Aaron, Far Cry 5
Growing up in Montana in the 1990s, I developed a strange fascination with the anti-government movements that permeated the state during that time. The new media in the states became enamored with the tales of the Unibomber’s one-man war against technology from an off the grid shack outside of Lincoln. In the Eastern part of the state, video feeds and pictures flooded in from Garfield County where the Montana Freeman faced off against the might of federal law enforcement in a climate tense with the memories of Waco and Ruby Ridge. In the far western reaches, the Militia of Montana became famous for their predictions of Y2K doom while making a small profit on guides to prepare for the forthcoming apocalypse. Amongst all this hung the seeming shadows of rebellion against the government, with events like siege of Ruby Ridge, the storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, and the Oklahoma City Bombing fresh in the national consciousness. With the release of Ubisoft’s Far Cry 5this March, set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, I got to relive these experiences of my youth through a whole new lens.
The plot of Far Cry 5centers around a rookie sheriff’s deputy trapped by a doomsday religious movement that has overrun the remote Hope County and needing to untie allies to help free the county. While the prospect of a cult being able to overrun the government of a part of the United States seems the type of scenario that could only exist in the realm of fiction, there is precedence for it happening recently in the real world. The Rajneesh movement, followers of an Indian guru, purchased a large ranch in northeast Oregon in the early 1980s, and began seeking to establish an independent community in the remote northwest. The commune became a media circus, as reporters flocked to the ranch to beam images of the unique religious movement into the homes of the American public. However, all was not as it seemed amongst the peaceful movement. After numerous run-ins with the county commissioners over developments of the ranch, the movement sought to install their own members on the county commission. Part of their plan, which involved bringing in homeless people to live on the compound as residents of the county was easily defeated legally, their other plan was far less harmless. Members of the movement acquired and grew samples of salmonella bacteria in a lab on the compound. In the lead up to the elections of November 1984, members of the group then spread the bacteria throughout restaurants and public buildings throughout the county seat and largest community in the county, The Dalles, Oregon. While the attack did little to impact the county elections, it did put dozens of people in the hospital and spread a wave of terror throughout The Dalles. A year later, evidence came to light tying the Rajneesh movement to the attacks, leading to the conviction of several high-profile members and the abandonment of the Oregon compound. It is noteworthy that this attack is the first documented incident of bioterrorism on United States soil, and to this day remains the largest ever to have occurred in the US.
The Rajneesh cult entered the realm of American pop culture in two memorable ways. First, as a plot line in the 1980s satirical comic strip Bloom County, then most memorably as the “names have been changed to protect the innocent” Movementarians in The Simpsons. The Bloom Countystoryline begins days before 1984 general election, with Meadow Party presidential candidate Bill the Cat disappearing from the campaign trail to join the Rajneesh movement in Oregon. Campaign managers Milo Bloom and Michael Binkley argue over whether rescuing Bill from the cult is worth it until the come to realization that Bill has taken the party’s check book and all the campaign funds. Thus, Milo and Bill’s vice-presidential candidate, Opus, take to the open road to rescue Bill before he bankrupts the party. In The Simpsons, Homer and the rest of the family join the Movementarians, a group heavily based on the Rajneesh movement but incorporating elements from other prominent cults of the 1990s such as a spaceship taking members to a new planet (Heaven’s Gate) and heavy-handed legal tactics (Scientology). The Movementarians gain enough power and influence in Springfield to purchase the local TV station, as well as recruit most the townspeople into the group, save for Rev. Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, and Groundskeeper Willie. The three help Marge deprogram the rest of the family before the scam of the movement is exposed.
However, both Bloom Countyand The Simpsonsgave me a very third-person experience when it came to the events they depicted. The decisions the characters are making were already been predetermined and it felt that I was simply along for the ride. On the other hand, Far Cry 5gave me a much more immersive experience because of its design. The game is what’s known as an open-world sandbox game, which means that I am free to customize my character in the game, explore the setting at will, and use any method I can find within the game to solve the problems I’m presented with, constrained only by my skill, imagination, or the restrictions coded in by the game developers. Because I am given the freedom to place myself into the game as I see fit, and the sense that my actions actually affect the outcome of the game, I became more invested in the story and that I was actually a part of the experience being told in the game. The game even hints at this with an opening cinematic that I found reminiscent of theAmerican Experiencedocumentaries aired on PBS, giving me a sense that they are living out a historical event. This cinematic neatly folds into the start of gameplay in which my three superiors in the department, a US Marshal that failed the section on Waco at the academy, and myself attempt to arrest the leader of the Project at Eden’s Gate (whose followers are affectionately known as peggies by the locals).
I am going to start spoiling a lot of the game here, so skip to the last paragraph is that kind of thing bugs you. Sending five lawmen into an armed cult compound to arrest their leader goes about as well as you’d expect and the game beings in earnest as I attempt to flee the armed cult members and make my way back to civilization, or at least cell service. Throughout the game, I made allies with numerous locals ranging from an African-American Gulf War Vet Catholic Priest to a diabetic grizzly bear and a cougar with a taste for human flesh (the large mountain cat, not the clientele at Sound Garden). As I made my way through the regions of the game, attempting to t disrupt enough of the cult’s infrastructure to force a final confrontation with the leader I was sent in to arrest in the first place, his lieutenants in each area, kept kidnapping me so they could either inflict me with psychological torture intended to make me one of the cult’s soldiers, drug-induced hallucinations intended to make me kill myself or turn me into one of the cult’s soldiers, or worst of all: Long gory televangelist spiels intended to make me accept the power of yes (seriously, first he sends you a video telling you to accept the power of yes, then he starts kidnapping you once you blow up enough of his stuff). The ending of the game leaves you with the choice of either confronting the cult leader with your fellow lawmen which ends either with a nuclear apocalypse with you the prisoner of the cult leader, trapped in a bunker being indoctrinated and everyone you met throughout the game dead … or its all just a giant drug-induced hallucination. The other option, is to retreat out of the county and come back with the national guard. This would be the most sensible choice, except as I was leaving with the remainder of my crew from the beginning, all that psychological solder stuff was triggered, possibly leading me to kill my compatriots.
What Far Cry 5does is take something that is so remote an experience to most people in the western world, fighting a cult, and makes it relatable and enjoyable through the medium of video games. While in the real world this experience is far from joyous or even manageable for those that experience it, having a video game provides a safe environment for people to understand the methods and experiences that go into being brought in and having to break out of psychological control. I found that by placing this experience in a video game, I got to experience a world, no matter how exaggerated it is, that has fascinated me since my youth.
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