Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #7: Far Cry

In PC on October 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Title: Far Cry

Format: PC

Release Date: March 23, 2004

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My friend Tom recently pointed out that many of the experiences on this blog are uniformly positive. Friendships. The new. Fair point. Sure, I play games to see strange new lands, meet interesting characters. To experience the positive. But to imply this is always the case would be unrealistic. Enter: Far Cry.

Scene: April, 2004. My last year of school. And let me be clear on this point: school was pretty good. I’m aware a lot of people have a bad time of it, what with bullying, bad teachers, failing spectacularly with girls, but, bar the latter, I was pretty lucky to avoid many of the education system’s potential pitfalls.

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The last year of the 6th form was great. But amidst all the fooling about and the revision and the nights out, there’s the darker stuff; heartbreaks, arguments with friends (usually about girls). Failure. School year 2003/4, we were top of the pile and like the Roman Empire we DEFINITELY MIRRORED, it was inevitable that the squabbles turned internal.

I’d had a falling out with a good friend the year before (over a girl, of course) and we’d never quite made up. He was a big part of the group, and that made things difficult. None of my mates wanted to choose sides, and so there was this awkward wedge put in the midst of this previously tight unit. I was also cocking things up with my girlfriend of the time, and she was well within my rights to think me an ass-hole, which she did.

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On top of this, we were all going our separate ways in a matter of months, and there was this keen sense of fragmentation, of things falling apart. I was unfamiliar with this feeling, and found it difficult to process. I sought solace in a lot of ways, spending a lot of time on my own – going to the library, listening to music. Playing video games.

By this stage I had fumbled my way into learning how to drive, and would often go for a cruise at lunchtime, or in a free period, driving around being adolescent and sad, ruminating on changes that were to come, and generally being a bell-end. And I started playing Far Cry.

It was a beautiful game, and, like many that I came to truly love, prioritised freedom of choice. An FPS (First-Person-Shooter) set on a beguiling tropical island in Micronesia, the world of Far Cry became a destination I would visit time and again over that month and the next, always driving home at lunchtime in the cold, crisp spring sunshine, Led Zeppelin IV blaring out of the speakers, to somewhere I could forget all the problems I had in my life.

What pathetic problems they were, but tragedy is relative – particularly at that age – and in my small, solipsistic world, I didn’t want to think about broken friendships and exes, not to mention looming exams and a fragmented future. So I escaped to an unnamed archipelago in the South Pacific and shot terrorists in the blistering electronic sun, swam around in digital oceans, and raced speedboats up and down uncharted tributaries until my mind was soothed by the lapping waves, the cawing of exotic birds, and the soft thud of bullets into mutated super-soldier flesh.

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And lest you think I’m segueing into my preferred model of rose-tinted, nostalgia-fuelled whimsy: this was a Bad Thing. I’ve spoken about positive and negative gaming before, and this falls resolutely into the latter camp. This is not dealing; there’s a difference between getting excited about a new release and popping life temporarily on hold while you blast through it, and side-stepping responsibilities completely to lose yourself in a tantalising, ephemeral, gaming fog. I was no longer 12, and this was no Super Mario 64.

Whilst I was a goon at 18, as indeed I am now, I was old enough to recognise that I was escaping, when I should have been dealing. I should have been working harder, I should have been building bridges with friends, I should have been apologising to my ex. I did none of these things. I learnt to play sad Pearl Jam songs on my guitar and I played Far Cry.

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The game is great. There is no doubt about that. The graphics were superlative for the time, and the variety of approaches you could adopt were proto-Halo in their scope. But what I am trying to address is the life behind the game. Why are you really playing? What are you hoping to gain? Unlike a film, you’re not just sinking two hours into a game; you’ve therefore got to enjoy it on an extended level for it to be worth so much of your time.

And I did enjoy Far Cry. A lot. But I was patently using it as a smokescreen. When you’re 18, your problems probably ain’t so great (mine weren’t), but if you maintain this approach into your 20s and potentially 30s, you’ve got yourself quite an evasive adult on your hands.

Once again: this is not the fault of Far Cry, or indeed, videogames. I can’t stress this enough. I detest much press baiting of entertainment, citing it as a cause for violence, anti-social behaviour, whatever. Cultural Bête Noires have always existed, but as a rule, it’s the viewer that should take responsibility. There will always be exceptions; people that are affected by stimuli in an exaggerated fashion, but I stand by the rule: don’t blame external factors because one is being shit at one’s life.

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Play, watch, absorb, learn from all forms of media. But don’t let your life fall out of balance. No matter how tempting the island is, don’t stay there too long; real life is waiting, and it’s often more exciting, unpredictable and terrifying than anything games have to offer. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a holiday every now and then. But be sure to you know why you’re going. You’ll enjoy your stay that much more.

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