“Am I sexist?” – Far Cry 4 made me question my own gender biases

AmigaFarCry4The following contains spoilers of Far Cry 4’s plot.

Amidst the civil war raging in Kyrat is a more subtle but just as important war, one where tradition is being pitted against progress.  On the surface it is a war of ideals.  The people of Kyrat’s resistance, the Golden Path, isn’t just at war with Pagan Min, it’s at war with its past and its cultural foundation.  And through the eyes of Ajay Ghale, you are caught in the middle, choosing between the purity of Sabal’s ties to the traditional Kyrat, and the progressive views held by the Amita.  You’ll be choosing whether to harvest drugs to build the economy, or to destroy the crops to uphold the values of the resistance.  It is very much a game built on morals and standards, answering the question of “progress, but at what cost?”.  It adds a layer of narrative complexity, sitting right alongside its portrayal of culture and religion

But hidden underneath all of that, Far Cry 4 presents an incredible exploration of sexism and gender roles, and what is means to have a society built on male superiority.  More importantly, it made me question my own values and inherent gender biases.

Am I sexist?  

Do I have a gender bias?

These questions forced me to take a very uncomfortable look at myself.  And what I found wasn’t flattering.

I chose my side early on, justifying my siding with the male leader of the Golden Path, the charismatic Sabal, on my fierce opposition to drugs. Amita was forward-thinking, considering about economic autonomy once Kyrat was a free state, and the vast poppy crops would bring that autonomy.  It was rational, but was it moral?  Progress?  Sure. But again at what cost.    I didn’t necessarily agree with restoring Kyrat to a time where child brides were commonplace, the so-called “dark ages, but nor did I condone an economy built on illicit drugs. And so I found it easy to justify my decisions, feeling like I was making the right decisions even when I saw logic in Amita’s arguments.  It was an uneasy, but logical moral choice, and one I was happy to ‘live’ with.

“I was six years old when my parents told me I had to marry.  Six.  That’s the world Sabal is fighting for”

– Amita

But it was once the issue of gender came up directly that I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I was making my decision based on the person and not the ideal.  And the further I played, the more I committed to Sabal’s traditional version of Kyrat, the more I realised that it wasn’t about what was “right” for the people, it was about playing favourites. Sure  I found Sabal more sincere, less emotional, and more rational.  But perhaps more importantly I found Sabal more appealing.

“Do you think it was easy?  Being the first woman in the Golden Path?”

– Amita

And it was the point where gender roles came into it that I realised that perhaps it was the fact that Sabal was male played a part in his appeal.  Amita’s appeals for progress suddenly started falling on deaf ears, and her appeal to my own sense of gender equity and fairness through confiding in me of her plight of being the first woman in the golden path, started to feel desperate.  “She’s trying to get sympathy, but she’s wrong”, I thought, justifying my position through what I considered an emotional weakness.  “Isn’t she?”.

It wasn’t until Sabal verbalised my views that I fully realised just how sexist my thought process was:

“…And I bet she cried on your shoulder.  Did she give you that sop story about being the first woman in the Golden Path?…She didn’t fool you did she brother?”

– Sabal

It was a sop story, an appeal to my emotions, and in my mind whether I knew it or not, Amita’s strength was weakened by her stories of ingrain sexism. To me, Sabal was the strong male leader, the person not basing his decisions on emotions, not caught up on the internal fight he was having to prove himself or his gender.  He appealed to the very masculine view of society, one that favoured males in positions of powers, and as the stronger and more rational gender.  But this wasn’t a conscious decision making process, rather an almost automatic and inherent gender bias that affects my decision making process. Whether Sabal was or wasn’t morally right was irrelevant, it was that he was a male that swayed my decision to back him.  And that’s absolutely wrong.

So am I sexist?  I’ve come to realise that the answer may sadly be a very uncomfortable “yes”.  But not because I don’t believe in equality for women, or very strongly dismiss traditional gender roles in society, but because sexism and stereotyping based on gender is so heavily but subtly ingrained in society that it’s almost impossible not to inadvertently take on some of the biases.  I’m not proud of any gender bias I may have – in fact I outwardly oppose it – but I’m glad that a video game was able to force me into a moment of introspection.  Even if it meant realising a less than flattering aspect of my personality.  Sexism is everywhere and Far Cry 4 is perhaps the smartest exploration of gender identity around.

SabalFarCry4

 

17 Comments

  1. This is an interesting point. I haven’t player Far Cry 4, but I think I’d probably go the same way you did in the course of the game.

    I think I also have some sexist feelings, but I also think that it’s unavoidable, because I can’t relate to the issues that are unique to women since I’ve never had to and never will have to face them myself. I also think the same is true of most women, who naturally can’t relate to the issues unique to men for the same reasons. It’s something we have to deal with in our societies, but I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever entirely solve.

  2. Thank you for sharing and being honest. I think it’s highly unfair to men, too, that games do rely heavily on that traditional/stereotypical depiction of masculinity. Even if a game is meant to depict a certain societal structure, it’s still important to have variety. In reality, not every man fits under this “macho man” stereotype as not every woman fits under the beautiful, perfect female character.

    And I am all for games being a teaching tool! People don’t realize just how affective they are at revealing truths about society. Do you think you’ll go back and play the game differently because of the above revelation? Cheers~

    1. Absolutely, in a way it’s that male stereotype of ‘strength’ that appeals to me on an almost primal level, not exclusively mind, but as long as that’s the case I’m not sure it will ever be a stereotype that entirely disappears.

      I think the difference is men are seldom held back in artistic mediums because they don’t fit the stereotype, whereas women have fought decades of innate bias because of their femininity. The shocking thing was that I perpetuated that through my actions in the game.

      And I agree with the learning thing. I’m grateful that through a video game was able to bring about this conversation. Even if it means admitting my own flaws!

      1. That’s a very good point about strength!

        Women are guilty of being sexist, too, as some women also play into wanting that “strength” from a man. I’d be surprised to meet another female that liked Garrett (Thief) over Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), for instance. There are double standards on both sides, unfortunately; it can be a yucky business to wade through.

  3. What a great article. I took the exact opposite choice in the game to you, but that’s because very early on I decided that I couldn’t support Sabal’s idea of a Tarun Matara – the child bride of Banashur in Kyrat mythology. I can’t remember which mission this happens in, but early in the game one of the Golden Path says that he intends to have 5 children with the young girl, Bhadra, once she is the Tarun Matara. In the end, for me, it was a question of progress versus tradition and male centric/led religious oppression.

    It was a difficult decision though, mainly because I’m also very opposed to drugs and couldn’t support Amita’s idea of progress. Ultimately I was more upset by the notion of supporting Sabal’s traditions than knowing that Amita would advocate a drug based economy. I devoted hours – literally – to deciding which of the potential leaders to support though, and for that I really have to applaud the game’s developers.

    The end of the game brought about an ending that I hadn’t forseen and definitely made me question some of my decisions. If I’ve got the time I’ll replay the main campaign missions to see how things might have happened had I made some different ones.

    Far Cry 4 is a great game, and much deeper than I ever expected it to be. I spent a lot of time exploring every book and cranny – it’s my first ever platinum trophy on PlayStation – and am looking forward to where the series goes next.

    1. That’s what is so great about it, it hides all of the gender stuff below other social issues, making you really have to search through your own values to pave the way forward. It was the little things after the fact that made me notice: Sabal referring to me as “brother”, when he called Amita’s “sop story” out he was standing with a group of men. Amita on the other hand always seemed to be isolated in her views. Whether intentional or not it was incredibly clever, and forced me to take a closer look at why I made the decisions I did.

  4. That’s a very powerful thing you’ve described there – the realisation that what our brain tells us isn’t necessarily the truth. We may regard ourselves as enlightened, non-sexist beings, but often that’s just our brain telling us what we want to hear. For instance, I believe that I don’t have a gender bias when it comes to watching films by female directors or stars, or reading books by female authors. So I was mightily surprised when I looked back and realised that I’ve only read 3 books by female authors in the past 5 years. And I read a lot of books.

    No wonder authors like AS Byatt and PD James use initials rather than give away their gender: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/01/30/using-initials-female-writer/

    1. That’s an interesting point about gender bias and reading. I also don’t believe I have a gender bias and am happy to read anything written by anyone – as long as it’s written well. I definitely have a genre bias though. Looking back the vast majority of authors that I’ve read have been male, despite the fact that my favourite author is a woman. I suspect though that this is due to publishers having a gender bias about which authors they’ll sign and publish. This bias is then passed on to the reader without their participation or knowledge.

      I’m not going to get started on the whole Gamer Gate thing here, other than to say that it would be really nice to see greater diversity in games, as well as behind the scenes in the development and publishing companies.

  5. It WAS a sop story, she tried to pluck heart strings rather than face that fact without it becoming a part of what she does. When you feel like somebody is doing it out of anything less than a firm belief it is right it becomes something you cannot just make a clear cut decision. If anything I’d say the design of her story and character is supposed to be one that appeals to softer heart and mind, vying for emotions. She is not alone in doing so but the slant seems to put her in such a position more.

    1. I’m not sure about that either – i think her ‘lack’ of empathy shown to gain strategic intel rather than save lives even blurs that. It’s very cleverly written.

  6. I found this really interesting, thanks for sharing such a complicated response. I think this is one of the things games can really pull off sometimes: making you ponder the reasons behind your choices. I just finished Heavy Rain and found some of the situations it puts you in quite thought provoking, I ended up spending ages trying to justify one course of action over another! Perhaps I should give Far Cry 4 a look?

    1. I think the thing both of those games do so well is make it a shade of grey, rather than that the Fable approach where there is clearly the “good” and “bad” choices. Far Cry 4 has nowhere near the amount of choice that Heavy Rain does, but where it does it, it makes it count.

      I’d recommend it, absolutely!

  7. I’m curious, after reading the article and comments and because I came here looking for info on Far Cry 4, whether or not I should buy it as a female gamer. I’m curious if I would go through some of the same decision making that male gamers have gone through in this situation or would I just automatically side with the female? I think I probably would and if I did, I have a feeling the game would lose a lot of its luster for me. What I am asking is this a game primarily made for male gamers? I don’t want to waste my money on it if it is.

    1. Absolutely. Even if you do take that path i don’t think it will be a lesser experience. For me the way it was written and the choices it gave me made it a ridiculously personal experience, and one that I’ll remember for a long time to come. But even putting that social commentary side of things aside, its a really fun game minute to minute.

      I’ve written some other articles on it too, perhaps that will help:

      http://amostagreeablepastime.com/2015/02/23/the-plight-of-kyrats-people-taught-me-the-importance-of-protection-of-religious-freedom/

      If you do play it i’d love to hear how you find it!

  8. It sounds like, Sir G, beyond simply identifying the presence of your/our sexism, you’ve actually gone some way towards revealing its workings: that only rational/objective/scientific knowledge is proper knowledge; that being “rational” is inherently male and vice versa; that only men can truly practice this kind of knowledge, and if a woman can, it’s because she’s managed to become more man-like.

    1. Or perhaps that women have been restricted by men to performing certain roles so that historically, on a certain type of woman has risen above adversity, and broken through that not-so-glass ceiling. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as gender roles, and i would hope that if i ever had a daughter, she could be whoever she wanted to be without feeling like she needs to be “more like a man” to do them.

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