This post is a parolation (parody + interpolation) of this article from The Guardian, “Far Cry 5’s violent civil unrest is a much-needed reality check for games.” Unfortunately, this FC5 nonsense came too late for my book, because it’s like the perfect manifestation of the phenomena I describe there.
I recommend reading both articles (The Guardian’s and mine) at the same time, side by side:
Far Cry 5’s covfefe is a much-needed reality check for journalists.
Journalists keep associating entertaining with opportunities for political soapboxing. Far Cry 5’s coverage shows the root of the problem in the fear and loathing of journalists under Trump’s US.
By Cletus Rüdiger. Theguardion.ve
There is an all-too-familiar response when video game developers answer journalists’ questions about the real-world meaning of their projects or games: writing an opinion piece about why their answers don’t matter. It’s a media-trained kneejerk defense against the possibility of their manufactured controversies being a delusion. “Everything is politics” is the answer presented time and time again when a producer or creative director is asked about seemingly “clear” parallels with genuine wars, events or issues but refuses to be involved in the partisan dramas of journalists with too much status anxiety.
Last year, for example, video game Killscreen spoke to the makers of The Division, a game about an apocalyptic terrorist attack on New York City and getting stuck in things.
When asked if 9/11 had in any way inspired the setting and narrative, associate creative director Julian Gerighty —knowing very well where the journo was trying to lead him— reacted seemingly aghast at the comparison and at the implied connection between the game and an actual incident. “At the end of the day, it’s a video game,” he said, knowing that, had he said otherwise, tomorrow he’d find dozens of articles with the headline “The Division encourages the summary execution of rioters, Patriot Act the best thing in the world, Julian Gerighty admits.” Journalists, not understanding the concept of choice & consequences or gameplay freedom, assume that the possibility of doing something is the endorsement of a message (and the message they want to see.)
With this history of journalistic monomania in mind, Ubisoft’s recent announcement of Far Cry 5, the latest title in the publisher’s successful series of open-world shovelware, gives us cause for despair. Set in a place we have to believe is Montana because the devs say so, the game deals with another band of low-level grunts you have to gun down because programming anything more complex is exhausting. This time, the enemy is named the Project at Eden’s Gate, a group that is terrorizing the inhabitants of the fictitious Hope County into joining their movement because of reasons. Their aim is not known, but it seems to be related to the sect’s apocalyptic worldview. They were presented with a barely christian aesthetic, which will allow journalists to play their association games and claim that this is relevant to our *wink* *wink* current apocalyptic events under Trump’s reign of terror.
From the start, it’s a boring setup, just a reskinned version of previous Far Cry games. Journalists, however, not knowing anything about video game history, will naturally claim otherwise, referencing only other big AAA trash games to prove how the new Far Cry is a deviation from previous “unpolitical” entertainment. The first Deus Ex, Fallout (the original games,) or Syndicate (1993) —to name only three— aren’t games one would classify as lacking in sociopolitical themes, but they don’t exist to these commentators whose memory doesn’t extend further than Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. In fact, their minds would explode if you told them that the original Deus Ex unapologetically used the United States as a backdrop for their own (much better) story that also included military secession, gun-freaks, civil war, conspiracy theories, and national paranoia. Far Cry 5’s “message,” however, will be glorified, not because they care or because it’s true but because it’s another opportunity for them to play their game of revolutionary “cultural commentators.”
For that reason, they will claim Far Cry is a brilliant series when nobody believes that, but one that has always used recognizable locations for its chaotic adventures. They are going to insinuate that those games hide their “troubling narratives” behind such exotic locales, a statement that looks quaint when compared with drowning a starving kid who rails against the 1%
Commentators, in an attempt to inflate their own importance, will claim that Far Cry 5 is different, and will fail to notice that Ubisoft played with them. “I began to get the sense that America was ready for a Far Cry,” said producer Dan Hay, who knew perfectly well the sort of journalists he was talking to. “All I know is that, in the last year and a half I got that feeling back like we’re riding a wave and something is going to happen. Like there’s going to be a calamity and going to be a collapse.” Oh, how the journalists swallowed that!
In the brief trailer for the game, which barely shows anything of interest, we see armed nutjobs terrorizing local civilians —something that has never been done in a game before— dragging them to a river for baptism, and patrolling the dusty streets because the game AI cannot do anything more complex. The group gathers under the edict ‘Freedom, Faith, and Firearms,” which is so close and, at the same time, so far from pro-gun religious right firebrands that the journalists were unable to not take the bait. Furthermore, during the press event, Ubisoft namedropped a recent event as an influence and the journalists got really excited, already seeing the articles they were going to write about the intricate connections between religion, politics and gun control. When, a few days later, an oddly precocious pre-order campaign was announced, they were unable to see the real connection.
This is a terrible sign. Video game journalists have been clawing at the door of mainstream commentariat for years, looking for affirmation and acceptance, embracing every opportunity for self-aggrandizement, from feminist criticism to “current politics” in popamole trash while ignoring every game that actually deals with sociopolitical themes. But for journos to take part in the wider cultural criticism landscape —alongside arrogant film critics, pretentious literary professors, and idiotic contemporary artists— they have to keep pointing out the imaginary connection between systems of oppression and video game elements and narratives. They have to constantly repeat that video games are an art form, with meaning, consequences and, more importantly, social influence and social (evil) effects. All pieces written by these commentators are byproducts of the political, social and cultural frameworks from which they emerge (i.e. degenerate academese,) but their articles tell us more about their beliefs and assumptions than about the things they criticize.
This is about cultural validity, it’s about the critics’ authority to abrogate for themselves the meaning and value of entertainment. For them, the politics of Trump’s US and Brexit Britain are a fascinating cauldrons of fear, uncertainty and division —the very stuff of clickbait journalism. But their knowledge about these things is small, so it’s no coincidence that their range of cultural references doesn’t go beyond video games and TV shows, or that they to use these mediums as a symbol of a subject they don’t understand. Fear and lies make great, tantalizing commentaries, and the idea of a game steeped in the complex politics of the modern US is hugely enticing for them.
Of course, they fear that Ubisoft has conned them, that their game isn’t going to be what they think it is. They aren’t going to like the realization that Far Cry 5 will be another boring first-person shooter with the exact same game mechanics and elements, with another megalomaniac cult figure as the main villain. Naturally, they will claim that Ubisoft is just afraid of doing what it should be doing: depicting the more plausible idea of a conservative death cult in the middle of Montana (seems reasonable,) and that by failing to represent the villains as Republicans and conservatives they are failing at true representation.
They are never going to admit that the game’s commentary about race will be as deep as that of Plants vs. Zombies. Even their minds will block the memory of the trailer (which showed black enemies.) Not that that is ever going to stop them from writing their commentaries, of course.
The realization of their growing irrelevance will drive many commentators to dangerous extremes. In her unnecessary essay, Video Games Are Boring, designer Brie Code despairs at the video game medium and, I presume, her friends, which include people who cry when a Skyrim NPC dies.
Video games don’t have a unique and amazing capacity to immerse
viewers players within events, to elicit empathy through embodiment, or to encourage the exploration of spaces and ideas. In fact, compared to reading a book or talking with a real, normal, and functional human being, they are probably the worst medium for value modification. The fact that it takes second for a game, no matter how serious it tries to be, to become a source of memes, in-jokes, and sadistic YouTube videos confirms it. And whatever happens with Far Cry 5, it will say nothing of relevance or importance about video games, but it will say a lot about video game journalists and cultural commentators. We can, with a straight face, claim that video games are not the storytelling medium of the 21st century because we are mature enough to know when we are playing and when we are not. Journalists can’t, and they will keep seeing their own fears and monsters in the medium they still don’t understand.