The issue of race and nationality isn’t one that will pop up in too many AAA video games – as a general rule, most mainstream games avoid topics as politically-charged whenever possible. But the Far Cry series has been no stranger to the discussion in the past, and with the announcement of Far Cry 4 travelling to the Himalayas and telling a story unique to the region, that isn’t stopping any time soon. But the game’s creative director explains that making assumptions about racial insensitivity doesn’t help anyone – it can simply confuse.
The controversy surrounding Far Cry 4 all began when the game’s official box art was released, depicting a blond man in a purple suit sitting atop the rubble of South East Asian culture, with a native of the region literally held in his palm. With Far Cry 3 putting players into the role of a Caucasian outsider liberating a tropical island’s population, many looked at the next game’s box art and jumped to the very worst conclusions.
Ubisoft’s Alex Hutchinson has cut his teeth on some of the publisher’s biggest titles, but as creative director of Far Cry 4, he took it upon himself to stem the tide of rumor and speculation almost immediately. Speaking with Eurogamer, Hutchinson explains why the reaction to the game’s first image – that of antagonist Pagan Min – revealed plenty about the games media news cycle:
“It’s funny when there’s one picture out there and there are so many articles jumping to conclusions. It would have been interesting for someone to ring us up. That would have been cool. For someone to say, ‘Hello. We think this. What’s actually happening?’
“That’s why I jumped on Twitter and was like, ‘He’s not white. That’s not the player. It’s more complex than that.’ So it’s been fun to see now that the video is out and more gameplay is out people are like, ‘Oh, okay. No big deal then.'”
“As much as people want diversity, the weird crossovers are uncomfortable… People were like, ‘Well he can’t be Asian because he has blond hair.’ It’s like, ‘Have you ever been to Korea?'”
It wasn’t known at the time, but the figure depicted on the cover was meant to be viewed as a despicable ruler: it is the face of Pagan Min (voiced by Troy Baker), an outsider himself, having travelled from Hong Kong to rule over the country of Kyrat and its people through force. Now that Hutchinson’s team has had a chance to offer more information on the game’s characters, it’s clear that many of the accusations made of Far Cry 3 simply won’t apply this time around.
In many ways, casting the player as a native of Kyrat seeking to help his people toss out Min could be seen as the opposite of Far Cry 3‘s narrative. As ambitious a goal as that might seem, the developers weren’t always set to deliver as faithful and tailor-made a story. It was only after the developers went to explore Nepal and its culture themselves that they realized how far off the mark they were thinking, and adjusted course.
That’s part of the reason why Hutchinson feels that while the concern over Far Cry 4‘s message is a good sign, the suspicion may have been misplaced:
“I was surprised by how quick people were to go that direction… I think it’s actually cool at the moment that inclusivity and breadth of character and everything are an issue in games, as I do think that’s something we need to do a better job of. We need to go that way. But I think Ubisoft as a company has a pretty good history of doing unusual characters.
“The last game I directed, Assassin’s Creed 3, had a Native American lead character voiced by a Native American actor. At the same time we had Aveline [in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation] who was a Creole character. And in the past we’ve had Italian characters and now there’s a French guy. We actually have a pretty diverse list overall.”
Only the finished game will show just how racially progressive Far Cry 4 really is, but Hutchinson claims that the game actually features very few white characters. Hopes are high for the game to do the premise justice, and if any major game publisher is going to meet them, Ubisoft has shown it’s a priority.
What do you think of Hutchinson’s quotes? Is a heightened sensitivity to racially-charged material a good thing for gaming, or is this proof that controversy can sometimes be an overreaction? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Far Cry 4 will be available for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 on November 18, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.