The recently concluded Castlevania and the still-in-production series The Witcher have a few things in common; they’re both violent, gory, dark fantasy series taking place in a Medieval Fantasy Eastern European (or European like) setting, they both follow the exploits of jaded, cynical monster hunters, and they’re both successful Netflix adaptations of stories that were previously video games.
In the case of The Witcher, the show doesn’t adapt the games but rather is based on a series of books written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski in the nineties. While the series concluded in 1999 with The Lady of the Lake, it wasn’t translated to English until 2007, the same year the first Witcher game made by CD Projekt Red came out. The introduction of the game is what led to Western audiences’ awareness of the Witcher universe, and so a significant portion of its fanbase started out as fans of the game.
These franchises with their large video game fanbases have also both made some adaptational changes to key characters that have…not been entirely well-received by said fans.
When it was rumored in November of 2018 that the character Ciri would possibly be cast as a person of color, the backlash that showrunner Lauren S Hissrich received was so intense she had to take a break from Twitter. When Indian-English actress Anya Cholatra was cast as Yennefer of Vengerberg, she received so much racist harassment she quit Twitter.
In season three of Castlevania, the character Alucard has sex with both a man and a woman in episode nine. The scene was controversial for many reasons, but even with the fact that the sex was ultimately used as a trap for Sumi and Taka, his sex partners, to kill him, a lot of the backlash that the scene received was rooted in homophobia. Some fans even denied that Alucard was in fact bisexual, because of a perceived lack of consent on his part, even though his participation in the sex up until the betrayal was clearly enthusiastic. What’s more, the director of the show Sam Deats has confirmed that Alucard is bisexual and that the sex was consensual.
There’s another sex scene happening at the same time that Alucard is having sex with Sumi and Taka between Hector and Lenore that comes as a result of Lenore’s manipulation of Hector, which culminates in her betraying him. Despite the fact that Hector had been Lenore’s prisoner and that the relationship was a deliberate attempt to get him to cooperate with her and her sisters, no one seemed to argue about consent, nor question Hector’s sexuality.
A lot of the arguments used to justify the outrage towards these changes revolve around the fact that they are changes from the game. People want Alucard to be straight because he was only ever ship-teased with a woman in the games. People want Ciri and Yennefer and Triss to be white because they were white in the games and the books. Or, because of historical accuracy with the misconception that people of color never held positions of power in the past.
The problem with this argument is that what adaptational changes people actually get angry about seem to always conveniently be the ones involving the incorporation of marginalized folks. People are pissed off that Triss is played by a woman of color instead of a white redhead as she is in the games. Yet there are quite a few changes that the games themselves made to the character that no one seems to have a problem with.
The games feature Triss nude in many scenes, and her body is noticeably free of any blemishes or scars. The third game even has her wearing some low-cut outfits. This is despite the fact that in Blood of Elves, Triss reveals to Geralt that her chest was badly burnt in a huge battle against the invading Empire of Nilfgaard and that she would never wear a low plunging neckline again. The third game makes a quick reference to this, but there is no explanation provided as to why her scars have disappeared. The fans don’t seem to care either, because hey, boobies.
Castlevania has also made a number of changes beyond making Alucard bisexual. In Castlevania III (the game) the Belmonts have been exiled by the Church, with Trevor as the last living member of the family. Yet, there was no character in the Church that the character of the Bishop is based on. He’s a series original. In fact, the Church played a very minor supporting role in the games, in contrast to how it’s framed as one of the main antagonistic institutions of the show. Dracula’s castle functions differently in the games than it does in the show. None of these changes sparked the same level of outrage as Alucard’s bisexuality.
This type of behavior isn’t new to science-fiction and fantasy fandoms, just ask Kelly Marie Tran from Star Wars, who was bullied off of Twitter for existing as a Vietnamese-American in the previously white-dominated movies. Yet, as we saw with GamerGate back in 2015, this particular brand of racist, homophobic, and sexist toxicity is especially prevalent in gamer culture.
According to a 2020 study from the Anti-Defamation League, over 80% of multiplayer gamers recently experienced harassment, the majority of it related to gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or ability. Despite the prevalence of this harassment, only a small minority of players report other players’ bad behavior. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and bigotry are normalized within gaming culture.
Part of this can be attributed to the video games themselves. The Witcher 3 has problems with how it portrays its women; including the numerous monsters transformed from murdered and wronged women. The game is also severely lacking in people of color.
Castlevania itself may have also planted some homophobic seeds in its fans, with the character of Isaac. In Curse of Darkness, Isaac’s depiction as a gay character was rather problematic. He was maniacal and excited to help Dracula in slaughtering all of humanity. While the show remedies this by portraying Isaac much more positively, fans of the game were introduced to the franchise’s approach to queerness through this character.
When games themselves don’t bother being inclusive in their content, it sets their fanbases up to be toxic through racism, sexism, and homophobia. That toxicity carries over to the adaptations, stifling any progress made in representation. In order for future adaptations to be successful in the changes they make, the video game industry needs to foster a more empathetic, inclusive fanbase. That starts with what they create in their games.
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