What I learned from being Geralt of Rivia

During the festive break, Talkhouse Film revisits some of its favorite pieces from the past year, including this one. Happy Holidays! – ND

The best movie I saw in 2020 was a 2015 video game called The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It’s probably dangerous for me to categorize a video game as movies here, and I’m sure someone will find a way to leave me a Letterboxd review because of this, but it was difficult for me to separate my experience within the game based on the cinematic experience and the elements of making a film.

It is important that I first take a moment to explain the mythology and the principle of the game; I’ll try to be brief so as not to distract from the point I’m trying to make here. The Witcher 3 is an open-world action role-playing game with a third-person perspective. The game is set in the late 1200s in a fantasy world called the Continent, which is contained in parallel dimensions and extra-dimensional worlds. Many different creatures coexist on the continent, including humans, elves, dwarves, and most importantly, monsters. The main character – and through whom we experience the game – is Geralt de Rivia. Geralt is a “witcher” – a mutated monster hunter who as a child received rigorous training in monster hunting and magic, as well as superhuman strength and abilities due to a controversial subjugation process. young boys to painful biological treatment using “mutagens”. In The Witcher 3, there is a war on the continent and Geralt’s adopted daughter is missing. You may have seen or heard of the Netflix show based on the story and the characters, which is phenomenal and completely incomprehensible to those who have never played the game. Anyway.

Geralt de Riv in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

FYI, I love Geralt de Rivia. I am completely in love with him. He is a tall, muscular, stoic man with long white hair and covered in battle scars. He has a deep, gravelly voice, piercing yellow eyes, and all women adore him. It was an exciting experience on many levels to be able to digitally own a body that is, quite frankly, the exact opposite of mine. * As for Geralt’s disposition, well, that was up to me. He’s sensitive, strong, and kind – but only because I made him that way. Although wizards are generally known for their lack of emotion and compassion, the player ultimately decides Geralt’s personality through the decisions they make and the conversations they have. He can be either cruel and vindictive, apathetic, or kind and generous.

The gang in Crestone.

I know almost nothing about video games and a little more about movies. I am not a gamer, but I am a filmmaker. In my films, I explore and draw inspiration from true stories. I take real things and apply a made-up narrative to them in an effort to digest and deal with sometimes difficult topics. Some call it hybrid documentary or docu-fiction. For me, it’s simply the best way I know to tell a story. My first feature film, Crestone, was published online this month. It was just me as a director and sound engineer, Corey Hughes as a DP, and some of my old friends from high school as a cast, alone in the desert of Crestone, Colorado. It’s a film about friendship, the Internet and the often thin line between performing and being ourselves. It’s a film that has its digital toes immersed in both the real and the written, and is slightly suspended in time.

In The Witcher 3, I found this replicated hybrid storytelling approach, in a way. When I play the game, I am the protagonist and my decisions and actions directly affect the narrative of the game. Crestone, my decisions and my actions obviously also directly affected the story. However, there are some unique moments in both. The Witcher 3 and Crestone when I’m not always directing a written story. Instead, I experience the story in real time from a place of my own physical reality. By replicating my specific directing process from within Geralt, the digital opposite of me, I learned an important lesson as a director and storyteller.

Geralt de Riv in The Witcher 3
… and Champloo Sloppy in Crestone.

I first became aware of this unlikely side experience while watching the TV show with my boyfriend one evening. He asked me to explain what was happening on the screen since he had never played the game and, as I mentioned before, it was completely incomprehensible to him. I said something like, “Well, I went back to Velen to find Ciri… Oh, my God… I mean, Geralt went back to Velen… .not me.“Yes, I had just mentioned a fictional protagonist in the first person… A digital Freudian slip? Yeah maybe. What does this mean, however? Is it because I really liked the story? The character? An identity crisis? A lack of socialization during a global pandemic? Or has my gaming experience really spilled over into my real life?

“My horse resting precariously on the side of a cliff, defying all kinds of known physique, patiently awaiting my return.”

The next day after the slide I was playing the game with a different mindset: Geralt de Rivia, was, in fact, a mirror of my real life because he is as honest and vulnerable as I let him be. The decisions I make in the game are an extension of my own ego, my sensitivity, and my moral compass. I’m telling a story as the game progresses, with the help of some pretty astute programmers and a lot of AI. I became very aware of the space that the game created for me and its generosity. I might have the same experience with any similar sandbox type game, but I felt especially sensitive to this one due to this generosity in its neat and attentive visual design, deeply complex characters and its expansive plot. And, although I found it largely flawless and visually plentiful, when I found a glitch (artifact of a wild dog floating through the crowded streets of a village, or my horse precariously resting on its side from a cliff, defying any sort of physique, patiently awaiting my return), the flaws seemed to be another mirror of real life, like a moment of deja vu or finding someone familiar on a stranger’s face .

Geralt of Rivia meditating in The Witcher 3
… and Keem meditating in Crestone.

When I’m Geralt I have a sort of ‘bird’s eye view’ of my own actions – an out-of-body experience, perhaps. In the game, my actions have direct, immediate and sometimes violent and deadly consequences. But because I’m actually a carbon person living outside of a Nintendo Switch, I have time and space between the digital and the physical to scrutinize my decisions and actions in the game. I don’t like the outcome of a decision I made, I can just load an older auto-saved version of the game and make the right decision on the second go-around. Rather than rushing to save the next victim who is in immediate danger from the next monster, I can choose to quietly ride a horse through the forest, stopping to watch the light change, meditate, and collect herbs in the process. road. I know that time only flies in the game at the pace that I decide. The monster won’t try to kill the victim until I’m ready to trigger this part of the plot. There is a space between my physical body and my new digital body which leaves more time to enjoy the generosity of the game and for reflection. While this digital decadence of space and time is next to impossible in my carbon-based real life, I still find this process inspiring. I learn a lot from those extra moments of in-game reflection and found it made its way into my cinema. I started looking for quiet times and making more space for myself to enjoy the process, or allowing myself time to hold myself accountable for my actions and decisions.

A nocturnal landscape in The Witcher 3
… and Champloo Sloppy sleeping on a rock in Crestone.

When we were shooting Crestone, we did not have this luxury of space and time. We shot the whole movie in eight days. There was no time for thinking that I found inside The Witcher 3. I did not have the possibility of “scheduling” the shoot in this way. It was only during the editing that I had time to reflect on what had really happened during those eight days. I wasn’t fully aware of how the filming of the movie manipulated and deepened our friendships. Or I hadn’t realized that the threat of a forest fire in the distance had created a nuanced tension and its own narrative. I couldn’t see then how the landscape of Crestone had become such a dominant character. It was a very special discovery when I was at home, reviewing the footage, shaping the structure of the film, when I discovered these hidden elements of the making of the film. It was a long process of editing. But, because of that, I was able to extract these nuances in the images. Much like Geralt of Rivia meditating between battles, I created space for Crestone, appreciated the hidden generosity of cinema and was greatly rewarded for it.

* I could write an additional 1,500 words about the usefulness of using gender norms in the game to explore my own femininity. This is mainly due to the need of the game for me to assume the body of a man in order to play the game at all. However, I don’t have the bandwidth to write about being female at the moment, so we can save this topic for my future think tank on The Witcher 4.

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