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A Far Cry From Racism

December 6, 2012 Written by Sebastian Moss

Rock, Paper, Shotgun thinks that the recently released Far Cry 3 is racist. That’s a hugely powerful accusation, with a lot of heavy implications. Despite a lot of commenters voicing their disagreement with the statement, other publications have steered clear of addressing the issue, presumably because nobody wants to write an article that could be misconstrued as being ‘in defense of racism’. Well, here goes…

Ok, so disclaimer – I’m Caucasian, grew up in and live in the predominantly-Caucasian London. While I have experienced some racism against myself, it cannot compare to the persecution many minorities suffer regularly, so I cannot fully understand the hardships they may face. That doesn’t mean my views on Far Cry are any less valid, that’d be racist.

In “What I Loathe About Far Cry 3“, author John Walker explains:

Because Far Cry 3, well, it’s a bit racist, isn’t it?

I said, rather flippantly, that the people of this island are the race they are, because it’s the island they’re native to. It is what it is, essentially. And that’s the case – that’s really not the issue here. It had to be set somewhere. The issue is the horribly worn tropes it so lazily kicks around when it gets there. As it is, you have the simple-folk-natives, and the immigrant white men with their mixture of South African and Australian accents. And one black guy. White people ask you to get involved in enormously elaborate machinations, ancient mysteries, and local politics. Locals ask you to help them kill endangered species, find their missing daughters, and point out when their husbands are gay. Essentially, the locals behave as if they’re helpless without you, but when you wield their tattoo-based magical powers then true greatness appears. And it’s here that the problems really kick in.

Here’s the problem with that description – it’s wrong, and it’s (purposely?) misguided. First off, the ‘natives’ are far from helpless. Throughout the game they are seen fighting the enemy pirates, it’s meant to be an ongoing struggle with you increasingly at the center. Also, the ‘natives’ simply use you as a tool to further their aims – you’re not meant to be their Christ-like savior, rather a drugged-out nutter who is good at killing and so a useful mercenary figure for them. But the whole supposed issue of the ‘natives’ constantly asking you to do lame quests in a way that is somehow racist is what’s most galling. Fetch quests are the bread and butter of a billion games. There are countless games like Skyrim where a shopkeeper will go “hey can you pick those flowers across the street and I give you money? Thanks hero” – Bethesda isn’t discriminating against shopkeepers, they’re just padding out their game length (feel free to complain about that). And of course you’re better than everyone else, that is also how most games work. You’re the protagonist. A game is the one time you are actually the center of the universe.

This is not The Heart of Darkness.

…you wield their tattoo-based magical powers then true greatness appears. And it’s here that the problems really kick in.

There’s a term for it. It’s “Noble Savage“. And it also falls under the remit of the “Magical Negro“. The trope is that the non-white character possesses mystical insight, magical abilities, or simply a wisdom derived from such a ‘simple life’, that can enlighten the white man. And it’s pretty icky. The premise relies on the belief that the individual’s race is in some way debilitating, something their noble/mystical abilities are able to ‘overcome’.

Here his argument is a bit more sound, although it’s quite a leap to go to ‘Magical Negro’, a rather strong term (which also slightly conflicts with his first point, as it is a “black character who goes around selflessly helping white people”, when he complained about the white character helping non-white characters). While the powers of the tattoo are mainly just a game mechanic at most it can be seen as racially insensitive. There is also another reason why it’s not racist, but it’s a spoiler for those of you who haven’t finished the game. Like John Walker.

Yes, the person that went on record saying a game was racist didn’t complete the plot. Wait till he watches American History X on TV up to the first ad break.

So I’ve argued why I think the story of the spoilt rich white kids having their worlds fall apart is not a bad thing. But I do wonder what would have stopped the story being about a local of the island rising up against the pirate oppressors.

As discussed earlier, the locals do rise up to a certain extent, but they are still meant to be villagers, not SAS soldiers. They struggle, they fight, victory is not certain – if it was, there’d be no game. The fact that the title is about spoiled rich kids is also very important as it must be noted that the protagonist is not meant to be liked from the start. He’s meant to be an ass, the result of overindulgence in western capitalism, not the shining bastion for why all villagers should convert to his way of life.

Calling out a game for a terrible wrong like racism is a fantastic way to gain both hits and credibility for ‘taking a stand’. But tarring games with the racism brush only serves to make developers second guess the slightest inclusion of anything that is slightly edgy, and kills any desire to make a game that is set in an ‘exotic’ location. Far Cry 3 has an insane, rude and violent plot. But it’s not racist.