In which we take a break from politics in order to just, you know, chill out and focus on things that really matter. Such as video game reviews and the pervasive hypersensitive bullshit that sometimes finds its way into them where it belongs just about as much as a metal guitar solo on a Justin(e) Bieber single.
No, you don’t have to read it, it’s beneath the fold. Game hating Luddites. There, we said it.
Before we say anything else about this particular example, we want to make clear that we’re just using it as an example. And also because we found it in a place where we’d normally not expect that sort of nonsense to appear, namely on the great game reviews site Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a site that we were introduced to by LC Boryon, and high praise indeed to him for that. It’s a bloody great site. Irreverent, funny, deadly honest and beholden to nobody.
And then occasionally one of their writers gets a bit naff. As is the case with one of their best reviewers (and in that bunch, that’s saying a lot), John Walker (which may or may not be his real name). Did we mention that we like him? Yes, we did. We still do, but we’re still scratching our heads trying to figure out what made him write the silly guff that we’re about to reference.
He’s writing about a new game, Far Cry 3™, which is a first person shooter with a difference. Open world, semi-sandbox, do whatever the fuck you want with a story to go along with it if or when you feel like it. That sort of thing. Some call it “Skyrim with guns”, and that’s not an entirely unfair description. Unless you’re expecting dragons that are not of the Komodo variety.
Brief synopsis is that a bunch of spoiled American kids are going skydiving/tropical adventure/let’s get shitfaced under the palm trees and end up on a Pacific island controlled by pirates, pirates brutally oppressing a bunch of natives and, of course, kidnapping rich white kids for ransom. Or killing and raping them to death for fun. We’re not quite clear on that. They be bad people, OK, bad people of the “let’s just kill ‘em all and have a lot of fun doing so” variety.
John loves the game, and for good reasons, and he wrote a whole review stating as much. This is not the review we’re talking about. He then wrote a review pointing out the things that DO irritate him about it, not enough to make him not absolutely love the overall game, more like a “please get rid of this and why the fuck didn’t you fix that in the first place, considering the fantastic job you did on everything else?”
Most of which we utterly agree with. Except for one thing, and that’s what we’re going to wax poetic about here.
Yesterday I talked about the protagonist, and how while there were clearly problems, in the end I found myself liking this spoiled kid’s descent into cruel, terrified brutality. I also attempted to dismiss away the situation he was in. That’s not really fair. Because Far Cry 3, well, it’s a bit racist, isn’t it?
No! Don’t go there! You’ll be sorry that you did!
Oh bugger all, too late…
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.
At least you’re acknowledging that it’s hardly strange that the natives don’t look or sound like they were just transplanted from the tonier neighborhoods of Beverly Hills. Imagine their shock if they were to wake up suddenly on a tropical Pacific island without their maids, pool boys and telephone sanitizers. Now that would be a suspension of disbelief killer, right there.
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’.
It’s icky and somewhat racist that the natives are better than Whitey? OK, you lost us there. So they really ought to just be a bunch of simpleton buffoons? Or is the problem that Whitey somehow comes along to fix what they couldn’t fix themselves, i.e. the pirate oppression? Lost us there too. We mean, we could imagine an alternate version of the Rook Islands where the natives were perfectly capable of whipping the rapey pirates’ butts on their own, thank you very much, but that would make for a bit of a boring and rather short game, wouldn’t it?
“Oh, hey rich, spoiled white kids. We used to have a pirate infestation, but we all fixed that. Try the Mahi-Mahi while you’re visiting, please.”
The further you get, the more revered your character becomes. The antagonists call you Snow White, a derisory name but one that pretty much points out that you’re the pure white American man in this land of colourful folks.
Which, you know, you are. Oh, we get it! You’re pointing out the racism against whites in the game, aren’t you?
And the locals begin to hear word of not only your helpful ways (which would seem fair – you’re being very helpful) but also your abilities with their customs, your wielding of their powers. You are the outsider who has come in and outdone them, shown them the true majesty of their savage abilities. They can’t fight against the pirates for themselves, but you can save them.
Which, again, is sort of the point here, isn’t it? Without that, there would be no pirates left when you arrived and all you’d have to do for the fifteen minutes you spent with the game before uninstalling it out of sheer boredom would be surfing, gliding and swimming with dolphins.
Moreover, having played a bit of it ourself, we have a bit of a different tack on it. It’s not that they’re utterly helpless without you, it’s that you’re the only one there bug fuck crazy enough to undertake one suicidal mission after another against impossible odds. You’re stranded, you were captured and abused by the bastards and, without putting too much of a spoiler in here about the first 10 minutes of the game, have a very, very powerful motivation for going utterly, gloriously ape shit on the pirate scum.
Maybe the natives eventually would have gotten rid of the pirates, they certainly seem to have an infrastructure and an organization already set up when you arrive, but having a crazed, freaking berserker with not a care in the world and nothing to lose pop by never hurts when it comes to getting things rolling. All the natives need to do is to give you a few pointers, teach you how to behave in the jungle and you’re off to the races while they sit back and have a cool drink.
Who’s being played NOW?
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. And then at least the problematic mystical bullshit would have at least been a part of his or her culture, even if it would still have remained entirely unnecessary.
Agreed. Our protagonist could have been an islander native who, for some reason, spent most of his youth on the mainland and then came back to discover that his native lands had been taken over by vile, parasitical thieves and murderers. It would have been a great story. It’s also not the story that was picked. So is the game “racist” for not having picked your preferred story line?
Or maybe just have the island be inhabited by an indigenous race that isn’t generally pathetic.
And, again, in that case there would have been no conflict left for you to resolve when you arrived. Not to mention that they’re far from pathetic. If not for them, you’d be lost in the jungle, swallowed up whole inside one of the numerous wild beasts that infest the islands within a half and hour. Also, when they show up to provide support they prove themselves quite capable with automatic weapons and assorted other technological killing stuff. We had our butt saved at least once by them showing up in a timely fashion.
Main thing is, John, you’re over-thinking it, and it’s something that is showing up more and more and in much worse ways. Such as reviews of shooters taking place during Gulf War II where some hairshirts are proclaiming it “racist” that the enemy all seem to be Arabs and that they’re a bloody incompetent gaggle of maniacs to boot. That’s about as “racist” as the player exclusively shooting black people in “Rorke’s Drift.” Sure, the designers could have replaced all the Zulus with howling Vikings, but we much doubt that anybody would have taken the game seriously if they had. Besides, that was back in a much simpler age when people didn’t worry one single solitary shit about that sort of buggery.
And His Imperial Majesty still doesn’t. It’s a game, and we’ll be damned if we’ll ever play something that was designed with careful considerations of “diversity quotas” and “respect for the other” in mind.
Chill out and enjoy the game. We both agree it’s awesome.