Far Cry 5, Bioshock Infinite & Politics in games


#1

I wish Far Cry 5 would include some sort of social commentary, I’m also very glad it more than likely (hopefully) won’t.

We need social commentary in our entertainment, right now we really need it. Democracy is in decline, Authoritarianism is on the rise everywhere, Fascism is experiencing a resurgence in the mainstream, and that’s just a few of the current problems we’re all facing. It’s not all bad though, I think at this point it’s safe to say the Overton Window has expanded, as opposed to shifted Rightward. Far Cry 5 is set in Montana, a state with a history that deserves to be confronted. Not to mention, it’s also the home of one of the world’s newest, premier Fascists. It’s nothing short of a missed opportunity for Ubisoft to capitalize on controversy (something that’s already happening regardless, because of course), and more importantly solidify this game as some sort of modern classic that represents or simply has something to say about the times in which it’s set. It more than likely won’t though, and that’s probably a very good thing.

Why is the probable lack of political undertones a good thing? Let’s take a little look back at one of the most overtly political Triple A games ever…Bioshock Infinite (spoilers ahead).

The game is set in a 1912 American city, that happens to be floating. Within the city, a Civil War is taking place. This war is literally between an oppressed group of people, and their oppressors. For some reason, when I first experienced Bioshock Infinite, I had no problem with the fact that the only thing the game had to say about this was “both sides are bad™”. Looking back now, I’m fucking furious about it. Because it wasn’t “both sides are bad”; it was “How dare you fight against your oppressors,[ literal Black woman](http://bioshock.wikia.com/wiki/Daisy_Fitzroy) trapped in a time period where it’s horrible to exist as a woman or a Black person in America, in a city that takes all the worst aspects of America and ramps it up to infinity. How fucking dare you.”

That’s why I’m glad Far Cry 5 probably isn’t gonna say anything political whatsoever. But what does that mean though? People might fuck up social commentary in games, so developers shouldn’t try? Fuck no. That’s literally the exact opposite of what I want. Have something to say and say it. That doesn’t just go for games, that’s everything.

So, if you feel strongly about things and you’re a creator, or an aspiring creator, in the process of creating something, whatever the case may be; don’t ignore how you feel, use it. Because we need it right now.

And to be clear, I am buying Far Cry 5. Because I need this catharsis. I just recently rediscovered my inner Revolutionary, the Klan and some Neo-Nazis are organizing for some kind of rally near where I live; I might as well fight Fascists in-game when I’m not fighting them in the real world, or working or whatever.


#2

it is going to say something political though, it can’t help it. the very fact that they seem to be taking recent Far Cry’s basic “weirdo charismatic leader villain” structure and setting it in America is a political statement. it says that fundamentally America is no different from South East Asia or the Himalayas or any of those quote unquote remote corners of the earth that we more frequently tend to associate with petty dictators and warlords. that’s a profoundly political statement. I’m interested to see what they do with it and I’m not going to string it up in advance for the sins of Bioshock Infinite.


#3

Yeah, it’s already said a lot with just a single piece of “key” art. A picture’s worth a thousand words, and everyone seems to have about as many to say about the art itself. Because it’s literally modern art. It’s art that clearly has something to say about the world in which we live today.

And here’s hoping the sins of Infinite aren’t revisited here.


#4

my realistic/pessimistic projection of how Far Cry 5 will end up is they trade the colonisation of foreign lands and exploitation of poor indigenous people for turning the american working class into a scapegoat for the fascist movement currently taking place. if there’s not one single reference to the villainous cult having supported or voted for Yonald Grump or whatever facsimile they choose to go with i’ll consider it a huge step forward in maturity for the writing team


#5

I hate the revisionist view we now have of Bioshock Infinite’s story being bad. That game was talked to death and it seems rare that anyone remembers the nuance in those discussions. The idea that all games criticism collectively came to an agreement that the social and political representation given in Bioshock Infinite is inherently bad is simply false.

There’s a reason why it was the most critically discussed video game of 2013 - and it wasn’t because people agreed on it.


#6

It was talked about because of the existentialist themes, and nothing else really. Also, who said anything about collective agreements on anything? And are you calling the fact that I’ve changed my mind “revisionist”?


#7

That’s not true at all. Just limiting to articles by Austin, he wrote about Bioshock Infinite three different times, and only one of which you could argue is about existentialism.
Even just looking at the early writings of the first month of release, the vast majority of notable articles aren’t about existentialism.

Changing your view isn’t revisionist, but writing it as if it is the only interpretation while also saying it as an extreme quote, implies that it is the general agreement. Then using your interpretation of Bioshock Infinite (despite how many people disagree with you - because again, there was no consensus), to imply that other AAA games shouldn’t have social commentary is incredibly disappointing to me.


#8

i feel like you missed an entire paragraph or two that looked like this


#9

I did read that. I read that as you arguing that because Bioshock Inifnite didn’t focus on the social commentary as the main hook (despite definitely having a viewpoint that it gives to the player - just keeps a lot of it to optional environmental or collectable stuff) that AAA games shouldn’t even feature Social Commentary unless they are willing to feature them head-on as the thrust of the story.

If your argument is that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t explain it’s viewpoint well before getting lost in the story of Booker and Elizabeth, that’s fine. But the argument that it doesn’t have a distinct viewpoint is simply false. And it’s a poor example for how games often sit on the fence on these topics (because BI most certainly does not sit on the fence).


#10

Do me a favor, please. Scroll back to the OP, and read the last 3 paragraphs. Also, I never said my feelings were a consensus…at all. I’m not sure where you got that from; but you sound like you’re passionate about it, so consider making a new thread on the topic. If you do, please tag me in it.


#11

i agree that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t sit on a fence as much as say “those resisting oppression are as bad as the oppressors” extremely loudly and clearly.

and it’s honestly my opinion that by virtue of wanting to appeal to such a broad audience, especially one with a history of dismissing opinions in their games as “SJW shill”, no AAA game will ever aim for the standard of genuine passion and expression of opinion that OP refers to.*

*these opinions are mine and mine alone, they are not meant to represent a consensus nor am i speaking for the OP


#12

What was suppose to be the takeaway? Because this is what I got then, it just took me a while to realize how fucked up it is.


#13

@Tabris
FYI. My issue isn’t that people should have to write a disclaimer of “my opinion” but that the way the sections describes the latter interpretation as if it is the only interpretation. Also, using the interpretation as an example of concrete proof of why AAA games don’t have a strong viewpoint when it comes to social commentary implies further that is the one-true message of the game.

Maybe I’m being too harsh right now because I have a severe headache right now, and I’ll look later at this and think “what an asshole” but that this OP comment doesn’t read at all like the views on Bioshock Infinite are nuanced or fluid (whenever anything that had as much discussion as BI did gets constrained to a single-sentence interpretation is just a personal gripe of mine). Sorry if I sounded off or whatever, but I still think it is a truly terrible example for this comment. I’d agree that Bioshock Infinite drops the ball on the topics in the second half, but it certainly has a view before then.


#14

It’s not a sense of having to takeaway any interpretation. I’m not saying your interpretation is wrong. In fact, the reason that you happen to interpret it in such a strong way that hit you negatively, is a good example for how video games can use social commentary to instil a response in the player.

I, for instance, found the opposite. The game’s focus on the idea of the American forefathers and White dominance allowing for the framing of any resistance as the aggressors who require to be purged, as an excellent representation of why people simply accept the narrative of the elite and more people should rise against them. I read Booker’s entire arc as about his inability to accept his past misdeeds and accept that he doesn’t deserve to be the hero or the leader he so eagerly seeks merely because he fought in some war.

I also know that I was in the minority with that view. But there is definitely a revisionist tendency people have (not necessarily you) to imply that because of Infinite’s poor execution in some areas, it’s a problematic game that poses as a warning for AAA developers to not drop the ball on it’s social themes. In same ways it definitely is (especially at shoving the resolution to the commentary to optional extras), but that’s not it’s only legacy.


#15

It seems to me, like they are definitely going for more of FLSD/branch Dravidian/ISIS type cult rather then Christian identity/white supremacists/alt right. which honestly strikes me as more interesting then the baddies being out and out wannabe nazis, but then again extreme religious organizations/cults/militias interest me.

on bioshock infinite. I see what they TRIED to do with the vox. originally (at least from what i can gather from the various demos and interviews. the vox were in the game alot more and a bigger presence, they were also neutral towards you. it was also not a COD clone. the game was rebuilt like 3 times so basically all the nuance or depth was lost. Levine in the glixel interview tried to say that some people are genuinely broken by their oppression and then act just like their oppressors, the problem is the game in its final state does a TERRIBLE job at illustrating that. all they do is kill/execute soldiers and cops. the thing you have been doing the entire time. in the e3 2011, the vox were more of a Sans culotte/red faction/anarchist types with random executions/show trials and they only turned on you when you spoke up. so yeah, i prefer 1 more then infintie because it does the themes/story better and its not a fucking cod clone.

anyway sorry if my post/argument is crap. its my first one here


#16

I wonder. Far Cry 3 and 4 pits the oppressor and the oppressed and is hell bent on making us think that neither side is particularly good whereas Far Cry 5 is incorporating a part of America that is completely normal, a bunch of americans minding their own business and fighting back those who are willing to threaten their livelihood. It’s already in another plane than the previous two installments as there seems to be actual civilians on board. They will fight back, but they don’t seem to be part of a resistance, nor any kind of ideological faction.

It’s already wildly different in that sense. I don’t think they’re importing the exotic conflict in the USA, they’re already depicting evil in an unredeemable way. To me, they’re showing that evil is only clear cut and identifiable when its on American soil.

I might be mistaken as I don’t know enough, and it might be unfair to the game as it has to acknowledge a franchise legacy that it doesn’t really want to dwell on and tread new ground, but this is what I feel is going to be depicted.


#17

Ken Levine has some surprisingly open answers in interviews concerning the representation of the Vox in Infinite, and while I didn’t agree with some of his points, I have to admit it was refreshing to hear a creative lead like himself speak about criticism of his game like that. Both the first Bioshock and Infinite deal with issues regarding class and oppression but the latter leaned in much harder incorporating it into the narrative, which was going to elicit strong feelings from critics no matter what. My memory of Bioshock Infinite is that of a game which bit off far more than it could chew when it came to political messages, and some of it was handled insensitively as a result. A snippet of an interview from Rolling Stone with Levine I found interesting:

I know there are people – and in some ways, you addressed this in Burial at Sea – who are bothered by what happens to Daisy Fitzroy, the African-American Vox Populi leader, in BioShock Infinite. They basically think, if I can use a 2016 metaphor, that you created a game in which Donald Trump founded a xenophobic colony in the sky, only to learn that the Mexicans really are rapists.

“Here’s what I’d say. BioShock 1 is about Jews. I’m a Jew. If you think about it, Andrew Ryan, Sander Cohen, Tenenbaum, they’re all Jews. Suchong is Korean. During World War II, Korea was brutally occupied by Japan. He’s a guy who survived.
They’re all survivors of oppression. And they don’t come out of it heroes. Oppression turns them into oppressors. And that’s the cruelest aspect of oppression. If you look at Andrew Ryan and Daisy Fitzroy, they’re not that far apart.
Maybe people wanted me to write about a hero who rose above that. Elizabeth is the character I invented who does sacrifice herself to break the cycle. But I think most people are destroyed by oppression. I could tell a fairy tale about people who are ennobled by it. But in my experience, as a student of history, that’s rare.
If you pretend there are a lot of happy endings for those stories, in some ways it elevates the oppression to something it’s not.”


#18

the idea that he found it necessary or novel to highlight an already somewhat common narrative about oppression and goes on to refer to “people not becoming murderers” as a “fairy tail” is absurd. it reminds me of so much rhetoric about black-on-black crime rates as a justification for police violence. it reminds me of Outlast’s disgusting fixation on victims of abuse becoming psychopath murderers. it reminds me of people calling Trump and Putin gay or crossdressers or both, absolving straight people of guilt or self-critique (not to mention in many cases throwing trans women under the bus). it accomplishes nothing and rewards inaction when faced with human suffering and cruelty

i remember the interview in question and i also remember being even more pissed at his elaboration than the game itself. i was willing to believe he was simply a sloppy writer who wasn’t capable of getting his point across, but it turned out his point was extremely clear, just gross


#19

I mean this in the least confrontational way possible, but would you prefer they have characterized the Vox as a more altruistic organization without flawed leaders in order to emphasize the importance of rebelling against institutionalized cruelty? I agree with you that his “fairly tale” comment is disturbing and to say he worded much of his answers poorly would be an understatement, but his point at the latter part of that snippet I can see where he’s coming from. To ignore the violence and suffering brought about by populist regimes posing as champions of the people would be insulting, even if the idealogies they were fighting against were incredibly hateful and destructive.


#20

Actually, yes. Yes, I would have preferred that they characterized the Vox Populi as a more altruistic organization.

What BI essentially did was argue that people who are rebelling against their oppressors become just as bad, and regardless of Levine’s ethnic status, writing a game where literal slaves are as bad at the people who enslaved them simply for not wanting to be slaves anymore is–and you’ll have to excuse my phrasing–fucking ridiculous. It’s not really his place to use black people as a mouthpiece to his personal opinions on oppression. While I’m sure that as “a student of history”-- which, by the way, is not a hard thing to be if you just crack a few books–he found plenty of stories similar to the one he wanted to write, last I checked, that isn’t really how it went with slavery in America.

He could have continued writing stories about Jewish people and he would have had a leg to stand on, but the narritive choice with Daisy Fitzroy? No. Absolutely not. And the way he tried to backtrack in Burial at Sea by saying that she wasn’t all bad and that her Moral Event Horizon was a ploy so she could be the sacrificial lamb to make Elizabeth “a woman” made that moment even worse. It turned Daisy Fitzroy into a passive character whose entire purpose was to die for the development of a white woman.

That’s not to say that he’s wrong about oppressed people sometimes becoming oppressors, but I’m also going to point out here that he’s probably looking at things from an incredibly American perspective, especially if all the examples he’s considering are from sources written by Americans.

I’ve got a horse in the race of “populist regimes posing as champions of the people”. My father is a Cuban exile. Pretty much all exiles are here in Miami because they were running from Castro’s regime on account of the fact that they were on the wrong side of things or just didn’t agree with Castro and didn’t want to die for it. You can’t fault the latter group for being scared, but you can sure as shit fault the rich people who benefited from the corruptness of Batista’s regime. Batista was a fucking monster, and while we can go all the way back to Machado, I don’t think we need to for the point I’m trying to make. Batista was a dictator with enormous amounts of human rights abuses under his belt, and you know who kept him in power? The US, who didn’t give a fuck about the suffering of the common people there as long as the country didn’t go communist.

Now we could argue all fucking night about whether or not Castro was any better and honestly probably come out with a draw that is, despite the man’s massive flaws in governing the country, mostly in Castro’s favor. He made sure people weren’t homeless, encouraged literacy, allowed for the advancement of medicine, etc. He also jailed political dissenters and scared people so bad they fled to Miami just to get away from things. It’s a complicated issue and I’ve spent most of my life getting into arguments about it so I’ve heard everything in the book. We don’t need to go into detail.

Same shit, different story on the other side of my family. The brutality of the Somoza family drove my mother and her family out of Nicaragua, but you know who spent the entire time keeping them in power in spite of how they were literally murdering their own civilians and bombing their own cities to kill rebels? The US. Same shit, different story. Communism is bad.

So when a man who is Jewish but also American decides to write a story about how oppressors can be just as bad as the people who oppress them, I’m gonna be a bit skeptical. And when he shows his ass through a series of bad plot points and unsubtle choices (e.g. the Baseball of Racism), then yeah, I am going to support the people calling him out for not knowing what the fuck he’s talking about. Because the fact of the matter is that an overwhelming amount of cases–particularly in South and Central America which are stellar examples of the exact thing that he’s talking about in that interview–where the people who fought against their oppressors eventually became oppressors themselves, can be directly traced right back to the American government who refused to let those very same people govern themselves in the first place.