THE JACKAL'S DISPLAY
March 12, 2014
I've been getting back into Far Cry 2 recently in all it's majestic glory, and someone on the Crate and Crowbar podcast recently brought up the old adage that one of games writing's closest literary siblings is travel writing: it's anecdotal nature, the author documenting their movement from place to place and the events that happen between (and at) destinations all make for logical comparison. Far Cry 2 is very good at creating moments which foster discussion between each other, that inclination to recount a particular experience, it has been the catalyst for hours of discussion on Idle Thumbs podcasts; pages of permadeath run throughs being poetically documented; and a whole chapter of Extra Lives that tugs at the the game's various thematic threads. The amount of quality experiential writing that has been generated around these emergent experiences is now so large that there is little left to say about that game itself, and all that's left to say is about the writing and how we present those experiences. What a foolish absolute statement, there's always more to say.
Taking a screenshot while playing felt akin to capturing a moment with a camera, for one frame of one second you are the embedded journalist Reuben Oluwagembi sent to document the horrors of the civil war. Screenshots are now practically a historical artefact from 2008, and are imbued with that sense of value where the player makes a judgement and decides that this is a moment worthy of recording, a pictorial equivalent to the verbal anecdote. "Let me tell/show you about thismoment."
Now its all about that twitch live stream, the gap between the experience and the retelling has been closed, there is no re-presentation through selecting which moment to capture or which story to recount, only presentation of the event as seen by you. When you start streaming Far Cry 2 you are no longer taking screenshots of moments that happened with a degree of emergence, you are attempting to orchestrate that moment for dramatic effect- with lesser or greater success, you are authoring moments because- whether any one's actually watching or not, you are playing for an audience. Normally when I play a very systems focused game like this I am more immersed in the systems than any authored narrative, not playing with the aim of creating what might be the most dramatically compelling narrative arc but interacting with a system to solve a problem. If I had not acted in a truthful manner but instead tried to manipulated myself, that would result in an experience tainted by artifice. Its the difference between the ideologies of documentary and a feature film "based on a true story" to put those two formats into neatly simplistic boxes. I suppose its a question of role play, am I inhabiting this character or controlling them?
This by-product of the hypothetical audience: the performance given by the player, channels them into a weird space where they are actually fulfilling the role that is outlined by the Jackal, the game's antagonist, in the opening sequence of the game. They are/ I am/ you are creating a display through this performance. You are not organically recording events, you are altering and diverting them away from honest responses, you are not the altruistic journalist, you are the director manipulating and re-presenting events to suit.
A recording, from one of the interview tapes made with the Jackal by Reuben, it talks about this 'display'.
So underneath the macho macho "what a man is" stuff you could read that last paragraph about display and manipulation back in the Jackal's vinyl scratched voice and see where I'm going with this. Twitch streaming is the means by which Far Cry 2's dynamical meaning is completed, it is the missing meta rule imposed by the player than transforms a problem-to-solve into a scene-to-perform. You take the screenshot, you are Reuben, trying to communicate moments that you hope are affecting, that you have witnessed. You stream it live and you make a Jackal-esque gladiatorial display, orchestrating events to be their most impactful, and now I'm a Jackal too.
As a side note, you can not only find a blog with links to news sites featuring articles on African conflict, but posts authored by the journalist Reuben referencing locations and groups in Far Cry 2, as well as a full list of the Jackal interview recordings. Far Cry 2 is all the greater when experienced within the context of it's criticisms and praise, just about every person who throws the controller down after 2 hours does so having not read or heard a thing about the game in advance. Which many would argue is a failing, which is fair enough, at the very least its a massive ropey caveat.