Far Cry 2 & Responsibility

5 Nov

[Cross-posted on Destructoid]

While reading Luke Plunkett’s Love/Hate review of Far Cry 2 over at Kotaku, this paragraph caught my eye:

I Know That I Must Do What’s Right – While Resident Evil 5 probably wishes it had done things a little differently, Far Cry 2 does a surprisingly good job of tackling the continent responsibly, without ever resorting to heavy-handed clichés of social responsibility and morality. There are bad men, there are good men, there are lots of men (and women) in between. Same goes for your missions. You’re free to make your own morality in Far Cry 2, the game never forces it down your throat.

While Resident Evil 5 may have been insensitive in its advertising, it’s not a game that fits in the realm of responsibility.  It’s a game about the walking dead, and it just happens to be set in Africa — that’s not to say it can’t communicate anything, but at the end of the day it exists for scary head exploding fun.

But not Far Cry 2.  It’s set in what tries to display itself as a realistic African country in the midst of a civil war, and for this reason I believe it’s Far Cry that isn’t being responsible.  There are no women (or children) that I have seen — the game presents a world that I might have naively depicted in some school essay years ago.  It’s a world full of men fighting men, of friendship and betrayal — absolutely bereft of any social conflict, moral responsibility, or any of the realities of life.

Interestingly enough Kotaku had another post up where Angelina Jolie offered her stance on violence and her children:

Jolie tells Harper’s Bazaar “My kids play video games. I let them play with toy soldiers. We don’t take war and violence lightly, but we don’t hide it from anybody.”

And this is just what Far Cry 2 does; it hides the real violence and doesn’t even begin to grasp the seriousness of the situation.  In fact it’s almost a farce; the player finds blood diamonds in hidden briefcases and easily plays both sides of the conflict without repercussions.  As a portrayal of Africa in conflict, it’s a child’s cartoon.

The only tinges of moral responsibility in the game are player created — I’ll often find myself playing pretend inside of the game, as if the game cared about my actions at all, which it doesn’t.  For instance in a mission where I was charged with finding a corrupt police officer’s brother in order to dig up some dirt I squeezed off a submachinegun burst into his chest after he had given me the documents.  The game clearly expected me to complete my objective and move on, since he casually requests you now leave him and his family alone.  And instead of my character gaining a reputation as a merciless double dealer, or even seeing something akin to Fallout 3’s “karma lost”, I just go on with my mission.  And where was his family?  He was just sitting at a desk in the middle of a swamp fort guarded by mercenaries.  

In fact where does anyone live in the world of Far Cry 2?  It seems like only highwaymen exist; nobody else lives in the entire country.  No houses, no kids playing on the street, no women hanging their laundry out to dry, no civillians just driving or walking and minding their own business.  It’s a videogame world, through and through.

So as a bit of a thought experiment, take two pieces of media:  Far Cry 2 and The Last King of Scotland.  Give one of these to a man with a plane ticket to the Congo.  My guess is that after playing Far Cry 2 his opinion might not change, because it depicts an imaginary place.  But after watching the film the same man might fear for his safety and cancel the ticket.

And that’s because the game doesn’t even seem to consider morality, or the situation.  The game could be set in Kansas and nothing would change.  Nothing.  The game has no systems to deal with responsibility, so how can it be said that it gives the player free reign?  Rather it seems like it doesn’t have anything to do with the game, so they didn’t bother with it.

What Far Cry 2 does do is apply strict reductionism to a complex human situation.  It depicts a caricature of a war torn Africa, and I fail to see the responsibility in that.  What I see is an effort to avoid any meaningful commentary, to avoid any volatile tugging on human emotions, to avoid being relevant so as to not stir up any trouble with the censors or the media.  That’s quite understandable, but far from commendable.

One Response to “Far Cry 2 & Responsibility”

  1. gd08carlos November 5, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    You know, I felt the same way while playing FarCry 2, the only repercussion I had by shooting a ‘buddy’ was that he didn’t appear in the game any more. I haven’t finished it yet, I’m probably like one or two hours into the story, but in the end, it really does feel like GTA, being able to get Safe Houses and roam Africa. It felt very free, and I loved that. I’ll probably play it like I play GTA these days, not caring about missions but instead getting to know the whole place, and getting blood diamonds, scouting guard posts and such, and then probably in the end I’ll do the main story.

    Great post!

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