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Witches in Computer Games

[Written by Witch Awareness Month, contributor Andy Yates]

I feel that witches have a bad rep in video games. Well, OK, not just video games, but too many times they so often appear to be the bad guys or “in” with the bad guys. Evil Lyn from He-man, the White Witch from Narnia and the evil sorceress Ultimecia from Final Fantasy 8.

Ultimecia – obviously an evil witch..

So for Witch Awareness Month it made sense to bring awareness to some of the witches in games that are not necessarily evil (and maybe one that is) but who, more importantly, have remained memorable for me.

Starting with the Voodoo lady from Monkey Island adventures. Telltale games have brought out some of my favourite game series in recent years, and this continuation of the famous Monkey Island games was just excellent. These are interactive adventure games where you direct the gallant hero, Guybrush Threepwood, around each area picking up useful items and then completely misusing them elsewhere to progress through the story.

The Voodoo Lady in action.

The Voodoo lady sits comfortably in her lair practicing her powerful magic, performing tarot card readings and carefully manipulating the cast around her. While a rather over the top character I kind of liked that Telltale had no problem in portraying her as a plus sized Jamaican woman. Kind of brave from within an industry that is famous for its head-sized boobs and arm sized waists. The only other game I’ve known this happen in is Saints Row 3 but that’s a whole other story.

While the Voodoo lady hardly has a starring role in the game she does come up a lot and you’re never quite sure if she’s on Guybrush’s side despite her clues and help throughout the series.

Let’s move onto a completely different kind of game and a completely different kind of Witch. Dragon Age: Origins was the acclaimed new game and IP from Bioware back in 2009 and sported quite traditional western RPG mechanics and Tolkien-ish settings featuring huge castles, elves living in forests, powerful magic and epic battles against undead enemies (in this case called the Blight).

Your chosen character was part of a company which included the lovely Morrigan. And what a character she was; tough, intelligent, sharp tongued but also somehow very human and just evil enough so that you thought you could change her if you were nice enough! Although her dress sense was a little … unconventional, again this was most likely designed to appeal to the male dominated audience of the time (have things really changed that much though?)

Morrigan really provided an opposing balance to the team of otherwise mostly good characters and also had some of the best dialogue in the game. This was helped by having the best voice actor in the game, too.


Now we move from the slightly borderline evil to the most definitely evil Witch from Valve Software’s multiplayer action game series; Left4Dead and Left4Dead2.

This game pits you and three friends (or computer controlled players) against a zombie horde where your objective is to reach several safe zones and then be rescued in dramatic last-minute style! As well as the usual, generic standard (but quick) zombie there are also some special zombie types which includes the “Witch” special character. Ironically, where most games call their Witches “Mages” due to their special powers, the Witch in L4D has no special powers as such. She’s just very, very fast and very, very tough!

By default she’ll be sitting on the ground somewhere sobbing away, or slowly shambling in a random direction, also sobbing (aww). However get too close or foolishly take a pot shot at her and you’ll turn that sadness into a rage that has no end! To my mind the Witch is the most interest zombie you come across. This is because with most of the zombies you’ll do your best to take them head on and take them out, but the Witch is definitely best avoided. And because avoidance is the recommended strategy the “director” (the AI that controls the zombies) is very good at placing Witches in just the wrong (or by its judgement right) place so they’re bang smack in your way. Avoidance is not always possible and there’s just no way around them so you have to take them on. Usually this means one poor team-mate (sacrifice?) angering the Witch and taking the brunt of her attack while the others do their best to take her out!

So there we have it, three witches (well, OK, a mage, a voodoo lady and a zombie) that make up my fantasy football-coven of computer game characters. It’s a shame really that very few games use the term witch at all. Perhaps “The Witcher” which isn’t really a game about witches ironically enough. Or perhaps the Facebook game “Bubble-Witch Saga”, which I couldn’t bring myself to mention in full.

In fact I think I’ve yet to see a mainstream game that has a witch as a main character, but who knows in future! Maybe when the point-and-click adventure game conversion of Hedge Witch comes out we’ll finally have that experience.


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Macbeth and Wyrd Sisters

[Written by Witch Awareness Month team member, Simon Kewin]


Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches

First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.

These, of course, are the opening lines to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which contains arguably the best-known witches in literature. It’s a scene that is beautifully parodied in the opening paragraph of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters:

As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’
© Terry and Lyn Pratchett, 1988

Pratchett’s witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick – are each wonderful characters, even if they do lean heavily on the crone/mother/maiden triad. But at least they are three-dimensional, believable individuals, unlike Shakespeare’s. The witches in Macbeth aren’t even given names. It’s not really possible to tell them apart. They’re essentially plot devices, delivering the ambiguous prophecies that drive the play along. They are the ominous agents of chaos and conflict. And, of course, they also allow the drama to be amped up with a few supernatural thrills. But Shakespeare’s capacity for portraying character does not extend to his trio of witches.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in the early seventeenth century, at a time when witchcraft was still widely feared. Anti-witchcraft laws had been passed a few years earlier and the trials of the Pendle witches were to begin a few years later. Pratchett, of course, is a much more modern writer. As such, he is sensitive to themes of oppression and prejudice. His witches are most definitely individuals, with their own foibles and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses. In Pratchett, as with other modern writers, magical beings and monsters are people, too. Granny Weatherwax and the rest are characters the reader can empathise with.

Pratchett’s witches don’t even use magic that much. Granny Weatherwax is just as likely to rely on headology: her understanding of human psychology and frailty. Most of the time she gets by on people knowing she could work some terrible magic if she wanted to. The witches in Macbeth, on the other hand, use magic readily. The words of the incantation they use to conjure up visions for Macbeth are given in Act IV Scene 1. They are often dark lines that must have worked well once. Too often to modern ears they manage to sound both rather silly and offensive at the same time:

Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg’d i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

So, it’s fair to say that the weird sisters in Macbeth and the witches in Wyrd Sisters (and all the other Discworld witch books come to that) are products of their respective ages. As with all literary characters, each period gets the witches it needs and deserves. Macbeth is a wonderful piece of drama, but for interesting witches with real character (and better jokes), read Pratchett too.

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