During the conversations leading up to the end of Act 2 Chapter 1, I began to feel uneasy. Metallia, the Swamp Witch, in The Witch and the Hundred Knight had a vocabulary of simple, often colourful, juvenile language. Her favourite curse words were given the Q*Bert treatment in print and the censored bleeping noise for audio. There were two words that she frequently used which were left uncensored that began to bother me: whore and slut. The words seemed to be the only adjectives Metallia could think of which were specially reserved when describing her rival, Malia, the Forest Witch. Every time she used them, the words emphasized a sense of disgust and disregard with a delivery that sometimes felt as though it was overacting.
What began as shocking, then annoyingly overused, and finally tiring for a game in its attempt to employ distasteful and trite tactics to represent itself as edgy, quickly turned unsettling. In a confrontation between Metallia and Malia soon after the vile insults, The Witch and the Hundred Knight became the very first game that I have ever consciously cast aside. It is a game that I will never play again and not due to broken mechanics, or an insufferable plot. No. It was when the game created a scene that encouraged rape that I became sickened enough to put my controller down.
In Hundred Knight, Metallia was imprisoned in a swamp for an extensive period of time – looking for a way out and looking for a way to unleash her anger at the world because of it. In her grand scheme to transform all the world into one giant swamp with havoc and destruction to follow, she summoned a beast to aid her in her quest: The Hundred Knight. That is the role that you as the player fulfil.
Within the very first chapter, one mission as the Hundred Knight was to collect Malia’s head. Already slightly disturbed at that notion, I believed the game – which describes itself as a dark fantasy (and as I recall is supposed to be somewhat of a dark comedy) – would find a way to spare me the visuals and the brutal action of a beheading. The comedic elements I had encountered moments before – raiding villages’ houses in cartoonish ways with houses ‘dancing’ at the perceived fights inside between its residents and you; Metallia’s quick-witted, disloyal and sarcastic butler Arlecchino – had me hopeful that the game would find a clever way to execute a well-timed joke, even if that joke would be a little twisted.
That was the sort of set up and direction in which I saw the game heading. That was the overall tone I had gleaned from the narrative for the most part. The use of Metallia’s language gave me a reason to be cautious, but ultimately, I had experienced many games before – from the violent to the not; some with cursing and mature content – and their characters usually fit their respective narratives and worlds. Tone was important here, as it is to make any world believable, and while I saw it breaking apart, I believed the game would follow a formula.
I could not be any more wrong.
What the game proceeded to do took me by surprise and was worse than what I was expecting. In an attempt to do I don’t know what – one can only assume to showcase Metallia as pure evil, perhaps? – The Swamp Witch transformed Malia into a squeaking, little white mouse. Taking it one step further, because going from a beheading to a mouse is anything but evil, Metallia conjured three boy mice, who were described as horny, to chase after Malia the mouse. As if the implied intent to rape was not expressly delivered the first time, Metallia hammered her point further by telling Malia fleeing from her would-be assailants that “if you’re really my mother, I want you to make me lots of little brothers and sisters…”.
I played only a few minutes after that scene out of sheer horror and disbelief. I expected a turn around but the damage had already been done. There was no possible way to redeem what had transpired and sure enough, the game kept pressing the point. Malia was mentioned again shortly thereafter, as a white mouse that was fried up by Arlecchino for the Hundred Knight’s dinner. Arlecchino said that he had captured the white mouse which was bathed in stinky pheromones while it was in pursuit by three male mice.
Not once or twice, but three times, the game set out to remind me that there was an intention for rape, and that Malia had been reduced to the fate of being treated less than human, demoralized, and humiliated.
I was unsure on how I was supposed to react. If that scene was supposed to play out as a dark comedic joke, I failed to see the humor in it.
What I was reminded of in that moment were some of those experiences that I’ve encountered where I felt uncomfortable, at other times even scared and unsafe because someone decided that it would be okay to reduce me to a sexualized object. I was reminded of experiences some of my friends have had, or ones that some of us may have had the misfortune of knowing or identifying with: whether by leering eyes and inappropriate comments about breast sizes. The fear of being in an elevator with the creepy coworker because his unwanted persistence at having a romantic relationship with you was rejected and in his anger, you then feared losing your job because he threatened to go to HR with lies that he was being harassed. Or the pervert on the crowded train who sat across from you and made lewd gestures to get your attention, and had you even more on your guard every day he was on that commute too.
Honestly, what The Witch and the Hundred Knight did was something I think anyone could recognize and feel as I did regardless of experiences: the feeling of disbelief, disgust and anger that a game would utilize such unnecessary depravity. As well as that feeling that no matter what the rating, the implication of rape is never acceptable. For me, seeing the Teen rating – yes, that would be from ages 13 to 19 – and the ‘sexual themes’ description on the box made me question this choice to relay the narrative even further.
It got me thinking about the recent The Walking Dead Season 4 finale in which the child protagonist, Carl was held hostage and almost raped. Or the inclusion of an audio torture and rape scene in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Were these scenes used to set up a particular tone of the narrative to represent dire situations, motivations of characters’ decisions and actions in response, or were the scenes created to increase shock value? I am not by any means, as I am sure many are, blind to the harsh realities of the world. Sadly, and even more terrifyingly, these are realities of the world in which we live – we are amongst the living, capable of doing all these things, people who have done and continue to do all these things. And it goes without saying that truth is harsher than any fiction. And so I can only be skeptical as to their inclusion and whether the scenes were necessary. This brings me back to why I was so blind-sided by the scene in The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
The rape never actually occurred. The game made sure to tell me that, but it also kept pushing that boundary by repeatedly reminding me that that was the intention as I mentioned (As if that was something I was capable of forgetting). There was also the issue of turning Malia into a mouse. I’m uncertain if that was supposed to soften the blow or express a joke because I can assure you, it did not. Malia through her labored squeaks expressed enough terror at her fate and rightfully so.
If the story was trying to convey that Metallia was evil and leave no doubt in my mind what sort of character she is, then it succeeded. However, it could be argued that that point would come across in other ways too: The aforementioned beheading. Conjuring a cat. Squishing Malia under Metallia’s boot. Something. Anything.
So to me, to reduce Malia and ‘fit’ her into the definition of ‘whore’ that Metallia had been so fond of using multiple times in any given conversation, was indescribably reprehensible.
Here it felt more of a poor decision on the writers’ parts in an attempt at being risque and strictly for shock value. The tone of the narrative was somewhat betrayed. Again I could only ask, was it really all that necessary to do so? Was the cursing, the loudness, the raiding and destruction of families and their homes, and the murder plots not enough to describe Metallia’s anger and character?
And let us say for argument’s sake that it was done just to show how evil she is; what does Metallia have that would compel me to continue playing as her servant to carry out her deeds? Being the villain bent on world domination is one thing. Pretending to cause destruction on a massive scale through magic or ridiculous amounts of power is something unattainable (usually so, on the latter) – and in the simplest form, many of us recognize it is just that: Pretend. Fun. Harmless. Many villains in video games have their charm, or their oddities in character that make them desirable for us to want to fill their shoes in some way or even be likeable. Not always but some are definitely written to have a certain appeal.
Asking me to actively play the role of a servant to a person who gave orders to rape? No thank you.
Whatever the point to include that scene, it left me more than bewildered. And for the first time in my history of playing video games – all for the fun of not taking the fantasy of destruction and overkill too seriously when it is required me to suspend my disbelief – I left a Fantasy game behind that portrayed itself in a way that was too scarily close to an ugly reality.