Literature and…video games!?

Seems like a bizarre sort of juxtaposition, right? Especially with all of the media attention surrounding video games lately. But, as a twenty-one year old English student who has been an avid fan of video games since I could first hold a gameboy, I find this form of entertainment to be just as valid as film or literature. In fact, I’ve spent many hours writing about similarities that can be found between the two! My most recent inspiration for one of these inspections came from the Ubisoft-published title “Far Cry 3”. What particularly caught my eye was this game’s use of the “unreliable Narrator” concept; one of my favorite literary tropes as it turns a single hallway of interpretation into a massive beehive. Or a rabbit hole, as it were.

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Now as an English student, the concept of an unreliable narrator is well known and often experienced. This form of writing serves to make the reader question what the narrator is telling them in order to better form their own opinion on what is happening in the novel. The most appropriate novel to cite in this context is Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Alice experiences such a high number of bizarre events in her tale (especially the eat me/drink me dichotomy) that the reader can’t help but question how much of Alice’s adventures are actually happening in the real world. Carroll’s tale is referenced with some frequency throughout the game, which immediately should draw suspicion from the discerning gamer.

There is also, of course, the plot itself. The background of Far Cry 3 is that Jason Brody (our bro-tastic protagonist) and his richy-rich friends decided to go on a vacation. Through a series of unfortunate events, they end up stranded on Rook Island, an island being torn apart by civil war that the rest of the world apparently knows nothing about. They are all captured by the insane pirate king Vaas and split up. In the process, Brody’s brother dies. His quest from then on is to kill Vaas and save his remaining friends and other brother. How does he do this? With the help of the Rakyat, the natives of Rook Island. Now, you may already be rolling your eyes and thinking “So, the game is about an over-privileged white boy who saves the poor island natives and rescues them from evil while saving all of his friends?” and really, you’d be right. Honestly, that’s what the game is about. The protagonist learns all of the secrets of the island natives’ mystical powers (represented by the sort of tribal tattoos you’d seen on spring breakers with bad judgment) and goes on to save them by killing Vaas, his boss, and saving his friends. With a little help from a CIA spy that doesn’t get brought up until half way through, if I forgot to mention him. Sounding ridiculous yet? Good.

I admit that I was getting a little upset with how seemingly contrived the whole plot of this game was until I got to the sequence where I finally killed Vaas. Instead of anticlimactically shooting him through the head with my bow, as soon as I engaged him the game pulled us into some sort of alternate world, sucking away all context but leaving me and Vaas to have a quick-action based knife fight. After killing Vaas and “coming back” to the real world, he was dead but so were about six or seven guards who weren’t in the room before the sequence. Clearly, more happened during the duel with Vaas than the game is letting on. This flipped the switch in my brain and I started to appreciate the game in a whole new light. The game was more or less directly telling the gamer “something weird happened here, and you have no idea what. What do you think about that?” I thought it was extremely clever. This sort of action sequence would happen more than once throughout the game, I came to discover. Each time it left suspicious clues after the encounters were done with. That is ultimately what led me to my final opinion of what really happened during Far Cry 3.

It is my opinion that Jason Brody, our protagonist, did less than one percent of what he did across the course of the game. I believe that he and his friends were captured, that his military-trained brother died helping him escape, and that he eventually got off the island with the help of a drug-addicted doctor who serves as a supporting lead. What I don’t believe is that he saved all of his friends. I don’t believe that he received any sort of mystical help from the Rakyat people. I don’t believe he killed Vaas, or worked with an undercover CIA agent. I think it’s a distinct possibility that his friends weren’t captured at all, but were lost on the island and eventually met up with Jason. Far Cry 3, it seems to me, is about an untrustworthy protagonist who exploited the harm/death of his brothers, friends, and many innocents to make an interesting story to tell when he got home; the gameplay of Far Cry 3 is that story.

Clearly this is a dichotomy I have thought about in the past, and one I will continue to write about in the future as I think video games are as valid of a form of artistic expression as fine films and, dare I say it, books. Coming from a devoted English student and future teacher, that is no small praise. If you’re a gamer yourself, what sort of literary tropes have you noticed in various digital worlds? (Hint: Even Mario can be seen as a continuation of classic storytelling from medieval European literature. These connections are everywhere!)

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