Far Cry 3′s Jeffrey Yohalem On Racism, Torture And Satire

By John Walker on December 19th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Having completed Far Cry 3 a while back, I found that so much of the game’s story just didn’t sit right with me. Not simply in the sense that it appeared to contain colonialist nonsense and clumsily handled rape plots, but that I felt I was missing something. That the game was trying to say something to me, perhaps partly through that which I found problematic, and I hadn’t been able to hear it. So I pursued the game’s author, Jeffrey Yohalem, to talk it through.

Yohalem proves to be a very animated, very passionate writer, who sees Far Cry 3 as a complex exploration of many ideas, mostly questioning the role of the player in a game, and what they’ll do in order to win. It was, he says, an attempt to break the loops of modern gaming, to ask the player to start to demand better. Fortunately, I’m animated and passionate too, so we get to discussing how successful this really was. What follows is a heated chat about what gaming could and should be. I return at the end with some thoughts on the conversation.

A frame of reference: Far Cry 3, an undoubtedly brilliant shooter, seemed to come with some odd baggage. Many who played it, including me, found its apparent use of “white messiah”, “magical negro” and “noble savage” tropes to be somewhat disconcerting. While there was certainly no hatred or malice displayed to a particular race (unless that race is translucent white Hollywoodians), it seemed difficult to understand how the game wasn’t employing stereotypes more familiar to 19th century literature. Along with that was a strangely vapid sequence in which you learn of the repeated rape of a friend, and some very peculiar sex scenes, all of which seemed like the worst of gaming in the midst of the best of gaming.

But at the same time, it didn’t feel that simple. It felt like it was there for a reason – but a reason I couldn’t grasp, and one I didn’t think was explained by the time the game had ended. That’s the position from which I began our spoiler-filled conversation.

RPS: My impression of Far Cry 3 was a game that wanted to say a lot more than most games do, but also a game that perhaps didn’t quite manage to say some of those things. What was your overall goal when you started writing this game?

Jeffrey Yohalem: My goal was to say exactly what I think I say. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. There’s not really anything I would point to – I mean, there are a couple of things missing I guess, but those things supported points that are already made. The goal was to create a videogame that examined what shooting does to us in a videogame. When I play a videogame there are all kinds of systems that work on my brain, and most videogames try to hide those systems under a story. And that story is intended not to be about what’s going on in the game. Almost every story in videogames is – I don’t love this term but – ludo-narratively dissonant. It’s purposeful, because stories usually pave over potholes in videogames. There are systems that don’t quite work together, there are systems that create emotions in the animal parts of our brains that are uncomfortable, and so story is used not as something that conveys meaning, but as something that hides uncomfortable stuff, sublimates uncomfortable emotions.

RPS: Can you give an example of the kinds of things that are hidden by games like that?

Jeffrey Yohalem: You have a secret ops agent who’s killed hundreds of people before as your protagonist, so it means that if you shoot hundreds of people over the course of the day in your videogame – which would never happen in reality unless you had a mass-murderer – that you, the player, are okay with that because the story has paved over the pothole. There’s a lot of secret stuff going on behind the scenes in videogame companies and development houses. Players aren’t seeing inside the box. I’m trying to expose the mechanisms inside the box.

RPS: I guess one of the key moments for what you’re talking about in FC3 is when you return to the caves. Each time you return to the cave, and you see your girlfriend and friends, you have those moments of reconnecting to your humanity. But midway through the game those stop. So where do you see that continuing commentary on how Jason is being affected by shooting so many people? Or indeed how I’m being affected.

Jeffrey Yohalem: It’s the player. The player is experiencing the loop. There’s that moment where you’re torturing your little brother to get information, which is taking something to the extreme. Other games have torture scenes and they try to pave over the pothole, by saying it’s essential to saving humanity, you’ve got to find the terrorist and the bombs going to go off soon. They’re trying to get the player to be okay with torturing somebody, because the gameplay mechanics of doing it are fun for them. So in this case it’s torturing your little brother, and there’s no real reason to be doing it. You’re not saving the Earth, you’re not doing anything that makes that act okay. That was meant to really shock people.

Also, the end! The end of this game is all about what you as a player are. It’s your turn to be whoever you want to be. Who you want to be in the face of these gameplay loops. Throughout this whole game we took you through all of these loops, and at the end we point them out to you. Citra literally says it, that she’s going to erase your save game, and she says if you want to win, you’re going to complete the final tattoo. So the question is, do you want to win? Do you want to go through these gameplay loops.

So I think there’s this misperception out there – and this is the most interesting misperception that I’ve found – people who thought the game was going to be an examination of shooting. Like, what it would be like to be a real person in this jungle, shooting people, and if you kill hundreds of people what happens to you. That’s not what this game is about. It was never what this game was about. That may be what Spec Ops: The Line was about, it’s not what this game is about. This game is about entertainment, and about how far will you go in these loops, and how much entertainment are you actually having from them. Are you willing to kill these characters in the game in order to finish your entertainment.

It’s not a judgment about you, either. It’s really something for the player to approach as smart, intelligent grown ups. It’s a riddle for the player to solve. The player goes to the game and experiences this riddle – and if you go to this game without looking at it as a riddle, it’s like looking at a building that has four supports and should have six. The game is not supposed to make sense if you’re not looking for the riddle. It’s supposed to destabilise your sense of what a traditional story is in a videogame. If you look at the story on the surface, then it doesn’t hold up. There are all sorts of shocking exaggerations that are there to intentionally destabilise the player.

RPS: Would you suggest that one of those destabilisations is what has been perceived as racism?

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yes! It’s NOT! It’s the opposite! The game is the opposite. It’s so funny to me. I’ve seen these arguments on forums, and I think these arguments are fantastic because people are engaging in a discussion about art, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. But, the game’s argument is that Jason is basically used by everyone on the island – Jason is basically a gun, that is upgraded by the natives on the island. It’s the opposite of Avatar. And it’s fantastic to me, because Citra is standing in front of the home tree when you first meet her, you’re called Snow White, the people are called the Rakyat, which means “the people”. It’s the laziest name for a tribe ever, they’re not real, they’re a metaphor. People need to be looking at the names of these things. There are all kinds of secrets in this game for people to figure out, that tie into the main plot. It’s all part of what the game is trying to say.

I wanted to create this gigantic riddle. I created the glyph puzzles in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and this is a gigantic glyph puzzle.

RPS: Do you not think there’s a danger of having your cake and eating it? You’re deliberately being a hokum story, you’re deliberately evoking lazy stereotypes, but at the same time, aren’t you just evoking lazy stereotypes?

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yes! Do you know what the name of the island is?! It’s Rook Island! Which means to fraud people! Look up the definition – the definition of “rook” is, someone that steals your money, or it’s a piece in chess. So this is an island that is a fraud. The point is, look under the surface. Not because the game is a fraud, the game is not a fraud, but the island is. What is going on on this island, and the clues are right there in front of you. In my mind it’s an interesting undertaking to take on some kind of examination of deeper issues like this, because like you said if people don’t examine it that way, then maybe they don’t see it? But like I told you, I was building a building that has four legs instead of six. If you don’t see those issues, the thing doesn’t make sense. I find it fascinating again, all the stuff that people are discussing on the internet, because you can see that the people who only looked at the surface are really uncomfortable. So much so that they keep discussing it. So to me that says that the story is not fitting. If the story functions correctly, like say Avatar – Avatar allows you to fit with the story. The story completes, then there’s nothing to discuss any more. So your brain goes, “Yes, I like it.” As humans we’re always looking for meaning, and for things to make sense. So if you miss the deeper meaning it doesn’t make sense any more.

The end of this story is very blatantly a subversion of any kinds of racist stereotypes. What I feel like what’s happened is to explain this story you need more than a soundbite, and I feel like a lot of people just glancingly looked at the thing and then got upset. They didn’t actually explore the whole game.

RPS: When I got to the end of the game what I saw was a depiction of a tribe, standing topless in simple clothes, dancing in a tribalistic way. It was very clearly an image of this archaic 19th century perspective of natives on an island. And I was given the choice to join them and as a white man become their leader, or walk away. I’m not quite sure how that squares up with a dramatic statement. How is it more than what I saw on the screen?

Jeffrey Yohalem: [Very animated] Because if you choose to become a part of that tribe and become their leader, it’s completely manufactured in your head! It doesn’t come from them at all! They never said “become our leader”! She says “become our king”, she doesn’t say “become our leader”! And then if you choose the tribe, she kills you! It turns out you were being used by them. The entire time you thought you were the leader of the whole tribe, you were nothing. You were just a gun that she upgraded with tattoos.

RPS: But is that any different from the tribe making you their leader, carrying you on their shoulders, and then boiling you in a pot?

Jeffrey Yohalem: [laughs] Yeah! It’s exactly… I’m playing with all of that! The game is about playing. I was just reading an article this morning about the conceptual artist who did Lose/Lose, the space invaders game that deleted your files, created by Zach Gage. He did a piece where you’d come in a museum, and stand in front of the piece, and when you stand in front of it, it tallies that you stood in front of it. The point was to be a satire of popularity. Why would you judge something by the number of people who’ve seen it? Some people said, “This is great, that I stood in front of this piece and it’s acknowledging my existence.” So they were missing the satire. The artist is very clear in the article about what he wanted to say with that piece. So what I was hoping for with this game is that people would say, “Maybe there’s something more interesting and different going on here that I can examine?” That videogames can be more than what they’ve been before. Which is covering up potholes in meaning instead of conveying it.

RPS: Do you not think that part of the problem of people’s not interpreting it this way comes from the fact that the majority of games’ stories are as bad as the thing you’re parodying? They are atrocious. So people come into a game expecting these incredibly immature and incredibly simplistic, and often incredibly stereotyped storylines, so when they approach Far Cry 3, instead of saying “This is an arch commentary on that,” they say, “Well this is another one of what most games are like.”

Jeffrey Yohalem: That question is an interesting one, because I thought we went so extreme in such a huge number of ways, that we had been totally exaggerated. I’ve played all of these games, so the shocking thing for me is that people would think this is serious. At the same time, all of the articles coming out didn’t come out for other games. So there must be some form of exaggeration, I must have succeeded at exaggerating. For example, the rape by Buck being glossed over, where he rapes Keith, or implied rape, that’s so exaggerated because it’s taking the exploitation of female characters in videogames and saying, well what if it’s a man, how do you feel then?

In most games that exploitations is glossed over, so in this case it’s glossed over. So by swapping out the Keith character for a female character, and then not having this deep emotional scene acknowledging the sadness from how these guy feels from that, it makes you really uncomfortable.

[Becoming agitated again] The sex scene [at the midpoint] – first Jason is shooting at that gigantic monster. He kills the monster, and it jump-cuts to him orgasming with Citra! He’s firing sperm at this gigantic monster, and then suddenly he’s on this alter with Citra, having sex with her, and then he thinks he’s the leader of the tribe and makes the big speech, and it’s his power fantasy! That’s the other thing – it’s all from first-person, so it’s completely unreliable. There’s a reason why Jason is a 25 year old white guy from Hollywood – these are all ideas that are in his head. You’re seeing things through his eyes. That’s why the Alice quotes are there, and why Willis’s database entries are written from Willis’s perspective, and not written from a universal perspective. So the game is all from a series of perspectives, and I think it’s all there. And again, you could say to me, “Why isn’t this even more exaggerated?”, but why should it have to be? I don’t understand why what I did isn’t so insanely exaggerated already. What you’re saying is that games are so bad with this stuff that it has to be so through the roof – I mean, male rape, having this transition, having the end of the game be that she kills you while having sex with you? And she says, “you win,” as you’re dying. The only thing more outrageous I could think of is if she castrated him.

RPS: You say the rape scene is critiquing how mawkishly rape scenes can be shown, but I’m not sure I understand your point when you say you changed it to a man to say something. When I played it, I saw that it was a situation where a man had been repeatedly raped. I didn’t think, “Ah, but it’s a man rather than a woman.” I didn’t find anything to make me compare it to rape scenes featuring women. What I fear with that scene is that it ends up becoming a sarcastic remark, at the expense of a really traumatising subject.

Jeffrey Yohalem: Well, I don’t think it downplays a traumatising subject. Keith is not okay after that. He says very little for the rest of the game. You know, in Assassin’s Creed II your mother is raped, and she doesn’t talk for the rest of the game. So Keith is very similar. What he says after the rape is he tells you your brother is dead. Then he doesn’t talk. I don’t think that it downplays or is sarcastic. None of this is intended to be ironic – I don’t like games, or jokes, that hold people at arm’s length – that the only emotion that people can experience is the irony or the sarcasm of it, which is something I think was going on a lot in entertainment three or four years ago, maybe even two years ago, where it was all about, “Look how funny we are – we’re making fun of this.” That’s not the point at all.

It’s not intended to be glossed over in that sense. The intent was to not allow there to be some kind of cathartic sad scene where people get to deal with the fact that Keith’s been through this. I don’t give you the satisfaction, and it is a satisfaction, when you watch a character go through experiencing the torture of what they’ve just been through, it satisfies the player’s expectations of that thing being addressed. So that scene is taken away from the player. So you have this disturbing exchange of power, something Jason and Buck experience, where Buck forces Jason to call him sir, demeans Jason and his manhood, this diminishing of who Jason is – of who the player is, because the player is in Jason’s body.

And then the player experiences what Buck did to Keith. I really do think that it being a man matters. Throughout the game you have Daisy and Lisa, and Citra, and you expect certain things, the mistreatment of those characters, because of how past videogames have treated them. I don’t think you’re expected Keith to be treated as an object in that way. The fact that Buck did that is shocking, because it hasn’t really happened in videogames before. And at the same time, videogames have a primarily male audience, so it’s very easy to have this gratuitous portrayal of women in other games be glossed over and allowed by its audience, because it’s not them. To really hit someone where they live, I think destabilises the trope. I’m hoping in the future when you encounter the objectification of women in games, you go, “Maybe this is uncomfortable, the way I felt uncomfortable in Far Cry 3.”

To be fair, Far Cry does it twice. When Citra kills you at the end, it’s like Mario thinking he’s rescuing the princess for the whole game, and then the princess stabs Mario, and says “You win”. The point is, she didn’t need saving. She didn’t need rescuing, she’s not a princess in a castle, and she’s not waiting for you to save her. In fact, it’s all part of this elaborate ritual. It’s not even clear that she needed your help to begin with. In fact Vaas was there to do it first, and Vaas left because he didn’t want to be a part of her crazy ritual. It’s not that she needed a white saviour at all. She didn’t need a white guy at all. She was just looking for the ultimate warrior and someone to be her gun.

RPS: The problem for me is I didn’t choose that ending. I chose not to slit the throat of my girlfriend! There’s no way I was going to do that, so I walked away. While you get one less scene of her tits, you get a more elaborate ending for walking away, but you don’t get this delivery of the punchline.

Jeffrey Yohalem: Correct. And with YouTube so big right now, I assumed everyone would go and look at the other ending, and I created it that way.

RPS: And I did – the first thing I did was look at the other ending on YouTube. But then I was vicariously seeing someone else’s ending, I wasn’t experiencing my ending, I wasn’t getting my punchline to the game.

Jeffrey Yohalem: But if you don’t choose to win, if you don’t choose to get the final tattoo, to me you’ve chosen who you are – you’re the guy who saves the girlfriend. The curation for you is different.

RPS: Do you think this understanding was carried by the rest of your team? I’m listening to your arguments, and I understand the points you’re making, and I’m coming from the position of thinking this is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. But stuff like the hunting for skins is so ridiculous in the game…

Jeffrey Yohalem: Right! Right, cos Jason asks why he’s doing it. Isn’t there a line where he says, “What am I supposed to do?”, and an objective pops, an objective gives you what you’re supposed to do.

RPS: Yeah, but the way it’s delivered by the game, the mechanics of the game, don’t seem to be carrying the same satire. To the point where, when you ‘skin’ an animal its skin is left on and you seem to take a lump of guts. Do you think the delivery of the game in some places fell short of the message you were trying to convey?

Jeffrey Yohalem: To me that helped the delivery. Games are built by gigantic production teams. So even if everybody on the team doesn’t understand what the point of the game is, what I understood was: here’s the direction that these people are going to go in. So to me all that continues to support the message of the game. Because the message of the game is, look at all these systems that we’re creating, and if they’re illogical, and if they’re not challenging you as an individual but are just things for you to do that pass the time, then see how that makes you feel. The crazier the things that you’re doing are, the more interesting it is that you’re not going and helping the friends.

People who have looked at the surface of the game think that the story and the game are at war with each other as they are in most games, with the story just plugging potholes and the gameplay is going along its merry way. I think it’s very exaggerated that, “Oh, go save the friends! Go save the friends!” but most people are out on the island doing all this other crazy stuff and experiencing the gameplay. And that’s actually the point of the story.

It’s not a game about go save your friends. It’s a game about – doing a lot of picking skins from things, and wait, it’s just a pile of meat – this doesn’t even make sense, yet I’m still doing it instead of saving the friends.

RPS: How on board were the project leads with your ideas?

Jeffrey Yohalem: The director was a hundred percent. Pat Plourde is a genius. We worked together on Brotherhood and AC2, and something called The Lost Archive, which was a DLC for Assassin’s Creed Revelations, where we started exploring some of these ideas. Of how gameplay and story could be one-to-one. That’s about a guy named Clay, who’s got all these support structures in his life, like his parents and assassins and his job. And gradually he loses all those support structures or they fail him. It’s a game where you shoot blocks, and a block is a support structure that you’re walking on, so the game gets increasingly harder to play, an ultimately he runs out of blocks and he has to kill himself by falling. It’s a game about the loss of support, and that’s conveyed literally through the gameplay. If you muted it, you’d still experience a game that’s about the loss of support.

Far Cry 3 is a continuation of those ideas. He was entirely on board. And everyone else, in all of their different departments, understood what was going on, and what we were trying to say. But again it’s such a labyrinthine production – as it is with every triple-A game – that on some levels it’s like the Wild West. You have this freedom to express things in a way you wouldn’t have in a blockbuster movie.

RPS: In Roland Barthes’ essay The Death Of The Author, he argues that the author is meaningless once the piece is out there, that the understanding is in the interpretation of the viewer. If most people come away from this game saying either it’s racist, or it’s old-school colonialism, do you still think you’ve succeeded in what you’ve set out to do?

Jeffrey Yohalem: I think that’s an interesting hypothetical question, because my feeling is most people aren’t feeling that way. I get the impression that it’s a small minority of people who feel that it’s racist, or talking about that. So my hope is that a vast majority of people do not come away feeling that way, because then they’ll have missed the point. But, the point is for them to examine who they are. I feel like we’re living in this incredible time when you can actually experience someone else’s curated mind. To me that’s what games are. To me that’s where the Death Of The Author argument doesn’t necessarily hold up. This experience is curated. It’s curated by us. So all the systems you’re playing on that island, and all the things that happen in the story, and all the moments that you play, are chosen. If an artist curates his installation in an art gallery, and it’s very important spacially how things are laid out, although you could just ignore that and go to the bathroom in the art gallery instead of looking at anything, I think that there’s no argument that if someone goes into that installation they’re going to have some kind of impact that the author intended.

My argument is that the player is an actor, and the game is the director. And it’s the job of a great director, as opposed to a bad director… A bad director says, “Look at this thing! Look at this! Feel what this thing is! Feel the power of this – cry!” A bad director tells an actor, “Cry now.” Which the actor in their head goes, “Fuck this guy. I’m not feeling that.” In fact, I want to do the opposite of what the director just told me. Not explaining why – it’s really offensive. It’s distrusting the actor’s intelligence. Or even the actor’s essence. So a great director instead says, “Here are all the things that are going on in the world in which this play occurs, and the script. We take those and see what fits with you and give me that.” The goal of Far Cry 3 is to allow players… I think the problem with narrative in the past has been that writers are trying to say something, and they’re trying to get the players to sit down and listen to it. My feeling is that games are interactive, they’re about what you’re doing in the world, they’re about gameplay, and they’re not about sitting there and telling anyone anything.

So they player gets up, and explores the world, and explores the curated experience, and he can’t find everything in the world in that experience, and that’s very intentional. The director has chosen what this island is made up of – it’s called Rook Island, it’s not called some other island – and the Alice quotes have an effect on you, and there’s a meaning behind all the Alice quotes. And there’s meanings you may find then in those things that surprises me as the author. Which is wonderful, because it’s then like you’re expressing your self. You take the story, and the puzzle pieces in the story, and you put them together in a pattern that I didn’t realise, I go, “Wow, that isn’t what I thought of at all when I was writing it.” And it works. The only thing I wanted to ensure was that the surface reading of this plot didn’t work. Like I said, I was trying to remove support structures from the building so the building would fall down if it was analysed that way.

RPS: Right, but I’m coming at this with the perspective of a player. So take the boss fight – in that moment it doesn’t matter whether this is metaphorical, or if it’s an arch commentary on the nature of boss fights – the reality is I’m still having to play through a really crappy boss fight. In that moment it doesn’t really matter what commentary it’s making – as a player I’m still having to struggle through a crappy fight. Do you see how the intention can become mistranslated in the mechanics of what the player has to do?

Jeffrey Yohalem: This is the most collaborative art form we’ve ever done as a species. It’s incredible. If what you’re saying is that not every element in this game lived up to what you feel is good as the player, that’s valid because there are so many different art forms here. At the same time, what we try to do with Far Cry 3 is – you’re choosing to go on this vision quest mission. So you could be hunting animals, or you could be… And by the way, you’re hunting endangered species on these island – that’s also intentional – it’s supposed to be an exaggeration of things you do in other games. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. Everything that we curated in there is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable in some way. Some of it I think didn’t quite succeed, because it wasn’t exaggerated enough as you said, but a lot of it is.

RPS: But again, we’ve just been trained over decades to shoot endangered animals in Tomb Raider and Uncharted and so on – we’re just used to shooting endangered animals. It’s just another game having us shoot endangered animals at this point.

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yes, but if that were true then I wouldn’t see articles on the internet about it.

RPS: But people have always mocked the Tomb Raider games for the fact you’re shooting endangered species!

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yeah, but then there are all these articles online talking about how disgusting it is in Far Cry. Modern art felt like it couldn’t shock anyone any more. Modern art’s been in this strange period where it’s trying very hard to be relevant, and to shock people, and this videogame seems to have shocked a lot of people.

RPS: But so do sick, stupid videogames. A game like Medal Of Honor I felt was deeply revolting, a really vile game. I find it problematic that the writer of that game could come back and say, “Ah, but it was satire.” Do you see – it’s maybe too easy a get-out?

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yes, of course it’s too easy a get-out! That’s why I put all the clues in there. There are dozens of clues! Of course it’s lazy if it’s not real satire. If it’s not real satire I can’t come after the fact and tell you – that’s the point of the clues. Before the game is produced, all the clues are put in there, so when you say exactly what you just said to me, I go, but wait, look at this, this, this and this.

You may say that the things I’m saying to look at, like the name of the island – if you analyse each of the Alice quotes it’s about the metaphor behind each of the characters you’re experiencing – and the island is clearly Never Never Land, and there are all these references… You pointed out one of the clues – the Snow White clue. If this was about the white messiah motif, would I be so stupid as to have a main character’s nickname be Snow White? I’m making fun of that!

RPS: But I think where you say, “Would I be so stupid?” you really get to the key issue here. Most games writers are being stupid! We don’t have any background to assume you’re being smart here. It’s so much simpler for the player to assume you were being as stupid as most game stories are.

Jeffrey Yohalem: My experience of this has been that literally… that gameplay has a tutorial at the beginning of the game, where it’s explained how to play. Or over the course of the game – in Assassin’s Creed, over the course of the whole game you’re explained how to play all the different systems. So I never thought that story should have a tutorial until experiencing this. Whether maybe there was a point where I should have literally had a tutorial in the game. For me it was the death of Grant, that Grant as the main videogame classic protagonist being shot in the head at the beginning of the game – this game is not that. And Alice quotes at the beginning. All of that was supposed to put you in this state of, “Okay, I’m going to examine this differently.” Maybe I needed to be even clearer. What I’ve been doing now in interviews is trying to explain the story tutorial, which for me is not a negative because gameplay gets to do it. I don’t feel like I’m cheating in some way to say that maybe you should examine this as a riddle or a puzzle. That’s what I would have put at the beginning of the game if I were putting a tutorial in. What I was trying is create a game with the story, which means it’s interactive. And it’s something that players come to if they want, not something that they’re forced to.

My biggest surprise has been that people didn’t expect something like this, and I guess I should have anticipated that.

RPS: Do you think that because this is following on from Far Cry 2, for whatever it achieved it didn’t have this sort of depth behind it. Do you think people’s expectations are set because it’s the third game in a series?

Jeffrey Yohalem: I don’t think so. I think Far Cry 2 talked a lot about philosophical and artistic issues, and that was my opening. For me FC2, with the guns jamming and the malaria and all these systems that were considered not fun, it was about deconstructing the fun of a videogame. I thought Clint was very clear in a lot of interviews he did that that was what he was doing. He was trying to be philosophical about videogames, about their fundamental mechanics. If you have a gun that can jam at any point when you’re shooting it disrupts the flow. So he’s examining what makes a game fun, if I take away what’s considered traditionally fun.

So Far Cry 3 is actually doing the same thing – and I’m surprised that no one’s referenced that connection between the two of them – it’s just that Far Cry 3 is saying, what if I give you so much quote-unquote fun that it becomes uncomfortable. It’s a different approach to the same problem – they’re both trying to approach building the same building, I think. Everyone keeps saying how they’re so different, but in reality I think conceptually he approached it from the mechanical side by disrupting the mechanics, and I approached it from the story side by disrupting the story.

RPS: But at the same time you can argue, you know, I’m spending my £30 on this game – I don’t want to have my fun interrupted, and that…

Jeffrey Yohalem: YES! That’s my…

RPS: …I don’t want to be the victim of your experiment.

Jeffrey Yohalem: That’s my argument! What I experienced in Far Cry 2 is that I didn’t have fun playing it, although I found the ideas really, really interesting – let’s say. I’m not saying that was my experience, but that’s something that you see out there. If you approach Far Cry 3 you’re not going to find any of those problems. This is where the level of exaggeration issue comes in – if you turn the volume to 11, it’s like you’re screaming at the player and it’s very uncomfortable. It turns a lot of players off. I was trying to reach a volume of, err, six. Like Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence, you can approach Far Cry 3 on the surface level and still have a lot of fun. Now you may say that compromises some kind of artistic ideal, that if I had cast it so it was so exaggerated that it was not entertaining at all, unless you read it as commentary, then I would agree with you that it is forcing my opinion down the player’s throat and being a bad director. My goal was to bring joy to everyone. But at the same time I’m hoping players can look at the riddles in the story and see that there’s a lot more going on there. And actually look into themselves and learn something through the journey. The goal was really not to waste players’ time, because we’re going to die soon, and there’s so much to read and watch and do on this planet.

RPS: You talked about how in previous Assassin’s Creed games you questioned themes and tropes, and have gone far farther with that Far Cry 3. Do you think it’s a fair criticism to say, why not make a game that doesn’t make all these mistakes? Why set out to highlight the mistakes or the laziness, or the issues, or the laziness in the players – why not set out to make a game that’s really good?

Jeffrey Yohalem: First of all, I don’t think there’s any laziness in the players. I think our players are some of the most intelligent, grown up, free-thinking people that there are. I feel like a lot of games don’t respect that. I feel like we’re in this place in the videogame industry where we’re in an abusive relationship. Players feel like game developers don’t respect them, and don’t create meaningful works for them, so they call a lot of games stupid. And a lot of developers get upset because things are being called stupid, and they say that players don’t get it anyway, so they just handhold them all the through. I think that’s an abusive relationship. You need to break that cycle. You need to cause both sides to step back and say, “Maybe there’s something else that we can both have between each other.” We can create situation where players go, “Huh, maybe games have something interesting to say after all, and I’m going to listen.” And then that puts the pressure on game developers to not create lazy crap. Players will see it. As soon as players are listening, game developers have to deliver. In that context you can see that Far Cry 3 is trying to break that loop, rather than create the thing that’s going to happen when people are definitively sitting there, listening.

I feel like we’re in a place still where there’s this dark anger between the two sides. Far Cry 3 was trying to break that loop and say, maybe what we’ve been doing before… Vaas’s insanity speech is the lynchpin of the game, because he’s talking about videogames. If you take what’s been done before, and you see it for what it really is, then can we make something better? Which is what Jason’s speech and the good ending is about. Where he says, “I’ve been a monster, maybe I can’t come back from this.” But he thinks he can. So it’s a statement of hope about the industry.

RPS: So are you now going to go on to make something better?

Jeffrey Yohalem: Yes… I’m not allowed to say anything…

[At this point a PR on the line panics and jumps in, assuming I'm asking what his next game is. I explain that I'm not. That it's a philosophical question.]

Jeffrey Yohalem: I’m not going to give away anything, but there’s a statement at the end of that game, and I will hold true to it.

RPS: That seems a great place to stop. Thank you for your time.

So then. I think what I feel most strongly at this point is a wish that I’d experienced the Far Cry 3 Yohalem believes it is. It’s unquestionably one of my favourite games in a good long time, but not because of the story, and perhaps even despite it. I can only imagine how more brilliant it would have been to have been understanding the experience on that level, alongside adoring the simple mechanics of playing the thing. I’m also fascinated to realise that the game’s biggest mistake might have been covering up your tattoo with a wing suit. If completing it was so important, concealing it for the second half of the game seems to be a surprisingly dumb decision.

It’s tempting to believe that some of Yohalem’s claims about the game’s intentions are a little too convenient, but he’s right – what about all the clues? He said there were dozens more, but he wants people to find them for themselves. While I doubt very much that things like the crappy skinning animations are really a deliberate conceit to this meta-analysis, I have come away far more convinced that much of what felt simply poor about the game was genuinely an attempt to make me feel uncomfortable, to “destabilise” me, as Yohalem would put it. I think the mistake, perhaps, was the belief that being destabilised would have any profound effect on a player.

There’s one larger issue, however, when it comes to my feeling that this is a case of wanting to have their cake, and smear it all over their faces. You may well have noticed that at the start of the interview, Yohalem says,

“The goal was to create a videogame that examined what shooting does to us in a videogame.”

Then surprisingly soon after he said,

“This is the most interesting misperception that I’ve found – people who thought the game was going to be an examination of shooting. Like, what it would be like to be a real person in this jungle, shooting people, and if you kill hundreds of people what happens to you. That’s not what this game is about. It was never what this game was about.”

Where might they be getting this misconception from?! And it’s worth noting that in a previous interview Yohalem said,

“We want this game to be about shooting. Let’s make a game about shooting, and what it does to humanity. This game is our statement, and it’s a very clear statement, about what we feel shooting means.”

There’s definitely an impression that the answer changes to excuse the game. With such stark contradictions in intent, it doesn’t seem too surprising that the game has failed (in my mind) to convey the meaning he wished.

And as I say a few times above, we’re pretty well worn when it comes to dealing with exaggerated, unbelievable plots, and no more so than with shooters. We make excuses for nonsensical stories because we enjoy the mechanic of shooting at targets in well designed locations, so there was no jarring moment in Far Cry 3 to make us think this was being any different. In a year that’s contained the jingoistic stupidity of Black Ops 2, and the outright racist stupidity of Medal Of Honor, if anything Far Cry 3 felt less exaggerated and offensive. Throwing in racial stereotypes and colonial backward thinking just feels disappointing, rather than shocking. When you make a game that’s satirising shooter power fantasies, and questioning what the player will do in order to progress through a game, you have to be more effecting and more grotesque than the norm, and Far Cry 3 simply isn’t.

Sure, you aren’t trying to save the world when you’re torturing your brother, but you are trying to get through this scene so the game you paid for keeps progressing. And that’s the same reason you might simulate torture in a game where there’s some loose plot about preventing a terrorist – it doesn’t matter that Jason’s intentions are personal, we’re only ever doing it to turn the page, and the point gets lost. In neither is the real world in any peril – there’s only the concern that we don’t get to see what happens next. Sure, that’s something that’s open to satire, but the mistake here was believing that there was ever any player-perceived noble intent in any of the other games that asked you to do it.

That’s the mistake Far Cry 3′s plot keeps making. I love that it was trying to be about gaming itself, that it was a statement, and I applaud it wholeheartedly for attempting this. But again and again, what Far Cry 3′s story really does is just put another selection of negative examples on the piles of negative examples in gaming. From my perspective as a player, it wasn’t pointing at them and asking me to question them – it was joining in with them, and asking me to accept it yet again. Yohalem is completely correct that his missing support structures for his house made me feel unsure what it was really about – I ended up writing much about how that made me feel, as did many others. Like he says, if all these articles are appearing about his game, and not the others, he must have done something right. But unfortunately, I think, rather than making us aware of the horrors of the starving Irish when he says they should eat their babies, instead it too often felt like he was publishing baby recipe books to the very hungry. As a work of satire, Far Cry 3 fails, simply because it required this interview to be apparent. But as an attempt, I’m delighted it’s there, and I am thrilled to see what comes next.

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349 Comments »

  1. philbot says:

    I don’t think the misconceptions of rape, hunting, satire effect the final product for better or worse. The author’s desired effects- discomfort- was something I felt frequently when playing, and I liked that it did that, because so many games can be “Epic” or “Awesome”, but just feel shallow and empty.

    Buck is the most terrifying characters I’ve seen, and I HATED him. It felt good knowing that the story meant he had to die, without compromise. Controversial or not, I thought this aspect of the story was one of the better executed (Pun not intended) aspects of the game.

    The writer had great intentions, and I say thanks for writing something that will make a second play through much more engaging.

    • Pajama says:

      There is ah heavy difference between discomfort and actually seeing a bigger, more meaningful picture. You could watch SaW and be engrossed in the discomforting torture scenes, but your not learning anything. If you play a game and come away with this “Ew, that was gross” rather than “Wow that story changed my entire view on X and now I will attempt to do Y to make X better”.

      Little Inferno changed how I saw mobile games and consumerism in a few ways, mainly that iPhone games shouldn’t get PC ports and that consuming and doing stuff that is bad / wrong / unhealthy because everyone else is a stupid idea that follows that of Lemmings.

      Being uncomfortable while playing a game is bad, being engrossed in a uncomfortable scenario that teaches you what the author wanted to convey is much better.

    • Melete says:

      Buck and Vaas were terrifying. But what really creeped me out was Hoyt. You knew what to expect from Buck and Vaas. Vaas was a psychopathic maniac and Buck a nasty, sadistic prick on a power trip. But Hoyt? Unpredictable, machiavellian, godfather-type sociopath. (“It’s all about bluffing. Isn’t that right, Sam?” / “Until the house collects.”)

  2. bj says:

    I swear this guy was posting anonymously last week, sharing his interpretation of the story. Or maybe someone else genuinely came to the conclusion that you were shooting sperm at the giant monster.

    And perhaps War Z is actually a satirical look at marketing and the premature release of unfinished products.

  3. tlarn says:

    I particularly like the parts where he says “Well, I don’t think it’s like that at all.”

    Feels like too many people at work have been patting him on the back for his stuff and he’s convinced it’s clever and artful.

  4. AndrewC says:

    I liked this bit of the interview:

    ‘We can create situation where players go, “Huh, maybe games have something interesting to say after all, and I’m going to listen.” And then that puts the pressure on game developers to not create lazy crap. Players will see it. As soon as players are listening, game developers have to deliver. ‘

    Breaking that loop, and creating a communty environment where it is expected that games are actually about something (as opposed to ‘it’s just a game, shut up’), is a marvellous pre-condition for games to get a bit more juicy.

    A great painting is just wallpaper, if the viewer isn’t looking at the picture.

    So, yes, definitely, I agree with him there! But I still think the story is guff.

    If it is satire, what is it saying? ‘shooting games are rubbish and bad for you and you shouldn’t be playing them. BTW here is a shooting game. enjoy!’, possibly?

    It feels…unlikely. Rather, if it provided any other perspective or way to play, he might have a point, but you have no choice but to torture and kill except to turn the game off.

    Maybe if there was an optional fishing game?

    • Pajama says:

      No, you nailed it. His satire was literally making fun of the game that was being made. If you have ever heard of a writer being left out of the movie’s filming the same thing applies here. In Batman Arkham City, for example, you could take the dialogue and put it to a book and it would still make sense, put the gameplay to a movie and it would still be understandable without both being together. The writer was in there with the development staff to create a story that fit the game, here, however, the writer wasn’t bothering with his co-workers and as a result, his method is buried under the weight of the open world and free exploration.

      Jason picking up a gun and instantly being good with it is a plot device according to him, however the fact that you can kill thousands and he still goes “Eeewwww” after cutting up a deer for it’s skin seems a bit redundant with the regular gameplay.

  5. medwards says:

    I think one major problem here is “Oh games in the past never got criticized so I’m doing something right” is off the mark. What has happened, especially this year, is that games are increasingly being scrutinized and expected to be more mature, inclusive, and sensitive. There was commentary on how rape was being used as a plot beat in the new Tomb Raider and much broader increase in the awareness of gender bias in gaming, both culturally and content-wise. This is naturally encompassing most negative stereotyping and is simply part of the maturation of the industry. FC3s problem seems to be primarily that it wants to appeal to a more mature and introspective audience, but failing to realize that this same audience is not expecting simple stereotyping in videogames to be part of some deeper commentary because that is precisely what has been the case for so long. Its refreshing to see that the writer eventually becomes cognizant of the fact that he needs to telegraph is intention more, but really wants to insist that the commentary was due to the games ground-breaking-ness as opposed to maturing industry expectations.

  6. maninahat says:

    “It’s called Rook Island! It’s an obvious clue! And the people are called Rakyat…which means “The people”! How can it not be a satire?”

    “Na’vi” sounds a lot like “native”. And “unobtanium” is a totally ridiculous throw-in name. Avatar MUST be a satire.

    Also – a rook is a corvid; that’s what I assumed the island is named after.

  7. Noc says:

    Without having played the game there’s nothing much I can say about it specifically, but having put up with a lot of art students in my time Yohalem definitely seems to be falling prey to the “No it’s SUPPOSED to be like that!” trap.

    Like, in other technical or engineering fields, we understand the phenomenon where you have a problem you’re trying to solve by making a thing, and you do the making part flawlessly: the thing you make works perfectly, and does exactly what you intended it to do. Except it doesn’t end up doing a very good job of solving your problem — not because you built it wrong, but because you should’ve built something else.

    We see a lot of this in attempts to subvert or invert forms: “But it’s supposed to be a bit off. It’s supposed to be shitty, because it’s self-aware commentary!” And often…yes, the creator has definitely succeeded in creating a poorly executed product, on purpose! And often they’ve even succeeded in nudging us with their elbow so that we can tell that it’s supposed to be that way. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a particularly effective or impactful work: oftentimes the effect is very similar to that of a work created in earnest that just doesn’t happen to be very good. To be effectively bad, you generally have to be bad in a particularly interesting or novel way — just because you made it that way on purpose doesn’t mean that the result is necessarily worthwhile.

    . . .

    It also seems to me that “parody!” is just another way of doing what Yohalem was decrying other games for doing: providing narrative lubricant to gloss over the implication of the player’s actions. He cites action games being all “You’re a SUPER SOLDIER and the FATE OF THE WORLD is at stake! So it is both normal and morally acceptable to gun down hundreds of foreigners in the course of a weekend,” but the alternative of “Oh, see, it’s a META-COMMENTARY on gaming, so you’re being intelligent and self-aware by gunning down hundreds of foreigners in the course of a weekend, ’cause that’s the point, see?” amount to basically the same thing.

    . . .

    It also also seems to me that there’s a big difference between reacting to a work as “Wow, that was profoundly unsettling, but I feel like it was important for me to have seen” and as “Ugh, I feel dirty for having participated in this, I go to take all of the showers.” The ‘correct’ response tot he latter is often not to have anything to do with it in the first place, either because it’s genuinely skeevy or because the point is “Look! Look at you, you are COMPLICIT in these terrible things happening because they are done for your entertainment.”

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      I was also thinking of the comparison with technical fields—and I’m a programmer, so specifically software. I design a piece of software with the intent to serve a particular purpose, then release it to the customers. What matters after that is not my intent, but whether it actually serves that purpose for the customers.

      If I insist on telling the customers that they’re using it wrong, that’s just me failing to accept my own mistake. Instead, I have to dispassionately study the customer response and analyse the product, and figure out where I went wrong so I can do better next time.

      But maybe that’s more engineering than art.

  8. simulant says:

    This game will make you feel dumber than a bag of rocks for playing it. That’s it’s worst sin.

  9. Colonel Mustard says:

    “For me FC2, with the guns jamming and the malaria and all these systems that were considered not fun, it was about deconstructing the fun of a videogame. I thought Clint was very clear in a lot of interviews he did that that was what he was doing. He was trying to be philosophical about videogames, about their fundamental mechanics. If you have a gun that can jam at any point when you’re shooting it disrupts the flow. So he’s examining what makes a game fun, if I take away what’s considered traditionally fun.”

    Oh yea, I totally got that in that Arthouse game Far cry 2 *bang* *bang* *bang* *JAM* “oh! clearly this is a philosophical commentary on how the fun is being deconstructed! bravo!”.

  10. Eddy9000 says:

    Thought this was a great interview (from both people) and commentary afterwards, this is really the kind of article I look to RPS (and especially John) for, naysayers who feel threatened by being made to consider the social and cultural implications of their past-time and shout John’s stuff down should go and read something else IMO. I think a really telling thing about the quality of this article is the kind of debate it’s sparked and the thoughtfulness that people are putting into their arguments, while I enjoy RPS articles daily I don’t think I’ve enjoyed reading the comments as much as I am in this thread.

    (Just as an aside I personally think Cactus gets away with playing the ‘irony’ card a little too much!)

  11. iZen says:

    Lol, a pile of bullshit. Yohalem desperately trying to justify and give reason to a mediocre story. He doesn’t even sound convincing, but only repeating himself over “how complex the story is because its so simple”. Ridiculous.

  12. Bluerps says:

    Those were a lot of words, but worth it. Interesting interview and thoughts!

  13. Shooop says:

    So it’s basically a Tony Clifton joke. Something incredibly elaborate and meaningful for only a handful of people in the world because no one else knows what’s going on.

    Who would have ever thought to look up “Rook” or “Rakyat”? Not the average gamer. And without knowing those things you don’t get the supposed message the game has.

    In short, Mr. Yohalem has failed because we’re not even laughing at what little we do see.

  14. Edgewise says:

    It’s pretty obvious, looking back, that the game story and script really does engage in satire and deconstruction. Part of that was obvious to me while I played (I just finished two days ago), but this interview showed me a lot of things that I missed (“Rook” Island? Nice…)

    Even before I played the game, I felt that, to some degree, RPS’s complaints about racism was protesting too much. These kinds of issues plague games and especially game narratives, and it seemed a bit disingenuous to single out FC3. That doesn’t mean that seeming racism shouldn’t be called out, but the contrivance of having the player come to the island as the Highly Implausible Savior is pretty much a trope…everywhere. Would it have been less objectionable if the inhabitants were all white? Sure, they were cookie cutter islanders, but to me, cookie cutter characters are par for the course in game narratives. I think there’s a bit of self-righteousness going on here.

    The notion that the satire is only satire if it is perceived as such is not bolstered by citing high-falutin’ literary theorists. There is such a thing as “not getting it,” and that’s not always the author’s fault. In a case like this, when the interview has me slapping my forehead exclaiming “oh of course!”, then I think the audience can share some of the blame for missing the point. Another example of this: look at the reviews for Starship Troopers (the movie) at the time of its release. Almost nobody “got it” at the time, although pretty much everyone does, now. It took 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq to make it patently obvious to most people. That’s not failed art; that’s being ahead of your time. It’s perfectly OK to admit that you just didn’t get something, and it’s disingenuous to blame the author for not pitching to you underhand, just because you were conditioned by its shitty predecessors.

    Now that we understand exactly what FC3 was shooting for, the final question is: was it effective? An interesting point of comparison is Hotline Miami, which I believe was making some very similar statements about games and violence. In my opinion, HM is more successful on an intellectual level: it’s concise, and the idea is that the character in the game is some kind of mental patient who has been deluded into thinking he is playing a game in order to carry out assassination at the behest of others..in an actual game. This is quite clever and satisfying. FC3 isn’t quite as clever, but for me it did succeed at a more emotional level. There were a number of times I felt quite uncomfortable during FC3…for instance, I really HATED Buck, and Citra creeped me out through the whole game. As a statement, it’s far more bloated than HM, but then again, it’s a AAA game with tons of content, so that can’t be avoided. In the final analysis, I’ll just say that there are two games that tackle very similar issues and succeed in very different ways. I’m quite glad that I played them both. Incidentally, they also both succeed wildly as good old fun games. They are BOTH having it both ways: killing enemies is highly enjoyable, though there are certainly disturbing layers and meanings in these things.

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      Occasionally, it does feel a little bit like people are trying to win some sort of social justice competition rather than addressing actual issues.

      Far Cry 3 was kinda juuuuuust racist enough that you can go ‘Well, that’s a little bit racist’ because it is a little bit racist in all seriousness, though it does have actual pacific islander accents in it which is pretty nifty if you think about it even if they are all recorded through the worlds worst mic, but also at the level where someone making an issue of it is perhaps about trying to show off their ‘I’m not a racist’ credentials rather than feeling any genuine outrage. Which is on some level is kinda racist if you think about it. I guess. I’m sure I could make a case for it if I thought about it a bit.

      So it’d probably be best for everyone if we stopped doing both those things: Being racist and being wankers.

      Let’s also stop wanking on about fun being terrible as well. That’d be pretty nifty.

      • Edgewise says:

        “but also at the level where someone making an issue of it is perhaps about trying to show off their ‘I’m not a racist’ credentials rather than feeling any genuine outrage.”

        Yeah, that was my feeling even when the original criticisms came out, before I even played the game. Sometimes the bar for racism has become pretty low. Are the islanders actually portrayed negatively? No, not really. Some folks are uncomfortable at the idea that the player’s white character comes in to save a bunch of non-white people. I can understand and even partially agree with that discomfort, but like I said, I think it’s more instructive to see that as a product of non-racial gaming tropes that the old “white man’s burden” thing.

        Also, I do think that the “bad” ending does a lot to address this concern. The whole thing is one big ritual to harvest the soul of a warrior, which you are being ‘designed’ to be by the islanders. Why don’t they have one of their own become this warrior? Because the end of the ritual requires the warrior’s sacrifice. Satire aside, that’s pretty apparent once you’ve watched that (pretty disturbing) cinematic.

        And again, I don’t get John’s complaint that he was only able to appreciate this by viewing the ending on youtube. At this point, I feel like he’s trying to justify his original complaints in light of what should be considered a good explanation. I’ve seen places here and on the rest of the net where people are accusing Yohalem of being disingenuous about his intentions, retconning them to refute negative commentary. Well, I think if you listen to what he’s saying, it’s pretty apparent what his intentions were. Complaining that he didn’t dumb it down for you is passing the buck.

        To be honest, I’m a bit annoyed at John’s take on this. I think he should just be honest with himself, and admit that he didn’t “get it”. I didn’t totally get it, either. That may be treated as a cardinal sin by those “in the know” (especially reviewers), but it really shouldn’t be. You see this a lot in criticism of art, in general. When people don’t get something, they tend to label it as pretentious, or otherwise try to find fault with the creator, partly because it can be a little embarrassing. But there really shouldn’t be any shame in it, and it certainly shouldn’t prevent one from having an open mind or revising one’s opinion.

  15. Demiath says:

    This article made me realize that Far Cry 3 is the new Dreamfall, i.e. a game pretending to be profound (at least judging by those infamous RPS interviews) while in reality its sloppy recycled plot elements amount to little more than yet another stinking pile of tired clichés.

    • Pindie says:

      I have to defend Dreamfall’s creators here: they did not come out and claim the bad combat aspects of game were a meta commentary on state of action adventure games and gaming industry as a whole.
      This stuff just comes of as “you’ve been tricked, we made the game suck intentionally”.

      For the record the game does not suck, some aspects of writing do.

  16. gguillotte says:

    Yes, of course it’s too easy a get-out! That’s why I put all the clues in there. There are dozens of clues!

    Jesus Christ, is this cop-out really Jonathan Blow’s legacy for game writing? “BUT IT’S SO OBVIOUS TO ME! IT’S SO OBVIOUS! IT’S OBVIOUS!”

  17. Tukuturi says:

    I could barely make it through this interview. Reading Yohalem’s responses is akin to listening to some naive fine arts undergraduate try to develop a statement after the creation of a piece. He seems to believe his work is a lot more profound and edgy than it is. I think derivative and mildly offensive are better adjectives.

    Yohalem wants to treat his game as art, that’s great. But here’s the thing. You create your statement before you create your art. You set out with a goal to communicate a particular set of things to a particular audience, even if that audience is only yourself. If you don’t effectively communicate those things to that audience, you failed. You don’t get to craft a new statement to justify your mistakes. You don’t get to choose a new audience. You don’t get to frame your work as being inaccessible due to some profound hipster depth. You just fail as an artist, which is okay, seeing as most artists fail most of the time. Success in art is a rare thing, and the road to it is paved with admitted failures.

  18. Inglourious Badger says:

    Really interesting discussion. Having not played the game I can’t say who I agree with but both make good points. I see where Jeffrey maybe coming from with the satire on gaming although it is dangerous turf to walk as so many games claim to be satire when they ‘ironically’ churn out the same gaming tropes that have existed for 20 years.

    The 2 quotes that amazed me, though, were firstly that Far Cry 2 was about “deconstructing the fun of a videogame” which seems an incredibly bold thing to try on a triple-AAA action game, and something I’d rather have known before I shelled out for this, as John put it, experiment.

    And secondly it made me chuckle when Jeff himself agreed the Assassin’s Creeds have become one long tutorial: “My experience of this has been that literally… that gameplay has a tutorial at the beginning of the game, where it’s explained how to play. Or over the course of the game – in Assassin’s Creed, over the course of the whole game you’re explained how to play all the different systems.” Yeah, you got that right! In future, get it out the way and let me play, please.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      Oh, and just wanted to add: I absolutely love your articles calling people up on issues like this, John, and appreciate the journalistic integrity in speaking to the game’s writer to get their perspective and printing their words. But I do find it cringingly unfair when you get a post-interview conclusion to hammer home your points when the interviewee gets none. You’ve already had one article to soapbox about it, and you don’t tiptoe in front of Jeffrey, you get the same points across well in the interview. Pulling apart Jeffrey’s on the spot responses afterwards, with the time and space you get when producing the above, takes it beyond reasoned argument and back into soapbox territory in my eyes. Kind of turns me off. It’s your article and your site, and you’re all very clear that you write what you think about what you want and that’s completely cool and why I love the site, but just thought you might appreciate the feedback.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Far Cry 2 was about “deconstructing the fun of a videogame” which seems an incredibly bold thing to try on a triple-AAA action game.

      It wasn’t. If it was about a singular thing, it was about trying to make an FPS where the narrative told the same story as the mechanics. But the weapon jamming, malaria, and so on were designed to stimulate improvisation, rather than to be “not fun” to make a point.

  19. Mr.Bats says:

    I honestly got, and I think I actually explained it in the WIT article comments, Yohalem’s message. I looked at the game as what I thought at the time it was, and now I know for sure; a psychodelic trip to a void of too-common (in games) atrocities, with an overall feeling of being used and delusional about how you think the islanders see you.

    P.S. How someone could perceive the game as racist is beyond me, to be honest.

    • ryke says:

      The natives’ whole warrior spirit schtick is a major part of how the main character is progressively dehumanised and gives up his friends (or very nearly does, if you choose the «good» ending) for a quest of violent revenge full of power fantasy gaming cliches. A stereotypical hallucinatory rite of passage sequence pretty much leads into a sex scene with their stereotypical warrior-goddess. The entire deal with the natives can be summed up as a proud warrior race cliché. Sure, the main character basically represents the average white boy gamer, put through an unlikely, violent and altogether dehumanising power trip, which isn’t a very positive depiction, and the whole storyline might even be intended as a veiled indictment of all those clichés, but so what? The same result could have been achieved without so much that seems racist. Satire is not simply making the same game with a different intention. The content has to actually be different. They could have tackled the whole thing from an angle that attacked all those negative things in a much more striking way, without necessarily being unsubtle. In fact, I don’t find that FarCry 3 was particularly subtle. The problem is it wasn’t well-written enough.

      And perhaps more importantly, you can’t make an AAA game which you claim denounces the tropes it contains, while at the same time cashing in on the whole thing. Or, I suppose you can, because they do, but it’s certainly not praiseworthy.

      • Mr.Bats says:

        Is it racist to depict a warrior society? I mean, does a japanese feel offended of how we westerners depict the samurai?

        Actually, why is depicting a warrior-magic tribe offensive? In this case, warrior-magic and all that, they’re fucking using you… I mean… you say FarCry3 is racist with a plot that shows a white man as a fucking psycho, your friends and you as spoiled assholes, a game where you’re being used by the locals to push their own agenda, and just because they’re a tribe, because they sport tattoos (wich actually polinesian tribes used – and still use – heavily) and because they have their own religion? How is it racist?

        I, for one, feel much more insulted as a spaniard when Europe looks down on me because of being one, or when Hollywood makes us look like some third world south american country with psychos bullfighting (and I actually do like and go to Corridas de Toros . I saw the Rakyat as proud people, and, come on, you’re actually begging for their acceptance throughout the whole game.

        Also, and more importantly, as Yohalem said, you’re looking at the game from a white-spoiled-kid’s POV. He thinks HE’s the man to save the Island and its dwellers, HE thinks he has the love of Citra, HE thinks he’s their new leader; then again, HE thinks.

        SPOILER ALERT:

        HE thinks… until he is killed by Citra like the puppet he always was.

        • ryke says:

          A stereotypical proud warrior native society that isn’t examined beyond that point (not the same as an actual tribal society with some of those traits, though I know you can’t expect every game to come with an anthropology textbook) isn’t necessarily offensive. It can certainly be, but I don’t think it was particularly racist in FC3′s case. But it is lazy and generally negative, especially in a game that claims to be satire and to actually denounce those tropes.

          If you want the main character and narrator’s point of view (the player’s whole window into the game) to be perceived as significantly different from the intent of the author, you have to let in at least a glimpse of another, different point of view. Satire is effective because it brings player to see a perspective DIFFERENT from the one being denounced, even if it’s only subtle glimpses. FarCry 3 ends up being exactly the kind of game it denounces. What it denounces is in the game itself in a way that is never actually rebuffed or even really addressed.

          What they made didn’t end up being significantly different from what they supposedly denounced. Denouncing what sells by making what sells is contradictory at best. What they meant to do is fairly obvious, but they did it so badly that it just didn’t work.

          • Mr.Bats says:

            Yes; shouldn’t be Citra murdering you the desired signal?

  20. kazooka says:

    One line in particular in this interview stood out:

    “the people are called the Rakyat, which means “the people”. It’s the laziest name for a tribe ever, they’re not real, they’re a metaphor.”

    But they’re pretty clearly based on the Maori tribe: kiwi accents, facial tattoos, etc. So what does Maori mean in the Maori language? Well, maybe I shouldn’t trust wikipedia, but according to them, it means, “normal”, “natural” or “ordinary”, as in “not spirits or gods”. There’s an additional phrase, “tangata whenua”, that means “people of the land”, which describes the Maori that live in a specific area.

    So Yohalem’s “laziest name ever” is pretty damn close to the actual name of the actual people that his company designed his game around. Which makes his game that’s supposed to be about the latent racism and colonialism of these settings a little bit racist and colonialist in itself.

    Incidentally, I’m almost positive that “the people” is a direct translation for the names of several Native American tribes. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When we say “human”, it doesn’t mean “biped apes from the third planet from the sun in an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.” It basically just means “people.”

    And this is the problem with Far Cry 3′s story in miniature. The thematic elements just aren’t far enough away from the reality of the genre for the theme to show up in any real coherent fashion.

    • Tuor says:

      “Inuit” also means “The People.” As you said, it’s a fairly common thing among tribal peoples. This guy, IMO, has gotten so into his own viewpoint that he’s become lost in it and can no longer (or only with difficulty) relate to those on the outside — that is, to regular folks.

    • Network Crayon says:

      Plus, if you come from an isolated island. Yeah, your gonna be that islands people. So it’s not a “lazy name”, plus this Yolahem Wrote the Game. The only person that makes lazy is him, it’s comes off sounding like he’s blaming the characters!

  21. jorygriffis says:

    “You don’t think my game is a work of brilliant satire? Look a little closer, moron.”

  22. Tuor says:

    This is due to Jason having been stricken with some sort of jungle fever (perhaps malaria), was my main thought while playing the storyline of this game. The things that happened, especially regarding Vaas and Hoyt, could only be explained by them being unreal… which meant that our protaganist was a *very* unreliable (feverish) narrator of events.

    What was real? What was dream/drug-induced? Some of it? All of it? It seemed at the end like killing your friends was letting your fevered delusions win.

    But to what Yohalem had to say in this interview…

    First, I am me, and the character is the character. I rarely, if ever, plug myself into a game as the actual protaganist. When I run around blowing shit up and killing people, it’s me utilizing an interface to move a computer-generated character to kill other computer-generated objects, and the enjoyment is in figuring out how to outwit the AI programmed by other human beings, or how to best manipulate my environment or the rules of the game/setting. So his whole attempt at satire was wasted on me. Even if I had realized that was his intent, it would’ve failed, since my mind is *not* being twisted into becoming some sort of killing machine due to me playing video games, nor am I becoming desensitized by the body count, nor do I feel like I’m having a power fantasy in what I’m doing.

    Considering how pretty much every “decision” you make (except at the very end) isn’t really a decision at all… Do you want the story to move forward — you know, the game you just spent a wad of cash buying — or not? *That* is your decision. And the final decision was really pretty easy, since if you *are* playing “in character” then he *just got through* doing all that stuff to save his brother (and by extension, all of his friends), why would he decide to kill them once he had succeeded? That was utterly irrational: I can’t even imagine how Citra thought that would work. But, whatever.

    If I looked at it from the perspective that it wasn’t some whacked out fever or drug-induced dream, then I thought everything was far too improbable. Removing supports? You just left me thinking how implausible it all is without providing me any reasonable explanation for *why* it should all be so implausible. Yes, I got the Alice quotes: they made me think this guy was on a head-trip, and that what we were seeing wasn’t entirely real. It never occurred to me that this was some sort of meta-statement from the story’s author, and if it had, it would’ve pissed me off, since I didn’t buy FC3 to get some sort of meta-statement from the author, nor, as John said, did I willingly wish to be part of his experiment in (pyschology) story-telling.

    I really enjoyed FC3, but that is despite the story, not because of it. This interview hasn’t improved my opinion of the story, though it hasn’t made it any worse, either. Maybe next time I can play a FPS without the author having some ulterior motive in the story-line he creates.

    Good interview, John.

    • Mr.Bats says:

      I think Citra offers you the opportunity to dwell in your own delusion; by killing your friends

      At the end of the game Jason feels so powerful he doesn’t seem keen to consider being back to civilization or to be a bit bossed around by his girlfriend anymore.

      The fact that batshit crazy option is given; I think it is proof enough of Yohalem’s intention.

      • Tuor says:

        I thought that Brody was pretty consistant throughout in saving his friends, and particularly his younger brother. Even if he was power-tripping, he never showed any inclination to turn on his friends. In fact, I think he wanted them to share in how awesome he thought it all was, but only his younger brother thought that even slightly. So, I didn’t think there was any foreshadowing that he was growing so insane/power-mad that he’d cold-bloodedly off his friends in a ritual sacrifice.

        Note that I’m not saying that Citra couldn’t have used some other method to mentally “give in” to becoming “The Warrior.” However, I suppose she was pragmatically getting him to kill anyone who had any knowledge of what happened (in case someone came looking) and at the same time re-affirming her place as leader of the tribe.

        Citra was hot, but I never did trust her. Of course, I never trusted anyone during the whole story. :P

        • Melete says:

          No foreshadowing? I didn’t feel like that. First, my friends in the cave were at times really alienating. Removed from the insane, violent world outside, sheltered, I felt misunderstood (“What’s with that tattoo stuff and all these weapons? It’s like I don’t know you anymore!”) by their reactions. After all, why was i doing all this stuff? To save them of course. Well, just up until that torture scene with Riley. Suddenly killing Hoyt and getting revenge (for my brother AND the Rakyat) was more important than grabbing Riley and getting the fuck off of that insane island.

  23. mr.black says:

    Grhhh I was so enthralled by the article I hoped I could somehow smell the spoilers and skip them. Didn’t work..

  24. latsfosh says:

    Really, really enjoyed this piece

  25. Yosharian says:

    I’m reminded of Metal Gear Solid 2, which despite being an amazingly clever game, was too clever for its own good, and like this game tried to have its cake and eat it. It just doesn’t work. I’m not sure a game can be satirical to the extent this guy wanted FC3 to be.

    Catch-22, for example, is probably one of the best satirical novels of all time, and I just don’t get how such a thing could be transferred into the format of a videogame and still maintain meaning.

    • Network Crayon says:

      Metal Gear Solid as series’s problem is its convoluted, complicated and poorly explained. Far Cry 3 has the almost opposite problem in that its not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, if the island turned out to be america, but ruled by shadowy organisations from the future-past, it’d have the same problem as Metal Gear.

  26. Gabrielb says:

    Personally, the ending really effected my outlook towards the game.
    (I’m talking about the ‘bad’ ending)
    I feel that this ending was unjust and should have been justified with a more sensible, reasonable ending. (like an ending that doesn’t prompt so many questions, for example, the good ending).

    So basically, Jeffrey Yohalem made the ‘bad’ ending with an extreme negative (not to spoil for others) because he wanted to let us know that obectifying women is bad?

    It is a bad thing but if we had a choice on which ending to choose then why did he ‘punish’ us for choosing the ‘wrong’ ending? It’s our descision is it not?

  27. The Random One says:

    Oh man, Yohalem is so awesome. I mean, he failed utterly and completely, but also awesomely. I want to eat him. I want to turn him into a cookie and eat him like that one Dragonball Z villain that was bizarre even for Dragonball Z standards.

    John led this interview brilliantly and made all the points that popped up on my head as I read. Well done.

  28. CommanderCREAM says:

    this whole piece reads like an interview with tommy wiseau

    seriously yohalem’s mind seems to be an explosion of half baked ideas coupled with incredibly erratic direction

  29. Runs With Foxes says:

    I’m surprised this writer’s getting so much attention. The story’s awful and he’s just a hack. It’s telling that he keeps mentioning Avatar in his interviews as a point of reference. His writing seems to come down to ‘I saw this in a movie once so I put it in the game.’ Even the Spec Ops writers at least referenced a classic work of fiction as their inspiration, not an awful Hollywood film.

    I liked Walker’s summary at the end. It’s a good explanation of the player’s interaction with the game, and why these forced examinations of the Player’s Role are fundamentally stupid and pointless.

  30. Buttless Boy says:

    I’m probably just an idiot, but isn’t satire supposed to be at least somewhat funny? I’d always thought that was part of the definition.

    Also, good lord, how did someone involved with AC2 manage to believe they were a clever enough writer to do an ironic white power fantasy?

  31. Danda says:

    The “This game must be racist!” argument is back!

    Resident Evil 5 was set in Africa so you shot black people… RACIST!

    Deus Ex HR had a black, poor, saucy character who spoke in a weird way because she was po… I mean black… RACIST AGAIN!

    In Far Cry 3, you are an outsider in a Maori island… so that’s SUPER RACIST!

    Really? The only hate I found was all that anti-American Canadian snark. The ridiculous (alleged) CIA agent, or that guy who is German but still feels very proud to be American.

    I feel like everybody is following the views of opinion makers about sexism or racism. “Oh, there’s male rape!” But I’ve just googled about it, and nobody mentions that the guy is also a banker. Everybody is getting their just desserts… The stoner is oblivious to how close to death he was and finds a drug paradise, the actress is forced to do a humilliating rescue video and has a Hollywood escape with explosions and all, the swimmer who wants to prove herself escapes (she’s not rescued) and can do something useful to let them all escape… and the banker is RAPED before being rescued! Why don’t you all like it? :D

    I found the script really good. But I think overall the tone is not as dark as it sets out to be (the snark against America is maybe too much)… and Vaas is killed off way too soon. And you don’t get to see the corpse! Is he really dead? Will we get a Far Cry 4 with more Vaas?

    I think this game fixed all the problems FC2 had. But suddenly this is not OK with some people.

    FC2: “You are a sick, powerless guy with rusty weapons. Oh, and I hate the bloody respawning checkpoints.”
    FC3: “You become too powerful too soon. And after you conquer outposts, there are no enemies left to kill.” WHAT?

    The problem with FC3 is that it’s too good overall, and suddenly a better-than-average story becomes a weak point. But Far Cry 3 is AMAZING.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      What’s a ‘Maori island’ anyway? This game has such a confused mess of ethnicities.

      Seems like the good/neutral people are kinda-Maori and the bad guys are kinda-African. So …

      Oh yeah, and your rape thing … I think people might have a problem with a writer using rape as a commentary on bankers in general. Dunno.

  32. Jenks says:

    Finally we can stop talking about sexism for a minute and go back to talking about racism.

  33. Urthman says:

    All I can say is that Yohalem is sure lucky Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek got hired by Valve, because Old Man Murray would have been merciless in mocking an interview like this. So many ridiculous statements. How pleased he is with himself for naming it Rook Island. And this gem: “the Alice quotes have an effect on you, and there’s a meaning behind all the Alice quotes.”

    The Alice quotes have an effect on you! They do! Even if you don’t feel it…it’s working!

    And the whole “The dumb parts are deliberately dumb as a commentary on how dumb video games are!” schtick would be hilarious if there weren’t so many idiot game developers who think that could actually be clever or interesting. Even Bioshock wasn’t able to really go anywhere with that sort of thing, and you sir are no Bioshock.

    And I love that his idea of a good story is Avatar. That right there tells you why video game stories suck. They’re trying to be almost as good as bad movies.

    I’m impressed you were able to keep a straight face, John Walker.

  34. Crudzilla says:

    So basically it’s like I and many other people said under John’s original story… The plot sailed right over his head. And because he was too dumb to see what it was doing until the developer explained it to him, it is a failed game (or failed story at least)?… The ego of this man is insane.

    Also it’s not like he even needed the director to explain it, all he had to do was read below the line on his own story where a whole bunch of people (who are not professional games critics) laid it all out for him. Not one response from the mighty author of course, who likely knew then that he was wrong, and definately knows now that he was wrong but will never have humility to say it.

    I suppose every film that you have to think about a little to get it’s message is also junk unless you can get the direct to sit down and walk you through it. My opinion of John’s writing took a big hit after that first article. but I was going to let it slide, then he comes back and digs his hole deeper with this frankly arrogant article. Ignorance and arrogance are a toxic combination for me. John should stick to writing about game mechanics as he clearly doesn’t have the faculty for analysis!

    • Nogo says:

      I think you missed the central point here. I doubt John missed the elements of satire, but they’re uneven and frequently poorly written, which results in a “walks like a duck, talks like a duck” situation. Poorly executed satire isn’t much better than the thing it’s satirizing, ya? Maybe it’d be better for everyone if we manage to understand why FC3 was lacking instead of just saying “you’re dumb if you don’t see it.”

    • Urthman says:

      All the people saying, “You just didn’t get it” need to give me some other examples of what they think is great writing so I can tell if they’re actually getting something good out of this game or if they just enjoy terrible writing.

      Yohalem listed “Avatar” as an example of good writing. Avatar’s writing is terrible, so I really doubt this guy is capable of writing something so good and subtle it went over John Walker’s head.

  35. spinaldeck says:

    The word “rakyat” is Malay / Indonesian (as are a number of other “native” phrases in the game). But the Rakyat in Far Cry 3 also use Maori greetings. The distance between Sumatra (where the Malay language actually originates) and New Zealand is 5000+ miles. It’s a bit like pointing at a haggis-eating Ukrainian and saying: “There’s an archetypal Frenchman!”

    As someone from Southeast Asia, the funniest bit in Far Cry 3 is when Dennis goes “Selamat Tengahari” (“Good afternoon!”) in the intro, when it’s clearly nighttime.

    Yohalem can say these gaffes were intentional, but colour me unconvinced.

  36. spacesin says:

    This guy has this weird idea that everyone who thought the plot was dumb/offensive somehow missed that it was supposed to be “satire,” even though I think that is probably impossible given how hard the game telegraphs what it’s trying to do. (the words “what have I become” literally come out of Jason’s mouth at one point jesus christ)

    Like, he tries to justify the pretty horrible depiction of Keith’s rape by saying “well doesn’t it make you uncomfortable that it’s a MAN??” but maybe it’s because I’m a woman (it’s not) but I didn’t see that scene and go “Wow, what a stunning commentary on the exploitative depiction of sexual violence,” mostly because it was an exploitative depiction of sexual violence. Men get raped, and it’s pretty consistently downplayed, so more of that is really a pretty poor decision!

    There’s a whole lot of problems, even though it’s clear he had good intentions. Saying that it went over everyone’s heads doesn’t really fix that.

    (Also this game is really really fun and one time I killed a shark by hitting it with a car so you know)

  37. Pindie says:

    So upon reading the interview – carefully – I think I can comment on one thing I thought was the most important point.

    It was the point made by RPS’ John (paraphrase): “Why make a crappy game to emphasize the tropes instead of making a good game”.
    I think it strikes at the heart of the issue.

    I think they cannot make a good game because it still has to look like a straight up AAA to the masses.
    He said he could not “crank it up to 11″ for the same reason.

    I expect a half-hearted attempt to save video games to follow.

    • Zelos says:

      So uh, I’m guessing you didn’t play the game? Far Cry 3 is incredible, even if you’re a bit too dim to understand the story and feel it’s racist or whatnot.

  38. Baal_Sagoth says:

    “But unfortunately, I think, rather than making us aware of the horrors of the starving Irish when he says they should eat their babies, instead it too often felt like he was publishing baby recipe books to the very hungry.”
    Well said! This was a very interesting read and highly enlightening as far as understanding some of the thought behind designing the game in this fashion goes. I have to agree that giving some of these ideas a shot is very much commendable but I don’t get the impression that the satiric perspective works out particularly well.
    I don’t even mind having to walk an uncomfortable line between exploitation and critical commentary as I did enjoy awkward and sometimes plain disgusting games like Manhunt for example but the blatant, flashy, mindless surface of FC3 seems to be far too dominant. It overshadows the more subtle clues and prevents the satire from being as painful and vicious as it would have to be to become relevant in my opinion.
    Either way, great, insightful piece.

  39. Tinus says:

    Marvelous interview! Such uncompromising and critical questions, you really surfaced some deep issues.

    “What I experienced in Far Cry 2 is that I didn’t have fun playing it, although I found the ideas really, really interesting – let’s say.”

    Has Yohalem played any Russian games, like Pathologic or The Void? Their games are leaps and bounds ahead in this direction. They’re actually doing it, instead of softly asking the question. It’s like he assumes he is the first person to utter the thought “but what if games were not fun?”

    Also, the word ‘fun’ should be stricken from critical discourse. It’s too general, and much too vague to make clear points.

  40. The Sombrero Kid says:

    “And with YouTube so big right now, I assumed everyone would go and look at the other ending” [Smacks head on desk] He simply doesn’t understand what a game is, this is what happens when games are made by writers.

    • Zelos says:

      Well.. that’s what most people do. Very few people are going to replay a game like far cry 3 for the purpose of selecting a different end.

      I’m not sure what you’r issue is here

  41. newprince says:

    Satire is subjective for the simple fact that many people won’t ‘get it’ if it’s done in a certain way. When I read American Psycho, I was laughing at many bits, cringing at others, and sometimes both. But I’m sure that tons of people saw it as some sick, pointless gorefest with no redeeming qualities (especially in light of the movie). The movie in its execution lost that satirical, silly spirit I think. Which might be the case for Far Cry 3. He’s a writer; he wrote these things and imagined them as being obvious satire. But the execution is different when going from the mind, to the paper, to visual representation, and finally adding another layer of player interaction and agency.

    • Zelos says:

      I found the execution to be quite clear; I was shocked to find out people didn’t get the fact that you’re being used the entire time. Let me bring up a quote from the start of this article:

      “Many who played it, including me, found its apparent use of “white messiah”, “magical negro” and “noble savage” tropes to be somewhat disconcerting”

      There’s no magic. You’re on a drug trip for the vast majority of the game. Drugs produced by these “noble savages” who are all just trying to use you. They don’t give a shit about you. They don’t need you. If these tropes are included in the game at all it’s as a deconstruction or subversion.

    • iridescence says:

      I understood the the author was trying to be satirical and probably thought he was being very profound, but it was basically the same joke told over and over again (Yeah, 80s yuppies were shallow and materialistic, do you really need 200 plus pages to get that across.). Merely, saying something is satire or humour doesn’t make it good or worthwhile or mean that I’m mentally deficient if I don’t laugh at it.

  42. Cockles says:

    I must be one of the few people who “bought” Farcry 3 (as in, it’s message), which I’m surprised about (towards myself, not everyone else). I really dislike generic action-type stuff, sometimes irrationally, but there were a few things that opened me up to Farcry 3 quite quickly.

    Firstly, the Alice in Wonderland messages made me realise that this was at least attmepting to say something “meta” which should be applauded for the attempt at least. Secondly, I really loved Vaas’ character, which is odd because I expected to think it was a poor attempt to create another trite villain who is crazy but for some reason, I saw “the player” in him. Thirdly, Jason being a thrillseeker and a rich, young, male, white-guy, douche bag really fitted in to the overall meta theme as well.

    The main reason was the ending. I REALLY wanted to choose letting my girlfriend live but I really got in to the character and knew that Jason would choose Citra. I think if I’d chosen the “good” ending (I haven’t actually seen it or heard what happens yet so it may also be bad, I have no idea) then perhaps the game would have made no sense. In fact, if all the horrible actions we do in the game are forced upon us to progress then why give us a choice at the end? It kind of undermines the rest of the horribleness we’ve done if we’re given a back-door chance to repent. If the player was forced to choose Citra then perhaps the game would make more sense.

    Basically, for all the games I’ve played to save the world/princess/whatever, the person who would come out the other side of gunning down hundreds of people would be Vaas and Jason combined. I have not played a mainstream game that actually put up a mirror and said: what kind of actor, regardless of whether you had to save the world from terrorists or whatnot, would gun down hundreds of people? An unhinged psychopath who enjoyed murder, hangliding and skinning tigers, that’s who. This would be our hero in real life if we needed hundreds of drug pirates gunned down, a bona-fide thrill-seeking psyco.

    I like the fact that this discussion is being had about an AAA game, I personally enjoyed being forced to examine what I am as a computer game player regardless of what the supposed justification is for mass murder. I’m glad this game tried to explore these themes rather than just say: “an ex-CIA agent is trapped on an island and must save the world before BLAH BLAH BLAH”

    There are definitely some conflicts between this being a fun action game and having some kind of commentary on the nature of this that doesn’t always work, I completely acknowledge that, but for me, this is where computer games have their uniqueness as an “art” form – they get to explore the relationship that is unique to them, which is to look at ourselves as someone who vicariously experiences their violent nature and their repressed/shadow personality.

    • spongthe1st says:

      Here’s a thought. Everyone who’s said that typical video game characters killing hundreds of people would, in real life, be psycopaths – what do you think of people in the armed forces? Are they all psychos? Some snipers have recorded over a hundred kills, but many armies require snipers to be the most level-headed people. Interviews have revealed many of them to be very thoughtful and emotional individuals with stable and balanced family and social lives when at home. Furthermore much of what the special forces do goes unrecorded, but they are amongst the most active members of a given military. The body count must surely be high and yet these are people with normal lives at home and a relatively low record of flipping out.

      • Cockles says:

        Yeah, that’s a good point that I hadn’t thought about – some people do have this as a job and it is the job of the military to kill hundreds (although I would say it must be almost unprecendented that an individual ever manages to kill that many by themselves) but I’m not sure it’s relevant here. Games usually show the kinds of protagonist you’re talking about (but in a lazier manner) or they show people who are not military persons but have a similar capacity and have found themselves in reluctant circumstances e.g. Gordon Freeman is a scientist but could be a special forces soldier in another career if he chose.

        I don’t think that’s how the majority of people would react to such killing, I think the average person would not be able to murder hundreds and come out of the experience being able to have emotionally functionable lives, they would likely suffer PTSD or dissociative disorder or any number of mental illness/conditions. Military persons will have had the training to some degree, the desentisation to violence and possess an innate strength that the majority of us would not have if we were thrust in to a situation that required us to kill a lot of people. Besides which, I wonder what the statistics are on what you state – they may not be “flipping out” but they may have severe psychological trauma that goes unrecognised by society or by themselves.

        That is what Farcry is exploring, it is asking what kind person that represents our average demographic could be a mass murderer and what effect would that have on them? Jason Brody and Vaas are not militarily trained, they are just “normal” people so what kind of “normal” person could kill hundreds?

        • Gordonius says:

          The people you’re shooting over and over are baddies – the game warns you not to kill civilians. Your targets are always murdering, slaving pirates and mercenaries. I wouldn’t lose any sleep about it. Like you, they are ‘players’ in a kill-or-be-killed game, except they have no altruistic motivation: they are are just symbols of evil. You are killing them to topple their evil empire and save your friends.

          I don’t need to ruefully reflect on the kind of person who would kill hundreds for real, because I don’t do that – it doesn’t apply to me. I don’t need a killing game to slap my face and say, “take a good look at yourself KILLER!” I understand and accept that like most humans I have a natural itch for violence and the game scratches that itch while telling a good story about the dangers of power fantasies spilling over into real life. Which does apply to real life, by the way. No one’s talking about that – how real leaders and warlords have pursued the dream of being the ultimate king or warrior and have killed normal sane people to achieve that end. And deluded others into fighting for them, as Citra does to you.

    • Zelos says:

      I do think the delivery would have been better if they hadn’t given you a choice at the end.

  43. MerceAR says:

    I also don’t get the racist thing.

    I mean, you are parachuting into a Pacific Island, how do you expect them, the natives, to be? Blonde blue eye guys? Fuck no. The bad guys, are an OBVIOUS reference to the/based on the Somali Pirates. How are the Somali Pirates? Blonde blue eye guys? Fuck no.

    The only problem with this, is that the game offers a lineal story progression AND THEN imposes you a decision which is (saving your friends) TOTALLY out of place with what has been happening. Of course, you could say that what Jason ever wanted was to save his friends, but at the same time he also grows fond of Citra and the Rakyat cause, even going so far as to stating he’ll stay with Citra and commenting how his friends don’t understand “it”.

    Far Cry 3 wouldn’t have had all this shitstorm/debate if they had gone with the “Make choices during the Story, and then you get X ending”. NOW, that would make sense. Choosing to kill Vaas or not, declining Citra’s offer, etc etc. They, the devs and the writer, may have created a “open world”, but regarding the story, they did what COD did in all past titles: Sit you in a traincar, and make you watch the film.

    Oh, surprise, the latest Call of Duty, Black Ops 2, just avoided this….

  44. grenadeh says:

    First of all, TL:DR. I;m a writer and I routinely write articles on my website much longer than this, and I’m saying TL;DR. All this is, is manufactured pseudo-liberal bitching about things which do not exist. Stop it. Seriously, stop it. No one cares. Your complaints are invalid. Granted I am not 100% finished and am only at the end of the game, not one single offensive thing has happened in the entire game yet. Is your transformation from a noob college kid into a psychopath gradual? Not really. Are the drugs and racism prevalent? Not really, at all. Your initial whining article read WAY too far into something that was never there in the first place – all of the characters aren’t even “black” that seem “useless”, and, the person who helps you unveil your magical powers is hispanic or pacific, not black. Can it apply to other races and still be magical negro? Sure, but that’s not what goes on in the game. This continuing drudge of complaining about a game that you specifically found faults in, so that an audience composed 2/3 of people who never touched the game can rally behind you and cry, is getting ridiculous. Play the game. If you don’t like it, stfu. This isn’t “Waah the missions in AC3 are just broken”, this is “Waah I didn’t like the game though everything in it is fine”.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      “This continuing drudge of complaining about a game that you specifically found faults in, so that an audience composed 2/3 of people who never touched the game can rally behind you and cry, is getting ridiculous. Play the game. If you don’t like it, stfu.”

      Ooh! Let me try!

      Dear Grenadeh,
      This continuing drudge of complaining about a (important article topic) that you specifically found (threats) in, so that an audience composed (47.5%) of people who (already) (discounted) the (important article topic) can rally behind you and cry, is getting ridiculous. (Read) the (article). If you don’t like it, stfu.
      Regards,
      BBB

      It’s like Madlibs! How fun!

    • TheXand says:

      That’s just what John Walker’s articles are like. He’s given up on actual faults in games and now has to manufacture bullshit, like all these silly claims of sexism and racism and whatnot. Btw you should probably delete that comment before he sees because he will just delete it and then ban you from reading anything on RPS.

  45. Brise Bonbons says:

    EDIT: This is supposed to be in response to Cockles a few posts up, but I guess this works too.

    *

    “This would be our hero in real life if we needed hundreds of drug pirates gunned down, a bona-fide thrill-seeking psyco.”

    This raises a *really* good point which FC3 ignores: Nothing like this happens in real life. In real life, we players do not actually want to murder hundreds of people. In real life, when this sort of thing happens it is either solved by police/military units, or the “hero” runs the fuck away and hides. Perhaps sheltered by friendly locals. Oh. (Hey, about that island tribe and the whole white savior thing…)

    When they imagined Far Cry 3, did the developers consider giving the player nonlethal takedowns? Do the developers ever ask the player “would you like to *not* be a bloodthirsty psycho for a moment? Just to cleanse the palette?” How often does FC3 hold its mirror up for the producers and developers to contemplate their own choices? Truly, is it satirizing the state of things in our little gamer brains – the same brains that make DX:HR and Dishonored and FIFA top sellers? Or is it satirizing the ur-gamer, Prince Charming the abstract-gamer-concept who comes each night to whisper sweet nothings, while the industry dreams of AAA blockbuster DLC subscription service franchises to come.

    To be hyperbolic – er, more hyperbolic – I’d argue that FC3 is like cloning a basic PC chess game, writing an epic chess campaign story that ponders the merciless sacrifices and mutual annihilation which is a chess match, and then holding it up to the player screaming “You horrible person! Why do you take such fiendish delight in sending thousands of soldiers and horses and religious leaders to their death?! The horror. THE HORROR.”

    • Zelos says:

      There’s no option for non-lethal takedowns because Jason Brody isn’t a self insert. A lot of people are surprised by that, being a western game and a FPS, but that’s just how the game is. It would make absolutely no sense for there to be non-lethal takedowns given the story. The most ridiculous thing about many of these FC3 arguments is that they can be answered with a line of dialogue from the game.

      “Now, killling feels like winning” – Jason Brody

      The game isn’t accusing you of anything. You aren’t Jason Brody. I’m not sure how you missed that, given that the entire story is basically about his decent into insanity, but whatever.

      • NathanH says:

        I think this is a very important point with far more applicability than just Far Cry 3. We should not expect every game to allow us to “take the role” of the protagonist we are controlling unless there is good reason to do so. Similarly, a game should not expect us to “take the role” of the protagonist we are controlling unless it gives us good reason to do so. Sometimes we’re just controlling characters in a story, not being them.

  46. jimbonbon says:

    There have definitely been moments in Far Cry 3 which could be construed as satirical, but this is balanced by the fact that at other times it feels like it simply picks up contentious issues (such as race, rape and torture) and uses them to make it’s storyline more controversial. John makes a good point about why some people aren’t seeing the game in the way the writer intends – people have certain expectations about the quality of writing and storytelling in video games, and FC3 could have done with being more obvious about what it was trying to do. It’s far too easy for someone to sit through the game and see it as exactly what it is attempting to parody.

    It’s a tricky balance for the writer to try and hit – the result is that the intended satire is obviously being missed by a substantial portion of players. Is this the writers fault? Maybe not, but it is the reason this article exists. For me it took reading this article for me to understand the full extent of what the writer was attempting to do, so many thanks – it was a very interesting read.

    Someone earlier in the comments section mentioned about the problem of pacing, which is an excellent point. There is a lot to get distracted by in the environment, which means you end up dipping in and out of the storyline with large gaps of killing and exploration in between. This is quite obviously the result of having such an open world environment, but this distraction is probably not helping people to understand the story the way the writer intended.

    Overall – I think it’s an excellent game, whether or not you fully grasp what the writer was aiming for. I’d buy it for the side missions, checkpoint clearing and exploration alone. Plus it looks really quite pretty in surround: http://bit.ly/TcoRNc

    • Zelos says:

      I find it more likely that many people, especially those of a British persuasion, feel such severe white guilt that they believe they need to lash out at anything that doesn’t marginalize the white man and empower formerly oppressed minorities.

      Ironically, that’s something this game does pretty well if you actually understand what’s going on.

      • jimbonbon says:

        Sure, that’s kind of the point though… the writer intends for us to see the white man as the one being used by the natives of the island, rather than the other way around. The problem is that it is too easy to play through the game and not see what the writer is trying to do. And here I mean with the game as a whole, not just the reversal of this traditional stereotype.

  47. GeroRRA says:

    While the spoilers about Far Cry 3 were mentioned (and why I held off reading this), the spoilers about Assassin’s Creed 2 were not mentioned. Consider me very annoyed.

  48. Revrant says:

    The entire “durr I subverted racism!” thing is an utter lie, a fabrication to defend an openly racist writer, black people using, betraying, and killing white people was a staple trope of the post-civil war south’s fiction for many decades, predating the more veiled “Magic Negro” trope, he subverted nothing.

    The guy is a hack, frankly.

  49. Sayori says:

    I’ve not seen anything sexist. Actually what exactly is sexist? And why would you blame a video game which mimic the real world?
    Dear people who are stupid to get even whatever job – Please stop making “sexism in video games” your job. Obviously if you had anything valuable to contribute – you would had actually a real job.

  50. TheXand says:

    Videogames should really just stay away from sex (and rape) scenes altogether. They’re virtually always cringeworthy and more hassle than they’re worth.

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