By Harold Goldberg
I’m sitting on a couch in a hotel suite in New York City. To my left are two members of the ESA, in town for the Webby Awards. It’s not the usual game demo suspects.
This afternoon, there is no hands-on gameplay for Far Cry 5, just a mysterious presentation. Executive producer Dan Hay comes out and sits down. He’s serious. He tells us about the lengths to which he and Ubisoft went in order to research preppers and militias. He’s not just serious. There’s a pall, a solemnity, about his talk, unsettling.
Far Cry 5 is set in rural Montana, the place that just elected a U.S. congressman who is charged with beating down a reporter from The Guardian. It’s also beautiful, Big Sky country. So in the game, there are big eyed, cute cattle. The hissing of grass across acres of farmland. The flapping and tweeting of birds. Places to hide, too many. Places to get too inside yourself to the point of paranoia, an infinity of your own mind.
The characters are introduced. They’re startlingly human looking. And some are of the backwoods variety. The woman character looks like one of my bartenders. So that makes it feel more real to me. It’s chilling.
Dan Hay is a big guy. He says he’s been changed by what he learned during the making of this game. Does that mean he’s doing some prepping himself up in Montreal? Maybe it just means, well, concern.
You perhaps have seen the Far Cry 5 conceit in other media. It’s been seen in everything from The Leftovers to Big Love. But you have not seen it this way in videogames. It’s about the potential end of everything and about the way you prepare for it, not in a scifi way.
The question is, is this too depressing, too close to our real lives today? Is there enough satire and humor to make you realize this is still a game – even though you feel a suspension of disbelief? We’ll see when Far Cry 5 is released in February 2018.
I interview Hay later, casually. He tells me that in real America, the vast, seemingly infinite area between the coasts, things are getting rougher than ever. I tell him that once, on a poetry reading tour of the West Coast, I went too far into backwoods Oregon and ended up with a gun in my gut. He understands. He understands the way a guy who’s been on the edge understands. He understands that sometimes there’s nothing beyond fear.
It still gives me goose bumps as I tell him the complete Oregon story over drinks in the hotel bar. It’s too long and creepy to relate here. He tells me some tales himself, how he’d do deep camping for days without a tent – or much of anything. It’s in silence that you get to know yourself.
We’ve both been on the edge, too far out, and there were moments when we thought we might not survive. If that’s related well in Far Cry 5, beyond the fireworks and guns, I want to play it. And if I find that silence in which I get to know myself, all the better.
Harold Goldberg is the Founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.