In all honesty I was putting off writing a thought piece on Far Cry 5. There was no reason behind it other than the lack of time, and then the Virginia Riots happened.
True, at first glance those two don’t have much in common. The Charlottesville riots started out after the announcement of decision made to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederacy army general turned from racist from hero in recent years. Robert Edward Lee was born in 1807 in Virginia, son of a Revolutionary War officer, Lee had quite a legacy to live up to. A top graduate of a little institution known as West Point Academy, outstanding strategist, and innovative engineer, Lee won most battles he fought, until his eventual surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865. Always the peace seeker, Lee called for a reconciliation between the Union and Confederate states.
Now as for slavery, while Lee was not exactly an abolitionist, he was not a great supporter of slavery either, but as fate would have it he was left a plantation by his father-in-law.
The West Point graduate was not accustomed to running a planation, let alone rule slaves with an iron fist: after failing to find a proper man to do the job in his stead, Lee took a two-year leave from his military duties and became fully engrossed in the planation and slavery business. While there were mixed accounts on the acts of violence taking place on the Arlington planation, two things were clear: 1) Lee did not see slaves as equals or as freemen (and women), 2) he never committed atrocities or obscene acts of violence, nonetheless, he did insist for the more insubordinate slaves to be ‘disciplined’. In a nutshell, there were people far worse than Lee out there, but he wasn’t exactly an advocate for Black Peoples’ rights.
Robert E. Lee was remembered — in history pages and the collective mind — as a dauntless general forever striving for the unity of his people and his country. Unlike his father, Henry Lee III who left behind a great legacy for fighting for America’s independence, Lee Jr left something far more complex behind: the Virginia riots of 2107 proved just that.
But let us not be naive: it was not the Civil War (1861-1865) that created a fragmented state with deeply rooted differences in mentality, way of life, and values. When a group of protesters gather at Charlottesville on the Friday of August 11, 2017 (a gathering that turned into a highly violent riot, which resulted in 3 deaths, and over a statue no less), the fragmented fabric of American society presented itself once more as a collective of (not only liberals) Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and white Supremacists gathered to rally in protests over the disrespect olden ways. Although the riot(s) were not an ode to the Confederacy Flag, rathe they were the culmination of something that has been brewing in the subconscious American mind for a while now.
In all honesty, it will be greatly unfair to give Trump all the credit for the awakening of white supremacist organizations all over the US: read on US history from the moment the Mayflower first anchored at the shore of Cape Code. But alas, this is not a crash course on American history, but rather the explanation to the relevance of Far Cry 5, in this day of political uncertainty and the raise of racism and extreme nationalism all over the world.
Far Cary 5 (scheduled to be released on February 27, 2018) is a monumental stepping stone in an attempt to make video-games even more relevant than they ever were, without seeming preachy or deliver a moral (well, maybe it does deliver a moral). Far Cry 5 is just — as the poet said — art imitating life. And perhaps, in the current political climate, this is exactly the kind of game we need.
Far Cry has its humble origins dating back to 2004. Developed by Crytek (Germany) and published by (France) the game features the pixelated Arnold-Schwarzenegger doppelgänger Jack Carver. With his all-American face and his all-American archetypical story (only seen in movies) of the ex-special ops turned jet-ski instructor (or something along the line), Jack is hired by the fine piece of a$$ Valerie Constantine (reporter? Activist?) to take her to an uncharted island in Micronesia (perhaps the franchise should have been originally named Uncharted as the story always takes place in those remote, unknown territories…Just think about it for a minute). Unfortunately, their boat is blown up — by a rocket, no less. As Jack regains his conciseness he must find the missing sultry Valerie and get the hell off this base-for-genetic-experiments-island. The game received a bunch of awards for being generally awesome as hell, and was even made into a movie (that totally tanked) featuring the Inglorious Til Schweiger and Udo Kier (the cool German dude who kinda looks like an old Robert Downey Jr.)
Far Cry 2 came along four years later, this time developed by the Montreal based Ubisoft studio. The setting was — this time — central Africa featuring sandbox mode, which essential meant a nonlinear gameplay and vast open world, something I believe Ubisoft became huge fans of. The player could choose joining either faction fighting for control over the region (keep in mind that both ruthless, violent, and Machiavellian: Ubisoft is the king of grey areas). This is not to say that all you got to do was ride zebras and shoot people: the ultimate aim of the game (rhyme) was to capture/assassinate war monger Jackal, so that the area will eventually gain some peace. While the game did have glitches, technical errors and other pesky matters it was generally received with praise. And then Far Cry 3 came along… Nothing was the same again.
FR3 was released in 2012 (I’m sensing a time pattern here). Developed by the Ubisoft Montreal studio, the game follows protagonist Jason Brody and his hoard of trust-fund friends. While on their vacay somewhere vague in the Pacific Ocean (skydiving to the sound of Paper Planes) the group gets shutdown/lands somewhere badly. Jason wakes up to find himself in a makeshift jail cell along with his older brother, and psychopath Vaas informing the two of them that he will blackmail their parents for money, only to sell them into slavery later. The game is an open world, while still having clear objectives. Far Cry 3 was the recipient of numerous awards, and to this day features one of the most beloved villains in video game history.
Far Cry 4 came out in 2014, this time featuring a non-white protagonist by the name of Ajay Ghale, with the setting being the Himalayas. While the game does have stunning graphics, a crazy open world environment for the player to explore, and ridable elephants, it does feature an almost characterless protagonist, or at least that’s what some people said. Overall the game was a real hit and sold exceptionally well in its first year of release.
Alright, so what have we got ourselves so far? The franchise usually takes place in ‘exotic’ or remote locations: places often dubbed ‘third world’. The protagonist is usually white or grew up in the West, and after some mishap finds himself in dire straits. With the aid of the cooky locals he is transformed into a lean-mean-killing-machine intent on achieving his goal (usually escape), with the method of (re)payment usually being liberating the local population from tyrannical rule. Interestingly enough the game often focused on the most current global troubling events: human trafficking, drugs, illegal DNA experimentations (nope, those are not just DOOM plot lines), civil wars, and lastly (and most currently) END OF DAYS. Contrary to what some people might assume, the game (Far Cry 5) has been in development prior Trump’s fateful election as president, in fact it has begun even before he proposed his candidacy to run for president.
Taking place in the Western State of Montana, Hope County Ubisoft takes players (for the first time) from exotic honeymoon destinations and plums right smack middle of Custer’s last stand (an apt location, if you ask me). Famous for its mountain terrain, wildlife, mining, and generally fresh air Montana sounds like paradise on earth, this — in my opinion — only makes the whole thing even more unsetteling.
Like most Far Cry titles preceding FR5 the game is mostly an open world setting, with the player having an ample amount of time to explore, roam, and rise all manners of havoc, interestingly enough this is also the first title in the franchise which does not have a predesigned protagonist: the player is free to design their playable character however they see fit, from gender to skin tone. Oh, and you also get a canine companion: “always trust your dog” seems to be the game’s sales pitch.
So what is the game all about, well, essentially it’s about a crazy cult in Montana, lead by (eerily, White Supremacist-like) Father Joseph. Lean, charismatic, tattoo-covered, gun-loving Father Joseph is meant to step into the shoes of the designated likeable villain that Ubisoft’s Far Cry is famous for (Pagan Min and Vaas Montenegro, anyone?). The player’s role is to bring him and his violent followers down, eventually restoring peace to Hope County. Along the road we meet sympathizers such as Mary, Father Jerome, and Nick Rye. Each of them has an axe to grind, and will more than gladly assist you in taking The Father down.
At this point you might be assuming to yourself that the game is all about a bunch of crazy white people — who also happen to be white supremacists — and it’s your job to put end to their shenanigans by blowing them all to pieces. However, and this however is pretty big, FC is not really about white people vs. the world, it is more about us vs. them, and ‘them’ being anyone who opposes the doomsday cult’s (Project at Eden’s Door) way of life. And yet, it is easy to see this game as something else entirely: in the director’s mind (Dan Hay) the story is about disillusionment with the American dream. After the devastating economic collapse of 2008 it appeared that more and more people in America were loosing faith in their government. Disenfranchised, unemployed, and homeless, it is little wonder that the desperate people of Hope County (essentially stripped of all hope) turn to Father Joseph for solace.
As they say: desperate times call for desperate measures, and the FC series has always been all about that.
But last you forget, this is the age of the internet, and everyone including their mother has an opinion. As soon as the game’s narrative and art were revealed protest arose from various groups among the WWW, claiming that the video game does non other than ignite anti-white attitude, giving virtual power to all them non-whites to kill, eh, virtual whites. That’s right, FAR CRY 5 promotes white genocide. Some laughed it off, some agreed, others brought forward the argument that when Jason Brody was killing many a native at Rook Island no one cried out in protest.
It was the latter reasoning made me pause and think. And think some more.
In Far Cry 3 I was introduced to Jason (in my mind I always call him Jay-San) Brody, a baby-faced upper middle class young man from the US. He and his friends are on a trip on a lifetime, doing all kinds of extreme sport, clubbing, whatever… In retrospect they all looked like douches to me. I guess it was at that point — when the group was first introduced — that the player already picked sides (for or against Jason and the gang) , a choice that eventually translated to one of the two possible endings of the game.
As the plot progresses we see Jason transform from the privileged kid from the suburbs into a lean-mean-killing-machine, and as his personality transforms he must eventually make the ultimate choice between his friends and the Island he helped liberate. Somehow I was oblivious to the fact that Jason — a white kid — was running amok shooting down indigenous peoples for the heck of it.
You see, in my mind (essentially) his goal becomes surviving, rescuing what remains of his group of friends, and finally escaping Rook Island. But if you insist on digging deeper and getting all racial about it, FR3 can be analyzed from a completely different angle: Jason Brody is a privileged white kid from the US who has privileged white friends. They are very rich, good-looking, have no understanding (respect) or knowledge of their surroundings… They are the typical Western tourists exploiting anything and everything they can get their Lysoled hands on. When the groups lends in uncharted territories and taken hostage by pirates (not the whimsical Captain Jack Sparrow types), it is down to Jason to man-up and save his friends.
Being all-American (which automatically translate to being awesome), Jason manages to save not just his friends, but also the entire of the Rakyat people. He kills psycho-dude Vaas, makes sweet love to the local babe/goddess Citra, kills the top bad guy (who is also white), and kinda becomes everyone’s hero. Apparently the weaklings of Rakyat could not fend for themselves and had to wait for one-man-army American Jason Brody to show-up and liberate them from the tyrannical (and not whimsical) drug trafficking pirates. But I mean, that’s one way to look at it… Jason did A LOT of killing in the name of freedom… Is it just me, or does this sound familiar to anyone? I’m sensing a deja vu here…American history 101, anyone?
Anyway, perhaps someone at Ubisoft got the memo and decided to come up with Far Cry 4, hm?
Ah, Far Cry 4: my eyes water and my heart palpitates just thinking of those breath-taking, pixelated mountains.
Ajay Ghale is a native of Kyrat (on his parents’ side). He returns in his early twenties to scatter his mother’s ashes from the picturesque mountain tops of the Himalayan region. Clearly that does not exactly work out for him.
Ajay quickly finds himself smack-middle between two factions, both bent on liberating Kyrat: each leader has their own understanding and ideas regarding how the said liberation should be done. It is up to Ajay (player) to choose which faction they relate to most, what causes seem most important. Far Cry 4 was the first game in the franchise with a non-white protagonist who wasn’t a tourist blasting his way through the jungle. In all honesty I thought it was a really neat idea: Ajay seemed pretty cool (although he was labeled at boring by some), Kyrat was awesome and mystical as shit, the whole setting was super impressive, even if the entire thing felt like a rendition of Far Cry 3. And granted, Ajay was blasting things and killing people, but at least those were his people, so in a way he had more right killing them than Jason did killing the indigenous people in FC3… I mean, does that make sense? I guess it does. Any which way, no one was saying anything about ethnocide.
So what about FC4? Why does it make (some) people angry? Far Cry 4 is about disenfranchised white Americans living in Montana. Just like in the previous games the local population is entrapped by a charismatic yet crazy leader and his band of misfits. And some people actually got mad because the player got to kill WHITE PEOPLE instead of natives of distant lands who were anything but white. I think what scared some people was the idea that a player will design a black character, and that black character (or hispanic, Jewish, Asian) will go about throwing dynamite at all those good WASPy folk. We can’t have none of that, no siry.
And this is where I have to be frank with you: when I first heard about the plot and setting of FC4, what blew my mind and was my only point of interest was the fact that this game was being released in Trump’s America. Far Cry 4 is perhaps the most realistic game setting to date.
Usually watching a Far Cry trailer filled me with awe: from the crystal clear waters with waves washing along a sandy beach, to the breathtaking views from the Himalayas, but this, this was different — I was no longer in awe, I was actually kind of scared. I got scared because 1) I’m a pretty sensitive person (despite what some of my coworkers might think), 2) doomsday cults scare the crap out of me (maybe because religion played such a dominant role in my life sine the day I was born), and 3) I can totally see the setting in Hope County, Montana being an actual thing. Did I view it as white genocide? Nope, but with the Trump administration, the rise of far-right parties in Europe, spiking obesity rates… It’s easy to see where some people are coming from, even if they are labeled as ‘idiots’ by most.
America had always been fragmented, it has always been just as close minded and racist as its been openminded and liberal. It will continue having movements such as Black Lives Matter along with Neo-Nazi rallies in Kentucky, and white supremacist demonstrations in Virginia… Isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about; it is in The Amendment, after all.
So what does is say for Far Cry 4? I think it says that this game is provocative and relevant, at least judging from what I can make out of the trailer. I also think it was much needed, as it comes to show — first and foremost — that we need to see what goes on in our own backyard before we go and try fixing other people’s problems (or mow their lawn). With that said, it will be only on the release date of February 27, 2018 that we’ll be able to pass a fair judgment on the game that has the potential to push the envelope.