Yesterday, we saw Ubisoft unveil gameplay and trailers for several of their new next-gen titles. For the most part, everything looked decent enough by Ubisoft standards but there was something that I couldn't help but think about when viewing the trailers for Watch Dogs 3 and Far Cry 6, in particular.
The presentation for Watch Dogs 3 starts off with a surprisingly powerful, animated short film. Using the "First they came …" poem as sort of a narration device, it pretty much tells the story of a nation falling to authoritarianism and an average joe taxi driver making the split second decision to protect a protestor and is thusly labeled as an enemy of the state. We are given images of political unrest, protest, police brutality, etc. Like it or not, these issues are at the forefront of a lot of discussions these days and not just in the US. As a whole, it felt like the short film gave the issues that were being presented a bit of emotional heft.
Cut to the gameplay reveal and I can't really say I was surprised by the tonal whiplash, but I feel like it should probably be discussed. Now we're looking at comically evil villains with posh British accents, grandmas shin kicking guys in body armor, and construction workers slaughtering security guards with a nail gun, with cheeky narration in the background. All that heft seems to be missing in favor of a much more comical tone. Following this, we have an incredibly tone deaf message from a suit working at Ubisoft saying, "Welcome to the Resistance."
Now we didn't see gameplay for Far Cry 6 but we were presented with a narrative trailer that depicted a despot of a fictional Latin American country explaining the dynamics of political upheaval to his son. The tone is very serious and it was another trailer that, again, depicted state sanctioned violence against a populace, riots, protests of an anti-fascist nature, etc.
Now, do I trust the creators of Far Cry 5 to do the issues they are presenting any justice whatsoever? No. Far Cry 5 was a game that had an excellent opportunity to address some of the issues that were — and are still — going on in American right now. The idea of a deranged, religious right wing prepper cult is ripe for a lot of interesting discussions and themes that could be presented. But instead, what we got was a bunch of bullshit about hallucinogenic flowers, nuclear holocausts, and a completely defanged right wing cult that is, for some reason, filled with a bunch of racial and gender egalitarians. The game threw away it's shot to be about anything and was mostly more concerned with fueling your power fantasy alongside your zany, fun cast of characters. Do I have any faith that Far Cry 6 isn't just going to be another game that uses a real world, nuanced political backdrop and proceed to do fuck all with it? Not really. We're going to mow down a bunch of brown people until we get to our inevitable twist ending, probably about how the anti-fascists are just as bad as the fascists. But I'd love to be proven wrong. But I don't trust Ubi's track record and history when it comes to using political issues as backdrop for their games.
And now to get to the point, do you feel that creators should have more of a responsibility to tactfully address the issues that they are using as backdrop for their games? As silly as Metal Gear Solid gets, I never felt like the games were just using war, the military industrial complex, etc. as a cool backdrop. It always felt like the games were at least trying to be earnest in talking about those issues. So I'm not making the argument that you can't use real life issues as a backdrop in mainstream pop media. Black Panther addressed the tensions in the African diaspora in a way I haven't really seen in pop films before. But it was earnest and took itself seriously enough to do it.
I'm not seeing any of that with these Ubisoft games. It seems to me that they want to use these backdrops but cling to catering to the typical "apolitical" gamer that doesn't actually want to think about any of these things in the first place. So it can never become anything more than just a backdrop. Any sort of societal criticism is likely to be couched in a cynical, "same thing, both sides" type of frame to avoid taking a side. And Watch Dogs 3 seems to be more concerned with making the villains comically evil so as to make the "apolitical" gamers hate them for reasons beyond simply their authoritarianism.
What do you think? Obviously neither one of these games are out yet. I could absolutely be proven wrong. But this was definitely something I thought about whilst watching these trailers.
Sorry for any typos, I'm doing this on my phone.
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