When it comes to the story of Far Cry 5, it is a classic example of overpromising and under-delivering. On its face, the story deals with modern-day conservatism, without stating that that’s what it’s about.
Issues like guns, patriotism, the flag, and religious cult movements were the main pillars of Ubisoft’s marketing campaign.
The disappointment was, when the final product was delivered to gamers like yours truly, It didn’t tackle any of these issues In a deep or meaningful way. Instead, these topics ended up being used as comical decoration.
To fill the gap between the promise and the delivered product Ubisoft relied on stereotypical portrayals of conservatives in rural America as religious fanatics, gun freaks, Isolationists. In the fictional Hope County, Montana, a group that shows no tolerance for outsiders is led by a Matthew McConaughey copycat called FatherJoseph Seed whos body is branded with religious iconography and under him are the three leaders of the games three main territories.
I had high hopes for how Far Cry 5 could have explored the topic of religion and the rise of new cults. Especially after the developer’s announcement that they were working closely with experts such as Rick Alan Ross the executive director of the Cult Education Institute.
So, you can imagine how thrilled I was, imagining a game exploring the writings of Max Weber or Émile Durkheim, on the role and rise of religious groups in a society.
Even today many scholars still continue to study the role of religion, particularly new religious Movements and cults and their impact on both the individual and groups.
The game had none of that. It makes no effort to explain why Seed has thousands of followers who unconditionally and blindly follow him, kill for him and listen to him on the radio all the time. Even Charles Manson explains his ideas more clearly than Joseph Seed.
Easier than trying to understand cults and how they thrive is to say the leader is using drugs and gas to hypnotize his followers.
What did all the cult consultants bring to the game? What would have been different had they not reached out to these experts or done any research on cults? The answer seems to be nothing.
Far Cry 5 could have been a one in a generation masterpiece had it explored the factors that increase a cult member’s vulnerability to the group’s ideology such as cultural disillusionment, dependency, and a high level of dissatisfaction in daily life. The game with its big open world could have shown a lot of reasons for how and why the inhabitants of Hope County might be vulnerable to this mind reprogramming.
When ex-members of several cults had been polled by the International Cultic Studies Association they consistently gave these reasons for joining their groups:
Idealism, Friendship, Love, Freedom, Community, Mission, Sincerity, Salvation, Enlightenment, and Spiritual high.
People don’t join cults. They get involved in groups they are led to believe represent these high ideals.
Cults promise salvation. Instead of boredom — noble and sweeping goals. Instead of
existential anxiety — structure and certainty. Instead of alienation — community. Instead
of impotence — solidarity directed by all-knowing leaders.
The story itself tried not to be controversial and played it safe in order not to anger Liberals or Conservatives but it ended up being empty and hollow on the inside, superficial and stupid from the outside.
Which makes me wonder… why did Ubisoft even bother picking hotly debated political topics such as guns and religious freedom as themes and topics to market the game if they did not have the courage to discuss them? Don’t talk the talk unless you are willing to walk the walk.
It’s not that I wanted Ubisoft to pick a specific side in all of these issues, simply pick any side and then let gamers discuss what you are proposing.
Even if they wanted to play it safe and not pick a side they could have done it in a more elegant way by leaving controversial and critical choices for the players themselves to decide and to bear the consequences of their own decisions.
I’m saying this because it was Ubisoft who promised to give us more choices with the game’s story.
In an interview with Le Monde, the chief creative officer at Ubisoft Serge Hascoet promised that starting with Assassin’s Creed Origins all of Ubisoft’s games would have a dynamic story tailored by the players themselves. He stated: “I don’t want the player to go through a story created by someone. We have games like that still, but I ask more and more that we let the player write their own story — that they set themselves a long-term goal, identify the opportunities that are open to them and choose not to follow a path that was decided for them.”
Sounds great and promising but I didn’t see any of that in Far Cry 5. The story was very scripted and the only choice the player has is to decide which one of the three main territories to explore first.
After reading Hascoet’s Statement I thought a dynamic story in Far Cry 5 could give the player the choice between becoming a saint who liberates the county or even become the cult leader himself.
Ubisoft’s marketing campaign of Far Cry 5 and its detachment from the final product reminds me of a saying we have here in Germany: “wer nicht redet wird nicht gehört” “he who does not speak will not be heard”. Ubisoft in Far Cry 5 wants to be heard without saying anything.
Bioshock Infinite tried to tackle similar issues from American exceptionalism to racism and inequality. I don’t agree with the game’s conclusions or depiction of these problems. But I applaud its makers for their courage in taking a side in the debate and saying what they truly believe. Whether their views are right or wrong is not the point here.
Unlike Ubisoft who wanted to have all the upside of an edgy marketing campaign about controversial topics but no downside in having an opinion on any of these matters. It reminds me of some journalists today who mistake objectivity for neutrality.
Encounters with characters other than Father Seed such as the three leaders of the game’s main territories are full of long speeches that just go in an endless loop without actually giving the characters or their ideologies any real substance or intellect.
The geniuses at Ubisoft think that simply by throwing the American Flag on buildings, T-shirts, cars, and airplanes they can check the box of patriotism as being included in the game.
One of the most bizarre moments in the game was in the middle of the campaign. The player is on a mission to destroy a statue of Father Joseph Seed the Cult Leader and then burn the group’s holy book.
Do we even need to discuss why demolishing Religious statues and burning books in the 21st-century is a stupid idea?
There’s a difference between having these elements as part of the events and story of the game and making them the player’s objective and goal in order to gain points and win a mission.
But to be honest with you, if one can tolerate all the absurdity and foolishness in the game’s story, it has a lot of enjoyable moments to offer with flawless shooting mechanics which only intensifies my anger at the game’s story by making me imagine how amazing it would be if these good aspects were combined with a better story.
I think the lesson here for game developers is to have the courage to express their opinions freely through their works without being afraid of any backlash. If they think by doing that sales will go down, just look at movies. Hollywood is already far ahead of the gaming industry in this area and tackling political issues in movies is very normal. Of Course, most of these films have their biases and are not perfect but still.
If a developer wants to avoid that, it’s totally fine but please don’t ever use hotly debated political issues as a marketing campaign to raise our expectations and then censor them in the final product.