A Human Reaction.

Warning: The following contains spoilers for the later stages of Far Cry 2.

It could be argued that the power of any work lies in its ability to make us question ourselves and our own beliefs.  This is something games are already capable of, though maybe those responsible don’t even realise it.

In a comment to a recent post by 2K Marin’s Steve Gaynor, Clint Hocking, Creative Director on Far Cry 2, stated his opinion that games need to move beyond “storymaking” to the creation of compelling experiences connected by meaningful human motivations. As can be seen from my subsequent comment this is an area I am very interested in and I find it noteworthy that Clint feels this was an area where Far Cry 2 failed. For me it contained some of the clearest examples of exactly what he is describing.

I’ve talked on several occasions about my reaction to Far Cry 2 and some of the feelings it evoked, though I have been avoiding some of the more specific instances due to a concern over what they might say about me personally. On reflection the name of this blog reflects my intent when starting it, which was to explore games and game design, my reaction to games is a major part of the power of games so to avoid discussing it would be irresponsible.

I first met Nasreen Davar in the Doctor’s Surgery in Mosato Selao after helping Frank Bilders bring a shipment of weapons into the city, and consequently restarting the conflict there. She was the first women I’d met and I’ll be honest she was fairly attractive. After warning me to leave through the back of the surgery I met up with her again in the Marina, where she became a buddy and subsequently saved my life on more than one occasion. Upon the death of Frank Bilders she became my de facto best buddy and throughout the next few hours I remember fighting alongside her on several occasions.

During the closing stages of Act 2 I had just completed a mission when I received a call from Nasreen who was in trouble at the Airfield and needed my assistance. Having experienced the structure of the game I had expected her to call, however in my mind was the thought that I was probably nearing the end of an act and therefore events would likely take a turn for the dramatic. I recalled the fate of Frank Bilders and very quickly concluded that I would not allow that to happen to Nasreen. I stole a jeep and raced to the Airfield, though it only took a few minutes I can clearly remember my feelings as I sped to rescue her. I would not let her die, she was going to be alright, I would get there and anybody who got in the way wouldn’t last long enough to stop me. The sensation I had when I rounded the corner into the Airfield is one that will stay with me possibly forever, I saw Nasreen standing by a vehicle on the middle of the airstrip fighting for her life. I floored the jeep bounced along the track behind the hangers and crashed to a stop barely feet from her. Leaping out I ran to her and managed to finish off the last of her attackers at point blank range. She had not died, I had saved her.

An hour or so later I found myself captured and imprisoned, with Nasreen in the cell next to me.  Waking up I heard her being dragged off, as she passed my cell I heard her shout out that: “You know what they’ll do to me!”

To me the implication was very clear. I wasn’t sure how far the game would be willing to go in it’s portrayal of the brutality of war and suspected it would hold back from going to the places I was considering. However I was not certain and I absolutely did not want to witness it if the game was willing to go that far. Escaping I felt a sense of righteous fury and abandoned all thoughts of leaving on my own. I could not leave her in their hands because I was sure I did know what they’d do to her. The two individuals guarding her cell didn’t stand a chance, and if I’m honest I used far more ammunition putting them down that was in any way necessary. As it turned out the game did not go to the dark places I had feared it might and Nasreen was to my eyes, only superficially harmed.

The emotions Far Cry 2 evoked in me were certainly not what I expected going in and were easily on par with anything I have experienced in film or literature, more so in some sense because they directly influenced my actions. However, and now we come to the part that originally prevented me from discussing these events, I have cause to wonder if the reactions would have been significantly different if my buddy had not been an attractive woman.

I’ve never consider the notion that women are inherently in need of protecting to hold any weight whatsoever, yet I’ve still taken some criticism from my sister because of what could be considered my ingrained sense of benevolent sexism; I’d consider chivalry to be a positive aspect of my character and though I generally hold doors open for anybody I am consciously more aware of doing so for women.

When I first met Nasreen I’ll admit I was surprised at seeing a female mercenary in the game, not because I saw anything wrong with the idea, instead I felt it was, rightly or wrongly, a big deal for a game to feature a women in such a role. Yes I found her attractive, but I never felt in any way she was inherently less capable than any of my previous mercenary buddies because she was a women.

Still I can’t help but wonder, would my reaction have been different if the circumstances that presented themselves had involved a male character? The implications of Nasreen’s line in the prison had such an affect on me because of the associated context of a woman delivering that line in that situation. I don’t know if the same line would be spoken by a male character in that situation or if it would resonate as strongly. I would be interested to know if Clint and the rest of the team at Ubisoft Montreal intentionally considered this aspect and how it would affect the presumed predominately male audience of their game when they made the decision to include female characters?

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6 Comments

  • In any other medium such a reaction would be the crux of the story. The artist intent getting a reaction from the audience. In video games though it is not guaranteed that this situation will come up or that the player will make that choice. Hell, it’s not even guaranteed that most players would even consider the options and simply do what makes sense gameplaywise rather than storywise.

    Most certainly your reaction would have been different had it been a man instead of a woman. Despite all the progress we make towards equality the simple fact is that men and women aren’t equal. It has nothing to do with rights or abilities, but biology. We are different and will have different reactions regardless. Would a woman playing that same situation have the same reaction as you did and if so for the same gut reasons? I doubt it, but at the same time that gets very odd when you consider that they would be playing a male avatar.

    I try to give an answer and end up only asking another question.

  • qrter says:

    The thing I’ve found myself wondering about a lot is why the game includes several women buddies but no women characters for you to play yourself. A curious choice.

    “..and simply do what makes sense gameplaywise rather than storywise.”

    I sometimes feel this is Far Cry 2’s biggest problem – too much of it is dependent on you wanting to play the game, not you wanting to play the role, simply because the role seems non-descript (although I do like the process of slowly finding out how much of a total bastard he is by seeing the missions he gets offered and accepts). Why would my character help these buddies? I feel no real affection for them, not enough to do their dirty work at least. But I still accept their requests because I like playing the missions.

    In my second runthrough, where you had Bilders I got Nasreen as my ‘primary buddy’ – one of the first things she asked me was to kill someone for her. When I went back to her to tell the deed was done, her first reaction was to say she felt sick and needed a moment alone. I thought that was a nice touch. I think I would’ve liked more bits of introspection like that, in the game.

    The other side of that spectrum is the character of The Jackal, who I find a tedious and dull literary figure, a lifeless template who spews concepts.

    Sorry, bit of a hodge podge of FC2 thoughts, there..

  • Ben Abraham says:

    @qrtr – I think the decision to not allow the female merc’s to be playable was a functional decision. Imagine having to record all the dialogue options for every character twice, once for a male protagonist and one for a female protagonist. Because really, the two aren’t properly interchangeable.

    Interesting post, Justin. I have heard of some statistics that say in some armies that allow female combatants, that they have been shown to occasionally get their male colleagues killed because they stir up a stronger protectionist feeling or emotion in their squadmates. I think there’s definitely some deeply ingrained physiological and psychological stuff that goes on in men’s heads that a lot of guys would have a lot of trouble getting over.

  • Pala says:

    @ the Author, and also the previous comments:

    Yeah, I agree with TGC and Ben that (adressing the question of player motivation) there are physiological and psycho-cultural norms that are major determinants in how a game is played.

    But: does this mean that games (that hope for any kind of marketability) must take into account the lowest common denominator? Not only their instincts but also their prejudices? Can these games only re-enforce what we already believe? My opinion: to a certain extent, unfortunatley, yeah. Games depend on motivating action, and motivation is easiest to call up when it’s pre-existing in some manner.

  • Paul Ferenc says:

    To the author

    I totally get what you’re saying, I mean, you kinda can’t help but to bond with your buddies (at least your best and 2nd best buddies), but if this was how you felt when Nasreen was being dragged away in the prison, I would LOVE to know what you felt like when she put a gun to your face at the end of the story!
    I know I was crushed when Xianyong stapped me in the back.. I reloaded my last save multiple times to see, if there wasn’t any way to avoid killing my former best buddy. Then I lingered around the side for like 15 minutes looking for my buddies’ corpses, being mad as hell that they had forced me into that situation.

    – oh, and Xianyong didn’t yell anything resembling Nasreen’s: You know what they’ll do to me!” -line.. he was actually being quite pathetic, begging them not to drag him away, promising to keep quiet..

  • Keith Dowd says:

    This post makes a compelling point concerning the motives and beliefs that we bring with us and ultimately inject into the games that we play. My opinion is that game designers rely extensively on the beliefs and feelings that we have and use these to explicitly evoke emotions from us as we proceed through the game narrative. From my perspective the fact that your female Buddy uttered the phrase “You know what they’ll do to me” as she was being dragged away by her captors was purposeful and intentional since, for most people, it would bring thoughts of sexual abuse and rape to the forefront of their mind. To look at it another way: Imagine if one of your male Buddies made the same statement as he was carried off to be tortured by his captors. It is very unlikely the same thoughts and feelings would be aroused. In an earlier post, Pala implies that this reliance on what we already believe in to generate feeling and emotion while participating in the events of a game world is to our detriment, but I do not think so. If game designers want to push us beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones, then I believe they need to take the beliefs we bring with us and construct events that utilize these beliefs to generate emotion in situations that we would typically not experience in the course of everyday life. In general, they should manipulate our preconceived notions in novel and unique ways.

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