Perhaps there's more to this 'rich white kid turned mass murderer' storyline than meets the eye.
By Jonathan Maloney on December 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm
Welcome back to another Community Soapbox article! If you’ve got something you’d like to say to our community, check here for more information about how to get your thoughts up in lights. Mild spoilers for Far Cry 3 may follow.
Far Cry 3. A fun game, with lots of amazing stuff that happens in it, mostly involving becoming tiger food, or the pants browning first experience of being snatched into the water by a crocodile. It has an amazing villain, who is followed by one who isn’t quite as magnetic in his power to attract the eye. It has a beautiful setting, lush and overgrown and full of things that want to eat or shoot you (or both).
Recently, however, the story writer bemoaned the lack of critical acclaim that the story is receiving. He was upset that people missed the subtlety, how the story twisted on itself and no one seemed to pay attention to it. Calm yourself, mister writer man. I did. And I saw your endgame plot twist from a million miles off, about twenty minutes into the game. It wasn’t all that subtle.
Or was it?
I’ve often wondered what links the three Far Cry games together. None of the same protagonists, nothing remotely resembling a similar plot, different mechanics in all three. Different settings too. But they all have one thing in common – something that is made, by the third one, powerfully obvious. They are not so much a game about the enemies outside, but the ones within – the beast we all have the potential to become.
The first game is the least subtle about this. You get injected with some magicku mutagen stupidity and start turning into a monster. A literal beast. But the second game went a bit further with it. It was a game showing man’s utter inhumanity to man, the complete and evil disregard for other human life. The Jackal, the game’s twisted conscience, is a manipulator who turns bad people against each other with the goal of wiping them all out in the conflict. He does so, however, knowing that he and you, the protagonist, are just as bad as the main villains of the story. There are, in the end, no redeeming features. You are all better off dead, he believes, and he uses you to ensure it. For some reason, the silent protagonist goes along with it. I guess he agrees. And so, in Far Cry 2, the beast is your fellow man, and you yourself. A mercenary who belongs in the wilds, not as a part of civilised humanity.
And then, you come to Far Cry 3. And the protagonist is a person we dismiss sneeringly as a despicable unlikeable wuss and party jock rich kid who has never had a care in his life, who suddenly becomes a well trained fighting machine. Or so it seems.
Learning the background of Jason is a bit more enlightening. He’s unfocused. Since his father’s death, he and his brother have been living life on ‘the edge’, but in the rich kid way rather than the soldier of fortune way. He is seeking a ‘rush’, and just not finding one that satisfies for very long, getting more and more desperate for the adrenaline hit. He’s looking for a purpose, and his long suffering girlfriend tries to find him one, but it just doesn’t seem to stick. But then suddenly he’s fighting for his life and trying to save his friends, and his brother is dead but someone just put a gun in his hand and suddenly, terrifyingly, it all just makes sense. After his initial panic, something hardens in the kid. He survived this far, and now, his rage outweighs his fear.
We are all talented at something. There is something out there, whether we know it or not, that we can do, and do well. And in the case of Jason Brody, it is the ability to kill people. Violently, and horribly, and to continue doing so, all the while becoming that much better at it. And I get the feeling he might have always known it.
Despite the fact that his friends are a bunch of douchebags, I always got the feeling that Jason wasn’t so much one as well as much as someone who went along with it. He struck me as someone who followed his brothers example, without really knowing what it meant. He drifts away from them during the course of the game, slowly becoming someone else. He may not confront it head on, but he at least knows he’s changing.
His friends, people who have made a lifetime of evading responsibility for their actions, cannot understand this change in perspective, their own quasi-sociopathic tendencies paling next to what Jason is experiencing. They cannot quite see what Jason is becoming out in the jungle, as he falls deeper into his previously repressed sociopathy. Why, to him, killing people is becoming more and more of a dark, beautiful rush.
To see what he is becoming, we need only look at Vaas.
There is a reason why people are drawing comparisons between Vaas and the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Both of them have something very much in common. They are both men who have come to understand that the normal rules of society only mean as much as the individual allows them to mean. If they choose to ignore those rules, they can do whatever they want. Indeed, they have both realised that the rules really don’t exist at all except in your head.
For Vaas, it is that much worse. He knows that there is nothing out there which can hold him responsible for his actions. No law enforcement, no justice system. He can do whatever he wants, and unlike the people around him, he is prepared, willing and eager to do things the other person would not dream of. It is this ability to be utterly ruthless that makes him the top dog. The fact he goes that step that normal people cannot bring themselves to cross. There is no divine retribution coming for him, no devil coming to claim his soul. He can do whatever he wants and none of it means the slightest thing to him, and he has no reason, none at all, to hesitate doing so.
And gradually, Jason learns the same thing. In the beginning of the game, he kills someone. It’s an act that shocks and horrifies him, at least at first. But nothing bad happens to him. He is not punished, he is congratulated, and encouraged to kill again, to save his friends. And he does. And again. And again. And somewhere, along the line, it becomes dangerously seductive. While he may be doing it to save his friends, during one of his dialogues with one, it becomes horribly, sickeningly clear that Jason enjoys killing people, and he has absolutely no guilt about it whatsoever, laughing at events his friends rightly find sickening. He has found what he is good at. He has finally figured out what it is he does so well, and it is something that in the real world would make him a serial killer. People complain that Jason is unlikeable. Why on earth should you like this monster? I’d be worried about you if you did.
There is a reason why the loading screen has a Rorschach imagery motif. There is a reason why Jason’s and Vaas’s faces merge together and out during that same loading screen. Each one is a reflection of the other, and the only thing, the only thing that slightly humanises the monster that Jason becomes is the fact he wants to save his friends from the danger he put them in. But it is clear that he, like Vaas, is putting himself before them during the course of the story, which fits with the sociopath that Jason has become. It’s why he can separate himself from them so easily, why he can abandon them at all, his only friends and family in the world. It’s the reason why he can shoot people without hesitation, why he finds killing people so easy. The talent he has at it is born not of training, but by the fact that there is something in Jason which is simply very, very wrong.
Just like he has his entire life, like his friends, Jason refuses to look too closely at it. But towards the end of the story you start to see him finally become confronted by the reality of what it is he is doing. Without spoiling anything, he starts to feel the weight of the moral consequence of taking another persons’ life, and Jason finally ask himself what it is he has become.
I believe this choice is deliberate. I believe that this is the storyline that the writer was actually talking about, that Jason’s self realisation is the twist, not the obvious one I saw coming. The plot of the island and the conflict it is facing is rather ludicrous and honestly, unimportant. Far Cry 3, like the game before it, is about exploring who and what we become when there are no consequences. It is a game about who we are in the dark, when no one can see the evil we commit, and what we do when we know that no one can stop us doing it, or punish us for it afterward. The dark sins we will never tell another and that we refuse to self examine too closely.
The true plot of Far Cry 3 is the one of the character of Jason Brody, the monster in human skin, a bloodthirsty psychopath that, until this moment, kept itself contained. When it was finally allowed to spread its wings and fly free, it is a truly horrifying thing to behold.
Why do you think Jason hallucinates during the boss fights? He’s not on drugs (at the time). What he’s actually doing is descending into a self induced hallucination, a ‘kill state’. During one of these he kills over half a dozen armed men with his bare hands. We see only the conclusion of what must been a gut wrenchingly vicious fight rather than the actual act itself. This isn’t the act of a sane person. It is one final sign that this is a man who has stepped past the line of protector and saviour and has lost himself in the blood-fuelled frenzy that has become his world. He has de-evolved – regressed to a primal human state where the strong survive, and the weak are ground into dogmeat. Subtly, we don’t get an explanation that this is in fact his madness, but then again, insane people don’t know that they are insane.
Is it hypocritical? To depict such violence and then punish us for enjoying it? Maybe. But the closer we get to realism of violence the closer we get to the horror of the actuality of it. Spec Ops – The Line explored the psychological effect of cause and effect in a violent state. Far Cry 3 does it differently, but the dialogue is similar. In many ways, it is just as horrifying, but it is somewhat lost and marred by the flaws and stereotypes that the game uses. Because they are far more in your face, it is easier to overlook the fact that this game is really about exploring what it is we become when an individual finds the monster within themselves, and just how far we can fall when we step over the edge.
It is, in truth, about how a person can become a ‘Far Cry’ from what they once were. And that is where the name comes from. That is the link – what our madness can make us become. For Jason, it is a monster. How would any of us react, put in a situation where we can do what we want without consequence?
Let’s hope we never find out.