'Far Cry 6' unveiling steps into political quagmire

Ubisoft finally unveiled gameplay of its latest “Far Cry” title — more than a month after its original release date — and already stepped into the latest controversy of the video game industry.

“Far Cry 6,” scheduled to release in October, will continue the series’ tradition of exotic locales and over-the-top villains by focusing on a political revolution in the Cuba-inspired fictional country of Yara. “Breaking Bad” and “The Mandalorian” star Giancarlo Esposito will portray dictator Antón Castillo, who checks off every bad guy trope from every bad 80s action film. The “Far Cry” series has never been known for its subtlety. After all, “Far Cry 4’s” villain, Pagan Min, was a flamboyant and possibly gender fluid larger-than-life persona. “Far Cry 5’s” Joseph Seed was perhaps the best villain in the series yet, as a chilling amalgamation of right-wing terrorists and David Koresh.

But even when Ubisoft broaches the idea of right-wing terrorism in “Far Cry 5” or foreign meddling in “Far Cry 3” with its in-game stories and structure, the studio’s public relations teams have always been hesitant to declare any sort of political position for their products. If anything, they always try to eschew stating any position, opting to let the players decide what moral or message they are supposed to infer from the game itself. Ironically, it’s the publisher that found mainstream success with a plethora of titles inspired by, and branded by political author Tom Clancy that is the one to try to avoid making any sort of statement.

The reasoning is logical — when a game sells millions of copies, it appeals to a wide gamut of individuals of all sorts of affiliations. Why rock the boat and take a stance on something that might alienate a significant portion of the customer base, right? From a pure capitalistic standpoint, the logic is sound. But there’s obviously some sort of cognitive dissonance happening, where developers are not afraid to at least present this very obvious and very forthright story about the dangers of extremism, but then refuse to commit to saying anything during the marketing phase.

When “Far Cry 6” was formally unveiled last week, the publisher was quick to point out that the game has no political slant or motivations. A game that follows a political revolution in a South American country that obviously evokes imagery of the Cuban revolution, Arab spring and other global upheaval is not political. Narrative director Navid Khavari stepped forward this week to clear the air, and to establish that, yes, “Far Cry 6” will be political.

“A story about a modern revolution must be,” he said. “There are hard, relevant discussions in ‘Far Cry 6’ about the conditions that led to the rise of fascism in a nation, the costs of imperialism, forced labor, the need for free-and-fair elections, LGBTQ+ rights, and more within the contest of Yara.”

Khavari said that, obviously, this isn’t going to be a story that offers basic commentary on the political climate of “Cuba,” or any other specific country. But a game doesn’t have to be a direct comparison to a specific event or area. But it can still touch on issues that are important and relevant in today’s society. After all, some of the best works throughout history offer lessons and experiences that are still relevant years, or even decades, after their creation. It’s possible to entertain, as well as to propose questions.

“We have attempted to tell a story with action, adventure, and heart, but that also isn’t afraid to ask hard questions,” Khavari said. “‘Far Cry’ is a brand that in its DNA seeks to have mature, complex themes balanced with levity and humor. One doesn’t exist without the other.”

Khavari’s comments are at odds with the overall message of the game’s publisher. It’s interesting that he’s willing to come out and establish that there are political messages in this game. It’s impossible not to tell a story about political revolution in South America and it not invoke any sort of political commentary. Even the “Black Ops” sub-franchise of “Call of Duty” is not afraid to showcase some of the United States’ more nefarious efforts to combat the tide of communism in South America. But Ubisoft is too afraid to state the obvious, for fear of angering “gamers.”

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.