The vain voluntourism of Far Cry 4

Drew Dixon

The first time I visited a third-world country on a mission trip, I took lots of pictures of poverty - of parents, their children and their dilapidated homes. I did so not out of concern, but because what I saw was shocking to my middle-class sensibilities. It wasn't until much later that I acknowledged the narcissism behind such voluntourism. Playing Far Cry 4reminded me of this because Far Cry 4 uses foreigners as props for entertainment.

Video games, particularly first-person shooters like the Far Cry series, are not known to be bastions of cultural sensitivity. In most first-person shooters, non-Westerners are viewed as curiosities at best and threats to Western ideals at worst, which often reinforces the stereotypes and fears we have about others. It is important to remember that the second greatest commandment calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we see others as less valuable, we will default to using rather than blessing them. We might just find ourselves standing above shantytowns, digital camera in hand.

Far Cry 4 is set in Kyrat, a fictional country that is modeled after Nepal. Players assume the persona of Ajay Ghale, a young man who was born in Kyrat but has been thoroughly Westernized after growing up in the United States, blissfully unaware of the unrest in his birth nation. The game begins with Ajay returning to Kyrat to fulfill his mother’s dying wish of having her ashes sprinkled in a specific location. When Ajay arrives, he finds the country embroiled in civil war. Ajay also learns that his deceased father, Mohan Ghale, was the founder of The Golden Path, a rebel group dedicated to overthrowing Kyrat's brutal dictator, Pagan Min.

If we see others as less valuable, we will default to using rather than blessing them.

Far Cry 3 was accused of racism because Jason Brody, a white twentysomething tourist, becomes the savior of an island and essentially colonizes it. Far Cry 4 attempts to avoid this accusation by putting players in control of a character with ethnic ties to its setting. Ajay Ghale, however, does not see himself as anything but American. He introduces himself to other characters as “A.J. Gale” and never really buys into the Golden Path’s war against the brutal Min regime. While the people of Kyrat look to Ajay as a messianic figure, Ajay essentially uses them to progress in his quest to fulfill his mother’s wishes.

The problem with Far Cry 4's depiction of the people of Kyrat is that it fails to give us anyone to admire. This can be seen in Ajay's relationship with Amita and Sabal, the leaders of the Golden Path. As the game progresses, Ajay becomes more and more exasperated with their misguided attempts to reform the nation. Amita takes a utilitarian approach to Kyrat's problems, seeking to utilize the country's abundance of opiates to recharge the economy. Sabal, on the other hand, rejects Amita's drug peddling in hopes of returning the country to its traditional and violent religious roots, including reinstating the practice of arranged marriages of underage girls. While players are allowed to choose between supporting Amita or Sabal, they do so with full knowledge that neither possesses a mature, hopeful or noble vision for Kyrat's future. The game's Western characters, meanwhile, are opportunistic, savvy and generally more capable than the indigenous people around them.

Given Far Cry 4's largely Western audience, its depictions of foreigners reinforce stereotypes and encourage players to position themselves above others. By and large, playing Far Cry 4 feels like taking pictures of people's poverty on a mission trip - it’s interesting but ultimately self-serving. Serving people of other cultures requires seeing them as they truly are - people made in the image of God, with inherent value far deeper than amusement.

Topics: Games, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure