The Far Cry 4 Controversy: Banality is Good

[For context.]

Earlier today, Far Cry 4’s creative director, Alex Hutchinson, addressed the controversy surrounding artwork released to tease his upcoming game.

In the artwork—seen below—a person in a fine black suit jacket is sitting atop the lid of a large wooden barrel labelled “Uncle Sam’s Gun Powder”. In his right hand he swings an empty bottle of rum as a weapon, and in his left a blazing torch is held dangerously close to the explosive container. Various snippets of text are visible in the background, identifying this man as a dreadful sort. But the major focus of some people was the perceived narrative connotations of the image, between the man’s identity, appearance and behaviour. Although by his gormless face the horrific fellow may appear to be some sort of half-demon subversion of the human form, he is in fact a typical Irishman native to the small European country of “Ireland”, Far Cry 4’s setting.

Far Cry 4: Banality is Good

When I first saw this artwork, I had a few thoughts. My first thought was, “man, I can’t wait to play Far Cry 4.” I absolutely adored Far Cry 3. It was a game you could actually play, one awash with a host of features, solid buttons to press, and a story that was the opposite of racist, with its lazily written stereotypical native tribe that was really a super clever metaphor because whenever the game started to make no sense it was actually very profound by being deliberately dreadful. Its box art deserved every view by the 9 million people who looked at it, and so I was pleased to see that Ubisoft would follow it up so quickly.

My second thought—the one I pondered on the most—was “this guy in the black jacket is clearly the villain, and he looks completely savage.” I saw undeniable shades of primitivism, and I’m emotionally far enough away from reality that it intrigued me. I wasn’t so focused on the image’s use of his behaviour and appearance to comment on folk of his cultural background as I was about the message I figured the art was supposed to send about people who sit on gunpowder barrels. This man doesn’t care about the consequences to his reckless, thoughtless actions. He’s willing to bandy about an open flame just for funsies, gunpowder or no. You aren’t supposed to like him. I read into this lone image traits that seemed appropriate for someone who was obviously the bad guy. But it’s not like he’s the bad guy just because he’s Irish, since his physical appearance is completely incidental to his role in the picture and maybe he’s not even Irish, did you think of that? Maybe you’re the real racist here.

In short, it seemed to me to be the stuff of a good, believable antagonist. And I was excited about that. Apparently, some others weren’t. I’m not surprised by the reaction of some folks had to Far Cry 4’s introductory artwork, even if I see it as deeply poignant and sensitive to the “people” of Ireland instead of inherently racist or otherwise problematic. What I’m surprised about, the more I think about it, is that some people see something they think is troubling, yet don’t put it into the context of what they’re actually looking at, because they are 2-week-old babies who can’t comprehend images and are not actually esteemed, capable media critics. Sometimes, things are designed specifically to trouble you. And as a gamer hungry for mature and visceral storytelling, I don’t like the insinuation—and this insinuation is fairly loud—that pictures just aren’t allowed to portray Irish people, lest they offend someone.

Far Cry 4 isn’t an innocuous, inclusive children’s book or an afternoon Nick Jr. cartoon or a game to be played by people who are different to me. It’s an M-rated videogame—the entire Far Cry series have been videogames! Why has nobody noticed this yet! They’re not books, stop saying they’re books!

It’s a videogame, made for adults, and it may just deal with some brutal realities of the world, such as the existence of horrible Irish people. What if this brutish man is, in fact, a shameless, violent, reckless hooligan? Doesn’t that give you a strong reason to dislike him, and a powerful motive to chase him through Far Cry 4’s non-linear, surprisingly engaging story, complete with twelve different collectable weapons to shoot the baddie with and ten exciting new vehicles to drive around the 20 acre map—the biggest map in any Far Cry game to date! Isn’t that more compelling than some antagonist whose narrative role isn’t cheaply constructed at the cost of a whole group of actual real-life people in need of a good seeing-to. Barbarism is, unfortunately, a very real force in contemporary culture, so why should gaming ignore it? I love that Far Cry 4’s writers are aiming to provide an experience that may just be, at times, totally uncomfortable for people who don’t think it’s BADASS. Isn’t that a positive in a landscape flooded with the same old BADASS thing?

More to the point, how could anyone have a problem with the image in the first place? Yes, the man is clearly a racist caricature born out of sinister social myths with the intention to demean and beleaguer a minority group. But that doesn’t mean the image itself is racist, just the loutish man. And since the image wants us to dislike him and he seems like the sort of person who should be disliked, it follows that the image is actually quite intelligent and sensible. Besides, how could a picture that clearly frowns upon alcoholism and improper gunpowder safety possibly carry another narrative with negative connotations about Irish people? That’s too many things to be in a single picture.

Sometimes, images are made to bring forth negative feelings in you. It’s true! You’ve never noticed that before but now you’re starting to become smart like me and will recognise that some images make you sad while others make you happy. Not everything is made or designed to please you, evoke positivity, or to make you feel included, unless you’re me. Oftentimes you can only identify with certain characters or plotlines by how much you dislike them. It’s the reason we have insatiable appetites for racist caricatures and tropes, since they often provide deplorable, awful subhumans to root against. Just like real life. So it’s a good thing.

Let’s not get caught in a cycle of endless negativity while holding our beloved videogames to standards other works of art aren’t held to. No good could possibly come from having such high standards that we might criticise something for its flaws. If we can’t take ourselves seriously enough to understand the landscape of fiction and refrain from contextualizing imagery within the historic and cultural contexts in which they are framed and understanding them within the inescapable social narrative they are born into—if we can’t be serious enough to shut down all critical discussion surrounding the medium other than that as relates to BADASS shootiness, then why should mammy and daddy take games seriously?

Games have so much power. An incredible amount of power. A cosmic power born from the hearts of ten thousand exploding stars. So much power. Let’s not limit that power to the things that make you feel good, because I’m sick of hearing from you. God, you’re never happy. Oversensitive whinybabies, always reading into things the wrong way and seeing things I am oblivious to and don’t care about. Selfishness, that’s all it is. Do you know how many BADASS shooty games are coming out this year? Twenty. Last year there were twenty-one. I’m an endangered species here. Still, you won’t hear me complaining or trampling down upon your conversations, no sir, because I have so much respect and seriousness for our beloved medium. I’m mature as fuck.


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