With E3 just around the corner, it’s difficult not to get hyped up about the video game industry!
…No, I lied. Given the last couple of years, on the whole E3 has kind of been lacking on what the emerging, diverse gaming populace want to see in their games. Some game companies are trying, like Guerrilla Games and their game Horizon Zero Dawn, but still end up missing the mark; for example, with Horizon, many Native players and onlookers found that their culture was appropriated and misrepresented because there were no actual Native people serving as consultants or even on the writing team. With game companies being so strangely reluctant to actually collaborate with people from the culture their game is going to represent, I found myself keeping away from one game series in particular: Far Cry.
The Far Cry series has been around for more than a decade and the gameplay within its more recent installments (FPS with both action and RPG elements) always attracts praise from critics and players alike. However, what put me off the series is the way it seems to embody the idea that cultures not our own are in some way barbaric and in need of liberation. For instance, 2012’s Far Cry 3 stars Jason Brody—like, seriously, have you heard a more “white guy from Orange County” name in your life?—who is captured by a pirate crew during a party along with his friends and brother on an island in the Indian Ocean, and gets caught up in some slavery ring/drug cartel business because of course that’s what’s happening. 2014’s Far Cry 4 feels like it takes a step in the right direction, having its (still male) protagonist Ajay actually have ties to the Nepalese-inspired culture of Kryat, where the game takes place. However, I can’t find anything that leads me to believe that Ubisoft actually consulted anyone from the Nepal area to help with their worldbuilding, and instead simply sent their team to Nepal to draw their own conclusions. Yet with the upcoming Far Cry 5 I can’t help but be excited because for once, the protagonist won’t be restricted to being a dude. Additionally, there’s no uncomfortable feeling of going overseas and bringing American justice to foreign people. Far Cry 5 takes a controversial–or perhaps just controversial given the political climate—look at a villainous group that’s been avoided for far too long in the series: white people.
Trigger warning for mentions of suicide.
With a name like Far Cry, one gets the impression that the game is supposed to take place a “far cry” away from what the player considers their norm. When creating a game taking place within the United States, what better place to do that than the mysterious and oft-forgotten Montana? The fifth main installment in the series takes players to the fictitious Hope County where all is not as idyllic as it seems; the county has been all but taken over by preacher Joseph Seed. Charismatic and under the impression he’s been chosen (by God, I’m assuming) to “protect” the people of Hope County, Seed has single-handedly brought to life the congregation of Eden’s Gate, which is less “congregation” and more “doomsday cult”. After a failed attempt at arresting Seed, you, the sheriff’s deputy, are left without any back-up and must rely on the unindoctrinated people left in Hope County to bring the cult down and to stop Seed and his militaristic rule.
If you’re not familiar with U.S.-grown cults, the existence of something like the Eden’s Gate congregation is not that far out. In the late 70s, there was the tragedy at Jonestown, a settlement in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, where American religious leader Jim Jones orchestrated the suicides of 918 people, many of whom were children; in the late 90s the religious-with-a-focus-on-UFOs cult Heaven’s Gate also conducted their own mass suicide to coincide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet; and even now, non-suicide related religious cults like Scientology and the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (an offshoot of the Mormon church) are still around harming unfortunate people who get swept up in them. While cults aren’t unique to America, exploring this mindset that has such a huge grasp on many parts of the USA’s history is incredibly fascinating and becoming increasingly more important as the cult of Nazism is trying desperately to rise once again on a larger scale.
What’s equally as important is allowing everyone to have a voice to fight against this kind of cult mentality: every player regardless of their gender or race should be allowed to have some sort of power over this terrible thing. While I still think that character creators in video games are not a decent replacement for protagonists who are actual characters of color, or women, or any queer sexuality, in a story like this it’s essential to let people explore their own relationship with the plot through a character that looks like them (or as close to them as the developers allow them to be). However, I do worry that giving players the freedom of a character creator will, in turn, lessen the conversation about prejudices in Hope County. For instance, would patriarchal leader Seed take a female sheriff less seriously than a male one? By that same token, would the women stuck in the cult be more ready to open up to another woman, one that didn’t take Seed’s shit? Would characters who aren’t white be victim to Montana’s seemingly growing racism? Would these characters form stronger bonds with the other non-white NPCs? Coding each reaction to even a low number of possibilities of created characters (i.e.: “male, female, white, not-white”) would take a hefty amount of work—an amount of work that if history continues its course Ubisoft probably isn’t going to put in the game. Even if it were in the game, it may not be entirely appreciated: loads of people play video games to escape the ever-present -isms surrounding them in their day to day lives. If it’s not explored through the player characters, then I hope at least some of these social issues are explored through the NPCs of the game.
As of right now very little has been seen of Far Cry 5. Despite this, and unsurprisingly so, there’s a loud minority of gamers who are up in arms about this game. Upon Googling, one of the first links you’ll see is a Change.org petition to get Ubisoft to cancel Far Cry 5. After you’re done rolling your eyes, you’ll see it’s the same old shit about tru gamers™ being harassed by the media and suffering at the hands of those nasty ess-jay-double-yoos. Even more laughable is the claim that that Seed and his congregation of white religious extremists are somehow “unrealistic”. The petition is just another pathetic ploy to keep the boring, racist, seixst status quo in video games a thing.
While the jaded, tired me isn’t exactly excited to sit through E3’s conferences this year, Far Cry 5 is a bright spot in an uncertain future. With any luck Ubisoft will continue their path on this game, undeterred by sad gamers who think another romp through drug cartels and the white man liberating a minority people is a worthwhile game to make. This is a game this and the upcoming years sorely need; many people need to feel that they’re capable of tearing down these cults and bringing justice to the people who lead them and nothing should take that away from them. I can’t wait to hear more about this game in June!