In all my years of playing video games across 3 decades, where one would have faced a lot of villainous beings, beasts and nasties of all varieties that are designed and presented in ways to invoke fear in you as the player.
As I grew, I prided myself in being a hunter of sorts for bosses and super bosses, and I found myself enjoying the thrill of facing bosses and characters that were generally designed to be fear inducing to the player Chase sequenced bosses like Mr. X, Nemesis, Monster Ock injected panic in the moment.
Eldritch beasts and beings made famous from the Soulsborne games are meant to scare through their design and feel.
The recently infamous Rat King from the Last of Us is an excellent addition to the body horror examples across the medium.
An invincible approach?
My approach to any of these in general is a simple one, and one that has always gotten me through it with relative ease, both in gameplay and mental state by the end of it.
That approach is to be angrier and far more savage than the opponent, to the point you condition your mind to believe that it is the enemy who is unfortunate to be stuck in the room with you, not the other way around, ala Rorschach from Watchmen.
This approach is generally supplemented by the gameplay itself in that my character is usually well equipped with the tools, stats and means to combat the dangers on defined terms—sometimes fair, sometimes unfair.
In either case, my character is able to inflict power and punishment, able to inject control over the situation. This control gives ease to me, the player as well, and so I find myself not fearing the enemy as much.
Rather, there could be frustration that should I die, I’d have to respawn and retry again perhaps. But not so much in the way of fear.
In fact, the more I lost and retried again, the less I feared the opponent.
A Cut Above Others
But there is one creation I came across, upon whom this approach fails and one’s ability to inflict control is rendered useless.
One whose unassuming appearance in comparison to others I have indicated belies a different kind of fear inflicting capacity. This character appears unremarkable to the eye, and by motives appears to be driven by far simpler and more provincial desires than grandiose schemes of domination and power.
This character has left such an impression in not necessarily just what he is (which in itself isn’t so unique to be honest), but also in how he is presented to us, which is a masterclass in how to build and execute a terrifying character. Even after completing the base game and DLCs 4 times over, this character never ceases to put me at unease every single time.
The game is The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (and more specifically, it’s DLC Heart of Stone).
The one I speak of is that of Gaunter O’ Dimm–also known as Mirror Man, the Man of Glass.
Gaunter O’ Dimm is a supernatural being akin to a Witcher world equivalent of the Devil himself, with a heavy emphasis on the whole ‘deal with the devil’ aspect.
He appears to people at crossroads (both literal and in life decisions) and presents them with a contractual opportunity to make their deepest, direst wishes in exchange for a price should they fail to meet their terms—usually their soul.
The wish fulfilment itself isn’t benevolent either. It generally comes with strings attached that usually end up with the wisher failing to honor their terms agreed, or wanting out of it, which they don’t.
Many mythologies and classic tales demonstrate this trope quite a lot. Eastern mythologies speak of mischievous Djinn who grant wishes with a wicked twist of their version of humor, meaning trouble for mortals.
One of the most famous literatures on this is that of Faust, a character based on the historical figure Johan Georg Faust—a famous German alchemist, astrologer and magician amidst the German Renaissance.
The story tells a tale of a man who seeks intrinsic satisfaction despite having successes in life. He ends up making a deal with Mephistopheles, and things don’t go very well after.
This is in line with some aspects of the characters found in the Heart of Stone DLC, where O’ Dimm is the central antagonist.
Additionally, the German fairy tale ‘Das kalte Herz’ by Wilhelm Hauff includes a good forest spirit called ‘Glasmännlein’ who grants 3 wishes. The name translates to ‘little glass man’ –hence a potential reference for the man of glass moniker.
Before his more sinister reveals, O Dimm is generally referred to by NPCs as mirror merchant, or the man of glass.
The protagonist of the story would also go on to make a deal with the evil sorcerer ‘Holländermichel’, who takes the hero’s heart and gives him a heart of stone in exchange for infinite money.
The cruel nature of this trade is revealed later—as is the case with the revelation and interactions between O’ Dimm and key characters in the DLC.
Polish folklore also speak of tales that are very similar to the events of the Heart of Stone DLC, where a nobleman named Mr.Twardowski makes a deal with the devil where upon fulfilment of the wish, the devil can collect his soul, but only when he’s in Rome.
The nobleman finds ways to trick the devil without breaking the deal. Likewise deception is engaged in the DLC. And with CD Projekt Red being a polish company, it is highly likely that inspiration could have been drawn from these European tales and folklore.
It’s clear that the inspirations, and concept of Gaunter O’ Dimm’s general character trope isn’t exactly a very unique one.
So then why does O’ Dimm and leave me (and to my knowledge, a good amount of gamers) with such an unnerving impression?
I see three things in place—His proposition, build-up and power, all governed by principle and presented skillfully.
Propositions and Principles
By his own admission, Gaunter O’ Dimm claims he is a functionally a simple merchant as he states, ‘In brief, I give folk what they ask for. You might say I simply grant their wishes.’
He states that his mode of operation is via contracts, oral or written. He gives people what they want, on terms they agree to, and if the terms are violated, he gets something from them in exchange—usually their soul.
Clearly anyone in a right mind could tell this is hardly a fair and wonderful bargain. He’s also said that if people screw up and lose their wits, heart or any aspect of their sanity through some supposed twist in their deal, it’s because the person who wished for it did so poorly, meaning that he’s very literal about the contract—clearly you should be with a lawyer if you’re doing business with him.
So nobody should be doing business with him right?
And yet.. people do. Geralt, Olgierd, a noblewoman, and countless others in the world have done so.
You’d think that Geralt of all people would be level-headed about this. But no. It doesn’t work that way. Because when O’ Dimm presents himself, he appears to nearly everyone mentioned during a time of desperation.
And in the time of desperation, they like many in such scenarios, are less careful about their words, and more concerned with doing whatever it takes to get their desires realized post haste.
This makes one think, that the nature of the bones tickled by O’Dimm’s propositions are very annoyingly difficult ones to be kept neutrally composed in the contexts he is involved.
As humans, we’re very fallible to cognition flaws with less control of the factors around us. Soon, the notion of wanting grows such that common sense, second opinions and eventually logic go numb amidst growing manifestation of greed, a wanting to win and keep winning, and more tantalizingly, to crush your enemies and bring justice to yourself in a world you may otherwise be completely powerless to do so.
The fact that despite knowing this, we are still very likely vulnerable to this train of thought is a chilling acknowledgement that O’ Dimm’s mechanics isn’t one of bewitching or forcing uninvited action upon someone.
Rather, he simply plays into what you as a person are likely to accommodate in your head in the first place, with or without him.
He operates on a strict principle of contract, where the words spoken or written are held very literally, and while you could try and call foul play on it, he makes it very clear that he never cheats, and the face-grabbing realization is evident when he reveals it in very evidence based, literal fashion.
In his final Mexican stand-off with Geralt and Olgierd, the latter protests that O’Dimm can’t claim his soul because the deal was that he had to be on the moon for that to happen.
Olgierd assumed that the location was the actual physical moon, whereas O’Dimm clears the dust on the ground they stood, revealing a sculpture of the moon, thus validating his move to go ahead and rip Olgierd’s soul out of his body.
This sense of ‘fair play’ has one thinking how powerful words can be in scenario where what is spoken could be literally manifested.
Many times we speak with little regard to the weight thrown behind the words. A foe like O’Dimm makes you really think twice about the power of words.
You’d be completely forgiven for not assuming anything more about O’Dimm based on your first encounter.
In Geralt’s search for a close companion from his past, you’re tasked with asking around an inn about the individual.
As is the case with almost any dialogue-based interaction, the camera shifts to a close up of the individual, and as you ask around the relatively unremarkable and rather drab looking NPCs.
Clean shaven and with maybe a bit sharper set of facial features, and wearing an ordinary set of tunic garbs, he looks just like a Nilfgaardian who might have taken a wrong turn in the countryside and is just waiting out the day in the inn. There are no remarkable facial features, no effects or accessories on him to say otherwise of his stature.
Then the conversation happens.
And at first, it is just the usual checking questions, and maybe one or two general queries. But then as the conversation heads to it’s end, O’ Dimm speaks more forwardly about his knowledge of who Geralt is looking for, with more vivid details than a mere stranger should know…
But hey, he did introduce himself as a travelling merchant, peddling his wares across the land, so it’s totally possible he might have heard things.
You both part ways, and you head on your journey, unaware that you had unassumingly just finished conversation with arguably the single most powerful walking entity in the entire Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, if not the entire series.
Mirrors reflect that which is presented in front of it. If placing this principle within the aspects of names, O’Dimm’s nature is made clear to the discerning individual.
His initials sum up to G.O.D. which when conceptually reversed refers to the devil. Thus the Man of Glass, this mirror merchant is in actuality nothing like what he appears to you.
His appearance aside, the effectively creeping build up off-screen even before he shows up later on in earnest adds to the momentum of his eventual appearance.
As you explore the world, you come across individuals who have slighted a certain travelling merchant that led to devastating misfortunes worse than death. And this is hardly spoken out loud too. the noblewoman who wronged him is damned to the form of a monster, while her whole estate succumbs to ruin and despair, reeking of death and desolation, with effigies of her ugly nature laid bare in literal items.
How do we know it was the mirror merchant who was wronged by her?
You read it in the journals of the house servants and the lady herself. And you start realizing there’s someone far more sinister out there casting spells like these.
You almost always meet O’ Dimm at crossroads, literally or in essence, as is a callback to the inspirations of the character, when one is at crossroads to make decisions.
And as the Hearts of Stone DLC areas are accessed, every crossroad you come across has children playing with their dolls, and singing in eerie unison, a song not unlike a nursery rhyme that speaks of a seemingly benign wish granter, but warns that the dues need to be paid… and the price that awaits failure to do so.
Sung by children as if they were a possessed choir makes it very unnerving, especially since they tend to sung around sundown. They lyrics state ‘you’ as if they speak to Geralt when he’s near them. There is a certain discomfort felt here.
As the interactions increase, whenever Gaunter O’ Dimm is on screen, and whenever he is spoken of by others, the signature theme of Gaunter O’Dimm is played in the background.
This theme isn’t just slapped out of nowhere. It starts with a faint, steady climb from the silent background, creeping across the cutscenes by way of skillful violin and traditional Slavic musical instruments.
There’s nothing cheery about it like the combat themes, there’s no adrenaline to it. There is only a steady, sly and sinister tone that appears to be robbing all light around the scene and enveloping the vibe in a fog of forbiddance—that you’re in uncharted, unwelcome waters, that maybe you’re not supposed to be knocking on this door.
This is complemented by the fact that nearly all the O’Dimm related scenes in the DLC have more pronounced shadows in eerily dim lighting that emphasizes the considerably more sinister nature of your predicament.
Every aspect of Gaunter O’ Dimm’s theme, the cutscenes and third party references about the character speak of a being that has a gripping control of all that come across him and there is a slow rotting of the feeling of personal safety the more you hear, see and interact with him.
Deft Use of Power
O’ Dimm is considered by many to be the single most powerful villain/character in the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt—this is clear. His power and control over dimensions of space and time allow him to appear nigh omnipotent (though he states he is not).
With the means to stop time, create pocket realities and manifest just about anything of any nature into being, it is no surprise that Geralt’s first guess about O’Dimm is that of a djinn, arguably the most powerful of foes he faced in his legendary career as a Witcher, who also share wish granting capabilities with a malicious twist.
O’Dimm is fearfully powerful yes—but it is how he uses it that stands out as a far more interesting observation.
One of the most obvious to note is that O’Dimm’s capacity for manipulation of the highest level. He knows his power, and were it so that he wished, he could easily crush anyone he comes across.
However, he relishes in lengthening the chase for his prey simply because it’s more amusing to him. He would rather toy with his victims to lengthen their suffering in imaginative ways before driving them to the point of despair and surrender, breaking their will, their wits, and soul.
As you and others will have indicated across the game, O’ Dimm almost never intervenes directly with his victims. He could induce you nightmares about your deceased loved ones in such vivid detail that you’d want to cross over to the other side yourself to be with them.
He can give a “solution” that ends up being fatal to you because of some “bad luck” associated to it. If you’re unaware of his abilities, then you see one thing go wrong after another.
You don’t know how this could be happening when you pretty much got what you wished for.
The basics of any countermeasure to danger first lies in awareness and threat perception—the less of it we have, the more prone to discomfort, panic and ultimately fear.
In offering a surprisingly convenient balm to victims having imperfect knowledge and flawed desires that feed into their poorly constructed decisions, O’ Dimm effectively manipulates you to be the architect of your own demise.
For anyone with the awareness of his extent of power, it intimidates them as it is conveyed that he is exerting merely a fraction of what they know he is capable of, thus leaving them with a perpetual state of caution when dealing with him.
This is true to observations in many social interactions too, where the most powerful figure of a group, gathering or organization can choose not to always display and advertise their power reach to others—but the others know it, and would still pay their dues within the social interactions. In the animal kingdom, the alpha of a pack does not go about establishing dominance by howling and chest beating every minute—only when it needs to.
The other members of the pack would make a lot of noise among themselves, and may even bother the alpha sometimes, but the alpha may brush it off and just entertain that kind of impudence.
But even then, the rest of the pack know their limits, and keep from constantly angering the alpha. The demonstrated passivity by the alpha is correctly not assumed as weakness by the pack as they fully understand it’s actual capability.
In fact, this realization of power is ironically felt even during his defeat in the DLC if you choose to defy him.
To start things off, you can’t even fight him conventionally.
No, you have to convince this nigh powerful being to be interested in entertaining that request first of all by appealing to his wants—which is to make a deal, and play by his rules of engagement.
This in itself is a power play.
You don’t get to choose the terms of your fight. You’re already on the backfoot.
As the final encounter is essentially a twisted game of hide and seek, with Geralt being tasked to find O’Dimm to win this bet.
The level has surprise encounters and level shifts, against which Geralt protests that these were not part of the deal, but O’Dimm corrects him stating that Geralt never specified. The encounter runs on a timer of sorts, which is very rare for a 1v1 encounter in the Witcher series.
This does not go well with a demented, ever shifting mirror dimension of dark and bloody vestiges and a map area that is completely new and unavailable, robbing you of much needed sensory mastery of the level.
All of this indicates O’Dimm’s ability to impose his complete will over this dimension but isn’t doing so because he’s fair about the rules of engagement.
This principle of fair play to the rules of engagement (both prior and in the final encounter) is probably the only reason you walk away when you “defeat” him.
When you finally find him, O’Dimm rages in defeat, bound by his own rules as he gets banished (most likely temporarily) from this plane of existence.
And then you finally see his true form. A more devilish humanoid that projects a sinister and evil impression.
He speaks in a completely eldritch language as he starts clapping sarcastically to congratulate you on your “win”—a win that he allowed because he decided to play by the rules he himself set which he never really needed to begin with.
You realize that this one of the few video game villains whom you’ve never actually beaten by brute force, but merely bested within terms that were agreed on a whim by your enemy.
To some, this is leaves them with a sense of a tainted victory, knowing that they did not impose their will without reservation in this beating of your opponent, and that the enemy simply chose to put himself when he could have finished you off otherwise.
Arrogance biting back? Yes, definitely. But you didn’t exactly have any other way to beat him either.
A Memorable Encounter
From start till finish, the tiny details put into the appearance, interactions and themes surrounding Gaunter O’ Dimm is probably what makes him a great villain.
From a very cliché set of powers and inspirations, the execution of the character’s presence inserted in a gradual but significant manner, along with the difference of how he is treated by not just us but Geralt as well results to a memorable addition to the already packed Witcher lore.
That he appeals to an innate and at times uglier, desperate side to us as humans while demonstrating that we can choose actions, but not the consequences that come with it is a cautionary reminder to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it, and you may not always like it.