The Far Cry 4 Controversy: Evil is Good
Aren’t villains supposed to be bad?
By Colin Moriarty
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 pink suit is leaning on the head of a subjugated man cradling an M67 grenade. An AK-47 rests to the left, an RPG-7 to the right, and some ammo is strewn about. But the major focus of some people were the perceived races of the two men. The man in the pink suit appears to be a blond white man (he isn’t), while the man he’s resting his arm upon appears to be a normal, everyday citizen of countries in the Himalayan region of the world, Far Cry 4’s setting.
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 an exceptional game, one awash with a host of non-linear, explorative qualities, solid gunplay, and a surprisingly engaging story. It deserved every one of its 9 million sales, and I was so pleased to see that Ubisoft would follow it up so quickly (Far Cry 4 is slated to come out this November).
I read into [the artwork] traits that seemed appropriate for what was obviously the bad guy.
My second thought — the one I pondered on the most — was “this guy in the pink suit is clearly the villain, and he looks completely sadistic.” I saw undeniable shades of neo-imperialism, and it intrigued me. I wasn’t so focused on his race as I was about the message I figured the art was supposed to send. This man doesn’t care about the fictional country of Kryat’s population. He’s willing to use them for his own gain, financial or otherwise. 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.
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 some folks had to Far Cry 4’s introductory artwork, even if I don’t personally see it as 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. Sometimes, things are designed specifically to trouble you. And as a gamer hungry for storytelling, I don’t like the insinuation — and this insinuation is fairly loud — that games just aren’t allowed to deal with tough issues, lest they offend someone.
Far Cry 4 isn’t an innocuous, inclusive children’s book or an afternoon Nick Jr. cartoon. It’s an M-rated video game, made for adults, and it may just deal with some brutal realities of the world. What if this blond man is, in fact, a shameless, violent, narcissistic racist? Doesn’t that give you a strong reason to dislike him, and a powerful motive to chase him through Far Cry 4’s campaign? Isn’t that more compelling than some vanilla, sanitized antagonist with no noticeable personality flaws or nefarious motives? Racism is, unfortunately, a very real force in contemporary culture, so why should gaming ignore it? I love that Far Cry 4’s writers are treading down the same path the previous games did, making for an experience that may just be, at times, totally uncomfortable. Maybe Far Cry 4 will give you pause and make you question your own motives in the process. Isn’t that a positive in a landscape flooded with the same old thing?
Not everything is made or designed to please you, evoke positivity, or make you feel included. Sometimes, art can make you feel isolated, offended, or alone.
Sometimes, images are made to bring forth negative feelings in you, and I feel like this may be one of those times. Not everything is made or designed to please you, evoke positivity, or make you feel included. Sometimes, art can make you feel isolated, offended, or alone. Oftentimes — as in film and literature — you can only identify with certain characters or plotlines by how much you dislike them. This makes for its own kind of unique power of engagement. It’s the reason why we have insatiable appetites for World War II fiction, alien invasion flicks, and stories of political intrigue; they often provide likeable people to cheer for, and deplorable, awful people to root against. Good versus evil is a timeless and powerful fictional device, and it doesn’t have to be binary, either (just look at the brilliant Spec Ops: The Line).
Let’s not get caught in a cycle of endless negativity while holding our beloved video games to standards other works of art aren’t held to. If we can’t take ourselves seriously enough to understand the landscape of fiction — and that it’s going to sometimes put us in a negative place — then why should anyone take the narrative potential of video games seriously?
Games have so much power. An incredible amount of power. Let’s not limit that power to the things that make us feel good. Let’s let that power challenge us, too. Far Cry 4 — with its contentious artwork and potentially controversial bad guy — may just be a good place to start.
Colin Moriarty is IGN’s Senior Editor. You can follow him on Twitter.
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