Let’s Stop Pretending that Far Cry 5 is Going to be Controversial
The release of the first teaser for Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Far Cry series stirred up something very familiar within the gaming community. Sometimes publishers and developers court it purposely, and sometimes it is discovered accidentally, whether by good intentions gone wrong or a lack of common sense to begin with. Yes, it is that old staple guaranteed to increase the buzz about any game that is attached to. Controversy.
Despite their contentious and often political seeming subject matter, the past Far Cry games have largely avoided the spectre of controversy. Usually by being very tight-lipped about mentioning exactly where the games are set, or, if that doesn’t work, by inventing a new country altogether. However, with Far Cry 5, Ubisoft has decided to break that trend by placing it within the backyard of one of the world’s largest gaming market, America, at a time were things so politically charged that Republican Congressmen can body slam left-wing journalists and still get elected.
To Ubisoft’s credit, I don’t believe that choosing Montana was purely a marketable decision. The state has some of the most beautiful countrysides in the world and setting it so close to home will have an emotional resonance for a lot of players. But what I don’t believe is that after the decision was made, the business side didn’t crunch their number and run their algorithms. Controversy builds hype and having the game set in America gives the franchise the unprecedented opportunity to be controversial.
Just by the fact that we’re not arguing about whether or not the usual levels of violence and destruction found in the Far Cry series could actually take place on American soil is an intriguing factor in of itself. And on top of that, you have a country under the leadership of one of the most disliked governments in modern history, growing inequality and a struggling economy, a rise in right-wing extremism and a whole lot of unregulated guns. All the necessary qualities to grow a violent and dangerous demagogue.
All these reasons are why the American heartland is such an interesting setting for the series. It drips with the potential to ask provoking, thoughtful and, maybe even, controversial questions about the modern American condition. I just don’t think Ubisoft will ever take that risk.
They’ll certainly do everything in their power to make it seem like they’re going down the path. They’re doing it now and they’re not even trying to be subtle about. Whether it’s by having the art on the game cover mimic The Last Supper or by picking a symbol for the antagonistic Eden Cult that looks a little too similar to the Iron Cross, Ubisoft is clearly wanting us to make these comparisons. And people are.
On the left of the political spectrum, you have tweeters and bloggers relishing the chance to serve up some home-grown justice to the Republicans and white supremacists who, in their mind, are destroying their country. And on the right, you have a bunch of anti-SJWs complaining that the Far Cry 5 promotes white-genocide out of a liberal guilt complex. As always, most voices fall somewhere in between these two extremes but are ignored because controversy, not nuance, grabs headlines.
I don’t want Far Cry 5 to pull its punches. I want them to use this opportunity to ask the tough questions. And I mean the really tough question. The type of questions that make people shiver just be hearing them, let alone contemplating an answer. Questions that strip away the façade of modern life and give us a raw, unflinching look at what it means to be human. You know, the stuff Far Cry should actually be about. These are the type of questions that a worth getting worked up about because they ask you go to places you don’t want to go and find answers that you don’t want to hear.
But that’s probably not what’s going to happen.
Because at the end of the day controversy doesn’t sell. The illusion of it, sure, but actual controversy is inherently divisive and that hurts Ubisoft’s bottom line. So, they will keep releasing promotion material to fuel this debate and when Far Cry 5 finally comes out, everybody will discover that the villains will be so laughably evil that it will silence any wayward regrets you’ll have about gunning waves of them down. The players will discover that the game won’t be about providing vindication for an embittered left or a secret SJW plot to promote white genocide, so you can stop your flame wars and your twitter feuds and whatever this is supposed to be. The game will be about killing a crazy guy who leads a crazy group because that is what every Far Cry game has been about and the one thing that actually scares Triple-A publishers is change.