I recently had a chance to sit down with with a friend's copy of Far Cry 3
and was excited to give it a go. Save the malaria, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed its predecessor, and with its favorable reviews, I had high expectations. There were some things I knew about the game going in that didn't thrill me, such as the ever-present minimap, but I wasn't prepared for the dealbreaker that cropped up about twenty minutes in. Those who've played it may already know where I'm going with this, but for those who haven't, let me warn you right now: Far Cry 3
is a racist game. To anyone who wishes to contest that claim, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the following narrative tropes: the noble savage, the magical negro, the sexualized other, and the white man's burden. All four of these I encountered within the game's first half-hour, with each feeding the flames of my confusion and offense in kind, and by the time I had reached and liberated the first privateer settlement, I knew I was done with the game.
Yet, in looking back, the foulest taste still lingering in my mouth isn't even the presence of these decidedly antiquated plot devices. What concerns me the most is that I received virtually no forewarning of their existence, not from news coverage, not from previews, not from reviews. The only person I've seen address the game's racism in any capacity is Destructoid's Jim Sterling, yet in his review of the game, he brushes it aside in literally one sentence. Considering the amount of coverage Resident Evil 5
received for its racist content, why is Far Cry 3
, whose content is arguably just as questionable, treated with such impunity? Must games have white protagonists killing "traditionally" garbed Africans à la Resident Evil 5
to register on the gaming community's racism Richter scales? As far as I can tell, there are only a handful of possible reasons why gamers didn't raise a fuss over Far Cry 3
. Some are more plausible than others, but all are equally disconcerting.
The first possibility, likely the furthest from plausibility of the lot, is that the game actually isn't as bad as I'm making it out to be. Clearly I'm biased against this assertion, what with my writing a post arguing to the contrary, but I'll concede the possibility that I'm making mountains out of molehills. But the molehills seem to me rather sizable as they are; little effort is needed to understand the Rakyat's exaltation of the first white non-pirate with a gun on the island as their savior as an example of white imperialist fantasy. Or to understand the Tatau and its transformation of Jason Brody as a primitivist wet dream. Jeffrey Yohalem, lead writer of Far Cry 3
, has adamantly held that his use of these devices was meant to be hyperbolic, but since virtually no one picked up on the plot's subversive intentions, the whole affair feels uncomfortably sincere. The game effectively shot itself in its narrative foot by seemingly embracing the very same questionable action game tropes it was apparently trying to comment on. While I'm often a champion of the artist's intentions in one's understanding of a work, it's hard to interpret Far Cry 3
in the manner Yohalem apparently intended given how poorly its disingenuous nature was conveyed. But an intention is still an intention even when revealed to no one but the artist himself, and in that sense, one might say that Far Cry 3
isn't actually a racist game so much as it's a poorly written one. However, I would hazard a guess that most works of fiction with racist elements were not conceived with racist intent, yet we still feel justified in criticizing those works for that content. Despite its subversive intentions, I think we can and should do the same for Far Cry 3
Yeah, white people!
The second possibility is that the majority of players somehow failed to notice the racism in Far Cry 3
's narrative. Perhaps their tolerance for that sort of content is greater than my own, with anything shy of caricature failing to register as racially insensitive. After all, the game thankfully isn't as overt as it could have been with its themes, and perhaps it was subtle enough to remain undetected by most. But then why was it so readily apparent to me? I don't think I'm a particularly offensible person when it comes to artistic expressions, yet I stopped playing Far Cry 3
out of protest and indignation. Unless, unbeknownst to me, I'm actually hypersensitive to potentially offensive content, I don't think the game's racism is possible to miss, assuming one knows what to look for while playing it. And maybe that's exactly the problem: perhaps the majority of players aren't aware of these tropes or why they're considered offensive. They're nuanced in comparison to overt caricature, and it very well could be the case that many people simply haven't been exposed to critical understandings of them in their daily lives. The fact that many people remain convinced that Resident Evil 5
isn't at the very least insensitive seems to confirm that to some extent. If ignorance is indeed the reason for Far Cry 3
's free ride, though, while we can't blame the players themselves for not being exposed to such knowledge, it paints a rather unlearned picture of the gaming community nonetheless. If we cannot acknowledge such shortcomings in the content we consume, our medium clearly isn't as mature as we posture it to be.
The third and most unsettling possibility is that players noticed these tropes, acknowledged that they were racist, but simply didn't care. Perhaps players valued the gameplay of Far Cry 3
enough to ignore the insensitivity of its narrative. Or perhaps they didn't feel that its racist content significantly hindered their enjoyment of the game as a whole. Regardless of the specifics, if this does describe a sizable portion of Far Cry 3
players, I think we as both a community and as an industry have a problem. While I understand that aesthetic tastes are subjective, and that people are entitled to value whatever they wish in their art, I feel as though not acknowledging the racist content of the game, even as Jim Sterling did in his review, is at the very least dishonest. Even when discussing the game with those players who don't play video games for their narratives, to not at least bring up these themes as a cautionary measure seems like a manner of trickery. One wouldn't discuss let alone praise Triumph of the Will
without first acknowledging and condemning its pro-Nazi message, even when recommending it to those who have a penchant for cinematography. Why we don't have a similar attitude towards Far Cry 3
is utterly beyond me.
Furthermore, if we allow this content to be swept under the rug in our community's public discourse of games, we're all but condoning its presence, letting developers know that relying on antiquated and offensive tropes isn't something they need to worry about as it won't affect their sales or their standing in the court of public opinion. But shouldn't it? Shouldn't we as a community refuse to buy games that marginalize and discriminate against peoples? Or at the very least, shouldn't we as a community be vocal in our disapproval of that discriminatory content? Those who bought Far Cry 3
and enjoyed what else it had to offer could still be honest with both others and themselves in admitting that the game has questionable content, even if they don't take to the streets or contact Ubisoft personally. I guess where I'm going with all of this is that we as the video game community often shirk our responsibility to police this kind of content when if comes to light; sometimes it goes undetected, other times it's thought to be insignificant. The point we often seems to miss, however, is that it shouldn't even exist in the first place, regardless of its subtlety, and the only way we can ensure that is by at least addressing it when it arises. I won't be buying Far Cry 3
. To those who haven't yet, I encourage you to follow suit.