Critical Intel

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

Robert Rath | 18 Dec 2014 12:00
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The Fallen Monarchy

In Far Cry 4's backstory, Pagan Min stormed the palace and murdered the heir to Kyrat's throne.
This references a real event, the Nepalese royal massacre.

On June 1st, 2001, King Birendra ordered his eldest son Prince Dipendra to leave a party after he'd started exhibiting bad behavior. Drunk and high on hashish, Dipendra returned carrying a massive arsenal, and proceeded to murder nine of his family members before shooting himself. The dead included the king, queen, three princes and four princesses. Ironically, despite having perpetrated the massacre, Dipendra was by law still next in line for the throne. He was crowned king and reigned for three days in a coma before dying, leaving the crown to his uncle King Gyanendra.

Ask Nepalis what happened, though, and you'll get a different story. Some insist that Indian secret agents carried out a mass-assassination dressed as the prince. Others say that Gyanendra - who was not popular- orchestrated the attack and manipulated the ensuing investigation. It's easy for outsiders to roll their eyes at these wild theories, but remember, 61% of Americans still believe JFK's assassination was a conspiracy.

Unusual traumas demand unusual explanations, and the public imagination is always happy to fill in the gaps.

The Civil War

The Nepali Civil War lasted from 1996 to 2006, a decade that saw 18,000 Nepalis killed, over a hundred thousand internally displaced, the monarchy destroyed, and Maoists entering mainstream politics. Initially the U.S., EU, China and India supported the monarchy, but after King Gyanendra put the constitutional monarchy on hold and took direct control of the country, his allies deserted him. It gave the Maoists - who were already winning in the countryside - room to maneuver politically, and they signed a peace accord with the Prime Minister. The agreement achieved the Maoists' primary goals - ending the monarchy and forcing an election for a Constituent Assembly. A commission investigating human rights abuses during the conflict is ongoing - it's thought that around 13,000 civilians died in the war, including over 8,000 killed by government forces. Torture, executions and press suppression were liberally applied.

In some ways, it's unfortunate that Far Cry 4 chose the civil war as one of its themes, since most Nepalis can't get away from it fast enough. As one can imagine, the instability wrecked Nepal's tourism-based economy for nearly a decade, even though tourists weren't particularly at risk. During the war, Maoist insurgents were known to stop trekkers on the trail and demand they pay a tax for using the roads - when the tourists paid, the insurgents issued them a receipt so they didn't get charged twice. Trekkers were known to make friends with Maoist squads on the trail, then grieve when they heard via radio that the rebels they'd marched beside had been ambushed and killed.
Today, the civil war is a painful memory, and a part of me fears Far Cry 4 will reinforce the mistaken impression that Nepal isn't safe for tourists (in fact, not a single tourist was killed, even as the war raged).

Furthermore, the emphasis on conflict takes focus away from the local culture which is extremely welcoming, hospitable and gracious. While I understand that this was a Far Cry game, and Far Cry's ultimately a shooting game, I wish that there were a better way to interact with the Kyratis rather than shooting and "Press X to Gain Karma."

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Progress vs. Tradition

Golden Path Missions emphasize the cultural rift in many Himalayan countries, and while I'm impressed that Ubisoft highlighted a dynamic that absolutely plays a role in Nepal, the choices were far too extreme.

While it's true that there's a push-pull relationship between tradition and modernization in Nepal, it's not as clear-cut as Far Cry 4 presents it. While the Maoists did take to cultivating opium and marijuana as cash crops during the war, they didn't aim to make the country a drug state as Amita suggests.

Sabal clinging to child marriage is also realistic, but lacking nuance. Nepal's laws set the legal age of marriage at 18 with parental consent and 20 without, but in reality, rural Nepalis marry in their teens. A 2013 study found that 41% of women aged 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18 - but many rural Nepalis now get married in "love match" elopements rather than arranged marriages. While they're still marrying young, elopement gives women more of a say than they had previously.

The partisan divide also isn't as rigid as the game suggests. For example, some of the more traditional Nepalis I met - the ones who sneered at television, iPhones and western medicine - were also big advocates for alternative energy and ending harmful traditions like gambling at festivals. Moreover, the progressives continually worried about how widening roads might destroy architecture or how modernizing may impact old beliefs.

Diverse voices make up Nepal, and I felt the game simplified and stratified these perspectives.

If You Like The Game, Consider Visiting Nepal

My greatest hope for Far Cry 4 is that it encourages more people to see Nepal. Sweeping mountain ranges, world-class hiking and historic architecture draw many travelers, but what keeps them coming back are the people. Hospitable, tough, hardworking and with a tight sense of community, Nepalis continually amaze you.

Far Cry 4, despite a noble effort, didn't capture the Nepali spirit.

At the right time of year, airlines offer $900 flights from New York to Kathmandu. That's a lot of money, sure, but it's worth saving for, and I bet it's less than you expected. As I've pointed out before, that's like going to PAX once or twice, and once you're in Nepal, accommodations, food and services are very cheap.
If you finished Far Cry wishing it gave you a deeper view of the Himalayas, the best thing would be to see them for yourself.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Hong Kong. His articles have appeared in The Escapist and Slate. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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