Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? It’s often any number of influences that go one way or the other. Coincidences are easy to find, especially if you’re looking for them, because inspiration has to come from some sort of experience. Yet, as strangely close as these matters may be, there have seldom been times where art and reality have been so unfortunately in sync than in the last couple days.
Ubisoft recently announced that Far Cry 5 will pit players against violent corruption in the hillside of Montana literally around the same time as Montana politician Greg Gianforte won a special election a day after physically assaulting a reporter, and the timing is impeccable.
Anyone who’s played a video game that treads political, religious, or otherwise controversial waters the way a Ubisoft or even Call of Duty game does has probably seen the early warning when you start up these games. It’s that little disclaimer before you get into the action that tells you not to worry because it’s a work of fiction. The warning will often say any connection to real persons, groups, or beliefs is purely coincidental. This warning is bound to appear at the beginning of Far Cry 5 because the setting takes us to Hope County in Montana, where faceless people are killed amid fields and church bells are rung with the heads of outsiders. All this is punctuated with a game cover featuring a mobster family-looking group gathered around an American flag.
It’s easy to see how this game, despite being a work of fiction as every other Ubisoft game is, has already begun to draw the ire of certain circles, who call the political and racial natures of Far Cry 5 into question. The positioning of the possibly amoral activities of gun-toting white people around a powerful central figure over a symbol of American pride speaks volumes. It’s most definitely evocative, to the point of being exploitative.
The Far Cry series has almost always been this way, pushing stories of tyranny and insurgency against that tyranny that are so over the top that they border on parody. Far Cry 2 had players stealing jewels from warlords in Africa. Far Cry 4 literally had the player falling headlong into toppling a regime in a fictional Asian country on their way to pay respects to a dead relative. In that context, Far Cry 5 is only out of the ordinary in the way that it skips over foreign affairs, takes the usual mercenary porn parody and puts it in a context far closer to home for many of its players. Given the current sociopolitical climate in America, it’s easy to see how players or even just bystanders that heard about it could have felt targeted.
That said, lo and behold, on the same day as Far Cry 5’s announcement, Greg Gianforte made national news. It was confusing at first to hear that a political candidate engaged in a physical altercation with a journalist, but as the details surfaced, it became very clear. Montana businessman and Republican candidate for the open Montana seat in Congress Greg Gianforte lost his cool and attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs over Jacob’s questioning about the Republican health care bill currently moving through Congress. As reported by the Guardian, Jacobs had a recording of the incident and it went up shortly after, debunking a statement made by Gianforte’s staff that attempted to place the blame entirely on Jacobs and minimize brutality on Gianforte’s part.
Despite this, Gianforte ended up winning the election. Many supporters pulled out of Gianforte’s favor, but many ballots were also cast early in the Montana system, preceding Gianforte’s assault on Jacobs. During his victory celebration, Gianforte stood before his supporters and publicly apologized to them and Jacobs for what happened during the altercation. That said, Gianforte’s actions with Jacobs are also characteristic of his previous statements condemning mainstream media and calling for numerous ways to minimize critics. The recording can be heard below and, despite being only audio, reveals a candid and troubling look at what actually happened.
What’s more notable are the loud pockets of social media, pundits, and subject posting that debated Greg Gianforte could have been in the right. There was a notable pocket of conservative defenders who took shots at Jacobs for not being able to better defend himself and applauded Gianforte for putting a “liberal reporter” in their place. Regardless of where anyone could possibly stand on the subject, assault is assault, reporting is reporting, and the law is the law. The election could very well have been won before Gianforte’s assault on Jacobs came to light, but the people willing to make a case for Gianforte are also painting yet another gruesome snapshot of what Americans will do and say to justify their side as the righteous cause.
Maybe that’s why the symbolism and exploitation of the trailer and art for Far Cry 5 resound so deeply. It’s somewhat of a nasty sight to see the American flag draped under the gathering of clearly dangerous people. Guns, intimidation, and loyalty might as well be red, white, and blue in some cases. The nature of fighting something you don’t like with force is a creed woven into the very fabric of numerous pockets of American upbringing. Gianforte’s attack doesn’t seem nearly so extreme as what’s going on in Far Cry 5, but it is enabling of the exploitation of these themes that Far Cry 5 presents to viewers.
There is no doubt that Far Cry 5’s story and setting and Gianforte’s political victory following the assault on Ben Jacobs is clearly a matter of unfortunate timing. That said, maybe a game like Far Cry 5 is perfectly necessary at this time and place. Is Gianforte a zealotic mastermind protecting a criminal empire? Most certainly not, but apology or not, he’s another piece of a clearer puzzle that slowly normalizes the violent silencing of free speech. His victory paints a picture of American politicians and the people who support them, and even if it’s not entirely true, that picture is easy to see from the outside. Far Cry 5’s setting and American politics as painted by Greg Gianforte are in alarming sync.
[Featured Image by Ubisoft]