If the success of past Ubisoft games written by Jeffrey Yohalem are any indication, millions of people will be spending Christmas afternoon sitting in front of their X-boxes playing Far Cry 3, or wishing they could. The game, after all, was released on December 4 and has garnered solid critical reviews and an impressive Metacritic score. But in the wake of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook, Ubisoft – like Etzio from the company’s other recent giant success, the Assassins’ Creed series — seems to be positioned atop a medieval tower, looking down at a pile of hay, wondering if it will survive the jump.
The reason is that, in order to save his friends, Jason Brody, the player’s avatar in Far Cry 3, has to shoot his way through hundreds of island pirates, wild animals, and human traffickers. And with all the sadness and scenes of horror on the news, American gift-givers may have decided to give more tranquil gifts this year, choosing presents far removed from gun play, and images of blood and death.
Complicating this dynamic, however, is an insistence by writer Jeffrey Yohalem that the game actually critiques meaningless violence and behavior — and even the meaninglessness of playing some video games. It remains to be seen if video game players will want to do all the shooting to get to the critique. Sandy Hook has hit the country hard. (Ubisoft declined to comment for this story.)
Whether or not players appreciate the critique, the game is not for children. Your character is surrounded by ample swearing, sex, and violence, including skinning bloody animals and permission from the bad guy that you can have your way with the caged natives — as long as you don’t “damage the merchandise.” All this should quickly tip the player off that the designers wrote the game for adults. As such, it has a complex adult message that doesn’t allow a player at the end to necessarily describe the game as having been “fun” — just as, say, Apocalypse Now, a distant cousin of the game, couldn’t be described as a “fun flick.” FC3 is a smart contribution to the trend in “games,” like those in the Medal of Honor franchise, that turn away from vapid amusement and try to say something more and even create a self-refential postmodern experience.
While the game never breaks the fourth wall or asks the player why he or she is spending 30 hours to play it, the main character is asked to account for how he has gone about the mission to save his friends, distracted by megalomania and the gorgeously rendered scenery. The tuned-in player might ask himself these kinds of questions as well.
At the same time, events like the shooting at Sandy Hook may make players put down the controller and donate their video game dollars instead. Chad Boeninger, a reference librarian and father of four, whose Ohio State University business blog frequently features articles about the video game industry, said the events in Newtown, Connecticut, made him take a night off from virtual shooting. “On Friday, I came home with every intention of cracking open a couple of cold ones and playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2, but I couldn’t with any good conscience play anything with a gun,” Boeninger said. But, as the video game industry hoped, he has taken up his virtual semi-automatic “a couple of times since then.”
The writers of Far Cry 3 wrapped the game in Nitzchean philosophy paper, with Alice in Wonderland bows, so players who spend the time to think about the game will likely be both rewarded and educated. But must this be done with all that shooting?
Game Stop could not be reached for a comment about pre-Christmas sales, so we will have to wait to see how consumers decide whether they want to enact the screen-deaths that need to be enacted in order to meet the rich characters and learn the nuanced story Yohalem has written. Perhaps in the future Ubisoft will take off the brakes, tasking him with writing a story without all the killing. Given his creative, sophisticated and adult mind, he’d be up to the task.