Oh such happy inconviniences

Rather fortunately, I am currently in New Zealand, having fun.

Unfortunately, it means I will not update until April, at the least.

I have some pieces coming along, dont fret.


The dangers of a silent protagonist

I started playing Far Cry 4, right after I finished playing Dragon Age : Inquisition.

Being Jewish, the name, Inquisition, managed to run a chill down my spine for every time I heard it.

And being called Inquisitor? Bleh.

It was a good game, though, so I can’t complain.

Playing Far Cry 4 afterwards, was a whole different experience.

You see, as an Israeli, there’s a list of things that bring that same chill, and being born and raised here, more and more things are added to that list pretty much every year.

I’ve been playing games my whole life, I started when I was about 7 with Diablo 2, moved on to other blizzard games and on to more and more shoot, maim, kill and other gory pleasantries.

It is only in my late teens, about 4 or 5 years ago, that I started seeing games as an experience.

I started deviating away from simple multiplayer games (although I’ll admit I spend a lot of time on Dota 2), and started focusing on single player and stories.

And I love it.

I don’t know if I speak for all writers out there, but every time I, as a writer, see or hear or read a good story, I feel an urge to talk about it, analyze it and delve deeper into its lore and tiny details.

But what I love even more than that, is to get sucked into an experience.

And that is where Dragon Age : Inquisition shines, and Far Cry 4, made me cringe.

You see, in Dragon Age, I always played my characters as just that, characters, I said to myself, as I was creating my badass warrior woman, that I’d see the world through her eyes, all the things she did, is because I feel that she, as a character, would actually do.

So I made sure that the feeling of doom and gloom that’s befallen on the world, would not deter from her quirky sense of humor, constant bantering, flirting and generally happy nature.

Because that’s who SHE is.

She was the one killing those Hurlocks, Mages and Templars, sometimes brutally so.

I wasn’t bothered by it much, it didn’t feel wrong to me, she does what she does because she feels it necessary.

Despite the constant inner politics and so-called grey areas, it felt to me that Dragon Age is pretty black and white.

The bad guys are The Bad Guys™, the good guys are The Good Guys™.

They clash, someone wins, someone loses, the world is saved, all is great, and everyone’s in love and what not.

To put it simply, Dragon Age puts a simple story into a complex world.

And it works, it’s great, you can use your character the way you see them, even if you, as a person, is very different.

In Far Cry 4, its different.

A little background to those who have yet to play the game.

You start the game as a son, taking his mother’s ashes to her homeland, a war-torn country called Kyrat, being ruled by a dictator named Pagan Min.

Kyrat is a name originating from a word in the Sanskrit literature, referring to people coming from the Himalayas.

It is very hard to ignore the similarities to Tibet in the game.

The protagonist, the son, called Ajay Ghale, is sitting in a bus traveling towards a checkpoint, presumably leading into the conflict zone.

In the background you can hear a US official advising Ajay Ghale against travelling into the region, due to civil unrest with a group called The Golden Path, the group we later learn is opposing Pagan Min.

You, in the eyes of our hero, do not speak a word.

A man called Darpan asks us for our passport, we give it to him, and he says he’ll do the talking.

That single line, sets the tone for pretty much the rest of the game.

Hell breaks loose on the bus, shots are fired, people are stabbed with pens and forks and all is well in the gaming world.

At least for our hero, the silent hero, Ajay Ghale.

Because, you see, during the entire intro, besides the occasional “oh fuck”, “hey” and “that’s you”, Ajay says nothing.

Ubisoft explains :

“Obviously Ajay Ghale has a backstory, but he’s there more as a character to propel you into the world. We’re more interested in what you do, how you feel; he’s more of a silent protagonist than a talking head.”

At first I was ok with that, I’ve played many games where the protagonist was silent, letting me “feel” as if I was the one doing these things, as if I’m the one calling the shots.

All of that changed when I started playing for the Golden Path.

Here is where we’ll delve a bit deeper into spoiler territory, so be warned.

A little back story about myself.

I live in Israel, I’ve lived here for my entire life, I’ve been through the very harsh early 2000s, when people were afraid to take rides on buses, and I’m going through the motions now, when the government’s policies and views are contradictory to the world’s.

I live in this country, I love it and I breath it, I’ve been to all its borders, and I’ve been to the West Bank.

I do not claim to know who’s right or wrong, nor do I wish to.

I have served in the military, as a fighter.

Now that we got all of that out of the way, lets get back into Far Cry 4.

The Golden Path quests consist of two paths, Amita and Sabal.

Two characters who are extremely handsome (I do have a soft spot for Amita’s eyes), charismatic, and manipulative.

I decided to take sides with each of them, starting with Amita, then Sabal, and ending with Amita (she really is lovely).

As the game goes on, it is revealed that Sabal is more traditional, while Amita is more liberal.

Sabal wants to return to the old days, of simple life, devout religion, and old hierarchy.

Amita wants to free Kyrat and take it into a new age, by whatever means necessary.

Both views are incredibly cruel on the player.

On one hand, Sabal takes the place that Ubisoft want us to call home, and sends it back to some dark age, where girls are “chosen” by the people as saints, and men control the country with ISIS-like methods.

On the other, Amita takes that same place, again, which Ubisoft wants us to call home, and pushes it towards anarchy, where crime can flourish, and the region can fall into chaos once more.

The lovely thing about Far Cry 4, is that regardless of which way you choose, the impact is mostly on Pagan Min, the local king.

Contradictory to the real world, where revolutions happen with a dearly cost to civilian life, in this revolution, the objectives are almost entirely military.

The game makes us, the silent protagonist, enemies of the state, but heroes of the people.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, right?

It is.

When you walk around the world, its very simple to look at it and know who to shoot and who not to.

The characters are actually red , or blue (with a bit of yellow).

When you kill a blue NPC, the game flashes “Do Not Kill Innocent Civilians”.

If you continue to do so, you die.

This raises a few questions –

Who exactly is the innocent civilian?

Where are the Pagan Min civilian supporters?

Does the fact that they are supporters make them automatically A-OK to kill?

And what about civilians harboring Golden Path fighters, these fighters are considered legitimate targets, yet they operate out of towns, does that make the townspeople legitimate targets as well?

Far Cry 4 lets you get away with all of this easily.

It feels as if the game uses black and white morality (or in our case, red and blue) in a completely grey world.

On one of my missions, I was sent to drive a truck full of explosives into a compound, breaching the gates.

As a man trying to keep in touch with as much news around the world, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was acting out one of ISIS’ recent videos.

It kept happening, that feeling kept coming to me in different shapes or forms.

Where in Dragon Age I was playing a character, in Far Cry 4, I was playing a silent guy, who people talk over, manipulate and step on, while he, as Pagan Min says, murders his way to the top.

I felt bipolar, on one hand I was a bloodthirsty terrorist, killing hundreds of enemy soldiers in a myriad of gory ways, on the other I was some pushover, doing whatever some pretty eyed woman/chiseled chin man tells me to do.

The game even makes you feel used, Sabal keeps going back to “Your father would’ve wanted…” and Amita plays the card of “I need you”.

Why does it feel so wrong?

Why the hell am I helping this former warlord get his blood diamonds back? Why am I helping this woman blow up a sacred temple?

Why am I playing a character who’s so easy to walk over in cutscenes, yet moments later, is considered the biggest threat in the country?

Far Cry raises important questions in ways I doubt it intended, the game’s design causes antagonism from the player, we want to scream at Ajay to say something, do something, hell, some of us may want to kill that weapons trading warlord.

But Ajay just stands there in silence, blurting out a few neutral lines of dialogue.

In the end, there is actually a way to get rid of all the country’s dictators, kill Sabal, kill Pagan, kill Amita, leaving Ajay the only one capable of ruling.

I’d never want such a man as the leader of any place I’d love to call home.

The one getting the short end of the stick, in the end, is Bhadra, the little girl that’s elevated to spiritual leader status by sheer birthright.

She either stands behind a maniac, as a spiritual symbol, or is sent away, maybe killed, by the one she trusted to protect her.

The game constantly jumps between Player and Character, it is baffling, annoying, and at times sickening.

Because I can’t always tell if the one doing these horrible things is Ajay, or me.

I know what you’re all thinking.

“Well what you want is some fairytale ending!”

No, what I want is to play as a man who has a personality, and can make decisions on his own, or to play a character whose personality I choose.

Neither of which, I think, would’ve let things roll the way they do.