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Editorial   

The Biggest Problem with the Story in Far Cry 3 is You

Sometimes player choice is a bad thing.

WARNING:  Many spoilers for Far Cry 3 are present throughout this article and are not preceded by any further warnings.  The author believes you will still get plenty out of the story and the rest of the game even by reading these spoilers, but that decision is left to you.

We’ve had a relatively short amount of time for story-tellers to learn how to effectively use the video game medium.  Arguably starting with Jumpman rescuing Pauline from Donkey Kong just over thirty years ago, stories in video games have struggled to balance the potential for player choice with communicating authorial intent.  Not all games try to tell a story, but out of those that do, some revel in handing control over to players and offering up numerous variations ranging from multiple endings to entire shifts in the game’s world.  Others tie you into a strict linear tale from which you can’t deviate, but are also guaranteed to show its players every bit of relevant content.  The rest fall some place in between these two extremes and this is where games like Far Cry 3 run into real trouble. 

Almost universally, people hate the story in Far Cry 3.  This is likely due to the fact that the main character you inhabit, Jason Brody, is a distasteful human at the start of the game and quickly becomes irritating beyond compare and then potentially monstrous.

Most didn’t notice that this is the intended character arc we are supposed to witness while traversing the Rook Islands.  Ideally, we would slowly see Jason’s transformation as the weight of his overwhelming situation (stuck on an island in the midst of conflict) slowly gestated and transformed him.  Instead, we witness him completely freaking out when his brother stabs a dude early in the game and then is immediately able to murder hundreds of people without a second thought – typical game stuff, of course.

Maybe the writer’s intentions would have been better understood if Jason adopted this standard video game persona a bit more slowly.  Although this and other character development moments are flawed, the real failing of the story comes right at the very end of the game when the author fumbles his final chance to get his (surprisingly laudable) point across.

Even though the bulk of Far Cry 3 allows you to do a lot of whatever you want – exploring the islands, helping out the locals, driving clunkers on dirt roads – once you dive into a story mission it’s a tightly scripted sequence from which there is only one possible outcome.  This is a great combo of paradigms, allowing you to dig into a specific series of events or just mess around and do what you wish.  Eventually, though, you’ll reach the story’s conclusion and unlike any other portion of the scripted missions throughout the game, you are given a major choice.

Throughout the story, Jason Brody has become a savior to the islanders and apparently the object of the natives’ female leader’s affections.  The fact that the leader, Citra, is in love with you isn’t really revealed until these final moments.  Yes, at about the midway point you awake from a hallucination just as she is dismounting you, but there is nothing beyond this animalistic ritual to even hint at the fact she is in love with Jason.  This isn’t too strange for characters that are falling in love in a video game, but it doesn’t help you make the “right” choice when you get to the finale.

During the final scene, Citra continually babbles about her love for you and how she and her people need you.  To prove your loyalty to her and the island she begs you to slaughter your friends, which might be a tougher choice if you actually felt like some sort of relationship had been built between Citra and Jason.  As it is, you’re left just pushing the “bad” or “good” button based on instinct or which ending you’d like to see. 

After spending hours and hours inhabiting the body of the repugnant Jason Brody - who quickly decided to choose a life as savior of the natives and be a complete ass to his longtime friends in the process - it’s understandable to want some relief.  I know I sure did, and I chose to save my friends and miss out on any chance to take Citra to the movies and a coffee… or an additional altar mounting.  Choosing to save your pals – the one chance to finally do something that wasn’t abhorrent – came naturally to me, but I don’t think it was appropriate for where the character Jason Brody was headed.  It turns out it isn’t what Jason Brody would choose at all, and by injecting my own morals into the mix, I missed out on what I would consider the real ending and, more importantly, on the only real valuable message hammered into the game.

According to the story’s author, all of this Jason Brody a-hole behavior was part of his grand plan.  Showing Citra climb off of him in front of a crowd of natives before Jason gives a grand rallying speech is fulfilling the male fantasy we see again and again in games.  The inevitable and appropriate outcome of this type of behavior we’ve all been participating in - during every shooter ever - is revealed only when Jason turns on his closest friends, and brutally murders them to have full ownership of the ultimate male fantasy.  Then everything crumbles as his beloved Citra murders him after using him to create a new child – showing that she was really the one in control the entire time and used Jason as her mindless servant willing to complete any horrific task.

It’s a good message about where all of this machismo might be leading us, and where someone might end up if such an extreme (and nigh impossible) situation were ever to actually confront one of us.  The problem is, you don’t have to see this ending.  If you’re like me and chose the “good” ending instead of the “evil” one, you don’t witness the culmination of the entire story.  Picking to save your friends rewards you with another dramatic U-turn for Jason that is even more unbelievable than the “evil” ending where he denounces everything he’s done.  This is the only possible good thing Jason could do at this point, but it’s too late.  The character is already irredeemably evil so why offer this milquetoast option and not force us to get the real conclusion.  

If I had seen the hyper violent, and somewhat shocking, ending after being forced to choose to murder my friends, I might have been dramatically impacted.  I might have really been agog at how terrible of a person Jason Brody (and I by extension) had become.  But I missed it all because I was given a choice that I shouldn’t have been given.  I should have been unable to do anything but what Jason Brody would do at this point – my own conscience and morals completely out of the picture – so that I could witness what would happen to the real Jason Brody. 

It’s a lesson that all game writers should take to heart.  If there’s one single thesis you are trying to portray, don’t give the player choices that will actually affect that outcome.  Perhaps keep the choices to character appearance, weapons, and other fun but unimportant bits.  Maybe keep the branching narratives to games that will end in the same way almost regardless.  Or, most likely there are entirely new paradigms we need to discover in the nascent medium.  In the meantime, just don’t add a choice right at the end that can throw thirty hours of struggling story into the trash.


 

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