When Games Redeem Abusers, They Risk Rationalizing Abuse


#1

Content warning for discussion of abuse.

In this transmission of Waypoint Radio, Natalie, Rob, Patrick, and Danielle discuss depictions of abuse in video games: starting with the recent The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, a game that tackles the issue in its text. They discuss the problems with "redemption arcs" in popular fiction and two major examples in The Witcher series, as well as pop culture characters and real-life figures who have contended with abuse in their lives.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wjk7kn/waypoint-radio-abuse-captain-spirit-witcher

#2

I appreciated the discussion, went places I didn’t expect. Some thoughts that could use raising.

I think “redemption” isn’t the most useful term for this discussion. Redemption implies wiping the moral slate clean. An absolution. When Christians speak of “Christ the Redeemer” the redemption is Christ metaphorically (or mystically, if you prefer) buying someone’s debt of sin and tearing it up. That debt no longer exists, and the redeemed is free of it as if it never happened. None of the games mentioned actually allow the characters in question to be redeemed, nor make a case that they should be.

Reconciliation is a much more apt term for the questions these games pose to players. Especially in Witcher 3, and the Witcher books, redemption simply doesn’t exist. Even in the scenarios where the Baron survives, he is clearly weighed with self loathing over his actions, and no character forgives him, not even himself. His post-Geralt quest to help restore his wife’s sanity is driven by a hope that reconciliation is possible, that he can even the ledger of evil with good. The text itself never really makes a call on that. Also, unless you’ve gone through the game multiple times, or are looking up spoilers for each choice, it isn’t feasible to plan how the Baron is going to end up after the particular choices, since one of the game’s major themes is that our choices have consequences that are rarely clear at the time we make them, if ever, and the fate of the Baron isn’t telegraphed at the critical moment.

In the real world, some people reconcile with their abusers and some do not. My parents used to beat me with a wooden spoon when I was disobedient as a child. If it happened today and was found out, I probably would have been put into foster care. Then it was common, if distasteful. I wasn’t scarred by the experience like some my age were by effectively the same abuse. One parent constantly apologizes for having done it. The other less so. I don’t hold a grudge over it. Other people do, and for good reason. In the abstract I’d have a good reason to as well, but I don’t. Telling a story about that doesn’t rationalize what happened to me.


#3

This year has been rough for me, especially on weekends. Whenever my brain is given time and space to idle, it’s hard to think of anything other than some stuff involving informed consent online that happened to me some months ago. It’s hard in general, I think, to not be defined by stuff like this, even if you’ve already had past experiences with forms of abuse or assault people consider more, uh, “”“real”"".

I’m lucky. I have a support group. I have a psych. But its still easy, especially online, to feel (or even have proven to you) that these are isolated islands of safety, that everything outside of them is going to be a gamble, and that you’re never going to have the chance to frame your own narrative again - whether or not that narrative includes or even relates to the abuse.

This is all to say that this episode dropped at the end of a day I’d been given time to start dwelling again, and I’m glad that it did. It always feels to me like explaining your personal relationship to abuse, or addiction, takes a lot of fortitude and emotional energy, especially when you’re trying not to let it define you. So, big props to Natalie, Danielle, and Rob for that. Thank you all for having this discussion, and thanks for continuing to do the work you all do.

No pedestals, but Waypoint has a habit of making it feel like there’s more islands out there, even if I can’t always see them.


#4

I didn’t really think Geralt had much agency in the Baron quest line. (quest spoilers to follow)

Geralt’s motivation for even dealing with the Baron is to get information about Ciri. I think the Baron uses this leverage to force the witcher into becoming a tool in his redemption. Outside of some confrontational dialogue choices, I can only think of two times where the player can go against the Baron’s attempted redemption arc.

1. Killing the botchling or lifting the curse.

2. Going with the Baron to save Anna or not.

Both times I chose the option that seemingly goes with his redemption arc, but his atonement was more of a side effect than a motive. I didn’t think the botchling nor Anna deserved the fate the other choices would have given. Like nodice said above, the ultimate ending to the Baron’s story (assuming you do choose to go back into the swamp) is decided by actions in which the consequences would not clear to the player.

Minor side-note, I think it was an interesting choice to make the final quest in this arc optional. I can’t think of many games that would do that.


#5

With regard to Captain Spirit:

That game doesn’t try to make Chris’s father out to be a monster, and I think the game is better for it. When games go the David Cage route of abuse-depiction (as they so often do), it’s easy to write those situations and people off as caricatures and move on with your life. These sketches do not invite players into the lives of survivors, and they do not implore us to employ any sort of empathy in our evaluation of such scenarios.

I am not a survivor of abuse. I have worked closely with survivors in the past, and as such I have become quite astute at picking up common markers of abuse, but I am fortunate enough to have never had the same fate befall me. Captain Spirit put me in a position which I have never found myself in before. I, Chris, was in an abusive relationship. While a quick dive into the internet will lead you to an avalanche of victim-blaming surrounding abusive relationships and assault, I found Captain Spirit to be a very delicate portrait of the fear that comes with exiting these sorts of situations.

Even though I knew the situation was horrible, I was struck with fear at the game’s conclusion. What if it gets worse? What if he retaliates? What if I land in a foster home under even more dire conditions? At least I am familiar with this. He’s so nice to me sometimes, this could just be a bad day. Maybe things will get better. These hopes and fears are in themselves connected to the possibility of the abuser’s “redemption,” but this character arc isn’t a happy ending that the game lays out for you. These were my postulations, in the moment, realizing that I’d been caught in the same vicious cycle that so often entangles survivors of abuse. If other players had this sort of experience, they may just come away with a different perspective on abuse than they had when booting up the game.