Representation in Far Cry 4 Box Art

by Greg Magee

Representation. That’s a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me, representation has never been an issue. I see white males in every form of entertainment — books, TV, movies, video games. When you’re white, it can truly be difficult to see an issue with representation, as everything seems normal to you. But a person of color might have to watch specific channels, view straight-to-DVD films, research books prior to purchasing them, or even read a daunting heap of game reviews just to find content with relatable characters. This process requires far more work, both mentally and emotionally, than what I have to do. Being white is an advantage and a privilege when it comes to finding representation in media.

Imagine growing up as a person of color in society. Sociological research clearly shows that people of color, especially those with darker skin, have less access to resources than whites in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that despite a decrease in minority imprisonment, black and Hispanic males were 6 and 2.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males in 2012, respectively. Given these discouraging facts (and others that I cannot cover in one article), we can gain insight into why representation in media matters to many people of color.

We might even start to see why criticism of representation (both positive and negative) occurs when a person of color is included in, say, video game box art. The fact that many representations of people of color in games are stereotypical cliches — such as magical turban-wearing genies, angry and loud black men, or threatening Middle Eastern men — adds salt to the wound of social disadvantage. So when box art (just the box art folks, not the game) for a beloved franchise comes from a AAA, international company, maybe the company should be a little tactful with the direction of said art.

Last week this Far Cry 4 box art was criticized as racist by some Twitter users. Five days after this criticism, an IGN article provided a quote of clarification from Far Cry 4 creative director Alex Hutchinson:

“Just so it’s clear for those jumping to conclusions: He’s not white and that’s not the player.”

At this point, Hutchinson’s statement is irrelevant. By itself, the box art doesn’t have clear context, and it doesn’t matter who the player is. When a random person walks into a game store, they will see the cover, not Hutchinson’s quote addressing the content. As the box art stands, the central figure looks white, and he’s dominating a brown, submissive character holding a live grenade, which links the character to post-9/11 stereotypes about foreign-born brown people. Keeping with this cultural insensitivity, the white-skinned Asian man is sitting atop a defiled Buddhist statue with gun porn all over the place. I don’t think the artist intentionally wanted to offend people with racist imagery, but unfortunately, that’s what happened.

Some argue that the Far Cry 4 box art isn’t racist or that it shouldn’t be offensive. I would ask a question, though: if you saw a painting of a smiling white male cracking a whip over a person of color picking cotton in a field, would you argue that no person of color should be offended by it? If there is no indisputable context for the picture, why should the art be above offense? Just because the reason for offense may not be obvious to us — or if the intent of the artist is innocent — doesn’t mean we are correct to declare that it shouldn’t be offensive.

If people of color tell us that something is racist, we should listen and not automatically “agree to disagree,” as that gets us nowhere. Hopefully, as we move forward in the conversation about representation in games, we can open our eyes to criticism related to race and other social issues. Through interaction, games provide a unique opportunity for telling stories that can help broaden our understanding about representation of all kinds.

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12 comments

  1. I’m pretty sure most people will see the FC4 box on stores and say “Oh look, FC4! Gonna buy it”.

    1. That’s just it, people think this art isn’t offensive on any level, when in fact, it is.

      It depicts superiority of light skin over dark skin. It defaces a Buddhist statue. If it was a negative depiction of a cross, you’d be hearing from another group entirely.

      Plenty if people wrote think pieces about Bioshock Infinite’s tattered American Flag, and that’s understandable compared to this?

      1. Are you arguing that nothing should ever be offensive? Or that if something is offensive to anyone it is atuomatically hurtful to everyone and there’s no arguing it?

        The cover depicts a villain being evil. Cartoonly evil yes, but evil nonetheless. I don’t understand the problem, do you want a moral villain?

        I noticed you’re implying I’d be against a defaced cross or that I find understandable that people complained about the American flag in Infinite’s cover? Why is that? Do you assume that because I think people are overreacting that I’m a Christian American?

  2. By no means am I stating you’re a Christian American, sorry, I’m saying if it was a crucifix there’d be more backlash against the defiled “religious” statue.

    And I think people of color calling something racist, we need to really listen, not just agree to disagree.

    If it’s hurtful, then maybe try not to offend. There seems to be a lack of thought on Ubisoft’s marketing side.

    I’m starting to just repeat what I’ve already written though.

    1. If it was a crucifix and Christians complained they would be as equally silly to cry about it.

      Some people are offended, some aren’t. Why should the offended group’s opinion overrule others?

      1. If people of color tell us that something is racist, we should listen and not automatically “agree to disagree,” as that gets us nowhere. Hopefully, as we move forward in the conversation about representation in games, we can open our eyes to criticism related to race and other social issues. Through interaction, games provide a unique opportunity for telling stories that can help broaden our understanding about representation of all kinds.

    2. Yeah, I’m sure that a considerable amount of people are calling the box art a racist depiction furthering the white supremacy ideals. Look at the location of the game, are the natives of the Himalayas white? No? Then maybe the creators should transplant white people to not stir up any controversy, right? No. A vast majority of people don’t actually give two shits enough the delve deep into thought of the box art, nor should they. It’s an entertainment product that takes a villain into a specific locations and has its fun, it isn’t a piece of propaganda the company uses to further a specific mindset or goal.

      Secondly, as a person of color myself I feel the need to tell you that we can actually think for ourselves, we don’t need someone pointing out that something may or may not be racist or derogatory.

      This article is childish.

      1. Games are fun? Are they art, or are they fun? I agree, a broadened sense of “fun” should be had in games – as in any form of entertainment. Well polished mechanics, thought out characters, an interesting story, are all things that make a game “fun,” right? But we can’t just call games art and expect to be taken seriously as an art form, then back peddle on subjects like this, and belittle the progress made by saying it’s JUST a “fun” game.

        I honestly don’t think I said anyone can not think for themselves. I actually ask people to think, to try and understand why it’s racist. You don’t. I don’t think that’s childish, that’s your opinion. Nor will I belittle your opinion because I disagree with you.

  3. And what of the non-white people (I don’t like the term person of color) who don’t find it racist?

    1. They are perfectly entitled to their feelings on the matter, but just because it might not offend some people from other ethnicities doesn’t makes it automatically “right”.

      And ultimately, the problem here is not that art can’t be offensive or that it shouldn’t be offensive. The problem here is the one of representation that the author alludes to at the beginning of the post.

      Simply put, the large majority of videogames in existence tend to have very problematic representations of people of ethnicities that are not white (and the same could be said for gender and sexual preference, but that’s another discussion).

      If this piece of art existed in a vacuum, it wouldn’t matter at all if it offends or not. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exist in a certain cultural climate that can very oppressive for certain groups of people. In a certain sense it is also contributing to that climate, even if not necessarily doing it on purpose or with explicit malicious intent on the part of the creators.

      In this climate, creators can only do two things:

      a) Choose to dial things back and not use imaginary that could contribute to that oppressive climate;

      b) Proceed ahead with using said imaginary for whatever creative or commercial reason, but by the same token be willing to accept that they are going to be criticized for contributing to that climate even if not with ill intent on their part.

  4. The racism of this box art is purely in the eye of the beholder and actually exposed the subtle, unconscious racism of the kneejerk critics who looked upon it for 0.6 seconds before Tweeting their sanctimonious outrage.

    It showed that people do not believe that Asian men are capable of wearing purple and dying their hair blonde. (Because asians all look the same and this guy stands out so he must be an advanced westerner)

    People immediately claimed it advanced western imperialism. Again, because they do not believe asians capable of exploiting themselves (only Americans/europeans are advanced enough to be imperialists)

    People saw a white European man abusing Asia because that’s the narrative they are used to.

    When i saw this picture all i saw was a Sadist. I knew the man in purple was rich and powerful, and the crouching man poor and helpless. Beyond that i drew no further conclusions because i did not have the information.

    Racism and imperialism spring from class exploitation. That is what this picture shows. Representing that relation in an illustration should not be condemned. We see a member of (an unspecified) ruling class, defacing religion, controlling, abusing and exploiting the vulnerable. How on Earth anyone can think Ubisoft or the illustrator are condoning these relations is beyond me.

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