OPINION: "Far Cry 5" is playing with a culture war it barely understands, and it couldn't come at a worse time.
- A major new blockbuster game, "Far Cry 5," launched on Tuesday.
- In "Far Cry 5," you play as a sheriff's deputy attempting to take down a violent religious cult.
- "Far Cry 5" is full of imagery and dialogue that feel absurdly out of place in the modern United States.
Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States — led by teenagers — participated in March for Our Lives rallies.
The movement's goal, according to its website, was simple: "To demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues."
The March for Our Lives protests were sparked by the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members with a legally purchased AR-15 assault-style rifle.
There's no way the video game publisher Ubisoft could've known that its latest blockbuster game, "Far Cry 5," would arrive at such a contentious moment in the ongoing US debate over guns. The game comes out Tuesday, and it's hard to imagine a piece of media that's more tonally and thematically out of place.
Here's a brief summary: You play as a small-town sheriff's deputy in Montana, where a violent religious cult has taken over. Your job is to take down the religious cult, and you do this by exploring the game's massive open world and systematically dismantling the cult's bureaucracy.
More simply: You shoot a lot of people and make a lot of things explode. It's very similar to previous "Far Cry" games in this respect, and, on paper, it sounds harmless.
In practice, "Far Cry 5" is a ham-fisted mess of American stereotypes and wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes about gun violence. It feels like the wrong time to make this joke about an AR-15 considering that's the gun that was used in the Parkland shooting:
And that's the basest foundation of the kind of tone "Far Cry 5" takes with regard to American culture.
Much of the game's dialogue and characters are poorly done caricatures of American stereotypes: the sheriff, the preacher, the conspiracy theorist, etc. They all have something vaguely obvious to say, often with a subtle reference to today's culture. It's all stuff that would feel right at home in a side mission in "Grand Theft Auto 5" — a game that came out in 2013.
But it's 2018, and the US is more divided than ever. White nationalists are emboldened, teenagers are marching in the streets for gun control, and the White House seems particularly unstable.
Maybe it's not the best time for this kind of imagery?
Maybe I'm just too precious of a snowflake, but that seems unlikely given my interests. I love many violent games, and I've argued passionately before that playing violent video games doesn't cause real-life violence. I wouldn't argue that "Far Cry 5" is an exception.
It is, however, a tasteless game from bottom to top — from weapon descriptions, to character types, to dialogue to imagery. And not the good kind of tasteless that has something to say, but the juvenile kind that s–tposts on Reddit for fun.
Given the state of the country, "Far Cry 5" feels like something made for an alternate reality where mass shootings aren't common, where there isn't a raging culture war between so-called Red and Blue states, where there isn't yet another misinformed scapegoating of violent video games unfolding.
It's a tremendous shame, because the actual game parts of "Far Cry 5" — the shooting, the sneaking, the progression system, etc. — are excellent. But when yet another bad guy rhapsodizes about the collapse of society and it sounds like a presidential campaign rally, it's hard to not be repulsed.
Previous games in the series applied the same open-world, first-person shooter formula to fictional worlds full of overblown stereotypes. "Far Cry 5" went all-in on US culture as its setting, and it stands out as one of the most anachronistic games I've ever played.