We Didn’t Misunderstand Far Cry 3, You Did A Bad Job
Mathew Jones fires back at the writer of Far Cry 3, who claims we didn’t understand the game’s story.
All media suffers from a massive disconnect between the author's vision and whatever actually ends up in front of the person consuming it. Whenever you hear about a writer claiming that people just didn't get what they were trying to get across you shouldn't see them as being too brilliant for the commoner, too ahead of their time, you should see them as someone who was obtuse and ultimately fell short of their goal. Authorial intent counts for nothing. Writers have to assume that an audience doesn't know anything about them or what they're trying to do and have to know that they can only appreciate work for what is plainly apparent. The alternative is gathering everyone involved in creation behind anyone experiencing what they've made each time and whispering insight into their ear.
It's impossible for people to get what you've made unless you show them. The job of a writer is to put forward an argument as plainly as possible, have it be understood and learned from, or they've failed at the attempt to make a legitimate statement.
I bring this up in relation to Far Cry 3 because over at the Penny Arcade Report, lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem has suggested that criticism of the game hasn't been deep enough, that reviewers have made assumptions about it conforming to tropes when it's actually subverting them if we look close enough. That isn't true, or at least it's the intent but not the result. I can see why he'd suggest it seeing as he's the writer and I can tell he truly believes it, but if you actually play the game he made you won't see the masterpiece of satire he feels he's penned. You'll see a shooter with brief moments that suggest greater thought put in than the majority of others.
Far Cry 3 attempts to be a game about privilege, it attempts to be a game about race, it attempts to be a game about colonisation, it attempts to be a game about patriarchal notions of self esteem, it attempts to be a game about criminality based on desperation (and our misguided attempts to topple that), it attempts to be a game about misogyny, it attempts to be a game about drug abuse, it attempts to be a game about rape, it attempts to be a game about out relationship between fun found in depictions of violence and it attempts to be a game about a decent into villainy with the best of intentions.
You can see all of that in there. You can see the markers that display a real push to be something more than it actually ends up being. The problem is that it does not ultimately make good on everything that it sets up. It is unsuccessful in conveying the information correctly. It includes all of the above, that's not up for debate, but what's awful about the game is how little eventually matters or really works.
Any unquestionable, flat out, directed right at the player dialogue seems token. Any other attempts feel hammered in so that it can be argued they tried, not because they're relevant. There's a speech from a character about being denied work or a decent wage in America because of his race and accent despite being overqualified; it's the most brazen comment about the player character's privilege but it's also the only brazen comment, it's practically the only comment at all. Any other nudge feels almost as if it's conforming to our expectations from years of repetition of this same plot. Far Cry 3 doesn't feel like subversion, even though that's the attempt, it just feels like another example.
Spec Ops: The Line is a subversion. It's a game that wears intention proudly, pinned like a medal on the chest. You know for sure that it's making necessary statements about the genre while also conforming to everything within it. It's a game about a lot of very similar subjects to Far Cry 3 and it conveys each of them successfully. After finishing Spec Ops: The Line you were clear on the themes or you weren't playing attention. If you finish Far Cry 3 you're more likely to be disappointed in how barely any of the framework resulted in a completed project.
Attempting to read up on Yohalem's intentions is maddening. Everything he has to say about his intentions makes me long for the game that discusses his thoughts with the depth they deserve. He's clearly smart enough to produce it, but has fallen short in this instance. The immediate reaction is to blame the process of making games, to blame the sacrifices within time constraints and market research. Ultimately, the only thing you can blame here is the gulf between inception and execution.