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Exploring The Politics Of Far Cry 5

Exploring The Politics Of Far Cry 5

"In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves," - The Buddha

If you’ve been following American Politics in the past 36 months, you can’t help but agree with Mr. Buddha up there. We now live in a world of near-constant outrage, where our primary form of communication is pithy tweets attacking one another, and we’re routinely barraged with an abundance of ‘bombshell’ information that’s more akin to a fart in the wind.

Why, exactly, does Stormy Daniels get a 60 Minutes interview on Prime Time TV, but Rand Paul’s insane breakdown of current budget legislation does not? Because it’s easy. Porn Star boinks President is far more sexy and digestible and palatable than ‘real’ issues like insane government waste.

Safe to say, it pays to play it safe.

So, when a massive video game franchise like Far Cry appears to be taking an unsafe gamble there’s likely to be some controversy - and naturally, outrage. We saw this with the initial trailer for Far Cry 5, which sort of seemed to suggest the game would be a slaughter box in Trump country for liberals to get their aggressions out with all the guns they suggest no one should be allowed to own.

Then there was a live-action trailer and a live-action short-film, all focusing on the hypnotic nature of bad guy Joseph Seed’s sermons and his crazy cultists. And boy howdy, if you’re a secular fellah such as myself, awash in a sea of confusion regarding life, the universe, and everything...Seed makes some sense, is all I’m saying.

These sermons were juxtaposed with forcible religious conversions and other nefarious activities that ultimately result in the player’s quest to blow the entirety of Seed’s congregation off the map. Which is to say this setting (Trump Country) and these antagonists (Religious Zealots) and the political hotbed that is 2018 (insanity) could make for a disgruntled player-base.

“Hooray, another SJW attack on us conservatives! Can’t wait to support that with my money,” was likely a variation on a sentiment being bandied about in many circles - no matter how interesting or thought-provoking the story could be. Regardless, based on the marketing materials, religious players may feel under attack, and yes, conservative white males could, yet again, have a right to be irked at being just about the only group in America - perhaps deservedly -  you can make fun of without fear of serious societal repercussion.

Even liberal players could grow weary of playing such a heavy-handed game that is so shockingly contemporary, especially if they’re looking for an escape from today’s ubiquitous politics.

Alas, it turns out that fear of controversy is much-a-do about nothing; Polygon is saying the game doesn’t go far enough:

The general absence of context in Far Cry 5 feels intentional, as if to smooth over any potentially controversial edges. You’re fighting against a conservative religious cult that has taken control of a big chunk of Montana, which made some conservative and Christian commentators uncomfortable during the game’s initial marketing.

Those folks shouldn’t worry; any thematic point to be made about religion, the United States or the current state of the nation’s politics is quickly thrown aside to make way for all sorts of jokes and lighthearted hijinks — although you’ll also see a lot of crucifixions in your travels. It’s clear that this is a cult based on Christianity, but holy hell, is the game careful to dance around that fact.”

So, Far Cry 5 looks to be playing it safe politically. But here’s the weird thing about Ubisoft’s Far Cry series. The stories have never been particularly good or controversial. Far Cry has always been more about incredible moments and well written, occasionally terrifying characters and ideas than it has been about delivering a fully cohesive narrative. They’re messy and weird, and make you think within the margins of their traditional narratives.

For example in 2012, I was in the process of being blown away by Far Cry 3. Armed with a full auto machine gun, mowing down enemies with glee, I heard my mom, watching TV in the other room, gasp. I muted my TV, kept playing, and listened to the news report. There had been a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

I didn't stop shooting, even as details of the real-life horror were reported. After the fact, I felt...gross. I had murdered...dozens of virtual enemies and enjoyed every second of it, only casually paying attention to the real world horror literally outside my door. At that moment in time, I was blasting hot lead like you wouldn’t believe...And too ‘into it’ to stop.

Amongst Mario castles and Portal Guns and Metal Gear monologues, this moment of perpetuating virtual tragedy while listening to the real-life kind resonates as perhaps my most pungent gaming memory, and it’s a bummer it’s such a shameful one. At this intersection of fantasy and reality, I chose fantasy.

As I’d soon find out, Far Cry 3 was about the very thing I was experiencing; the seductive allure of violent power fantasies - the kind games had happily delivered for years, but rarely commented upon on the Triple-A stage. Far Cry 3 was a commentary on, and encouragement of, the most basic of human instincts; to assert our dominance via violent means, to tap into our bestial, tribal, vicious nature - a nature that has seen humanity hit so many incredible peaks, and plunge to so many, remorseful, depths.

That’s a pretty heady concept, and a scary one to consider. Can the hole in our souls be filled with a little ruthless aggression?

Worked for David Fincher, I suppose.

Then in 2014, along came Far Cry 4 with an even messier point to make about culture-at-large during the GamerGate fiasco, where race and feminist issues were the words of the day. In fact, such a hotbed of controversy the gaming space was, the cover of Far Cry 4 was subject to cries of racism.

Ironically, Far Cry 4 is very much about Liberal Politics versus Conservative Politics, and the fact that unless people work together, you’ll get bamboozled by the first guy with a loud mouth, pretty suit, and willingness to say and do whatever it takes.

Sound familiar?

Like Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4’s message is more important than its methods, and its moments far more interesting than its story. In an effort to unseat the violent, sociopathic, and charming Pagan Min, you take up with rebels, undertake missions, and make choices regarding how to handle the future of the region. Will you support the 'traditional' ways; religion, spirituality, and some icky stuff regarding child brides, or would you try to move the culture forward, opting to distribute opium and play the role of a pragmatist - at the risk of creating a drugged out, addicted, ‘free’ society without much to live for or believe in? It’s one way or the other, unfortunately, without much room for nuance or finding a ‘correct’ path. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t as they say - but in a battle of strong wills, compromise is often viewed as weakness.  

There was a lot to chew on in Far Cry 4. Aside from the narrative, there were many characters who spoke the ‘truth,’ or told incredible, esoteric stories regarding religion or even gun culture.

Far Cry 4, arguably, was about political ideologies more than Far Cry 5 is, depending on which reviews you want to believe. The ultimate message being that your beliefs are just that - beliefs. It’s what you do with those beliefs, and how you accept the beliefs of others, that makes you a hero, villain, or hypocrite - and the quest for power can corrupt us all.

Not bad for a game where you can strap C4 to an elephant as a viable tactical strategy, am I right?

Thus, perhaps the diffused controversy surrounding Far Cry 5 is the best way to go. It’s the tradition after all. Far Cry is such a ludicrous series with incredible sights and sounds and explosions and gameplay opportunities, that to tie it all together and make an honest-to-goodness story - as opposed to a point - about our modern day society, or humanity’s love for violence or our personal political hypocrisies would be impossible considering your primary mode of interaction with this series, and most video games - is murder, and lots of it.

We do know the definition of insanity, right?