Accusations of racism against Ubisoft, developers of the upcoming shooter, “Far Cry 4,” have spread like wildfire on the Internet since Ubisoft revealed key art for the game.
A light-skinned man with frosted blonde hair and dressed in a very trendy pink suit sits on a defaced religious throne seemingly subjugating a kneeling darker-skinned man holding a grenade. No information was given as to who either figures are or their role in the game. Ubisoft has only confirmed that the game’s setting is in a fictional Himalayan country.
The old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind as people on the Internet are quick to ascend their social media soapboxes to shout their offense about what they believe is racist-inspired artwork, even though nobody knows the meaning of this art is. The controversy became large enough that “Far Cry 4’s” creative director, Alex Hutchinson, took to Twitter to clarify the image. “He’s not white and that’s not the player,” he said, referring to more rumors that the light-skinned man is the main playable character in the game.
Unfortunately, Hutchinson’s clarification falls short of diminishing the controversy. White as a racial term is relative. The world is in a place where not every light-skinned ethnicity identifies with the White Anglo-Saxon image. Hutchinson’s cryptic tweet doesn’t do anything to shed more light on the subject. This would be a good opportunity for Ubisoft to shed some positive light on race issues in video games, specifically its game. Hutchinson was the creative director for “Assassin’s Creed 3”, a game set during the Revolutionary War featuring a Native American protagonist. He’s no stranger to telling a story involving multicultural characters.
It can be assumed that the figure in question in the key art is the villain in “Far Cry 4”. He very well could be racist or gay, and that’s OK as long as the story handles the subjects well. The video game community wants video games to be taken seriously as an art form like movies or television. The problem is when people are so quick to judge and condemn art that sends a message that is clearly open for interpretation. Shouting, “That’s racist!” without any intelligent reasoning behind it doesn’t push the medium forward. It holds it back.
The most ironic part of the idea of pushing narrative boundaries is that Far Cry as a series isn’t known for its social commentary thanks to its bizarre and over-the-top storylines. That isn’t to say that Hutchinson and Ubisoft don’t want to or won’t tell a more meaningful story with “Far Cry 4” and my hope is that it does touch on larger social issues. But based on previous games, like “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon”, which takes place in an alternate 1980s reality featuring a cyborg army and neon dinosaurs, it might be safe to say that “Far Cry 4” won’t take itself too seriously.
Art is subjective. Some people find this particular art offensive. Other people don’t. But jumping to conclusions and accusing the developers of being racist or promoting racism isn’t fair to them until we know more about the context of the artwork. If the video game community want wants its medium taken more seriously, then it’s time to open up to more uncomfortable narrative and social commentary and be willing to have positive discourse over it.
Reach the reporter at Michael.Jerome.Martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Bizarro_Mike