Far Cry 4: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Restraint)

[Originally published May 23, 2015]

Far Cry 4 is a game of logical extensions – directed and chosen by the player, and, ultimately, thrown back in their face.

But I’ll get to what I mean by that in a minute.

Far Cry 4 is about the struggle between tradition and modernity. In Kyrat, this manifests through the internal power struggle between the two competing leaders of the Golden Path – the revolutionary group that seeks to end Pagan Min’s dictatorship. These two characters – Sabal and Amita – are the only people who you have any real stake in during your journey, and are the clearest representations of each side of the game’s thematic conflict. Amita wants a country where women are authoritative equals –where social equality isn’t mired in the conservative politics of Sabal’s religious tradition. Sabal sees the way Kyrat’s national identity – an identity deeply tied to the nation’s spiritual history – can empower the people, and return them to a time before Kyrat’s brutal dictatorship. Like Amita, he has reservations towards his partner in revolution, harboring suspicions for her ruthless ambition. Each vies for total authority over the Golden Path, each hoping to realize their vision for Kyrat unimpeded by their partner. Asthe son of the Golden Path’s founder – Mohan Gale – your character has a lot of sway in the future of the rebel group, and allows you to dictate the path – see what I did there? – of the revolutionaries. Choice has been implemented in games time and time again, but the mechanic of choice isn’t what drew me to this game’s narrative. Instead, I want to look at the philosophies of the player. I would argue that Far Cry 4 wants to as well.

The crux of my interest lies in the game’s ending. Spoilers ahead. Obviously. Throughout the story, the player throws the weight of the Ghale heritage to rally the troops in the direction they see fit. I used the Ghale name to back Amita. There are many influences upon my personal character that caused me to support the less traditional leader of the Golden Path. My upbringing in a strict Irish Catholic family has caused me to distance myself from most religions and their politics – social ideals I often find to be at odds with my own. Kyrat’s national religion pushed many of these buttons for me, so an alliance with Sabal made me uncomfortable at best. I also like to think I’m in favor of gender equality, and Amita often flew the female flag – promising that women would have the choice to take positions outside the domestic sphere under her rule. Occasionally, her fiercety disquieted me – her willingness to use opium as a source of national income raised my brow, but I ultimately had fewer problems with her national vision than Sabal’s.

So I began to make Kyrat’s bed, and that bed had a spot for Amita – not Sabal. When she told me to kill him, I barely even questioned her request. Before his death, he invoked a father figure that neither I – nor my player character – had ever met, and berated me for “sh*tting” on a tradition that I was not only unfamiliar with, but actively disliked. It was a weak case for his life, and that’s being optimistic. I shot him, and I felt satisfied with the side I had chosen.

Then the game did something interesting. In killing Sabal, I had finished making the proverbial bed. The game then demanded that I sleep in it. Before killing Pagan Min – officially placing Amita in power over Kyrat – the writers felt it prudent to have him remind me that “choices have consequences.” Cute. I returned to Amita, only to discover that she was employing child soldiers to eliminate that last vestiges of Min’s rule. She flippantly ignored the player character’s – and my own – concerns, and walked away.

This moment is one of my favorites in recent gaming memory. The game toyed with my personal ideals – my skepticism of religion, my desire for freedom and equality, and my willingness to allow the pursuit of these ideals to take precedence over some of my morals. It put the gun in my hand, let me pull the trigger, and then demanded that I take responsibility for my actions. Okay Tom, time to clean up after yourself, it said. The game allowed me to state my own thesis – that progress, no matter how morally compromising, is better than remaining moored in tradition – and then threw it back in my face. Remember what I said about logical extensions? Amita’s child soldiers were just the extension of the point that I myself had made by handing her control of Kyrat.

In that moment of realization and disgust, I shot her. I shot her in the back. Her armed escort – surely overcome with the horror of the loss of their leader and savior – cried out in anguish and rage, moments before I cut them down as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this moment, and what it says about me. I delivered Kyrat into the hands of a new devil – a devil that was very much a large part of myself – and then backed off at the last moment, essentially undoing any sort of national progress I had made for Kyrat. Do I lack conviction, or possess restraint? Are either of these qualities weaknesses or strengths? This introspection is something that games rarely instill in me nowadays, and I was surprised that Far Cry, of all games, would evoke this self-examination. It was a surprising and challenging twist to the game. I hope to remember it for some time.

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