There is a song by Sheldon Harnick called “The Merry Minuet”, often performed by The Kingston Trio. It is very cynical, darkly-humorous in a Tom Lehrer-esque sort of way. It includes the lines: “They’re rioting in Africa/There’s strife in Iran/What Nature doesn’t do to us/Will be done by our fellow Man”
I found myself thinking of this often while playing the 2008 video game Far Cry 2. It should have been its epigraph.
It is very dark, nihilistic game. I played it after reading people compare the excellent Spec Ops: The Line to it. Both are influenced by the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Far Cry 2 is set in an African country in the middle of a civil war. The player assumes the “Marlow” (or more accurately, “Willard” from Apocalypse Now) role, and is sent to kill an arms dealer named “the Jackal”.
The Jackal is, of course, in the “Kurtz” role, and he wastes no time in showing up to recite some Nietzsche at the incapacitated player. This is followed by a lot of (to quote the ESRB rating) “Blood, Drug References, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes [and] Strong Language”. Then the Jackal shows up again and explains that his plan is to end the violence. And his chosen method for ending the violence is to kill everyone.
This is only slightly less ridiculous than the Catalyst’s scheme in Mass Effect 3, but for some reason Far Cry 2 didn’t generate near as much outcry. Critics have lauded it for its commentary on the nihilistic violence of video games. The violence of Far Cry is so meaningless… it really makes you think, y’know?
Except that, unlike Spec Ops, it really has nothing to say about nihilistic violence in games, except that it’s there. Just like it’s in all the violent games it’s supposedly a commentary upon. I wouldn’t have even thought it was making any sort of commentary, except that critics claimed it was.
The point of the game, I guess, is that war is pointless and stupid. Which I guess is often true, although surely not as stupid as all this. The factions will often give the player a quest in a scene that goes something like this:
Oh, hey there, complete stranger—would you mind going to the other side of the country and blowing up the hospital? Our enemies are giving out free malaria vaccines there, and we don’t want people to think they are nicer than we are. What’s that? You have malaria too? Wow, small world. Well, here’s your C4. Off ya go!
And you have to do it if you want to progress in the game! The box says you can play it your way, but that is not really the case—you have to play it the Jackal’s way; and frankly, he’s not very good at video games.
Pretensions aside, the game is a mindless shooting gallery with pretty scenery. The most “influence” Conrad could really be said to have over this game is the African setting and the mentality of “Exterminate the Brutes”.