WARNING! THIS BLOG CONTAINS DISCUSSION OF STORY ELEMENTS AND CHARACTERS OF FAR CRY 4. AS A RESULT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!
Some years ago C.J Kershner, a script writer for Far Cry 4, posted this rather cryptic tweet.
I hadn’t intended to play this game, since my feelings regarding Ubisoft have ranged from incredulity at their disastrous Assassin’s Creed Unity launch…
…to disgust at their labelling of a large number of their customers involved in the #GamerGate consumer movement as terrorists.
However, I was been given a PS4 as a gift (Hello current gen console gaming!) and Far Cry 4 came with the package. I remembered Kershner’s comment and I have to admit, I was curious about what he meant. Add to that these comments Kershner made to Polygon about the main character of Far Cry 4
“Our protagonist is not the white savior, not the dudebro”
The trope of the ‘White Savior’ is a well known plot device in Hollywood in which a usually male Caucasian protagonist befriends and adopts the struggles of a group of ethnic minorities, choosing to fight their corner against a group typically composed of white oppressors. Ubisoft received some criticism for Far Cry 3’s white male American protagonist, Jason Brody, and the depiction of the indigenous people as seemingly unable to tie their own shoelaces without Brody’s assistance. The protagonist of Far Cry 4, Ajay Ghale, was born in the region of Kyrat, where the game is set, though he is raised in the USA. This makes him more akin to the prodigal son returning home than than the clueless but sincere white hero. But according to Kershner, Ajay is not a “dudebro” either? Well, what does that mean in the context of Far Cry 4? Well, we’ll get to that.
Here’s the basic story of Far Cry 4. Your character, Ajay, is returning to Kyrat to fulfil his Mother’s last request, that he take her ashes back to Lakshmana. Upon arrival in Kyrat you as Ajay are immediately captured by Pagan Min, the region’s ruthless and eccentric king. Upon escaping, Ajay encounters The Golden Path, a faction of rebels founded by Ajay’s Father. The Golden Path now has two leaders, both envisioning radically different futures for Kyrat. Sabal is a religious conservative that wants to reinstate Kyrat’s traditional heritage, believing that returning Kyrat to the old ways will promote stability. Amita wants Kyrat to embrace social change. She sees Kyrat’s traditional heritage as just another form of oppression and believes that Kyrat will be unable to sustain itself without modernisation.
So how does this connect with modern gaming? Well as I was playing Far Cry 4 I kept in mind the comments made by Kershner about social justice, as I was doing so I realized that each of the main characters in Far Cry 4 can represent a part of gaming as a whole. In gaming, as in the game, the player is Ajay the protagonist. The player as Ajay has one goal in mind, to scatter the ashes i.e to play and win the games. Sabal represents the gaming media and Amita the social justice activists and critics that have currently taken up residence in gaming spaces.
Sabal and the gaming media want things to be the way they have always been, no changes, no reflection, no self examination. Sabal, though for the most part more charming than Amita, does not respond very well to criticism and will happily use others to protect himself from it, just like the gaming media. His views on women are old fashioned, that they should not fight and should remain in their traditionally assigned roles, however he is willing to use and work with woman while it suits his purposes. Once The Golden Path achieves their goal, Sabal fully expects the female fighters to return to the old ways and become subservient. The gaming media will sacrifice innocents to serve itself, and Sabal is no different. He wishes to use a 14 year old girl, Bhadra, as a religious figurehead through which to rule Kyrat.
The gaming media likes to promote itself as a champion for women in gaming, yet they have failed to promote gaming as a safe space for women to pursue a career. The gaming media does not promote or celebrate stories of women that are already working within gaming, yet stories of gaming as a terrifying den of exclusion and harassment are plentiful. It is convenient for the gaming media to use women and other social issues to distract consumers from looking too much at the behaviour of journalists. While Sabal and the gaming media will happily paint themselves as advocates for women, and work alongside them for as long as it is necessary, when the dust settles they fully expect to be able to put women back in their perceived rightful place.
Which leads me to Amita, and the social justice aspect of gaming. Amita was the first woman to officially join The Golden Path and fight alongside the men, refusing to take on a more traditional role. Like those that are involved in trying to make gaming more social justice friendly, Amita has a great deal of passion, but can come across as defensive, brash and overzealous. Amita and her kind in gaming are always focused on the desired end result of their endeavours, without always seeing the immediate cost. For the most part she is well aware that her actions cost and irrevocably alter lives, but for her the larger whole is more important than the individual and the ends always justify the means. In the case of Amita, the way to fund this new, modern and progressive Kyrat is to grow and sell heroin.
The key goal of Amita and of the political and social critics of gaming is the abandonment of old systems in favour of a new, modern, and seemingly more socially fair system. They see nothing of value in the old ways and believe that Kyrat/gaming can only move forward by leaving behind traditions, instead focusing on building a completely new set of values from the ground up. Like Sabal and the gaming media, Amita and gaming critics will work with those who do not share their rhetoric, but only for as long as it suits their purposes. Sabal and Amita are willing to use people and methods that are somewhat detestable, and they both immediately turn on those who have served their purpose when the opportune moment presents itself.
What of Pagan Min Far Cry 4’s flamboyant main antagonist? Pagan Min is the mainstream gaming industry itself, ruthless, eccentric and (in my opinion at least) strangely likeable compared to the other characters in the game. It is on you as Ajay/the player on which Pagan, and the industry, keeps a focus. Pagan/gaming industry is not above exploiting The Golden Path/gaming media and critics and even Ajay/the player for his/their own ends, manipulating them into achieving the desired response. Pagan and the industry interest lies in simply getting Ajay/you as the player to play the game and views the struggles among The Golden Path/media and critics and your interactions with them with a mixture of disdain, bemusement and ambivalence.
Pagan Min claims to want Kyrat to have a grand and wealthy future without being held back by the societal structure of old, but it is clear that his motivations are much more complex and known really only to him. Very little of what he says can be taken at face value. So it is with the games industry, from leak hoaxes, game trailer and demo controversy to launches of broken or unfinished games, it can be hard to trust the gaming industry and take any information that comes out of it with any degree of certainty. Pagan/gaming industry want to woo Ajay/gamers, and keep you happy, but they are not above exploiting you either. Pagan Min is never directly hostile to Ajay, in fact he occasionally assists him and even saves his life, but his actions as ruler leave Ajay feeling like he has no choice but to fight him. The gaming industry provides us with the games we love, but with practices such as DLC, microtransactions, and season passes, we often feel like we have to fight them in order to be treated fairly.
So then there is you, the player, as Ajay the protagonist. The one who is here to play a game and enjoy a hobby, and to win it by mastering the necessary skills and honouring the last request the character’s mother. In the context of the game Ajay is not a ‘dudebro’ but only really because he seems to lack any distinct personality, allowing you to fully project yourself onto him as a player. This seems to be a bit of a trademark of the Far Cry series, a bland and boring protagonist facing off against the entertaining but despicable villain.
In the context of video games as a hobby it is your task as a player to pick your way through the minefield that is modern gaming and potentially lend support to it’s Amitas or Sabals. Independent developers are minor characters within the sphere of gaming, comparable in Far Cry 4 to characters such as Yuma, Nor, or Bhadra. Small operators doing what they feel they need to do to get into gaming and to stay there. At the same time you are under the patient eye of the Pagan Min gaming industry which may choose to embrace you, reject you, or ignore you from one moment to the next, based on whatever they have up their sleeve.
As modern gaming plays out the players are realising that if the balance of power is tipped too far in either direction there will be dire consequences for gaming. In Far Cry 4, whichever choice the player makes determines which ending they get. It is made very clear that this is supposed to be considered a conscious moral choice of what sacrifice Ajay is willing to live with. Whichever decision is made will be what you as Ajay consider the lesser of two evils. In the past, we as gamers have been caught between the aspects of the gaming media and those demanding games to change, remember Jack Thompson anyone? Recently the paradigm has shifted, and the media and game critics have begrudgingly joined forces to simultaneously court gamers and bully them. One side aiming to keep things as they are, and the other to change them completely. At the moment it suits their purposes to work together, however, it is my belief that whichever side comes out on top will be quick to turn on the other. On that only time will tell.
So what did C.J Kershner’s comment about social justice in Far Cry 4 mean?. To be honest I’m still not entirely sure. If the intention of Far Cry 4 was to paint social justice as the correct and just path that will lead to a better world? I can tell you, having played the game, that it has failed miserably. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Far Cry 4 is not at all flattering to those that choose to pursue social justice OR conservatism. Maybe story elements were changed after Kershner’s tweet, or maybe he misunderstood elements of Amita’s story arc. At this point I’m more inclined to believe that it was an elaborate troll, designed to use the current situation in gaming to generate more interest in the game. This seems particularly plausible since the initial marketing for Far Cry 5 also made gaming media/activists believe that the game was going to make some grand political statement, and yet again they have been sorely disappointed.
At this point, all I know is that it is not easy to play the game that is being a gamer in the current state of modern gaming. Gaming is a state broken by civil war, with various factions struggling for control, making and breaking alliances as they go along. As a medium, gaming appears to be on the cusp of great change, whether for good or bad is anybody’s guess.
Now, I cannot tell you how to play the game of being a gamer, that is entirely up to you. However, if you do choose to play Far Cry 4 then allow me to make one small suggestion. On your second playthrough, when you are at Pagin Min’s table and he leaves you? Sit and stay a while. Maybe try the crab rangoon.
Believe me, you’ll enjoy it.