Deciphering the Ethical Dichotomy of Far Cry 3

You’ve no doubt seen Far Cry 3 adorning most of the press’ end of the year “best of” lists, and deservingly so. It’s a technical marvel and near-flawless demonstration of how to do first-person shooting in an open world environment.

There is no disputing that it is one of 2012’s greatest gaming accomplishments, but critics are a still split when in regards to the game’s story and characters. The games detractors will decry its hollow plot and inexplicably messianic Caucasian protagonist. Others, including its head writer, defend it as subtle satire. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter. While the game’s inherent stupidity is part of its charm, I believe there are also plenty of important ethical issues that are addressed in Ubisoft’s latest shooter.

The confusion in regards to the game’s sense of morality can mostly be attributed to how extremely veiled it is. It’s subtle to the point of being unrecognizable, which is why most highbrow gamers are so quick to dismiss the game’s narrative as an exercise in total ignorance. Let’s be honest though, no one is buying this game to receive a lecture in cultural awareness and the implications of mindless brutality. We bought the game because we wanted to blow stuff up and destroy schools of unsuspecting aquatic life with machine gun-equipped hoverboats. Whether that’s a testament to our unabashed love for comic amusement or a chastisement against our fondness of mindless violence is hard to say, but taking a look at the game’s subtext sheds a whole new light on its story and the motivations of its characters.

On the surface, the story of Far Cry 3 comes off as extremely shallow, misleading, and frankly somewhat racist. If you’ve yet to play it (shame on you), the premise is as follows: A bunch of rich, white trust fund kids are on a tropical vacation in the South Pacific in celebration of protagonist Jason Brody’s  brother attaining his private pilot’s license. In true B-movie fashion, things quickly go awry as the group skydives onto an island run by slave-trading pirates and is taken captive.  Since Vaas, the game’s main villain, is a complete moron, you manage to escape imprisonment and quickly set out to rescue your fellow silver spoon-fed companions.

You quickly discover that the island is mostly inhabited by a tribe of poor, defenseless savages (you know, non-white people) called the Rakyat. For whatever reason (probably because you’re white) the tribe immediately entrusts you with their greatest secrets and has absolutely zero doubts in your ability to singlehandedly liberate the island of evil and bring forth an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity to the tropical enclave. You are, after all, a fit, good-looking white guy who literally fell from the sky. What’s to doubt?

As you traverse the gorgeous landscapes of Rook Island, murdering pirates and whatever unlucky wildlife that happens to cross your path, you start to feel a little guilty; a little taken advantage of. This is when the superficial Anglo-centric overtones begin to dissipate and the game’s underlying and extremely subtle lessons about the magnitude of violence begin to surface. As the plot unfolds, you begin to realize that the “path of the warrior,” as the Rakyat call it, may not be as morally justified as you may have assumed. The tribe that has recruited you is led by a seductive monarch named Citra. Your relationship with the island queen becomes more lopsided as the story progresses, and it often feels like Jason is merely being used as a weapon to further the tribe’s cause. It’s never “how can we help you find your friends?” but rather “What can you do for us before we even consider assisting you?” What should be a symbiotic relationship that allows both parties to complete their respective objectives in the name of the greater good boils down to a selfish, disingenuous pact on the part of Rakyat that basically holds Jason hostage to their bidding.

The character himself is not ignorant to this, and he begins to question his role in Citra’s scheme. Still, the obligation to he has to his friends is not forgotten, and he moves forward with his mission regardless. While this aspect of Jason’s character progression is buried beneath countless layers of rocket-launching, pirate-stabbing, tiger-exploding shenanigans, it’s still important for the gamer to recognize the ethical dilemmas Jason faces.

This is an area developer Ubisoft could have addressed to a greater degree and still have managed to maintain the blissfully fun nature of the game, but sadly did not. Not until the end of the game is the player forced to make a crucial choice with enormous implications. It is only then when one realizes the true enormity of Jason’s actions. Bringing this to light much earlier in the game could have vastly improved the appeal of its narrative and given the gamer greater satisfaction in their overall experience.

The fact that Far Cry 3 is so controversial in this manner is what, I believe, makes it such a monumental game. We are questioning our convictions as gamers, and wondering if the conventions we’ve had about violence and racial undertones in gaming need to be reexamined. In the end, we are furthering the collective conscience of the industry by analyzing the virtues that games propagate and pondering whether this form of entertainment needs to be more responsible in how it approaches such contentious issues. A far cry from our humble Pong beginnings, indeed.