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On Far Cry 4 and Respect
by Shivam Bhatt on 05/21/14 08:50:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

(Note- this essay was written before Ubisoft indicated that the figure was Asian with dyed blond hair and that he was a villain. I feel that my greater point on perception and South Asian representation still stands.)

Last week Ubisoft unveiled the cover art of the latest game in their Far Cry franchise, and the outcry was immediate and widespread.  The image of an ostensibly blond haired white man with his hand on the head of a kneeling Nepali or Indian man with a grenade in his hands conjured up accusations of racism, colonialism, and general tone-deafness.  And frankly, those readings are correct.  After 200 years of being servants of the British Crown, South Asians viewing this cover can’t help but recall a litany of horrors brought on by years of colonial abuse.  Just look up the Sepoy Mutinies, or the British theft of the royal jewels, or what they did to Somnath Temple. Not to mention Rudyard Kipling’s Burden.

My own personal history is full of proud, high caste men who knelt at the feet of the stooges of Victoria, hoping that this year the tax burden might allow their villages to keep some grain. People who were forced to harvest cotton for the brits, but only wear clothing made in manchester out of that cotton.  People, by virtue of their birth, tasked with forcing their fellow men to serve the white man as indentured overseers. An entire set of nations and kingdoms exploited for the wealth of the second and third sons of some island nation far away, given only pain and hardship in return.

From just one image, all of this.

But when I saw this cover, all of the above was far from my mind.  What took my breath away, simply by the audacity of it, was the fact that the central figure, the white man, was sitting on the lap of a desecrated statue of the Buddha, casually resting his foot on the Buddha’s head, a detail that went entirely unremarked upon in the ensuing internet firestorm.

You have to understand that to a Hindu or Buddhist, touching something with your feet is just about as offensive an action as can be taken. It shows utter and complete contempt for the target, and an explicit lowering of their status.  We’re talking offensive to the point that even casually brushing someone with your feet calls for an immediate apology, head bowed, hand on heart, everything.  Touching books with your feet elicits the same response, because books represent the Goddess Saraswati, the embodiment of knowledge.  kicking a book, then, is the same as kicking the goddess.

And here he was, our picture's focus, casually resting his foot on Buddha’s face, as if the god himself were only good enough to be a footrest.

I was not expecting the visceral reaction that overcame me. I’m a religious guy; on the weekends I even function as a lay priest for Hindus, doing various and sundry rituals, and my home is full of statues of the Buddha from around the world.  He’s effectively my patron deity. (and yes, in Buddhism proper, he is not a deity, but in Hinduism he is). And just to see the lord so casually, flippantly disrespected…it hurt.

Mind you, I’m not a fundamentalist, nor am I a missionary expecting everyone to follow my faith, or even respect it. Freedom of expression means that nothing is universally sacred, and everyone is free to do what they like in art. That central figure may well be looking at the statue as a piece of loot to sell to a museum or some black market collector, and nothing more.

In-world, the image is entirely irrelevant, and gets across Ubisoft’s point, that this is a Bad Guy.

But I don’t live in-world. I’m not a character in this game, and I’m not the proprietor of the temple being looted, nor the buyer of said statue. I’m just a guy in the real world, who sees on the cover of a game that someone thinks so very little of him and his people that they’d choose this as their advertisement to the world. 

Cause that’s what this is about- respect. What this image says is that South Asians, Hindus and Buddhists alike, aren’t as important as getting a ‘cool’ image to show off how bad a dude is. Ubi, we get it, this guy is bad. But him being a terrible person in game doesn’t mean that your art team, marketing team, and chains of approval also have to be terrible.  Context is deeply important. You can write it off as ‘oh, it’s just in game, it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s not offensive’ but that’s just wrong. It DOES mean something. It means that to a billion people, you are saying that they are less than dirt to you, and their feelings and attitudes are irrelevant in the face of your commercial gain. And having worked in the industry, and been in the process of cover art approval, I know exactly how many stamps it takes to get from concept to reveal.

In essence, the British colonials have returned, with just as much loving concern as before.

That one foot encapsulates the Hindu immigrant experience so effectively that it brought a flood of unpleasant memories rushing back. Being a hungry child at a school pizza party told to just ‘pick off the meat’. Being a high schooler laughed at because he shares a name with a half naked ice summon in Final Fantasy.  Being rejected from multiple publishers as an adult because the audience just doesn’t want Indian themed games, and I’d have better luck if there were a few white people for folks to relate to.

Having no one to relate to myself, over 20 years of fantasy tabletop games, video games, or novels.

That’s what this cover says- You, brown man, are so unimportant to me that not only is your simulacrum kneeling at my feet, but that deity that you dedicate your life to is so pathetic that its only purpose is to let me kick back and relax.

It’s a famed stage and screen actor from India being hired as unnamed terrorist #3, or convenience store guy. Certainly never as a the main character.

Earlier I said that this was about respect. It is. Not respect of faith or traditions, but respect of the fact that all humans belong on an equal level with each other.  This image displays no concern for that. Contextually it may be different. He could be some central asian guy with dyed blond hair or whatever, and maybe he’s been fighting a lifelong war against the evils of religious oppression.  But if I walk into a Target or Best Buy and just spy that cover across the way, what will I see? A white dude lording it over a terrorist with a smug look on his face.

When this cover first appeared last week, the following set of tweets (paraphased) pretty much encapsulated exactly what I figured would happen:

Tweeter A- This image is racist!

Tweeter B- No way! Terrorist scum should be made to kneel!

Tweeter A- How do you know which one is the terrorist?

Thus what happens when one group does not respect another. When all of the representations in media are single focused, and pull from only one specific stereotype.

Looking at that cover doesn’t make me think that the white dude is a bad guy. it makes me think that the artists, directors, marketers and advertisers don’t care about me at all, except as a stock image to exploit.  And that hurts.


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Comments


Benjy Davo
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I'm confused the man in pink is quite clearly supposed to be the primary villain of the piece. Taking that into context it may very well be that it was intended to show that the character is indeed racist. It's fiction not a documentary. Ubisoft aren't supporting racism towards other cultures by showing an antagonist being antagonistic on the cover of their game.

It worries me greatly that some commentators in our business don't seem to be able to separate things that are offensive in context and those that are offensive without.

Shivam Bhatt
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Fiction, as it turns out, is incredibly important in spreading messages and meanings and context to society. My objection really stems from the fact that this is the default means of showing a culture, which is hurtful and disdainful of their feelings in order to serve a different market entirely. Our history is full of such examples, and it's a shame we haven't moved past it.

Benjy Davo
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It's not showing the behaviour of a culture it is showing the behaviour of this one man who is the main bad guy in the game. A game in a series which has repeatedly shown corruption in a variety of locations.

Dane MacMahon
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Yeah, I'm firmly in the "he's the villain, shown to be doing bad things," camp. Far Cry 3 had a cover where a black villain was shown dominating a white guy on the cover. It's pretty consistent with the theme. I'm guessing you actually play as the other guy in this one.

That said I did dislike Far Cry 3's story of white savior for the tribals, so hopefully they do better in that respect this time.

Frank Washburn
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Far Cry 3's cover did not feature religious sacrilege. While I do not know Vaas's racial ancestry, his skin tone does not fit that of a black person. ( http://media.edge-online.com/wp-content/uploads/edgeonline/2012/0
9/E238_far_cry_3_top.jpg ) I also feel that you either did not read Shivam's points, or have zero empathy to them if that is your response. There is much more to this than "Villain shown to be doing bad things."

Dane MacMahon
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Vaas's sister was definitely Black, and he looked Black to me. He wasn't White, in any event, but on the cover (and in the promotional material) he was shown dominating a White man. No one complained about that (that I know of).

And yes I understand the historical issues, and read the article. Obviously how he felt is how he felt, and I sympathize. Still, he's a villain, and if we outlawed things that were uncomfortable for anyone barely anything of merit would be made. Assassin's Creed is rife with political and religious conflict from history, for example.

Jonathan Clauson
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First off, kudos to Shivar for writing an honest and heart felt piece. Thank you for taking the time to not only express how an image like the Far Cry 4 cover makes you feel, but the historical context behind that feeling.

On one hand I can not begin to understand the cultural impact that the image invokes for you. For the most part people are ignorant. Because a person is black doesn't make them of African descent, and because the mangas all look like white guys with blue hair doest change the fact that they are Japanese. And because a person of Asian descent does not mean in any way mean they are destined to run a gas station. The commercial comedic stereotype is insulting. But I can sympathize with the religious aspect.

Christianity, the teaching of Christ (not the religion, there is a difference) is a belief that is mocked in almost every TV show or movie it appears in. The teachings of Christ are about love, forgiveness and mercy, yet almost every depiction of a priest, pastor, devout believer or what have you is either insane (Outlast), a pedophile (Law & Order), Crazy spiritual cook (House) and I could cite hundreds of examples.. In almost every aspect of entertainment media followers of Christ are depicted falsely. It hurts, and you never really get used to it but you do come to expect it.

Let me ask an honest question, one you did not touch on in your op-ed above. If you had full artistic control given to you, and assuming the villain in the series is exactly what it appears to be, a white man dictator in the mountains of Asia who cared not a whit about any religion or person, how would you depict that character in a singular image to convey his personality? How would you illustrate the context?

Shivam Bhatt
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It makes me sad that we've 'come to expect' this kind of thing. We shouldn't have to.

If I was there, and this was my image? I'd probably have had him leaning on the statue, it's broken head on the ground, with a smirk on his face, and perhaps other treasures and weapons around him. Maybe a few paramilitary guys. You can depict evil in all sorts of ways.

Kevin Simpson
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So you want it to be "he's evil, but not offensively so"?

You want the man without your morals (clearly given his treatment of things you associate with your culture) to act within reason of your moral basis?

That's just censorship. It's saying "this guy can be bad, but not so bad it actually makes somebody angry over it."

I am black and watching Django Unchained there was a portion where a Slave owner was describing a bunch of pseudo science, in very extirpating detail about how blacks are inferior to whites, genetically, because of some lumps found in our skull or something.

It was angering, it made me detest him, and he was offending me. However, that just means that the writers and actors did an amazing job at portraying this man as a villain. I became emotionally involved, more so than I normally do, and felt a deeper connection with other people in the movie because of it.

Shivam Bhatt
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I'm not advocating censorship, or expecting it to change. I wanted to share a perspective that not many people have.

Shivam Bhatt
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Consider for instance, this version of the cover - http://imgur.com/TWAuxs7

It's the same dude, implies the same level of evil, but no supplicating brown man, no foot on the head. And official Ubisoft as well.

Frank Washburn
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You realize that there is a wide, wide berth between "censorship" and "choosing not to do express something, or express something in a certain way - because it might hurt others."

Kyle Conway
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No, that's still censorship.

Not on either side of this argument by the way, I enjoyed this piece quite a bit. But you just said there's a difference between censorship and censorship and I couldn't let that go.

Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body.

Controlling body would be the creator of the content in your example. Suppressed by whatever internal/external factors guide him/her to do so.

Censorship in of itself does not carry context and shouldn't be used to only depict negative actions. Doing so is lazy writing and hurts discussions and arguments (mainly your above post at the moment.)

Sorry for being a stickler, just that type of stuff annoys me. I feel it takes a lot out of a decent point and I was enjoying this back and forth and felt like that one bit should have been better extended upon.

Jakub Majewski
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Kyle,

Ok, you're right. Yes, it is censorship. More accurately, it is self-censorship.

Now that we've got that out of the way... well, so what?

We self-censor ourselves ALL THE TIME. I may have a positively vile opinion about a co-worker, and yet I don't spend my day telling it to everyone, even though I presumably would believe my own opinion to be justified. I may think someone's spouse is an absolutely terrible choice, that they could have chosen someone much better - but while I might reasonably try to suggest something along these lines before their wedding, I'm not going to be telling him/her this afterwards, out of respect for the fact that they did make this choice. Heck, at the most basic level - I self-censor my physical behaviour by not belching during a family dinner.

Now, let's talk about censorship as lazy writing. Does censorship lead to lazy writing? Actually, it is precisely the exact opposite. Censorship, like any kind of limitation, leads to greater creativity, and actually produces better results. The proof is in the pudding - no f-bombing villain of present-day cinema is anywhere near as frightening as a classic 1930s villain who only ever spoke the kind of language you might hear at a high-class dinner party. This was actually my reaction to Far Cry 3 - it took exactly one trailer to turn me off from the game, because it sounded like utter juvenile tripe. I've since heard many positive things about the game (...if not its story), but I still have not been able to force myself to get over that first impression of juvenile writing and actually try the game. And what was so juvenile about it? The lack of censorship, naturally.

The same goes for every other aspect that you can think of. For instance, modern cinema goes all out with sex and nudity, and this is often praised as courageous - you know, because they don't bow to anyone's prudery or whatever. Well, "courageous" is not in and of itself a compliment - certainly, given the potential consequences, it's also an act of courage for a man to sexually assault a woman, but you don't hear people praising rapists for their courage.

Self-control, on the other hand - and self-censorship is one form of self-control - is absolutely always considered praise-worthy, and in pretty much every culture at that. Refusing to give in to temptation to carelessly offend someone is praise-worthy. Presenting your story in a creative way that prevents offense while still getting your point across - that is praise-worthy.

On the other hand, acting like an elephant in a china story with only "censorship is bad" as an excuse - not praise-worthy at all.

Jennis Kartens
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I find that a bit far fetched judging from a mere cover, without any context of the actual game (and the knowledge, that the prior game too displayed the villain in the very same way) that this is "racist". Furthermore, I find it akward to jump from a fictional piece, where the villain (again, something that should be rather clear), may even BE racist, to a conclusion of overall insult of an entire group and a "statement" of the developers.

I hate what UbiSoft did with FarCry and they failed on so many territories, but in this case.... nope.

Michael Nicolai
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How is someone who has never played FarCry supposed to have context for that image? I know next to nothing about this series, and I see what Mr. Bhatt sees: a white man with a brown man at his feet. Whatever the fiction of the game is, it's irrelevant. This image is meant to be shocking, pure and simple. If UbiSoft wants to trade on shock value, that's their prerogative but they risk being offensive to a much larger segment of the population than the one that understands the context.

Benjy Davo
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First Michael the man himself is Asian he has just dyed his hair platinum. Second we have films that are expressly about racism e.g. American History X. In fact the primary character is a racist murderer, but nobody assumes anybody who helped to make the film is inherently racist.

Yes context is king, the people who have played previous Far Cry games will know full well that the series has a history of depicting corrupt figureheads who subjugate the local populace. You're not entitled to just look at the cover and say "ah that's racist and it offends me" without first researching what the context is. We could all do that and nothing would ever get made.

Kevin Simpson
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It's somewhat uncanny that I wrote my post without seeing yours, I guess American History X is just really a movie that comes to mind.

Michael Nicolai
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Whether he is White or Asian or a space alien, it doesn't change how intentionally provocative the image is meant to be. It doesn't make me "entitled" to find the image offensive. The impetus is on UbiSoft and on the marketing and art departments that created this image to make something that is not offensive. Unless their purpose is to be provocative, which I believe it is. I've certainly given more thought to FarCry today than I ever have before. But they aren't good thoughts.

Kevin Simpson
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"How is somebody who has never seen American History X supposed to have context for this Image. I know next to nothing about this movie, and I see what XXX sees : A white man who is made to look cool with a Nazi style Swastika praising the American flag. If New Line Cinema wants to trade on shock value, that's their prerogative but they risk being offensive to a much larger segment of the population than one that understands the context."

http://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/92/MPW-46054

It's really bad to baselessly judge a thing without any context because it slightly offends you. Sometimes things look offensive to you because whoever is making the imagine wants you to understand how bad whatever something is actually is.

Michael Nicolai
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There's a gap in your logic. The American History X poster shows a man with a swastika and barbwire tattoos and a close cropped haircut. Without the context of seeing the film, this image implies that he is a neo-Nazi. This contrasts with the title that says "American History" but on it's own is not particularly shocking or provocative.

What I find interesting is your own interpretation, that his swastikas make him "look cool" and that he is "praising the American flag". Subjects like race and religion are prone to misunderstanding because of the deep emotional and cultural ties we have with them. In the hands of thoughtful directors and nuanced actors, these issues can be portrayed in a respectful way that promotes dialogue. In less capable hands, they are simply offensive for the purpose of being offensive. In American History X, Edward Norton's racism is a part of his character's story. In the FarCry cover, it is a mean to an end: the character is racist because he is evil. It's far too simple for such a complex subject, and as a result people have become offended.

Jennis Kartens
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I feel kind of bad that a great movie like American History X has to be a good example here (because well, UbiSofts stories barely reach Michael Bay Transformers territory... barely)

But that is the truth here still.

A poster/cover art/etc. never tells the whole story. Some are intentially made to provoke, yeah. This one? Nope.



@Shivam Bhatt

I can somewhat understand your position. As some South Park episode once put it so great "I get it! I don't get it" - because in the core essence, I as a white western european I'll never be or can be in a position that reflects most racism today. Maybe if moving to an area where I am the minority, then I may get a clue. But still: I wouldn't really go as far as you did. Especially since I see a lot of other problems regarding especially UbiSofts AAA-Products which all in all may need to be addressed first.

Personally: I don't give a damn, because I do not take stuff like this that serious, because I know it is dumb marketing on one side.

(many) Games, their market, their marketing are infantile. They use and abuse stereotypes on a constant basis, as well as overall stereotypes of markets etc. It is a complex problem where I personally see stuff like this as the very least of all.

Watch_Dogs, FarCry, Assassins Creed... all them games cater towards the "to be reached" mass in the western world. This is horrible. In fact, just for the sake of it, I'd love to see some true racial villain in one of their games, just for the sake of taking this topic serious.

It isn't great, but it is a mere symptom of the underlying problems.

Jacque Cousteau
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Actually, no it isn't a white man with a brown man. It's another brown man and another brown man. The "white" man is Asian.

Shivam Bhatt
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When I wrote this essay, the cover without context is all I had to go on, and the feelings it evoked were unexpected. If anything, I hope that people understand why context matters.

Shivam Bhatt
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I guess I just expect more from the industry.

Dave Bleja
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"I guess I just expect more from the industry."

You're not alone there!

A W
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So Ryan there are not White Asian's or Asian cultures in East Asia which consider themselves as white to other races in East Asia? I think if you study history closer you will find fault in your statement.

R G
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This article is similar to the Anita Sarkeesian comments; "Let's take my next to nothing knowledge of this game, say it hurts my feelings. Because it upsets me, it must be bad".

Maybe that's the character's design? If you look at the villain's face, it is very clear he is Asian. Ahhh, but of course it is easy to assume that a white fellow must be the villain; they're the only ones capable of rascism, and in the age of Feelings and Happiness, they're easy targets.


Disclaimer: I'm half Black ;)

Shivam Bhatt
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Congratulations to your parents for breaking cultural barriers. I too am in an interracial relationship, and my wife is white.

My essay, which I thank you for reading, was my attempt to provide a different perspective on a piece of art, and what feelings it evokes in people of a certain background. I don't know anything about the game itself, and frankly, that doesn't matter. In criticism, there are three perspectives- authorial intent, viewer reception, and the work itself. I can't speak towards authorial intent, so I can only comment on what I see and what it makes me feel. Congrats to Ubisoft for creating such a visceral feeling!

Frankly, the man could be of any race at all- the bulk of my essay is more concerned with what he is doing than who he is.

Michael Ball
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A paperclip for you, Robert.

Chris Proctor
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Shivam, your analysis is dead-on, even with your update at the top.

Pointing out that the guy is asian, or the image is only to reinforce how bad the guy is is no defense.

There's also a double standard here, no developer would give Christianity this treatment. Sure, Christian iconography is used in an unflattering way in some games, but not to anything like this extent. We'd have to see a character using the bible as toilet paper or Jesus on a cross as furniture or something to approach that level of disrespect.

Note: I agree that the statue is intended to evoke a statue of Buddha, but it's not actually Buddha. The pose, physique and head are different, maybe to try to avoid this sort of criticism (unsuccessfully).

Shivam Bhatt
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I ran into this with Uncharted 2 as well. There was a treasure item there that was obviously a Ganesha head, but when I brought up an objection, I was told that "see, this one has TWO tusks, and Ganesha only has ONE". Sure, but you and I both know what you're trying to reference here, so pretending it isn't is simply disingenuous, and evokes the same feelings that the original would have.

Thanks for reading!

Alex Haddock
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Chris, come on the amount of game images with upside down crosses, evil priests and the like is legion. Of course there would be and is.
As a committed gamer and Atheist I'm not defending Christianity in pointing this out either :).

Benjy Davo
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There isn't a double standard here Chris, Ubisoft themselves have frequently represented christians as corrupt. Go and play Assassins Creed 1,2 and Brotherhood and tell me they have not. Hell the pope is the primary antagonist in AC2.

Wylie Garvin
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You actually get to choke the pope to death in AC2. I was surprised we didn't get more flack for that at the time. =)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=V9XgeI8g
JIc#t=511

Christian Nutt
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Actually, it's an interesting contrast. One of the AC games (2?) has you fight the pope as the last boss, but they didn't put the pope on the cover in a salacious or suggestive way, or have e.g. the Sistine Chapel desecrated as their first piece of promotional art, which would STILL be (per Shivam's analysis) much, much less offensive to Christians. That's actually a big and telling contrast IMO.

I love how everyone is just saying UR RONG to this without somehow engaging with the substance of HOW THIS IMAGE plays to someone ACTUALLY OF THE FAITH AND CULTURE TO WHOM IT MATTERS.

Chris Proctor
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Right - Christianity is disrespected in games at times, but not to the same extent. And as you say, Ubisoft does it themselves. However, they don't depict defilement of Christian symbols, and portraying particular Christians as corrupt/evil is not remotely the same thing.

Also, an inverted cross is a Christian icon already (albeit one sometimes coopted by anti-Christian movements).

I quite enjoyed beating up the Pope in AC2, but as a game designer would draw a line at defiling a religion's sacred symbols/objects, even though I'm not religious myself.

Shivam Bhatt
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Poor St. Peter. People always forget about his inverted cross.

Benjy Davo
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I'm sorry but you are still wrong here Chris. The Pope uses a staff with a bloody cross on the end as a weapon. That's exactly the same if not worse as this fellow resting his foot on a religious symbol. Worse because this character might simply be ignorant of how important it is not to do that. Where as the Pope and his cronies wilfully use the church to increase their power and wealth and the Pope actually uses a Christian symbol as a weapon.

Chris Proctor
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My point is that defiling a symbol is worse than portraying a single member of a faith as evil. You're saying they're equivalent, I disagree.

AC2 does the latter, but there's a list of things that would count as defiling a Christian symbol, and putting one on a weapon is not one of them (although it may be in bad taste given how peaceful Christ's teaching are, militant Christians throughout history have put crosses on weapons). Look for something more like wiping your arse on bible pages if you want a closer analogy to what Shivam's described.

If you're just saying that Ubisoft disrespects religion in AC2 as well as in FC4, well ok. But you don't seem to have a problem with how religion's portrayed in AC2, so . . .

Benjy Davo
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I don't have a problem with it Chris because it is fiction. Did you have the same issues with the Da Vinci code in which priests are shown as murderers? or V for Vendetta (the comic) where a priest is shown as a pedophile? or Salems Lot where the main vampire melts a cross with his hand and then turns the priest holding it into a vampire?

I don't have a problem with it the same way I don't have a problem with policeman consistently being shown as corrupt despite having been one myself and not only me but half my family, including my sister and mother who still are. Knowing full well most police officers aren't corrupt and have to put up with abuse almost every day of their working lives for mediocre pay only to be constantly villianised by Hollywood and games media.

It's fiction, Ubisoft are absolutely not suggesting defiling religious symbols is okay they are using it to show the main bad guy is indeed bad. It may not be subtle but then when is marketing ever that?

Alex Haddock
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It's a shame you feel that way. I don't want to make light of your sensitivities but I do sometimes feel that such easy and almost lazy offence just leaves for an opening to those who really mean offence, which this was obviously not intended to do.
A a white "Brit" (a term I'd never use and if being as sensitive as you would find irritating) then my first opinion of the poster was that the "white guy" was the bad guy and a total wanker, so in no way is it pro a white man. Actually I didn't see it in the context of colour at all till I read the article.
I'd also point out that much of your prelude was prejudicial against "Brits" living today. What was done in the past was wrong and shouldn't be condoned but your lack of distinction between incorrect actions and those who disdain them today is wrong. It would be closer in time for me to condemn Hindu actions and atrocities vs Muslims today then your recourse to then. Neither is right of course, my past countrymen were wrong and I'm glad to be in a more enlightened age where at least some of us can admit that. Come on, don't let such things get to you, the real arseholes will enjoy it!

Robert Fearon
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I like the idea of "lazy offence" it means that for the rest of it, people really have to put some effort in. Really work at that offence. I guess they're the folks who are trying to be offended, right? Not like this guy, he's just lazily offended because look how easy that was.

It's almost like you just can't win with these things.

Alex Haddock
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Yep, that's fair enough. The term "lazy" in my post was indeed lazy and in indication that I myself had been lazily offended (mea culpa indeed!). But I do stand by the point of my argument that we can all sometimes hasten to offence which only benefits those who really hate. Love the fact I'm conversing across the globe due to a common love of games :).

Shivam Bhatt
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I wasn't expecting to feel offended, certainly. And i sure wasn't looking for something to offend me. I tend to give video games a lot of room before I get offended because 9/10 times it's just something ridiculous more than offensive. But this was a different image, and it was a visceral feeling.

Kevin Simpson
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I think something that is often forgotten is that some people are racist. Some people think other people are terrible because of the color of their skin. Some people have no respect for you and your culture because it is different than theirs, and some people just are not nice in general.

Sometimes in art, you want to portray things like this. Putting your foot on the Buddhas head? If you were a terrible person, who really hated the local populace and it's religion, and knew that would be the thing that really sets them off if you did, would you not do it?

This person is supposed to be a bad man, why do you think he should act or be written to act to uphold your moral standards to not offend you? Do you think somebody is a bad person if they depict a character in a way that is offensive to you? If so, do you think art should be nothing but positive portrays of people with no bad guys at all?

I think rape is terrible and nobody should ever do it. People do it anyway. Why do people do it? If I examine that in a narrative, that does not mean I support or condone rape or like rape whatsoever, it means that the fact that people do it is something interesting and something I feel should be explored.

A great example of this closer to SEA is the movie Apocalypse Now. It has portrays of one of the American generals as borderline psychotic war monger that will kill tons innocents and destroy their homes, and if not killing them joking about the fact that they are being covered with napalm, all so he can see a man surf.

I think that's insane and that man is a bad person, but that is the point. Sometimes people are bad and examining that is part of art. If the game should change the way it's presented to not offend then it's not art, it's just a toy.

Robert Fearon
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It's really simple. You can examine these things sensitively, maturely and without causing offence. It's not even that hard. But videogames? Straight to crass with no monkeys given about who it might hurt.

Hurting and offending people isn't big or clever and isn't a necessary part of dealing with any touchy/edgy/delete as appropriate topics. The idea that art has to offend is stupid and absurd as well. Let's stop pretending these are the way things have to be and listen when people tell us what's hurtful and offensive instead of trying to shut them down.

We can only be better in the end for it.

Kevin Simpson
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By the same virtue, the idea that art CANNOT offend or loses some value if it offends is just as silly.

First off I disagree with the sentence "It's not even that hard. But videogames? Straight to crass with no monkeys given about who it might hurt."

I can give plenty examples of books or movies throughout history that when they were written or filmed were considered insanely offensive to the point of being banned. Sometimes being offensive is a great way to illustrate a point, because some topics are just things that will offend some people.

Also, what you are saying is that everything that ever occurs has to fit inside of a bubble. Some behaviors are just immature. In American History X, everything the main character did was immature behavior. He had a limited world view and acted accordingly. Are you going to tell me that him screaming about and then curb stomping that black man is somehow inherently a less offensive and a more "mature" act than what was presented as this cover?

The entire point is he is a terrible person and his actions are extreme. You will never be able to depict his actions any other way because the reality of it, which is what is trying to be captured, is just that. I do not want a telling of atrocity that tries not to hurt anybodies feelings and handle things "maturely," I want to know events that happened and how the people during the events acted.

Robert Fearon
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Dude, you can go off and make your videogame equivalent of Pink Flamingos right now if you want and no-one's going to stop you. But next time you're looking through the John Waters section in your local DVD store, ask yourself why isn't there a picture of Divine eating a shit on the cover and see if you can work that one out.

Michael Ball
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For someone advocating maturity, equating a serious, critically praised drama with a cult, blaxploitation black comedy isn't very mature.

Like, at all.

Robert Fearon
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Very good! I'm suggesting that someone go off and have a think (in an admittedly crass way) about why we don't just go around putting offensive images everywhere . I'm not equating any mature, serious, critically praised dramas with anything whatsoever.

Also we're talking Far Cry 4 here. Let's not even go there.

Michael Ball
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"about why we don't just go around putting offensive images everywhere"
He specifically said "Sometimes in art, you want to portray things like this."

You know, "sometimes"? As in "NOT every time"?

You are grossly misrepresenting his position. Please don't do that.

"I'm not equating any mature, serious, critically praised dramas with anything whatsoever."
My mistake, I apologize.

"Also we're talking Far Cry 4 here. Let's not even go there."
You brought up a scene from a black comedy involving the eating of feces. We're ALREADY there.

Michael Ball
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oops, double post

Caio Branco
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Being a brazillian, i can't help but to understand what the author is feeling (seeing brazil depicted as a forest full of monkeys and stuff like that around the world), but seriously... i think you are over-reacting and even offending Ubi team.
I don't know anything about the game story yet, but you may surprise yourself...
Maybe the depiction of such horrors people there suffer on the game history, may be more mind opening, shocking and truthful, than a lot of documentaries out there, cause it will put you in the skin of the victms, rising for justice.
After all, maybe a game will do justice to these people and truly open the world eyes to these situations around the world.
The first thing that came to my mind reading your article, is that this could be a black man talking the same way about Tarantino's Django Unchained or a jew talking about Inglourious Basterds seeing only the ad's.

Anyway, first post from a brazillian guy, hope i didn't mispell very much.

Cheers!

Anton Temba
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Wait, the guy on the picture is asian?

The first time I saw it I thought it was Norwegian guy. A fusion of Anders Breivik and Julian Assange, in a fabulous pink outfit of course.

Christian Nutt
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Haha, amazing.

Jeanne Burch
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*Snaps fingers* Julian Assange, that's it! I was trying to figure out who the guy-in-pink-suit reminded me of...

Benjy Davo
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I posted enough on this topic, intriguing as it is but I don't want to seem like a post hog. But I just wanted to link this excellent piece which whilst not exactly the same as what the actually article discuses here it is linked in some fashion.

The article is a wee bit old so I will explain the context. In 2008 the UK considered banning Lolicon manga from Japan. Reason being that they felt that perhaps the content constituted child pornography and people shouldn't be allowed to read it.

Now I hadn't even heard of Lolicon not being into manga or anime and so a brief perusal of the material made me think they might actually have a point. I was particularly interested in seeing this sort of thing being taken off the shelves as a parent of two daughters the eldest of the two being a reader of comics. However this article by Neil Gaiman made me realise it probably wasn't the right course of action and I think it plays into the theme of people being able to cover any topic in any way they see fit under the guise of fiction.

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/12/why-defend-freedom-of-icky-
speech.html

Steven Stadnicki
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What you're missing is the difference between *banning* a thing and being upset by it. Note that nowhere in Mr. Bhatt's original post does he ever say "I think that Ubisoft should be banned from doing this". He's simply saying "This piece offends and upsets me and this is why"; he's opening conversation, rather than trying to cut it off.

Shivam Bhatt
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yes, exactly. I'm happy to entertain other interpretations of this thing, and just wanted to provide a different angle for the story. Most other sites have been your standard games journalists going back and forth at each other about race, when frankly, this isn't even about the race of the person, but about the actions depicted.

I don't desire or expect Ubi to change. I just wanted to share what this made me feel.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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Creating cover art intended to provoke the buyer into wanting to take down a culturally insensitive leader is kind of a toxic marketing ploy. The cover are image is gonna be seen in stores/magazines/billboards by children and people unfamiliar with the themes their projecting, all there gonna see is a white person showing dominance over another's cultural and religious beliefs. I would use irresponsible to describe my disappointment of the marketing team over at Ubisoft, I think people should be able to publish a game about whatever they want whether or not people find it offensive, but theirs a certain social responsibly to marketing that's too often overlooked.

Michael Ball
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"children and people unfamiliar with the themes their projecting"
"a white person showing dominance over another's cultural and religious beliefs"
I'm not quite sure there are many people unfamiliar with the atrocities that occurred during World War II.

Christian Nutt
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SURPRISE
http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/05/15/more-than-a-billion-hol
ocaust-deniers/

Gord Cooper
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Sex, race and religion all make very good targets in storytelling when it comes to framing someone as 'bad'. You essentially buck the relative moral trend for a large group, and let the viewer put things into place from there. It saves a lot on backstory writing, and in games, this is important as a largely-visual storytelling medium.

All Ubi has done here is elevate this cover to 'in the news' status, and used moral outrage as leverage to market the product. Intentional? Most likely not. Thoughtless? Most likely yes.

The ties that a person has to their own personal politics/religion/sexuality are some of the closest identifiers they have when it comes to their placement in the 'relevant' world. Using those makes it simple to effect ripples in your industry. That's what has happened here. Shivam's article is by no means incorrect in any way - he was absolutely affected by the imagery, on a number of levels. However, there is no call for this cover imagery NOT to exist, so Ubi made this bed knowing what they were in for.

Christian Nutt
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"Intentional? Most likely not." My, that's a bit naive, isn't it?

Gord Cooper
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I'd like to think that the line between unintentional and thoughtless is wavering, and optimistic that people aren't disrespectful enough to cross it for the wrong reasons.

In an earlier post, I referenced Serrano's 'Piss Christ'. I find that defensible under every tenet of what uplifts imagery into artwork. A message that is socially cognizant not only of itself, but the institutions, both social and personal, that it is confronting.

However, were this box art done with intention to offend, without any kind of social platform or presentation, but rather to stir a pot and invite clickthrough, THAT would be what would really offend me.

I tend to err on the side of naivety & optimism, hoping that the people whom I share an (arguably) creative industry with aren't the kind of swine that would utilize someone's insult for something as petty as the bottom line.

But, you're probably onto something ;)

Bryson Whiteman
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Well written, Shivam. I feel like this nonsense should surprise me but it doesn't. I don't know, maybe there's instances of this type of thing still, but I can't imagine seeing a billboard for a movie like this. Not in 2014 at least.

Can it be simplified as man-children making products for man-children? I'm sure there might be slight attempts at telling a thought provoking story buried somewhere within the 20 hours or so of mindless violence. I just wish the industry as a whole, or even just *any* of the major players, could have a more intelligent approach to things.

Jonathan Lin
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Let's not forget that cover art is about first impressions - potential customers shouldn't be assumed to know the context of the picture beyond a certain level. If we had a picture of a child getting killed on the cover, but 2 minutes in-game we find out that child is in fact an immortal and was pretending to die to fool her would-be killer, there would still be plenty of outcry from that cover. I don't believe the author is concerned with the character in-game, but rather what kind of message the covert art appears to convey. You could say that in this context, the first impression is what's important - I think we can all understand the need for making the right first impression.

Stewart Trezise
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After the experiences of people like 'The Danish Cartoonist' Kurt Westergaard and Salman Rushdie I thought we'd established that the right of art and literature to criticize or, indeed, offend the religious, should be defended by all.

Shivam Bhatt
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Sure. Freedom of expression and freedom of speech are wonderful tools in modern society. They do not, however, provide a shield to hide behind when a criticism is raised about what is expressed. It's good to have dialog, representing all sides of an issue.

The thing is, when people like George Carlin or Salman Rushdie raise their critiques of religion, they did so in a way to provoke a discussion, or challenge an assumption. The far cry folk used this art not to point criticism at the hindu or buddhist culture, but as an exploit to sell to a third party entirely, and that's where the issue is. If this was meant to be a critique of the religion directed towards followers, I wouldn't have said anything at all. Instead, we get something akin to a minstrel show, where insulting a culture is not used to provoke discussion, but to condescend towards, and provide entertainment for people who have no stake in the matter.

Tobias Horak
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It's a sad realization to come to; that the first reaction towards a move made in our industry is the assumption of immaturity. The collective first thought that the creators of the Far Cry 4 are making a mockery of social issues for effect, rather than attempting to make a social statement in the form of fiction. There is a large selection of fictional books that do similar or worse, on a wide variety of topics. It's rare, these days, that I hear complaint when these tackle touchy issues.

I won't comment on any personal reactions because honestly, it's not my place to do so. I don't have a cultural background that would be offended by this case in particular (or, for that matter the previous game's commentary on western luxury holidaying, piracy and drug business). What I would take away from this is that we need to be sure that we are incredibly explicit when we do wish to touch on heavy topics, and readily provide context. We are in a different situation to other media. Books have non-fiction and biographies, and film has documentary. Games, on the other hand, are still expected to be fun. There's a fundamental dissonance there that I think is at the heart of the discussion we're now having.

Just a ramble on what I think we might be able to learn from this, other than "don't accidentally alienate a lot of people by not establishing context before-hand". Especially since there's no such thing as "context-less"; when context is missing people will justifiably draw from their own experiences to create one.

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Shivam Bhatt
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Worse than Hitler? I'm not sure there's anything worse than hitler. Maybe Timur the lame? Muhammad of Ghazni was pretty bad, but probably not worse than Hitler. I'm not sure what you're getting at.

I don't expect anything to change, nor am I instigating for anything. I just hoped to provide a different angle on the issue. Thanks for reading!

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Gord Cooper
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Anyone taking issue with Shivam being offended here is missing the point of this article entirely - your right to free speech is just that; a right to free speech. It is NOT a right to free speech that shuts the doors on open congress regarding your speech/art/et al.

Freedom goes both ways, and Shivam maintains a right to be offended based upon his personal beliefs, so long as he's not hurting anyone. Ubisoft didn't send people out to personally attack anyone, they made a general statement about the thought of this character in regards to the beliefs of others. I'm not putting this up next to Serrano's 'Piss Christ' by any means, but the same message exists - you will be offended if this offends you.

If you're offended by Shivam's reaction, take that as a sign that you need to take a moment, stop typing furtively, and think about why it offends YOU, personally. Not your sense of 'freedom', but YOU, rather.

Take 5. Take an hour. Hell, take 24 hours. If you still feel like you are REALLY in a place that you really DESERVE to be offended, come back and defend it with something other than attacks levelled at Shivam's beliefs, or personal offense to the imagery. If you can't, it's tantamount to political mudslinging, and you may want to reconsider.

hanno hinkelbein
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the problem here is that it's extremely insensitive to put out a cover like this because even if the intention is to raise anger towards the villain starting with the cover, it still is reminding a whole group of people of a traumatic experience.
if you are part of a minority you will be able to relate to that, for everyone else: you don't get to decide when something is racist or not - the people affected by it do and that's all there is to say to that. intentions don't make this less hurtful for the people affected by it.

Dave Bleja
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Gee, white people just can't do anything right, can they? When they make games where white guys are heroes and brown guys are terrorists, they're being racist. And when they make a game where the villain is white and the people he's desecrating and oppressing are brown, they're being neo-colonialist.

Of course, never mind that equating blond hair with colonialism is ridiculous. The vast majority of European nations never partook in any sort of colonialism (and in fact some were victims of Western colonisation themselves) so there's a good chance the character on that poster has no history of colonisation in his lineage at all. Going by the past few games, it would have been logical to assume that he was some kind of European pirate or mercenary with no connections to any state at all, acting entirely outside of the law.

For example, my own people, despite a long, proud and at times powerful history, never once colonised anybody from Asia, Africa nor the Americas. But what if it were my face in that FC4 poster? I guess you'd still make all sorts of complaints about how it represents the return of English colonialism. Because all White people are the same, I guess, right? Sorry, but that's as misplaced as me condemning you for the invasion of Europe by the Asian Tartars. If this image automatically conjures up images of British colonialism for you, then perhaps you need to find some finer brush strokes with which to paint your conceptions of 'British' and 'Colonial'.

Look, you're right - it's a crude, distasteful cover, even for those of us who don't share the Asians' scorn of foot contact. The previous two Far Cry games were pretty dismal as far as ethnic stereotypes went, and it looks like this one will be no different. But in a global village, you've got to cut people a bit of slack, otherwise almost everything will be offensive to someone somewhere.

For example, I personally found a number of things in your article morally distasteful. We're supposed to feel more sympathy for your ancestors kneeling at the knees of Englishmen because your ancestors were "high caste men". Actually, I'm kind of more interested in hearing about the low caste men who had to kneel
at the feet of your ancestors, to be honest.

And we're meant to further sympathise with them because the men they were kneeling to were "second and third sons". As a parent, it shocks me that someone in the 21st century could insinuate that the amount of respect a child deserves derives from when s/he happened to be born.

It's interesting then that you demand nothing short of a total reform of the culturally engrained prejudice and inequality of the White people (um, sorry, British people - since they seem to be basically the same thing to you), while your own arguments unapologetically carry the language of culturally engrained prejudice in them. I'm assuming the irony has gone unnoticed.

My point is that when we don't cut people of other cultures a little slack, then it's almost guaranteed that everyone will get offended about something. No culture is perfect, and no individual is perfect, and we are bound to step on each other's toes. For example, when I started reading your article, I was all prepared to agree with you all the way (since I've always found the Far Cry narratives cheap), though as I read I latched onto some of your comments that I found hard to stomach. And now we're both offended, and everybody loses.

I honestly believe that Ubi meant Buddhists or Hindus no ill will, but were using this as a [arguably cheap] method to show just how bad their new villain is: not only has he invaded and enslaved a people, he's even supplanted their gods! His head replaces the head of their God, which he crushes with his foot! He's a monster! Buy our game so that you can defeat him!

Though I will say this: I believe the Buddha was in a way targeted on purpose, in the sense that Ubi never would have had a desecrated Quran on their cover - they just wouldn't be that stupid. The iconography of some religions are safer to mess with than others. Christian iconography gets desecrated all the time. Assassins' Creed 2 is virtually a 20-hour long attack on everything that traditional Christianity holds dear. I guess they thought Buddhism was similarly safe (insofar as death threats would be kept to a minimum, at least!). Perhaps this could be seen as a small sign of the respect Ubi has for the civility with which Buddhists and Hindus carry themselves. This is surely of little consolation to you, though.

Shivam Bhatt
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I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

In hindsight, there are many turns of phrase in the essay I should have removed, and they detract from my point. You were right to call me out on that.

Florian Garcia
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Despite my person finding this cover of very poor taste, I value the freedom of creation in works of fiction and else.
What the heck is all this fuss about people getting offended for every and all reasons nowadays?
Nothing to see here, move along.

Shivam Bhatt
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there is a lot of value to be gained from understanding cultural perspectives, especially when trying to market a game to a global audience. why needlessly cut off a segment of potential buyers?

Kyle Conway
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If it's for their art, I wouldn't call it needlessly.

Art should not be all encompassing unless that is what it strives to do.

But we're talking about commercial art, so you have a point but only in a very sad portrayal of our industry.

Florian Garcia
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Of course there are many things to be gained from understanding different cultures. I have been living all around the world so I'm well aware of the benefits. Though regardless, it comes down to creatives or marketers (yes the split's on purpose :-p) making a decision. I really find this cover of poor taste but personally, I'm quite happy to see that some still make stuff that won't please everybody -streamlined products tend to be completely dull.

I am sure there will be plenty of cultural references that are relevant in the final game.

Thomas Creutzenberg
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Thank you very much for this detailed article!
Cultural pitfalls are always a very bad thing and I always try to take all the ones I know into account. But you shed light on quite a few things I didn't know about Hindu culture. It is really great you did.

I have to admit that the case with the foot on the head of the statue could have occured to me, too. Not because of bad intent but because of not knowing the fact that touching something with your feet is a really bad sign of disrespect. But this will for sure not happen to me in the future now that I know. Thank you!

Seth Strong
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I think this was an awesome piece to read. Understanding how offensive this image can be is illuminating. Having played Far Cry 3 and enjoyed the road to hatred of the main villain, I feel that Far Cry 4 is very direct to its existing fans with this cover. Without Shivam's piece, I may not have realized all the nuances of this horrid person but I would have expected Ubisoft to know the symbolism. I would disagree with the article's take that Ubi doesn't care about the writer or the writers ethnic group. I would say that Ubisoft doesn't mind saying there are some serious white demons out there and we've put one in our game for your revenge motivation.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Life was so much easier when video game bad guys were just German and Russians.
You could use all the offensive clichés you wanted without anyone complaining.

Personally I can't trust people who call "my own personal history" things that happened before they were even born. I don't trust them to be as offended as they claim to be.

And I can't wait to meet that villain in person in the game.

Robert Carter
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Thank you for the article, and sharing your personal thoughts on the matter. Forgive me if the rest of my post is blunt, but I believe that honesty is the only way to get to the heart of any philosophical matter, and there are some questions your article has left me with.

First, You say you posted this with your first impressions in mind, without any context as to the game or characters or setting. That right there set off warning flags in my mind. It means youre making all of your judgments on woefully incomplete information. If I say we have captured a Nazi Party member and war profiteer who contributed more arms than most to the war effort, you might say he is an evil man and should be punished. If you find out his name is Oskar Schindler later on, you will find that you were dead wrong in every way. I would advise you to hold judgement of any kind until you know the full story.

Secondly, as stated above, an evil man is doing evil things. There is no part of that cover saying "This is okay to do. We condone this type of action." In fact, the opposite is apparent with the subjugated man clearly remorseful and the evil man with an almost cartoonish villain grin. It says "You need to stop this man, for he is evil and will destroy those around him"

Religious sacrilege is quite common in most any story. Assassins creed had an evil pope who tried to control the world with magic (or at least science that people of the time couldnt comprehend). Thats pretty sacrilegious. But did you cry out about it? If not, why not? What about the incredibly racist Americans in Bioshock Infinite, and the skewed characterization of Americas historical figures (Washington, Lincoln, etc.)? Thats a pretty touchy subject for Americans, at least as much as this is to you I would imagine. Did it bother you less because you have no connection to it?

Which brings me to my last, and most important, point: If you can only identify with characters who are like you, the problem is with you. If the first thing you notice is the characters races on the box cover, the problem is with you and not anyone else. Your second sentence, and fist to describe the cover, mentions race first and as the most important factor. If the villain were a "Nepali or Indian man" too would that be more acceptable? Would he be less evil with the same actions he is taking? If not, then why focus on this seemingly irrelevant information? If so, why is a mans moral standing affected by his skin tone, race, or ancestors?

If you took the time to read my lengthy post and consider my questions, I thank you for your time. I hope I did not come across as as confrontational, these were simply questions raised in my mind by reading your essay, and I would like to know the answers before making my judgement of your essay, if you are inclined to share them.

Thank you again Mr. Bhatt

Shivam Bhatt
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Thanks for your comments, and for reading.

Context is absolutely important, i agree, especially when passing judgement on a piece of art. As someone up thread noted, this box art, and all box arts, are created to offer that first peek into a product, to give the viewer a baseline to judge the product by and to hopefully be enticed to buy it. That means that, just like book covers or movie posters, this art is meant to stand alone and provide all the context a viewer needs. If I walk into a store and see this cover on a game shelf, what do I take away from it, from a first casual glance? A white looking person with a kneeling brown guy. And that's it. If i go and flip over the box, I'm sure I'd learn about the content of the game and the context of why this scene is happening, and sure, my judgement could change.

But his pose on the front wouldn't change, even with context. He's still sitting on a Buddha, and the brown guy is still kneeling. The cover art does not provide any agency to the subjects, so we have no idea why they're in that position. Perhaps the kneeling man is treating the sitting man as a teacher or guru. Maybe he's being punished for subordination. Maybe we're meant to consider the nature of geopolitics. But I'm pretty sure that none of these things is the intent, and is certainly not what a casual glance will take away.

The issue is representation. I've been playing games for 25 years, in all mediums, and frankly, I can identify with most any type of silent protagonist just fine. What prompted this essay is that the first time we DO have someone who i can physically identify with (dhalsim not withstanding), it's a position of servitude and sacrilege. I'm an adult. I've been in the industry, and a part of discussions surrounding covers and so on, and I have context to understand what is happening here. But what if I was a 10 year old boy who was searching for an identity? All the books he reads have white folks on the cover doing heroic and fun things, and if there are any brown people, they're conniving with twisty moustaches or subservient. What message does this send to him? Either deny your identity and assimilate, or realise that your culture doesn't think much of you.

That's not a problem with me, or with the hypothetical child. That's a societal issue.

If the villain were an Indian, Nigerian, Latino, Swede, man, woman, or nonbinary- if they were in that same pose on the cover, and nothing else was changed, yes, I would still feel the same way. It's not the character that matters, it's the actions being performed. And it's not the art, its the artist. Someone in the real world felt that this was the best way to sell their product, and someone else gave their approval. Those people have an immense impact on the real world, and that is what is concerning.

Regarding Assassin's Creed, consider the cover. Was it the Pope, doing blasphemous things in the name of villainy? No, it was the hero looking heroic. If Far Cry 4, which purports to have a north indian hero, had a brown dude looking heroic, would this discussion even have happened? Probably not. As I have noted, the content of the game doesn't make a difference to me, and if our hypothetical hero fronted Far Cry 4 featured indians straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom inside, eating monkey brains, i'd have rolled my eyes and moved on.

But we're not talking about the inside, we're talking about the cover. The point of entry that actually faces the world, and actually can impact folks who aren't even playing the game at all, even at a subconscious level. Look at the tweets i posted at the end. Someone made the assumption that the kneeling man was a terrorist, out of a vacuum. That's the type of characterization that can be engendered by this image.

I'm sorry I didn't make it more clear in my article that the game itself was beside the point, but I thank you for taking the time to comment.

Robert Carter
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Thank you for not only responding to me, but responding in detail. The time you have taken to answer my questions is very much appreciated.

"If the villain were an Indian, Nigerian,... yes, I would still feel the same way. It's not the character that matters, it's the actions being performed."

Thank you for clearing that up, I am glad that we agree on this. I am confused why race is mentioned so much in your article if it is not that important to your judgements of the characters. I am especially curious about your last line where you talk about the hypothetical 10 year old - "All the books he reads have white folks on the cover doing heroic and fun things, and if there are any brown people, they're conniving with twisty moustaches or subservient. Either deny your identity and assimilate, or realise that your culture doesn't think much of you."

I dont believe he should see heroic white people or submissive brown people. I think he should see heroic people and identify with them. I dont see why they would have to be his color or race for him to identify any more. I think he should see submissive and dominated people and wish to help and free them. I dont think he should have any different feelings if they have the same or different heritage than he. I think he should view every character as an individual and judged only by their actions, in which case what ancestry they appear to have would be irrelevant to his ability to relate to them. He is not denying his identity, he is simply realizing his race is not a factor of that identity.

Thank you again for your thoughts and for taking the time to answer my questions Mr. Bhatt, I hope you have a relaxing and rewarding weekend!

Albith Delgado
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Great article Shivam, and I do believe that it is time to demand change in our game industry. It's 2014!

My opinion: if this had been the cover of a movie or book, this would have been removed already.
Games are a global product, to risk alienating a group of people (hundreds of millions according to google) sounds silly and short-sighted.

Let's not forget, but each culture has particular triggers, issues that spark controversy if they are not handled properly. In present day America, race and LGBT issues are in this list. Irresponsible depictions of any one of these two in media (especially on a poster/cover) will spark criticism or call for a change. Just as mass media producers are careful not to depict Christianity negatively in the West, I can understand having the same considerations for Buddhism in Asia.

Case in point: The rock band Aerosmith changed the album cover of their "Nine Lives" album because it offended some in the Hindu community. The record company apologized, changed the artwork, and that was that.

Jeff Degginger
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As a white person, interpreting a white individual lording over a non-white individual on the cover art of this box, I tell you, my first impression is villain. In fact, I feel the statement that the man is Asian with dyed blonde hair opens up the potential for actually bad storyline gameplay. So now you're telling me the villain isn't even white? Oh, that makes EVERYTHING BETTER.

On the other hand, this is going to sound redundant. I understand that this cover art is offensive material in and of itself. I understand that we may as well throw this on the pile of artwork that continues to slander and depict in only one way, entire countries of individuals, and drums up horrible awful truths about history.

But if something wants to discuss, evoke, and consider the human nature that leads to the development of these trends these histories, what are they supposed to do? Not depicting this truth on the box art, what you call a work of art, but honestly its less than that, its advertising material, its whats going to sell the game to white people and other people, with a clearly anglo looking individual lording over a lesser race. I understand what gets under your skin about this depiction, and I am not going to be able to ever ever say that if I were you I would not be offended. That's about as insulting a thing to say as I can. I understand why this box art would be upsetting.

However, I do believe the developers intentions (well I did, until I read that pasty face over there wasn't a white dude) was to ensure that commentary on colonialism would be there, and no doubt the Far Cry style is about shock value. In fact, in recalling the "misinterpretation" of the last Far Cry game (cited as misinterpretation by the developer) I felt they were saying, okay you know what, white villain, that will clear our name.

Guess not. Just more of the same. Hero is probably white. Or American. So, big strides in the game industry.

David Cummins
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Before I make my point, I would like to clarify three things:
1. I am white.
2. I am non-religious (how militantly depending upon the day, the weather and what I had for breakfast).
3. I believe in freedom of speech, but don't necessarily support absolute freedom of speech at any cost.

I think that they should be allowed to publish with that cover (in some countries). I would support the cover being banned in countries where it causes too much offense. In general I think it was a bad choice on their part. Consumers typically see far more covers than they actually purchase. Therefore for most consumers that cover is the beginning and end of their experience with the game, and subtlety and context will pass them by. I wouldn't put a rape on a cover - it would deeply offend too many people. If I knew how offensive that cover was to you and others (which I didn't before today), I would avoid using it in promotional material. Always seek advice from the groups most directly relevant to a game, unless you aim to purposely offend them.

Amir Barak
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"unless you aim to purposely offend them."
Ah, but they are. Marketing 101.

"I wouldn't put a rape on a cover - it would deeply offend too many people"
Don't go equating rape to putting a foot on a piece of stone, no matter how much someone thinks that piece of stone is important (because it never is).

The image is about conveying how horrible of a person the dude in the pink suit is. It comes off through his handling of another human being. It comes off through his blatant disregard for the statue. It comes off from his posture and face.

You could also argue that a man like that would have no issues with rape, torture and murder. In fact I would argue that Ubisoft did whatever they could to convey how much of an asshole the guy is while using the minimum amount of offensive visual elements that they could.

When I look at the image I get angry at the guy in pink. Not the artist that drew it.
Do you get upset at the people who photograph places like Africa, or at the people who made those photos possible?

David Cummins
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I agree with some aspects of what you're saying. Excuse the short reply - I don't have much time. The area where it gets murky is when you say "Do you get upset at the people who photograph places like Africa, or at the people who made those photos possible?". I agree on the face of it, however Ubisoft are both the creator of the artwork AND the man in pink. I doubt that he is an actual historical figure who is being examined in a nuanced and critical manner. Therefore any evil he does is because Ubisoft thought it would make a fun game. Creating a bad guy doesn't therefore make them evil - every genre has bad guys - but they need to consider what they include and what they don't, and deal with the consequences of that. It may be Marketing 101, but they have cut off a potential audience. Whether that was worth it to them... *shrug*... I don't know.

Shivam Bhatt
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Thanks for your comments. Honestly, if the photographer in Africa was staging a shot to be as offensive as possible to make it look even worse than it was, yes, i'd get upset. In a piece of art such as this cover, every position and pose is thought up and generated deliberately. They had a choice on how to present the character, and have even done so in an alternate yet equally evil seeming way above, for the limited edition. The character's motivations and concerns in game are entirely irrelevant to the artistic choices taken to create this cover in a vacuum.

Also, I agree that Rape is an entirely different topic, and the comparison is not even close.

Amir Barak
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Yes, but the idea is to be offensive. To show that the man in pink is evil and callous. The fact it generated a strong emotion in you concerning the religious iconography is exactly the purpose of the image. That you've transferred the emotion towards the developers is an unintended consequence. You may as well be upset about the fact that the developers have created the man in pink to begin with given his potential for such actions.

"The character's motivations and concerns in game are entirely irrelevant to the artistic choices taken to create this cover in a vacuum."
This statement is blatantly wrong. The character's motivations and concern are entirely relevant to the way that the character is portrayed in promotional material and artistic visualizations. How can it be otherwise? The guy's an asshole so he does asshole things. It'd be weird to have the box art show him stroking a kitten and donating money to charity (although that'd be a lot less offensive).

****
I've got a few other points I wanted to write about but I need to organize them in my head before committing to [virtual] paper.

Shivam Bhatt
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When presented with artwork in a context free void, the intent of the author is irrelevant to the experience of the viewer. Adding context doesn't change that the image is culturally insensitive, nor that it is using the imagery not as a critique but as a sales pitch to a third party.

Dan Felder
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Show the protagonist killing someone on the cover of the game: No one bats an eye.

Show the villain resting a hand on a kneeling person: The internet explodes.

Okay.

Shivam Bhatt
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Thanks for your comment, and for reading. If the hero of the game had been doing something similar, I would have written the same essay. The symbolism is what I found objectionable, as explained variously above.

Dan Felder
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I think you missed my point. I'm contrasting a person killing someone, an act that should be repulsive but we dismiss due to the medium, to a person symbolically disrespecting a race (or religious entity, depending which part of the cover we're referring to). The fact that the villain is doing the bad thing in question just seems to exacerbate the contrast.

I find the selective outrage interesting. I'm not even saying it's wrong.

Shivam Bhatt
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well, historically i have been against violence on covers, but that wasn't the topic of my essay, so i didn't bother commenting on it. lots of people have, though. As stated above, my goal here was merely to provide a cultural perspective that not many folks in the games industry are aware of.

also, nice jace =)

Dan Felder
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Thanks for the Jace compliment. =)

I wasn't saying that your article had an obligation to focus on all other social concerns simultaneously. I'm commenting on the fact that the overall social outrage over potentially insensitive covers regarding race, culture or religion seem to be causing people overall to explode far more than an objectively more brutal scene. In the real world, I'm sure you'd agree that seeing a man do anything to any statue couldn't compare to murdering a living human being. I find it interesting that violent covers don't stir nearly as much outrage as the perception of insentitive or racist covers.

Jakub Majewski
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For the record, Shivam, I do think that in your post, you far overstate the anti-colonial case. And before you respond by telling me that I can never understand you - guess what, I'm Polish, and Poland was colonised by Germany, Austria and Russia for the entire 19th century, and again by Russia from 1945 to 1990. So, I more than understand - but my impression after reading your post is that you'd like to blame racism and colonialism for everything, and - if that is indeed the case - that's simply wrong.

In fact, one of the biggest problems for post-colonial societies like ours is that we tend to oscillate between two equally dangerous positions - either we portray our history as a "paradise lost", where our society was perfectly happy and trouble-free until those evil foreigners came along, or we do the opposite, blaming ourselves for being conquered (kind of a Stockholm syndrome?) - demonising our past and arguing that those foreigners actually saved us from our culture that prevented us from modernising. The former view leads us to deceive ourselves into thinking that we don't need to change anything in our own culture, because everything bad is actually foreign influence, and this extends into our views of the present, where we see anything that goes badly for us as being somebody else's fault. The latter view, of course, is just as bad or worse, as it leads to a rejection of your own culture, a kind of "we must kill ourselves to save ourselves" deal.

Now, I don't know that much about your views, so I don't want to be too hard-line in my criticism of your post - it just sounded to me like you're tending towards that "paradise lost" view and all that goes with it. I don't know about your school circumstances, so it's not for me to say whether it was fair and reasonable for you to expect your diet to be catered to (if, for instance, you were the only person in the school who was vegetarian, it may be justifiable for them to merely tell you to pick the meat off the pizza, though they certainly could have done better). I do know that you absolutely have no right to blame any publisher for rejecting Indian-themed ideas any more than I have any right to blame publishers for rejecting Polish-themed ideas (and I've had *Polish* publishers reject Polish-themed ideas!). That's not racism, nor is it a leftover of colonialism, nor anything like that - it's simply business, they can't afford to finance a product they don't believe will sell. Of course, you can complain - justifiably - about their lack of courage to take a risk and try something new, but a lack of business courage (or, more precisely, an excess of caution) is not quite in the same moral category as racism, so it's unfair of you to lump the two together.

But, all that aside - I agree with your assessment of the image. As a Catholic, I far too frequently encounter similar things, where people intentionally use Catholic imagery in a twisted fashion to generate controversy and sell their product - the most obvious example being "Madonna", whose very stage name was intended to generate this kind of controversy.

It certainly seems to me that the Far Cry 4 cover is much in the same category. And I absolutely don't accept the "oh, come on, it's just an image" argument, or the similar "well, I'm not religious, so to me it doesn't mean anything like that" argument. Both of those arguments are actually far more offensive than the act itself, because in both cases, there is, underneath, a hidden assumption - "I don't believe your faith, so I assume you don't really believe it either, and don't pretend you're offended".

To put it simply, refraining from defacing the religious imagery of another faith is not some extreme favour that you grant them, some tacit recognition of the truth of their claims. It is, in fact, the most basic kind of good manners you can show: it's a way of saying, "I may or may not believe in this, but I understand that you do." And I say this while most definitely being a fundamentalist and a missionary type - in fact, you can't very well be a good Catholic if you don't believe that it is your duty to tell everyone about the real God, because I am certain that He offers salvation. It follows from that, of course - just stating the obvious here :) - that I think your deities are false, just as you think Christ is not God. However, if we were to have a discussion where we tried to persuade each other to our views, I know what I would not start off with - I would not start off with the assumption that deep down, you don't actually believe your own creed, and that I can carelessly offend everything you hold sacred because "hey, come on, it's just a picture, why get worked up about it?"

Shivam Bhatt
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Thanks for your comments. I feel like I didn't do a good enough job indicating that the colonialist explanation wasn't mine, but was what i was seeing on the internet that prompted my article, which was the issues surrounding the image itself.

Also, you totally hit the nail on the head with your note that i wasn't looking for corroboration in the truth of my beliefs, but merely acknowledgement that i'm not pretending to hold them. You really did a great job setting down exactly what my problem with this kind of discussion has been, and i thank you for that.


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