Films used to have rules: nudity was a no-no, violence and gore as well. At some point the subversive influence of exploitation films made their way in to mainstream American movies and we have our modern film system.
It's easier to see this trend looking backwards, you look at a film like Goodfellas and there's gore and sex and all these elements that wouldn't have been in a gangster film from the 30s or 40s. However popular gaming came about after this trend was in full effect and gaming's attempts to ape modern film, see GTA, have always seen this as a norm. So we take this influence for granted somewhat.
As well there's a unique change that took place in exploitation films after the 1960s, the mondo bizarros and cannibal holocausts, that furthered what defined exploitation films. These films were less about showing nudity and gore and now about showing nudity and gore from around the world's darkest alleys and jungles. This attempt to show a world outside of the white anglo one both toyed with these traditional fears of the outsider and the uncivilized as well as reinforced them.
This is important since the reality of mass media began to create a more connected world and the old fears from our pre-modern era would play havoc on our cultures. Though most people might deny the idea that civilized white people are supposed to be in control of the uncivilized world the reality is there are drone strikes going on every day because that idea is still somehow accepted.
The Far Cry series toys with these preconceptions in a way very similar to the later exploitation films. The series pulls players into what, for some, are far off worlds where danger is real but also cerebral. The types of problems one might hear from a depressing United Nations policy paper are brought into a space that's invited into people's living rooms. You can mute the news, but in a game it's a bit harder to ignore these issues.
However the most difficult concept to wrap your head around, for me anyways, is how the series sort of drops these elements into the game seemingly so randomly. One moment there's talk of sex slaves the next a mission about blowing up something, anything. There's violence and sex and these ideas floating around, but shouldn't, as such enlightened people, these games be pushing some sort of agenda for us? Shouldn't there be some sort of takeaway that we as the civilized people can learn and appreciate.
Well not really. Part of what's great about exploitation films is they give you what you want, the risque and the raw, but they also don't tell you how to feel about it. These flicks work because, intellectually, the balls always been in our court. We can pretend it isn't, but part of this passive viewing experience is this question of a relationship between the viewer and this content. With reality, with the news and different sources trying to tell us what our modern world is actually like, there's a space created that can make first worlders seem far away from the rest of our planet. However, with the fiction of these films our minds are placed front and center. We are participants in this state of affairs, once way or another.
In this way the Far Cry series steps away from a lot of other sandbox shooters. I wanted to write something starting with the major question: what does Far Cry bring to the table that GTA or Saints Row don't?
I mean the game is fine, but there aren't these perfectly sculpted missions like GTA can sometimes create, or gleeful insanity Saints Row provides. And it never really plays with major film and pop-culture references with quite the zeal as the others. However there's an juxtaposition of culture and identity the Far Cry games create that's thrilling.
Though we might say all pop culture is the potato chips and soda for our souls to gorge on there is something to say for how easily this stuff goes down. Far Cry 4 has almost the most muddled and depressing of stories about the modern world yet there's a truth to it, an honesty or nihilism or something that rings out after playing.
The game is very concerned with the idea of choice, but also this question of whether the country of Kyrat really has any chance at all. All options are dark, all the key players seem to take their choices for granted, and in the end it seems like the people of Kyrat are all as divorced from the land as us players viewing it as fiction.
Though that's part of the problem of this game and the series. This doesn't really work if there's any real sense of morality or justice, any honest and wholesome characters to root for. It works because there's a space created by using just enough fantasy and reality to question just where this game's world is in juxtaposition to reality.
While the series might always seem a few steps away from really making it's mark, hoisting it's own flag, I think the space they've created is actually unique and something of an accomplishment that more game developers should look at since as players there's an interesting amount of ideas available for players to experience without any judgment evaluations to keep players from examining not so much the far off lands the games hope to portray but where their own viewpoints might intersect with those of the exploiters and the exploited. Really aren't we all closer than we think?