Shitpost: The Marxist-Leninist Imperative to support Comrade Dijkstra (in The Witcher 3)
As Marxist-Leninists, one must take into consideration important decisions, including important decisions made in individual, personalized interactive digital media, for reasons. Perhaps one of the most far reaching and important decisions made in video games, are the choices made in The Witcher 3. Heralded not only as among the best RPGs of all time, many place this game as a heavyweight in a Game of the Decade discussion, and only a handful of games have placed more emphasis on in-game consequences for decision making (“choices matter”) in interactive storytelling, and the impact on the larger narrative than The Witcher 3. So let’s discuss the crucial decision of the game through the ever important Marxist-Leninist lens.
[Spoilers Contained Within — you’ve been warned]
The Witcher 3 is a game of many choices, made by you, the player, through the game’s protagonist, Geraldo Riviera. While there are a great many individual and defining choices within the game, such as which love interest to pursue, or which side characters live and die, etc. — the most important question for Marxist Leninists must be the political question. Liberalism is content to wallow in narratives of individual change, but is largely inept at discussing societal or institutional change (hence why so much liberal science fiction presents the world of the future as a near identical society to now, only with more technology). And while The Witcher 3 is not a socialist leaning game (in fact, it’s downright reactionary in a few places, although greatly improved over the original) — it does do something uncommon and presents the player with the power to decide the political outcome of the world of The Witcher. A decision that Marxist-Leninists must ponder (or, like, dont waste your time on this — that’s probably better, but you keep reading so I keep writing…)
Let us discuss the political situation in The Witcher 3, so that we understand the context of the important decision to come. We have a situation where the Empire of Nilfgaard, frequently depicted as among the most notable antagonists and villains of the Witcher world, has all but conquered the known world. Some fourteen kingdoms have already fought, been defeated, been occupied, or otherwise capitulated to Nilfgaard, in what can only be described as an insatiable imperialist expansion (slave-state imperialist, not financial capital imperialist, although it doesn’t mean much of a difference in a fantasy realm). The ruler of Nilfgaard is Emhyr var Emreis, a man described as intelligent and ruthless, who has repeatedly displayed a history of highly aggressive and expansionist policies, incredible levels of treachery, and a ruthlessness in action.
The last remaining conquest for Nilfgaard is a small collection of states known as the Northern Kingdoms. While there are several, there are only four really meaningful, relevant states (in size and manpower, especially when compared to Nilfgaard). Nilfgaard had previously threatened these Kingdoms in the past, prompting them to (briefly) unite and successfully drive back Nilfgaard. However the events of The Witcher 2 have left three of these states functionally crippled, leaderless, and disorganized, resulting in (poor continuity writing, some would say, but also) the last remaining leader of the Northern Kingdoms, Radovid of Redania, functionally uniting the Northern Kingdoms under his banner to oppose Nilfgaard. And, in what should fairly be credited to Radovid as a tactical masterwork, he and the Northern Kingdoms have — as of the time of playing through The Witcher 3 — managed to grind the Nilfgaard advance to a stalemate at the strategically decisive Pontar River and city of Novigrad. This region becomes the centre of the struggle for, essentially, the entire world. Whomever holds Novigrad and the River when the game is over, (de facto) wins the war. (To the game’s credit, this is reasonably plausible and compelling writing.)
And herein lies the rub. One of these two sides — either Nilfgaard or the Northern Kingdoms — is going to win the war, and the decisions that you, as Geraldo, make in the game (or refuse to make), will ultimately decide the outcome of the war. While we can always hope for an imaginary alternative faction (how we all wish the material conditions were different!), who would certainly be preferable to either state, would then magically appear and liberate us — but this, of course, will not come to pass (eat shit, ultraleftists). We have to recognize that only certain factions will be able to hold power in this scenario — we have not the time, nor resources, nor capacity to create our own alternative party, nor are we, alone, capable of uniting the masses. Someone is going to win the war, and the list of possible winners is a short one. Just like why Assad was the best person to win the Syrian Civil War.
We can also try to simply refuse to participate in the political intrigue within the game (indeed, the game goes on if you ignore the political plot threads), but this is functionally the same as making a decision that favours the status quo* (ASTERISK, keep reading). Letting the war simply play out when you are in a position to change the outcome reeks of liberal compartmentalizing. The people’s problems should be Geraldo’s problems — he does not get to excuse himself to his work as if it is separate from the political typhoon unfolding around him (yes, I also get that this is basically what the Witcher is about, eat shit Witcher book fans). Similarly, some will want to take an anarchist position to this conflict (“both sides are bad!” or “I don’t support empires or kingdoms,” etc), and decide not to involve themselves* (ASTERISK) in the conflict between two states. But we are Marxist-Leninists and do not afford ourselves the courtesy of ignoring injustice, conflict, and oppression when inconvenient.
The problem with supporting Nilfgaard should be obvious. Not only are they the hostile aggressor, not only are they the ones failing to honour their treaties and agreements, but they are an explicitly imperialist power, on the verge of total hegemony of the known world. That’s bad. The Northern Kingdoms are the last bastion of functional, meaningful resistance to Nilfgaard, and if their armies fail, there exist no other states that seem capable of mustering the arms or will to fight at a scale that can challenge Nilfgaard. They’ve also been, repeatedly, shown to be the instigators of many of the conflicts internally within the Northern Realms, and behind political assassinations but also acts of terror on the populace. Surely we ought to oppose this massive and monstrous empire, lest the cycle of imperial expansion reach it’s fullest extent, where it can expand outward no more, and then turn back inwards on the poorest and most vulnerable within. However, Nilfgaard is an Empire, and within the material conditions of the game world, Emhyr var Emreis cannot be killed by Geraldo, only via off-screen assassins should he lose the war.
But the Northern Kingdoms have a problem, as well, and that problem is Radovid. While he has managed to overcome odds to stall Nilfgaard, he has also earned the moniker “the Mad,” and has begun fermenting racism withing his territories, purging minority groups, rounding up undesirables, enacting torture and violence upon women, and otherwise being a fucking wanker. He’s also clearly at the point where he’s not quite all together, and getting increasingly unstable in your interactions with him. Unlike Emhyr var Emreis, Radovid can be killed, and this is the decision that ultimately defines the game world for pretend centuries to come.
And it is here that we have our three possible outcomes for the war, and the fate of the Northern Kingdoms. As the situation stands in the game, as it begins, it is Radovid who holds Novigrod, and Radovid who has the upper hand (albeit barely) over Nilfgaard. While basically an unstable reactionary fascist, Radovid, however, is a fully competent commander, and if left to his own devices, is in a position to win out the war. Indeed, * (remember those ASTERISKs), if Geraldo simply refuses to participate, or get involved, or just refuses to make political interference his bag, then Radovid will slowly but surely win the war, grinding down Nilfgaard, and becoming the reactionary hereditary ruler of a new super-state, undoubtedly leading to a near genocide of sorceresses and all kinds of racism and brutality visited upon elves, dwarves, and the other minorities in the North. Totally unacceptable for anyone but Radovid’s predominately white male reactionary base — this outcome needs to be prevented. But for this material outcome in the game world to be avoided, the only option is to terminate Radovid.
But going back a step — Nilfgaard is not a solution either. While they are, on the surface, less racist than Radovid, they will inevitably lead to the same (or worse) outcome. In less than a generation, Nilfgaard has fought three entire wars against the Northern Kingdoms. This is the level of hostility for an Empire in desperate need of expansion — likely facing collapse without. A late-imperial Nilfgaard will just as quickly turn on minorities, elves, dwarves, sorceresses, and whatever other scapegoats can be found to blame the problems of a late-stage decadent empire at it’s maximum extent. Similarly, for any Scoia’tael (the elf/dwarf minority rebellion, whom we must be sympathetic to) supporters, rebellion and revolution would find far more opportunity against smaller divided Northern Kingdoms and a weak-Nilfgaard than they would ever find against a single grand united Nilfgaard, who could send much larger armies to crush any uprisings, all at once. Nilfgaard has repeatedly shown itself to be untrustworthy, dishonorable, and ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands with no regard or concern for the masses. Nilfgaard is just as unacceptable an outcome. So what do we do about Radovid?
Killing Radovid is not merely a matter of getting near him and pressing X. Radovid is approaching Howard Hughes territory, and is presumably too hard to get to for Geraldo to simply kill him outright, so an elaborate plan must be concocted to end Radovid’s life. And in order to put this plan into action, the catalyst is needed — a scuzzy spymaster of impeccable intelligence. Enter Sigismund Dijkstra.
We can accept Dijkstra for what he is. Far from perfect — he’s basically a built-up and established crime lord with lots of shadowy connections and questionable ethical ties. He’s sleazy, he’s got his hands in just about everything, and he can be a real genuine asshole. He can be underhanded and unscrupulous, and is kind of a jerkface, (actually frequently) and is largely in it for himself. But it is none other than Dijkstra who approaches Geraldo with the plan to assassinate Radovid. No one should pretend that Dijkstra is flawless or pure, and Marxist-Leninists must understand what sort of an alliance we are entering into when we have Geraldo cooperate with Dijkstra in the assassination of Radovid. If Geraldo chooses to go ahead with it, Radovid dies, but that is not the end of the matter.
After Radovid’s death, in a specifically Dijikstran move (or not, I’m not sure, I didn’t read the books), immediately after Radovids successful assassination, Dijkstra invites the Temerians (a rag tag group of rebel buddies you have been working with, formerly of Temeria, one of the leaderless, broken Northern Kingdoms) and Geraldo to an unforgettable luncheon that turns out to be an assassination (or rather, a political purge). You see, the Temerians want to have Temeria back, restored, and re-establish the old monarchy, and the old order, and go back to the dead world that they remember from times long gone. And Dijkstra is not having any of this shit. He’s a man of tomorrow, with a vision for the future of the Northern Kingdoms, and he’s at the point where he is prepared to exercise violence in defense of this mission. The old order has been toppled, and Dijkstra has no intent to try and rebuild an imagined past. Or maybe he’s just a big meanie tyrant wants power and consumes it like a fine sorbet, whatever you want to believe here.
The point is that here, the player, you, (that is Geraldo, who is you, whatever) has to make one more choice. Do you side with your rag-tag buddies from The Witcher 2, the Temerians (who, in fairness, have had a fucking terrible time through these two games and probably dont deserve this shit, even remotely) — but in this case you will have to kill Sigismund Dijkstra. But hey, he’s the asshole who was about to murder the Temerians, so he must deserve it, right? Killing Dijkstra is the right course of action, surely? This is the decision most Radovid assassins made, but this is the wrong choice for Marxist-Leninists.
You see, if you side with the Temerians, Dijkstra dies, but then something else bad happens. Nilfgaard wins. Unconditionally and unavoidably at this point. It turns out that maybe Radovid really was a tactical genius, and, while a vile reactionary, he was also the only force presenting a united front against Nilfgaard’s advances and imperialism, and the last and only remaining military opposition to the Nilfgaard conquest of the world. But it’s deeper than this — without Radovid, there is no longer one monarch ruling the Northern Kingdoms, but numerous (very young, very weak, and very disputed) monarchs, with varying claims on power, all eyeing one another as political opposition. No Radovid means no single Northern Kingdom united army, but rather many smaller national armies. Nilfgaard gets a free divide and conquer strategy to carve up the Northern Kingdoms and defeat them in detail. If both Radovid and Dijkstra die, Nilfgaard wins. As already discussed, this must not come to pass.
But also as already discussed, Radovid is a dangerous fascist, committing arguably worse atrocities than Nilfgaard. He, similarly, cannot be allowed to win. It is under these material conditions that we must re-examine our third option.
And it is here in which Sigismund Dijkstra is absolved of his crimes, including the necessary —ahem, political purging — of the Termerians (I’m so sorry Roche and Ves, I really am). For you see, if the Radovid assassination goes ahead, and Radovid dies, but then Geraldo chooses to side with Dijkstra during the unforgettable luncheon, Dijkstra not only lives, but lives to see his plans come to pass. Being a political veteran, a Redanian, and in a position of relative power and authority, with immediate muscle on hand to back him up (the Syndicate) in his immediate claim on power, Dijkstra is not only capable of usurping Radovid’s entire alliance, political network, and army under his own banner, but also capable of the strategic mastery necessary to hold Novigrod (a city he is based out of in the third game) and defeat Nilfgaard, winning the war for the Northern Kingdoms.
It is here that we must see the positives of siding with Dijkstra. We get to remove a frothing fascist from power and eliminate him (who also happens to be a monarch for bonus points). We get to see the most powerful empire in the world, Nilfgaard, humiliated, defeated, broken, and in full retreat to a revived Northern Kingdom alliance, but with many of Radovid’s fascist policies and programs removed, lessened, or mitigated. Indeed, in the epilogue of the game, if the player had Geraldo side with Dijkstra, it is stated that Dijkstra would go on to become Chancellor of Northern Kingdoms, and usher in a new age of manufacturing and economic prosperity (possibly the beginnings of capitalism and the end of the brutal feudal system of this world). Conversely, the other two epilogues leave Radovid continuing to brutally conduct ‘witch hunts,’ with massive pogroms and violent executions; and the other leaves Emhyr var Emreis conducting a brutal campaign of violence against those who opposed him (remembering that nearly the whole of the North opposed him). There is no one else in a position to fill this power vacuum. Indeed, no matter how corrupt, sleazy, or underhanded; Dijkstra’s economic reforms seem greatly preferable to either of the other outcomes. Not only does a Dijkstran victory break the Nilfgaard Empire and end reactionary Radovidism, but also functionally terminates at least two monarchies (Ciri doesn’t succeed Emhyr, and Radovid’s fucking done), and ends the process of hereditary succession by turning his position as political leader of the Northern Kingdoms into a Chancellorship. Fuck you, divine right of fantasy kings!
In conclusion, Marxist Leninists are obligated to side with Dijkstra on their Witcher 3 playthroughs, and while not a Marxist-Leninist, we must recognize the material conditions of the world within the game, and what is actually possible within the confines of those conditions, and work towards the best outcome for the masses. And to that end, we must restate: “Uphold Comrade Dijkstra!”