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[Far Cry 6]We shouldn’t need Ubisoft to tell us that ‘Far Cry 6’ is political

2021-07-06

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  Khavari cut straight to the point in his own post.

  “A story about a modern revolution must be [political],” Khavari’s statement read. “There are hard, relevant discussions in ‘Far Cry 6’ about the conditions that lead to the rise of fascism in a nation, the costs of imperialism, forced labor, the need for free-and-fair elections, LGBTQ+ rights, and more within the context of Yara, a fictional island in the Caribbean. … But if anyone is seeking a simplified, binary political statement specifically on the current political climate in Cuba, they won’t find it.”

  The trouble with conversations about politics in games, I think, comes down to competing definitions of the term “politics.” The people tasked with marketing games seem to view politics in terms of proper nouns: A real country; Politicians employed by that country; The United States Capitol; A specific, controversial piece of legislation.

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  Writers and audiences on social media, however, tend to think of politics differently. “Politics” is a historical force that concerns how people live. It can flow from the aforementioned proper nouns, but it often has to do with decisions, systems and trends that are harder to name or grasp.

  Let’s take Ubisoft’s “The Division 2,” which puts the player in control of an armed government agent tasked with restoring order in a post-pandemic Washington D.C., as an example. It may have been strictly true, in Ubisoft’s view, that the game was not political. The game, though set in a near 1:1 version of D.C., doesn’t name specific political figures. The game’s script has little to say about the political questions of the day. As a player, your primary concern is virtual pest control — shooing enemies away from famous landmarks.

  To players and critics, however, the game was brimming with politics. Criticism is about excavating meaning. Games are limited simulations. They can’t possibly simulate every detail to bring you fully into a world. (Here’s a very basic example: when you reach an invisible wall in a game, but there’s more stuff rendered beyond that wall, the game is saying “there is in fact a world out there, even if we can’t let you in.”) People who play games are always reading a world that cannot fully reveal itself. That’s where a game’s “politics” come out.

  Let’s return to “The Division 2,” an example that is near and dear to me. The game creates a close replica of Washington D.C.’s Federal core — the National Mall, the White House, the Capitol complex and so on. Most of the game’s action takes place there, as resistance groups made of D.C. citizens set up camp in famous buildings in the city’s downtown.

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  Because of the nature of Federal work — with administrations changing every 4 to 8 years — a good percentage of D.C.’s population is transitory. Most of the people who work in the Federal core are temporary residents, who filter in and out based on who is in power at the time. The fact that the non-player characters of “The Division 2” are so preoccupied with the downtown area and protecting the Federal code doesn’t actually make sense. D.C. residents mostly don’t live there.

  When I think about the politics of “The Division 2,” I think about the fact that it values symbols — the Washington Monument, the White House, etc. — over people. The game’s conception of what is worth fighting for is skewed. That can’t be pinned to a proper noun. But the choice of whether an armed government agent protects the Washington Monument or Wards 7 and 8 is a political one.

  Criticism isn’t an accusation. What I’ve written above about “The Division 2” is a personal observation — and you’re welcome to take it or leave it. But ultimately, there’s little reason to focus on a developer’s statement about politics.

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  Every time a Ubisoft game comes out, some smart critic writes a long review about what the game’s politics really are. Moreover, games aren’t made by one person. Teams and individuals at a range of levels are deputized to make choices that can change how a game is read in numerous little ways. One person may be briefed on how a game should be marketed. But the politics of a game come out after release — not before.

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