An Interview With Far Cry 3 Writer Jeffrey Yohalem
When I posted my review of Far Cry 3, a lot of people thought I’d missed the point. They insisted that the game was camp, pulp, exploitation — not meant to be taken seriously.
In fact, I received the interview below while I was writing the review (and wrote the questions before I had played the game at all). In it, Yohalem explains how he set out deliberately to exaggerate certain elements of plot, character, and gameplay as a “meta-commentary” on video game tropes. It’s a thought-provoking look into the creative process behind a thought-provoking game.
Game Front: Far Cry 3 features a protagonist who is initially reluctant to commit murder. How long can such reluctance be sustained as a character trait, in the face of multiple murders committed by that character, until the cognitive dissonance becomes overwhelming? Is it fair to speculate that FC3, because of its unique approach to character and storytelling, is aware of this problem as it exists in other video games, and seeks a different solution to it? What form does this solution take?
Yohalem: In Far Cry 3 we purposefully made the transformation uncomfortably quick, to relish the disconnect. We wanted to call attention to the lack of dissonance during other games in which you gun down hundreds of people, and your character never flinches. This technique is used in films like A History of Violence and Mulholland Drive. Both call attention to the tropes of their medium by creating situations that don’t quite bridge the believability gap. For instance, there’s this incredible moment in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive where Betty, the main character, is auditioning for a role. She’s an aspiring actress and we’ve seen her practice her part before. She wasn’t very good, so the audience gets ready to be underwhelmed. Instead, she gives a jaw-dropping performance. It’s not plausible, given what the audience knows about the character, but it happens anyway. David Lynch is pointing out that it’s all an act. That the film director and actress can manipulate the audience at will.
The plot of a History of Violence — that a family man in a quiet town has a secret prior life as a mobster, and pretends for the first quarter of the film, even to mobsters he supposedly once knew, that he doesn’t recognize them — is purposefully stretching believability. That’s the point. To point out the artificial structure of most film plots.
In reading your other interviews about the game, I was struck by your notion that both the player and the game’s protagonist are characters in the story. I think I’ve gleaned an intuitive, incomplete idea of what this means, but could you provide a specific example (hypothetical, or, even better, drawn from FC3) that illustrates this idea in action?
Jason Brody wants to save his friends. But these aren’t the player’s friends. In fact, the player probably doesn’t like them. So what does the player do? As soon as Dennis, one of the characters on the island, gives the player the opportunity to become the ultimate warrior, the player jumps. The friends are abandoned as the player leads Jason through all the wonderful, addictive gameplay loops on the island, a Never Never Land of gameplay fun. But then, something magical happens, the friends start to notice that Jason is changing under the player’s influence. But the player keeps pulling Jason away from them, and, soon, has persuaded Jason to plunge headlong into the player’s goal of winning the game.