralt discovers that a succubus is the culprit. He lets her go free, though, after she claims she acted in self-defense. Upon recounting the story to another monster down the road, the monster says, “Even when you know a monster’s killed someone, you don’t hurt them?” Geralt says: “If it had good reason, yeah.”
The game makes a stronger point of showing off Geralt’s warranted kindness toward horrific beasts in the quest “Skellige’s Most Wanted.” Geralt is lured into a trap by a group of various monsters and is all but put on trial for his past actions. Some of the group want to kill him, while others want to hear him out. (It is reminiscent of the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series episode “Trial,” where Batman is on trial in front of his rogues’ gallery of villains.)
Geralt recounts all the times he spared a monster that had killed, harmed, or otherwise terrorized humans. It’s an incredible moment, demonstrating that Geralt actually is more aligned to the monsters he hunts than the people who contract him to kill them. “Humans hate you all!” he says. “Because they don’t know you. Don’t know which of you are dangerous and which want to live in peace.” He notes that only witchers truly know both worlds, and thus “protect both” as well. “We kill dangerous monsters so the thinking ones can live in peace.”
At one point, Geralt is asked by a rich banker to investigate why the banker’s newly purchased house is haunted. Geralt discovers that a tiny creature called a godling is just being mischievous, but also wants to be left alone. Geralt can then lie to the banker and say the house is permanently haunted — this means the cute creature is left alone. The only person that suffers is a banker, and Geralt notoriously feels little for those who have too much.
Throughout his adventure on the Continent, Geralt encounters obnoxiously wealthy characters who require his assistance. The Witcher Code stipulates that witchers do not work for free (a principle I encourage all freelancers to adopt), but you’re often given the choice to relinquish pay in favor of another’s benefit. In the first few hours of the game, a sickly girl’s father needs help getting clean water. Upon completing the quest, Geralt can refuse the gold for the benefit of both the father and his child. In another instance, Geralt meets a man who is standing watch over a boy who has just lost his father. Geralt helps the proxy father, and once offered compensation, can once again waive payment.
The Witcher 3 is awash with cases where Geralt, seeing his relationship to Ciri reflected in another father-child dynamic, can choose empathy over coin.
Geralt is more than just a grunting sword wielder. He is energized by kindness, succeeds with gentleness, and is consistently trying to be a better father figure than the Continent allows. This is a war-torn world, filled with corpses and monsters, manipulators and charlatans. He is a good father, a respectful partner, a friendly wit, and a fierce defender of the impoverished, the marginalized, and the misunderstood. You can role-play Geralt as a strict adherent to the Witcher Code, one who chases money and kills monsters before asking any questions. But it’s so much more rewarding, in the end, to stay curious, kind, and compassionate.