Not a far cry from colonialist fantasy

“Trust. Pray. Obey” proclaims the marketing material of Far Cry 5, the latest instalment in Ubisoft’s venerable Far Cry series. The official game description on Ubisoft’s website describes the game as a fight “against a fanatical cult in small town, U.S.A.” where “Freedom, Firearms […] rule above all else.” These statements, along with images of topless armed men and people shooting guns at bears, boldly describe the game as a satire-comparable about the state of militant and religious seclusion in America. The game, notably by Canadian developers, places itself firmly in a problematically stereotypical view of rural America with violence and hatred taking centre stage.

The actual message of the game is rather cloudy, due to Ubisoft games’ rambling and semi-incoherent storytelling style, but whether Ubisoft were trying to deliver an eloquent ode to resistance against facism or simply depict exaggerated stereotypes, one thing is certain – a game about toxic Americanism is worthless in a series that thrives on it. If there is a recurring theme in the Far Cry games it is the destructive nature of “heroic” Americans in foreign countries, and no “shoot-the-cultist” simulator can cover up the colonialist pride of the series.

The first Far Cry took place in Micronesia, the second in Africa, the third on a Pacific Island, and the fourth in the Himalayas. In each game the protagonist is a white American (save the second, in which the white American is one of multiple optional playable characters) who saves the day through force and violence, with recurring game mechanics including the “liberation” of enemy outposts and completing missions to support the rise to power of certain leaders. The use of violence and political pressure by Americans in other countries isn’t new in world politics, and the actions of the American protagonists in the Far Cry series speaks to this tradition.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars and a professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, said “we’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947. We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners – you name it.” The interview, written to link this intelligence community tradition to recent Russian interference in American politics, mentions how the C.I.A. “plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.” These are the exact locations Far Cry 3, 2 and 4 take place in, respectively.

Johnson’s descriptions of C.I.A. actions seems more startling when compared to game mechanics in the series. A collectable-style quest in Far Cry 4 tasked players with defacing posters of the leader of the region, and Far Cry 2 included multiple optional assassination missions in which nameless men in business suits are murdered by the player in exchange for diamonds, the game’s currency. In every game the player-protagonist, who carries out these actions, is considered the hero – save perhaps Far Cry 3, which made a slight attempt to criticise this theme of the heroism of visiting Americans.

The enemies in the games are almost always the native inhabitants of the region, with Far Cry 3’s Vaas, the iconic – although not primary – villain of the game, being characterised with his adherence to the setting’s traditions and culture. Yet whilst Vaas was also characterised as the leader of a band of murderers and rapists, justifying him as the antagonist, other games feature political tampering against normal residents. Near the end of Far Cry 4 the player is tasked with choosing a leader for the “heroic” rebels – which involves murdering one of the two options, who had both been recurring allies until that point. This outright political tampering is poorly justified in-game, and the fact that an American is the character tasked with choosing the political fate of a distant country speaks to the tradition Johnson describes of America’s forced involvement in other countries.

It is noteworthy, therefore, that Far Cry 5 drops this long-standing and outdated tradition of white male American heroism in foreign countries, in favour of white male American heroism in America. Yet whilst the political commentary in Far Cry 5, satirising toxic beliefs and the extremes of violence and prejudice in the country, is progressive – if a little commonplace in culture at this point – it’s too little too late. The recurring themes and problems of the series speak to longstanding ideas of American supremacy and colonialism, and one game won’t be enough to overturn that centuries-old narrative.


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