The reviews poured in like gobs of lye, scorched hair and fat through a drain, after a successful overnight disposal of an accidentally deceased prostitute on a nightclub in Bali. Though people did explain their minor disgust with the initial framework and setup for the story. And there was discussion about the gratuitous nature of the violence; how the entire premise of the game was, perhaps, slightly too much of a racistic, misogynistic, disgusting, outrageous and ridiculous white power-fantasy, even for a first-person video-game.
And thanks to the truly dedicated who played the game to the end, there was a comment or two on how the ending was a bit unfulfilling as far as narcissism-simulators go. A magazine even did a feature on this slight irregularity, with an interview from the lead writer, since the author of this piece thought the game was “a little off”. Here is a game, after all, that would be thoroughly offensive in every way, if it was not wrapped in what is a compelling and beautiful travel-package, with Ubisoft’s seal of approval on top.
In spite of that, no review remarked on how the entire game is obvious satire. Obvious biting satire that gnaws the hand that feeds, before growling happily and jumping up and down on it. Savaging satire over video-game tropes, and how the designs on their own dictate how the games turn out. And even dictate to a very large extent what the subject-matter of modern western games will have to address, if they truly are to make any narrative sense whatsoever.
Because what exactly would the background have to be, to conceivably make a super-heroic serial murderer and expert with all sorts of firearms – out of a domesticated school-boy? That is really the scenario your average first person narcissism simulator is asked to justify.
And it is in this sense that Far Cry 3 is not just well-crafted satire, but also a very meticulously and thoroughly evolved first-person shooter. Where the satire in large part consists of describing a narratively consistent scenario that reasonably justifies your average video-game setting. More than exaggerating particular aspects of what might otherwise have been mistaken for normality.
Ironically (or more likely, probably not ironically), that theme – this travel from docile domesticated innocence to violent barbarism, has been the subject of many books and works over time (which Far Cry 3’s writers supply references to, and even quotes from, in copious amounts throughout the game). Many that have been read and enjoyed by a younger audience than what Far Cry 3 was aimed at.
Alice in Wonderland is such a work, written by Charles Dodgson around 1865. Although Disney is to blame for the generally mild and unprovokative common perception of timeless works of various kinds, including Alice in Wonderland, the book itself is rife with references that explain Alice wrestling with concepts that are completely foreign to the sanitized reality she lives in. The imagery is about as innocent as you would expect from an intelligent adolescent girl’s world-view as well. Cannibalism, lies, murder, tyranny and rape – all are themes that are explored gratuitously in Carroll’s books. With the implication that just as Alice will not remain the same person once she accepts these concepts as real, she is not a complete person as long as she still wonders what they mean and how these concepts can exist.
More directly to the transformation the main character experience in Far Cry 3, books that come to mind would be Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and maybe Roald Dahl’s self-biographical “Boy”. All famous works that could and do pass for young adult literature that explore and engagingly justify the gradual and alluring path from civilisation and order, and to a point where emotion and primal impulses rule.
The difference between these works and Far Cry 3, of course, is that the ones who normally enjoy first-person shooters do not play them to be challenged on why they are put in the situation they are in the game. When you comically survive a bullet to the chest and stop the bleeding by eating a fresh apple from your bottomless backpack, the typical view is that people who play games have no interest in anything except the action and the murder. “I only play it for entertainment”, as they say. Even if that entertainment is making virtual murder engaging and exciting.
And Far Cry 3 is fabulous entertainment in that sense. Excellent, well-crafted and gratuitous entertainment. Every time you make a kill, a popup confirms your great deed. You have endless stamina, you craft elaborate upgrades to your “instant jungle warrior kit” with double-clicks. And receive upgrades and new super-powers by learning them in drug-induced dream-walks.
Still, the setting is “a bit off”. Not because the setting makes no sense – but because it so thoroughly does make complete sense. Even the island’s many plots make complete sense, and the characters respond to the fact that there is an invincible white God present on the tribal island. “Snow White”, as they mockingly name you.
During the course of a game you also become an undercover CIA agent, War on Drugs enforcer (with a flamethrower), assassin, lauded hunter of endangered (and in some cases extinct) animals. And not to mention tomb raider (“Come on, Jason! Channel Indy!”), King and reincarnated deity.
But it is all fake. Just as every feat is rewarded by a Uplay reward (Ubisoft’s fledgling online microtransaction reward system) rather than a game-world reward, the game’s plot and characters is all a setup. Your impossible character is exploited by all the inhabitants on the island, as they lead you on by reinforcing your deeply entrenched gamer preconceptions. Until the curtain is pulled, and the plot exposes you as nothing but a mechanical killer fed on little else but experience points and Uplay rewards.
The question is, is it still satire when the game is virtually indistinguishable from any number of other first person narcissism simulators? As well as when the typical audience more likely than not is unable to see it as satire?
Or even perhaps as intelligent commentary; when the protagonist looks back on his life, to search for why it is so empty – that he now finds more meaning in wanton slaughter?
Without comparison otherwise, the lead writer on Far Cry 3 is in good company with Jonathan Swift, Eric Blair and Kafka, when it comes to satire being read at the time as a serious work by those who were mocked in the text. In fact, the mark of truly good satire is when the work is used by the ones it targets to justify their current mode of thinking. Or in this case when the industry, reviewers and unashamed video-game apologists want to showcase how far interactive entertainment has advanced, in terms of integrating the gameflow with consistent story-telling.
Although in a sense, the game does do that as well.