Ubisoft exploits the iconography of racism

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#1 Edited by uninspiredcup (27054 posts) -

...

Far Cry 5’s story looks like a morally dubious mess

Ubisoft exploits the iconography of racism

One of the most fascinating problems facing big-budget game makers is how to address real-world issues without seeming to exploit them. Indie developers have no troublesetting themselves against the woes of the world, and having something valuable to say. But this level of political engagement has largely eluded the big games companies.

Earlier this week, I visited Ubisoft. I was there to play a demo of Far Cry 5, and to interview one of its creators about this subject.

You can watch me play here. Long story short, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Far Cry game. Lots of spaces to explore, enemies to kill, different ways to kill them, side missions, non-player characters and a central story. It’s set in beautiful Montana. It’s big, complicated and fun. I had a good time.

During my visit, I also wanted to talk to Ubisoft about the game’s story — the way it borrows from a current political climate in order to present both a story and an action-adventure game.

THERE'S AN UNDENIABLY FASCISTIC QUALITY TO EDEN'S GATE

As is often the case with the games in this series, Far Cry 5’s main villain is a deranged, powerful, charismatic man who has come to power in a remote part of the world. He has many fanatical followers — part of a cult called Eden’s Gate — whom the player is invited to kill.

The main difference between Far Cry 5 and its predecessors is that its location lacks the (to Western eyes) remote exoticism of previous settings, like the Himalayas or a Pacific island. The villain, Joseph Seed, is recognizably part of our political culture, albeit exaggerated.

He is a guns-and-Bible demagogue who cites scripture often, and speaks in apocalyptic terms. As I write this, the news headlines are full of Roy Moore’s refusal to concede his defeat in the recent U.S. Senate election in Alabama, warning that “immorality sweeps over the land.” Crucially, Moore exploits racism as he appeals to followers on the Christian right.

All games are political, to some extent. But Far Cry 5 is clearly inserting itself into the zeitgeist. (The notion that the game has been in development for a few years and just happens to come at a time of nativist populism is not convincing. We’ve been living with such things for a long time.)

It’s been stated before, not least here on Polygon, that Far Cry 5looks like a game that is ready to capitalize on current events but isn’t willing to engage in the issues it portrays. This is something I’ve written about before regarding Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. In visiting Ubisoft, I wanted to find out what the company’s execs had to say about this issue.

IF YOU SEARCH WHITE SUPREMACIST FLAGS, YOU’LL SEE LOTS OF SIMILAR STYLES

I’ve spent many years interviewing games company execs, and, to be frank, I did not expect to get much in the way of clarity. So it proved. In the 10 minutes I was allotted with the game’s director, Dan Hay, I was unable to get satisfactory answers to my questions.

What I heard was a collection of prepared statements, most of which have been reported before. They had previously been trotted out when the game was last given a publicity push at E3. If you search “Far Cry 5 interview,” you’ll see these same stories, again and again.

When I asked if Far Cry 5 exploits political controversy without grappling with underpinning issues, I was told that I need to play more. This a fair response, up to a point.

The final game will certainly offer a narrative thread in which characters reveal their own anger, and why they were tempted (or not) to join the cult at the center of the game. But based on what I’ve seen and the conversations I’ve had with Ubisoft representatives, I don’t believe that Far Cry 5 will seriously address the issues that are core to the game’s visual and cultural language.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A MORALLY DUBIOUS EXERCISE

According to Ubisoft, the player can judge the cult’s leader and his beliefs for themselves. On the face of it, this seems reasonable. Death cults do not spring from vacuums. There are always social and political reasons for them. But there’s an undeniably fascistic quality to Eden’s Gate, one that Ubisoft was unwilling to address during my interview.

The media has spent much time in the past year inviting us to understand fascists as ordinary people, why they vote for hate-mongers, why they march, why they despise people who are not like them. These articles are often derided as making false equivalencies that pander to hate. Do we really need a video game to help us understand the motivations of fascists?

Ubisoft argues that Eden’s Gate is not a white supremacist group, and that the cult gathers adherents from all sectors of society. From playing the game, I can tell you that the bad guys are not all white. And yet, this feels like a useful way to exploit hate politics without facing tricky ethical questions.

Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

Here are two images of flags used by the members of Eden’s Gate. Bastardized crucifixes are not entirely the realm of Nazis, but if you showed me these images, with no context whatsoever, I would assume them to represent an American white supremacist group with quasi-religious leanings, probably preaching the impending doom of the white race.

Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

If you search for “white supremacist flags,” you will see lots of similar styles.

If you then told me that the group bearing this Iron Cross-like symbol is based in a remote part of the United States, that it cleaves closely to anti-government rhetoric and religious argot, I’d be convinced that this was a group that embraces white supremacy.

I asked Hay why Ubisoft had co-opted the iconography of racism if it wanted Eden’s Gate to be inclusive, and not a bunch of Nazis. Many religious cults use logos that do not remind people of Nazis. He said that the cult is an amalgam of cults that add up to something new and “not something you can find in the real world.”

When I asked how he reacted to political discussions about the game in the media, he said that people enjoy playing the game because it has lots of things to do.

So, with a few months to go before Far Cry 5 comes out, I’m concerned that it is using extremist politics as a marketing tool, rather than as an opportunity to address real issues. At a timewhen people are being marginalized, silenced, deported and killed as a result of nativist politics, this seems like a morally dubious exercise.

People around the world are angry and frightened by the rise of nativism, and acts of violence and murder perpetrated by far-right terrorists. It seems a shame to me that Ubisoft is ready and willing to create a cult that looks a lot like a bunch of modern-day American Nazis, without the inconvenience of facing this political phenomenon head-on.

- Polygon

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#2 Posted by getyeryayasout (11694 posts) -

It is my opinion that realism in graphics, story, and storytelling often make for boring and tedious games.

I'll take my escapism fantastically, thank you.

Avatar image for madrocketeer
#4 Posted by madrocketeer (5492 posts) -

Polygon. There's your problem right there.

People need to stop over-interpreting everything. Then again, I've long suspected that it's just base human nature to be paranoid, over-obsessive ignoramuses.

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#5 Posted by Dagubot (504 posts) -

I personally don't care...lmao. I'm still looking forward to Far Cry. I skipped out on 4 and Primal.

Avatar image for Chutebox
#6 Edited by Chutebox (43741 posts) -

what trash haha.

Think I'm going to buy that game now

Avatar image for PernicioEnigma
#7 Edited by PernicioEnigma (5919 posts) -

People around the world a frightened by far right extremism? Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not right wing extremism most people think of when there are reports of a bombing or shooting...

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#8 Edited by Needhealing (1526 posts) -

Polygon's article are so stupid, the whole site should just shut down. I remember when they made an article about how the FF12 remake was bad because its superior quality wasn't faithful to the original game, I mean wtf? Ever since then I've seen them as a joke.

Avatar image for Jag85
#9 Edited by Jag85 (11620 posts) -

Ah, the usual anti-Polygon outrage... For those who hate the site's liberal views, just don't read it.

Avatar image for Jag85
#10 Posted by Jag85 (11620 posts) -

@PernicioEnigma said:

People around the world a frightened by far right extremism? Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not right wing extremism most people think of when there are reports of a bombing or shooting...

Avatar image for madrocketeer
#11 Posted by madrocketeer (5492 posts) -
@Jag85 said:

Ah, the usual anti-Polygon outrage... For those who hate the site's liberal views, just don't read it.

Obsessive over-interpretation is hardly the exclusive purview of the American left - as I said, I suspect this to be universal base human nature. It's irritating to me, regardless of the source.

Avatar image for Jag85
#12 Posted by Jag85 (11620 posts) -
@madrocketeer said:
@Jag85 said:

Ah, the usual anti-Polygon outrage... For those who hate the site's liberal views, just don't read it.

Obsessive over-interpretation is hardly the exclusive purview of the American left - as I said, I suspect this to be universal base human nature. It's irritating to me, regardless of the source.

More or less. It's just human nature to be offended or outraged about something or another.

Avatar image for Litchie
#13 Edited by Litchie (21702 posts) -

I'm not sure why games should be looked upon differently than books or movies. However bad a game can be with racism, sexism, violence or what have you, there's always a book or movie that's worse. But those are ok, for some reason.

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#14 Edited by KungfuKitten (25464 posts) -

OK this got me a little more excited for Farcry 5.

"This doesn't fit my narrow political views and they won't respond to my frustration!" "These icons or words have in the past been used in a negative way, how can they be used in a video game!" Oh please.

He doesn't have a case. He's getting angry about a flag in a videogame looking similar in style to a white supremacist flag if you investigate the similarities between white supremacist flags. That is a very weak argument. Even if it were the same flag as used by a supremacist group, it's a video game.

OK So I have trouble with this: We're all on the same side here, right? We all want a world that is nice for everyone involved. We all want the same thing. But this idea that there can be groups of idiots using flags or symbols willy nilly, meaning we can't use them anymore, that doesn't make sense to me. Does this mean we are going to run out of things we can use? Because I love the word Isis. Something about ancient Egypt. Can I never use the word Isis anymore because there are some idiots in the middle east or africa now running around with guns shouting Isis? I don't value those terrorists that much, that I want them to monopolize these symbols and words. Isn't it OK for symbols to be used for multiple things? I just find it a very defeatist mindset to just surrender all words and symbolism that has ever been misused. I don't understand where he wants the line to be drawn but I don't think that line should be there at all.

(Especially because I am of the opinion that a video game should most definitely be allowed to hurt people to say something. But I also think taking a game as saying something, is mostly player choice. If you play a game as a game, then everything the game does pertains only to the game. But if you are looking for answers to real world problems in a video game then you will probably find answers that you won't like. Because there are so many different opinions.)

If you run into a symbol in a work of art or in a form of media and you see it is used to represent something different, maybe something fictional, how long would it take you to understand that? Cause I think his argument is quite insulting to people's intelligence. I am convinced that everybody who gets exposed to something like that will immediately understand that it is a game, not real, with a group of people in it who use that flag, not necessarily representing real people. I literally think everyone playing Far Cry 5 will immediately get that and will proceed to not be hurt by it (unless they are looking to get hurt by assuming the game has some negative statement to make about them in reallife). Am I overestimating people? Should you assume a video game has commentary on your life? And if you do assume that, is it that bad if it's a different message than you wanted?

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#15 Posted by Vatusus (8666 posts) -

Polygon...

... really?

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#16 Edited by DaVillain- (30125 posts) -

You should never go visit Polygon. Worst Game Site ever!!!

Avatar image for vfighter
#17 Posted by VFighter (3402 posts) -

Polygon, Bwahahahaha.

Avatar image for Gatygun
#18 Posted by Gatygun (1081 posts) -

@Jag85 said:
@PernicioEnigma said:

People around the world a frightened by far right extremism? Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not right wing extremism most people think of when there are reports of a bombing or shooting...

Dumbest graph i ever saw.

Far right terrorisme rofl

Avatar image for Gatygun
#19 Posted by Gatygun (1081 posts) -

@uninspiredcup said:

...

Far Cry 5’s story looks like a morally dubious mess

Ubisoft exploits the iconography of racism

One of the most fascinating problems facing big-budget game makers is how to address real-world issues without seeming to exploit them. Indie developers have no troublesetting themselves against the woes of the world, and having something valuable to say. But this level of political engagement has largely eluded the big games companies.

Earlier this week, I visited Ubisoft. I was there to play a demo of Far Cry 5, and to interview one of its creators about this subject.

You can watch me play here. Long story short, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Far Cry game. Lots of spaces to explore, enemies to kill, different ways to kill them, side missions, non-player characters and a central story. It’s set in beautiful Montana. It’s big, complicated and fun. I had a good time.

During my visit, I also wanted to talk to Ubisoft about the game’s story — the way it borrows from a current political climate in order to present both a story and an action-adventure game.

THERE'S AN UNDENIABLY FASCISTIC QUALITY TO EDEN'S GATE

As is often the case with the games in this series, Far Cry 5’s main villain is a deranged, powerful, charismatic man who has come to power in a remote part of the world. He has many fanatical followers — part of a cult called Eden’s Gate — whom the player is invited to kill.

The main difference between Far Cry 5 and its predecessors is that its location lacks the (to Western eyes) remote exoticism of previous settings, like the Himalayas or a Pacific island. The villain, Joseph Seed, is recognizably part of our political culture, albeit exaggerated.

He is a guns-and-Bible demagogue who cites scripture often, and speaks in apocalyptic terms. As I write this, the news headlines are full of Roy Moore’s refusal to concede his defeat in the recent U.S. Senate election in Alabama, warning that “immorality sweeps over the land.” Crucially, Moore exploits racism as he appeals to followers on the Christian right.

All games are political, to some extent. But Far Cry 5 is clearly inserting itself into the zeitgeist. (The notion that the game has been in development for a few years and just happens to come at a time of nativist populism is not convincing. We’ve been living with such things for a long time.)

It’s been stated before, not least here on Polygon, that Far Cry 5looks like a game that is ready to capitalize on current events but isn’t willing to engage in the issues it portrays. This is something I’ve written about before regarding Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. In visiting Ubisoft, I wanted to find out what the company’s execs had to say about this issue.

IF YOU SEARCH WHITE SUPREMACIST FLAGS, YOU’LL SEE LOTS OF SIMILAR STYLES

I’ve spent many years interviewing games company execs, and, to be frank, I did not expect to get much in the way of clarity. So it proved. In the 10 minutes I was allotted with the game’s director, Dan Hay, I was unable to get satisfactory answers to my questions.

What I heard was a collection of prepared statements, most of which have been reported before. They had previously been trotted out when the game was last given a publicity push at E3. If you search “Far Cry 5 interview,” you’ll see these same stories, again and again.

When I asked if Far Cry 5 exploits political controversy without grappling with underpinning issues, I was told that I need to play more. This a fair response, up to a point.

The final game will certainly offer a narrative thread in which characters reveal their own anger, and why they were tempted (or not) to join the cult at the center of the game. But based on what I’ve seen and the conversations I’ve had with Ubisoft representatives, I don’t believe that Far Cry 5 will seriously address the issues that are core to the game’s visual and cultural language.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A MORALLY DUBIOUS EXERCISE

According to Ubisoft, the player can judge the cult’s leader and his beliefs for themselves. On the face of it, this seems reasonable. Death cults do not spring from vacuums. There are always social and political reasons for them. But there’s an undeniably fascistic quality to Eden’s Gate, one that Ubisoft was unwilling to address during my interview.

The media has spent much time in the past year inviting us to understand fascists as ordinary people, why they vote for hate-mongers, why they march, why they despise people who are not like them. These articles are often derided as making false equivalencies that pander to hate. Do we really need a video game to help us understand the motivations of fascists?

Ubisoft argues that Eden’s Gate is not a white supremacist group, and that the cult gathers adherents from all sectors of society. From playing the game, I can tell you that the bad guys are not all white. And yet, this feels like a useful way to exploit hate politics without facing tricky ethical questions.

Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

Here are two images of flags used by the members of Eden’s Gate. Bastardized crucifixes are not entirely the realm of Nazis, but if you showed me these images, with no context whatsoever, I would assume them to represent an American white supremacist group with quasi-religious leanings, probably preaching the impending doom of the white race.

Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

If you search for “white supremacist flags,” you will see lots of similar styles.

If you then told me that the group bearing this Iron Cross-like symbol is based in a remote part of the United States, that it cleaves closely to anti-government rhetoric and religious argot, I’d be convinced that this was a group that embraces white supremacy.

I asked Hay why Ubisoft had co-opted the iconography of racism if it wanted Eden’s Gate to be inclusive, and not a bunch of Nazis. Many religious cults use logos that do not remind people of Nazis. He said that the cult is an amalgam of cults that add up to something new and “not something you can find in the real world.”

When I asked how he reacted to political discussions about the game in the media, he said that people enjoy playing the game because it has lots of things to do.

So, with a few months to go before Far Cry 5 comes out, I’m concerned that it is using extremist politics as a marketing tool, rather than as an opportunity to address real issues. At a timewhen people are being marginalized, silenced, deported and killed as a result of nativist politics, this seems like a morally dubious exercise.

People around the world are angry and frightened by the rise of nativism, and acts of violence and murder perpetrated by far-right terrorists. It seems a shame to me that Ubisoft is ready and willing to create a cult that looks a lot like a bunch of modern-day American Nazis, without the inconvenience of facing this political phenomenon head-on.

- Polygon

She/he should be more worried about her/his extreme left political views that tries to censure everything.

Avatar image for superbuuman
#21 Edited by superbuuman (6200 posts) -

Rise of the far right?..yup sure...says the far left website. :P

Avatar image for GarGx1
#22 Posted by GarGx1 (10101 posts) -

It's a game, it's designed to be fun. Who gives a f*ck if it doesn't sort all of America's problems as perceived by a gaming blogger with a left agenda.

By the way to someone who lives in Scotland, Montana is pretty exotic. As far as I'm aware it's reportedly a very beautiful and generally unspoiled corner of America.

Avatar image for funsohng
#23 Edited by funsohng (29968 posts) -

The game should've flat out said "yeah, they are evangelist nazi white supremacists," cuz why not.

If that makes alt-right mad, then **** yeah go for it.

Avatar image for dimebag667
#24 Edited by dimebag667 (1088 posts) -

@Litchie said:

I'm not sure why games should be looked upon differently than books or movies. However bad a game can be with racism, sexism, violence or what have you, there's always a book or movie that's worse. But those are ok, for some reason.

We've got a thinker over here! Get 'em!

Sidenote...we became members the same day! We're basically family.

Avatar image for with_teeth26
#25 Edited by with_teeth26 (8695 posts) -

bahaha

nice work posting the article text without an actual link

Avatar image for PernicioEnigma
#26 Posted by PernicioEnigma (5919 posts) -

@Jag85 said:
@PernicioEnigma said:

People around the world a frightened by far right extremism? Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not right wing extremism most people think of when there are reports of a bombing or shooting...

That graph means absolutely nothing without knowing what they include as "right wing terrorism". If you actually took the time to read up on how the data for that graph was gathered you'd understand why I'm far from convinced.

Avatar image for Jag85
#27 Posted by Jag85 (11620 posts) -

@PernicioEnigma: @Gatygun: @metalboi:

Other organizations have presented similar findings on far-right extremism. For example:

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5

Avatar image for Litchie
#28 Posted by Litchie (21702 posts) -

@dimebag667: Lol. High five brother!

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#29 Posted by superbuuman (6200 posts) -

@Jag85 said:

Err pretty sure Islam is right wing...I would love to hear why Islam is not right wing. :P

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#30 Posted by Jag85 (11620 posts) -

@superbuuman: Maybe that's a discussion better left for the Off-Topic or Political Gamers boards.

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#31 Posted by Bread_or_Decide (25995 posts) -

POLY....I'm gone.

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#32 Posted by henrythefifth (1438 posts) -

Some Ubi games portray white tra*sh as the evil guys. Other Ubi games portray black or whatever cultural group as the evil guys you need to take down.

It's nothing to do with racism. Each game has to have bad guys, and they usually have skin colour.

But it is worrying that in most Ubi games, the bad guys are always men. Why not women?

I'd say Ubi games are sexist as the women in them either have to behave like men, or settle for the role of a ill repute, to whit, trollop. AS we see here...