Far Cry 5’s “Nontroversy” – When is Being Apolitical Too Political?
Far Cry 5 is a great refresh on the Far Cry formula. Gone are the radio towers, mini-map, and worthless collectathons, instead you can either find new things by exploring or find maps which will mark points of interest. Crafting is gone, but the new skill system works great. The gameplay feels awesome and it’s a great way to start 2018’s year of gaming. But there’s been an interesting trend involving the story of Far Cry 5, many review sites have been lambasting the story for being apolitical. This complaint is quite alarming when it comes to future writing in video games. Should all games have political stories? What politics are the right politics? Should gameplay or fun be sacrificed to fit a political agenda? All these questions hang in the air, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. How journalists got to this point is interesting so let’s take a quick look at the timeline leading up to this lunacy.
Far Cry 5 was announced at E3 2017, sporting an American setting in Montana. The villains were shown to be cultists that called themselves the Project at Eden’s Gate, religious extremists that believe Doomsday is upon us. Immediately this courted controversy, with many media outlets blowing the villains out of proportion, some even saying the game was a “Republican slaughter simulator”. Understandably, many felt that Ubisoft was attacking their beliefs both religiously and politically. As time went on the director of the game, Dan Hay, hinted that the game was going to have contemporary politics that had a heavy presence in the story. This isn’t the first time politics or religion have been used to market a game. One recalls the Sin to Win E3 promotion for Dante’s Inferno, that game also used actors parading as pastors protesting as another form of marketing. Politics also inadvertently marketed Wolfenstien II: The New Colossus. With one of its trailers proudly proclaiming “NO MORE NAZIS”, some people on both sides took this way too far. Gaming is no stranger to this. But where games are sometimes seen as too political or offensive, none have ever been called too apolitical.
Where this started was after the E3 reveal, within months the press had gotten their hands on early builds and many came away with mixed impressions. Some journalists were put off by how inclusive the cult seemed to be, as there were women and minority cultists, the cult, they argued, should have been molded more as white nationalists, citing how the flag looked similar to the German Battle Cross or the Iron Cross, a symbol that is often associated with white nationalists. They also pointed to Charlottesville, citing the white supremacists and nationalists that arrived to protest the removal of a statue. There was also complaints that the villain, Joseph Seed, might be a sympathetic villain. This is an odd point, since Far Cry 3 the games have made the villains charismatic and charming. Vaas’ hate-to-love/love-to-hate personality and Pagan Min’s humorous calls to protagonist Ajay made them highlights of their respective games. So it’s not uncommon for the villain to be likable or sympathetic in Far Cry. Another complaint was that some friendly quest givers had lines that made fun of politics. One such NPC was Hurk Drubman Sr., father of the fan-favorite Hurk. Hurk Sr. is a red-blooded American, about as red as you can get. With quotables like, “Obama-loving Libtards” and “You know what gerrymandering is? You’re a normal person, of course not”, he’s a great parody of uber Republicans. Some found him problematic though. It was quickly becoming clear that Far Cry 5 wouldn’t be a political product, rather it was a parody of American culture.
Upon release many critics gave the game good reviews but there was a lot of criticism for the story. Review sites like Polygon and Kotaku were upset that the game was too apolitical so as not to offend anyone. But if the critics actually payed attention to the game there was plenty of political fat to chew. This has some major spoilers for Far Cry 5, turn back now if you want to see the game spoiler-free. When looking at the Project at Eden’s Gate we see that they formed out of desperation, these people are genuinely afraid that the end of the world is upon them. Joseph Seed formed the cult because he thought he saw signs of the apocalypse in the current social and political climate. Throughout the story we are also shown that the lieutenants have tortured backgrounds. John for instance was heavily abused as a child, one night his parents beat him so bad that he couldn’t cry anymore, rather he relished the pain, only able to say yes to the beating. The game explores these traumas and provides context as to how Joseph gathered his flock. In doing research for this piece I found that all three of the male antagonists have names that have interesting placements in the Bible.
Joseph was an interesting figure in the Bible as his dreams prophesied future events, alluding that Joseph in-game may be telling the future. In Rabbinic tradition Joseph is also seen as a messianic figure, dying on the battlefield of Armageddon during the fall of God’s enemies. John has two major placements, as there is John the Baptist and the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John chronicles the life of Jesus, going from his gathering of Apostles, to the betrayal of Judas, the crucifixion, and finally the resurrection. John the Baptist meanwhile is a figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A prophet and labeled messianic figure John supposedly knew that Jesus, a more powerful messiah, would one day appear. Some believe he even baptized Jesus but this point is often contented by scholars. Finally there is Jacob, who, in Genesis, fathered Joseph. There is little else to go on for Jacob but taking the age difference into context it explains why they made Jacob the older ‘brother’ of Joseph. Faith is a little more vague but she seems kinda like Mary Magdalene, someone was who lost and taken in by Joseph. The religious themes run deep in this game and really emphasize the idea that Joseph is some sort of new Messiah.
Another theme that I’ve seen crop up around the story is The Four Horsemen. The Family represents the embodiment’s of War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. This works when lining up the themes of each region. John is Famine, taking food and gas from Fall’s End, slowly eroding the people there. Jacob is war, culling the weak, building the strong, and using extreme violence to rule. Faith is Pestilence, poisoning the air and water with Bliss, making people fall victim to the mind-altering powers of the drug. Joseph is the last Horseman, that of Death. In the end he gives you a choice, let him take your friends or try to fight him. If you surrender to him you leave but Joseph activates you as a sleeper agent, having you kill the sheriff and deputies. If you fight him you save your friends but learn that the world is truly ending, with nukes exploding, ending with you and Joseph being stuck in a bunker together, with him saying that you’re family now.
The game ditches contemporary politics for a more timeless tale of desperation, choice, and futility. There’s other political themes, such as the argument of the Second Amendment. In the game the cult has taken over due to the sheer arsenal they posses, from machine guns to planes. Maybe they wouldn’t have what they have of there was gun control? But also take into account there’s no way a civilian could get that type of equipment. On the other hand the Second Amendment is what has kept Hope County fighting. Individuals protecting their families and groups, like the Whitetail Militia, have taken up arms to protect their communities. This is how the game handles its political message, it’s up to the player to find their beliefs. One big point in the game for me is religion. To fully disclose, I was raised Christian with Catholic influences from other family members. When I was in high school I converted to atheism after a series of events that challenged my faith. I still am atheist to this day. When playing the game I felt quick to condemn the cult for taking religious dogma to the extreme. But when I met Pastor Jerome it made me think a bit more. Here was someone who held his convictions, who held his faith even in these trying moments, someone who wasn’t disillusioned because of some extremists. It gave me a new perspective on faith and while I’m not going to convert any time soon it was an interesting point that I haven’t seen many other games do. The politics are there and they are written well, anyone who says otherwise seem to be actively ignoring it.
But dear reader, that’s not where this story ends. Criticism such as this could set a very dangerous precedent for the future of storytelling in games. Why did Far Cry 5 need a contemporary story? Why did it need to alienate a potential audience? Would the left-leaning politics be considered the right politics? The simple answer to all these questions is that many journalists let their biases come out in full force. Left-leaning politics wouldn’t have made this game better, nor would have right-leaning. When games are remembered for their political messages, its not for politics that were contemporary when the game released. One of the detractors of the game said something along the lines that literature, their example was Dickens, often reflects the then contemporary politics. But this argument is a not valid, Far Cry, Bioshock, and Papers, Please aren’t set in any specific period or real world location, unlike Dickens’ stories. Rapture is separate from the rest of world, the country in Papers, Please is under tyrannical rule and while set in the 80’s it uses it’s gameplay to talk about life under a regime, and Hope County resides outside of time. Taking these aspects into account, it’s easy to see why these games are loved, Bioshock explored objectivism, and Papers, Please captured the hopelessness of tyranny. Far Cry 5 will be remembered as a game that discussed religious themes, hope, freedom, and futility. It will also be known in a lesser light as the game that put a spotlight on the biases held by the major journalist publications.
This piece may not fit the mold of current mainstream gaming journalism but these are my beliefs, which I will not compromise. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this piece, and if you didn’t then let’s start the discussion down in the comments. For now, I’m going to go play more video games, and certainly more Far Cry 5.
P.S. If you would like to fact-check my sources they are linked down below.