Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Fact and Fiction - The Culture and Politics of Kyrat

Robert Rath | 18 Dec 2014 12:00
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Last week we explored how Ubisoft crafted a strikingly authentic Himalayan landscape for Far Cry 4. But there's a lot more to a country than its physical topography, so this week we'll look at the cultural, religious, and historical aspects of how Far Cry 4 depicts the Himalayas, with special emphasis on Nepal.

What's fact? What's fiction? And who on Earth would be named "Pagan"?

I Mean, No One Would Take the Name "Pagan," Right?

Actually, they might - if they're from Hong Kong.

Hongkongers have an interesting relationship with English names. It's common for parents here to give their child a western name as well as a Chinese one, or for someone to take an English name for business purposes. But they don't limit themselves to the standard baby name lexicon - unique names are prized possessions, and people get creative. Luxury brands are a favorite, so you might meet women named Prada Wong or Ferrari Chan. There's also the just plain odd ones - rhymes or intentional mispellings like Dodo or Februar.

Then there are the sinister ones. A guy named "Devil Law" appeared before a Hong Kong court a few years ago. And one common tactic - to form a new name out of the parents' names - can make for undesirable results. I met a woman recently who's set on naming her son Manson.

So Pagan, while it would be highly unusual, isn't out of the realm of possibility for a Hongkonger like him. Given that he selected it as an homage to a real-life Burmese monarch, it maintains at least a shred of plausibility.

The "Karma" System: An Accurate Mechanic With An Unfortunate Name

Nepali culture emphasizes hospitality and helpfulness - an aspect that makes it an incredible country for tourism. If Nepalis like you, they'll do absolutely anything for you. This isn't limited to outsiders though, since Nepalis take care of each other too. Trekking guides pitch in to help teahouses while off-duty, and get benefits in exchange, like free food. But this isn't always transactional. Pitching in and trading favors - helping women carry heavy loads or getting a car unstuck, for example - remains a part of life, especially in the mountains. Our guide explained it like this: "In all these villages, everyone knows I'm helpful. So if I ever need help, people will help me."

The Karma System reflects this dynamic. The more Ajay assists the community, the more inclined they are to bail him out or offer discounts. But this isn't Karma. There's no spiritual aspect at work here. What happens in Far Cry 4 boils down to mutual support and repaying favors. It represents a real dynamic, but it's tragically mislabeled.

The Tarun Matara: More Real Than You Think

Stroll around Kathmandu's Durbar Square and you can see an interesting person - the Royal Kumari, the world's only living goddess. Visitors and worshippers enter the courtyard of her palace at Kumari Ghar and - if they're very lucky - get a glimpse of her on the small balcony. A look, it's said, will bestow good fortune.

Hindus and Buddhists revere this young woman as an avatar of the goddess Taleju (or Kali), and a vessel of divine female energy. She's chosen very young, often at two, and will hold the position until she menstruates, at which time divine energy leaves her and a new Kumari will be chosen.

This is what Far Cry 4 references with the Tarun Matara. In the game, Sabal tries to have Bhadra installed as the new living goddess and, if successful, puts her through a difficult trial.

The real-life trials are distressing, but nowhere near that distressing. After spiritual leaders choose their candidates and winnow them down with physical and spiritual examinations, candidates must enter Taleju's temple, walking among the bodies of sacrificed animals without showing fear. Those that pass spend a night alone in a dark room trying to keep their composure among severed animal heads. These trials ensure that the candidate has the serenity and peace of mind the Kumari requires - though a former Kumari has suggested the tests are not actually as bloody and rigorous as they're claimed to be. Some international organizations have called for an end to the practice, labeling it child abuse.

As mentioned in the game, traditionally the Kumari remains unmarried after leaving her position, since anyone marrying her would inherit extreme bad luck. However, as the game says, this perception has changed in recent years, and former Kumari can get married - though many go through a harsh adjustment period. Some leave barely be able to walk after having been carried for most of their lives.


Hunting: An Uncomfortable Exercise

Hunting in Far Cry 3 was supposed to feel a bit wrong. Jason Brody killing his way down the endangered species list emphasized his increasing disconnect with his previous values system. I may not have liked the implications of that narrative, but it gave the hunting context. Stalking predators through the bush felt primal and close to nature.

Far Cry 4 shatters that. Now rather than tracking animals through the bush, I'm either Lord Curzon shooting tigers from elephant back or Sarah Palin carpet-bombing wolves from a helicopter. Even when you're on foot, you can sit on a slope with an elephant gun and farm bears by throwing bait.

It feels like poaching, not hunting. The game seems to realize it too. Every Kyrati Fashion Week mission starts at a table full of ivory and the game goes out of its way to say Kyrat has oh so many rhinos around that they won't miss one or two.

Indian Rhinos have started to rebound in Nepal, but not exactly in shoot however many you want numbers. In 2008 only 99 survived in the Terai, though that number has risen to 503 by 2011. They face major threats from poachers.

What's particularly disturbing about Far Cry 4, though, is that the Asian setting makes the gear system dovetail with traditional Chinese medicine, one of the primary wildlife killers in this region. Both suggest that tiger and rhino parts can increase your performance, and that the rarer an animal is, the more powerful it will make you - and that's not a good idea to reinforce.

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