The Artistic Disconnect in Game Reviews
I recently ran into an article on The Polygon by Arthur Geis. It's a review of Far Cry 3:
Ubisoft Montreal seems to want to point at what you’re doing and ask, "Isn’t this f*cked up?" But the story fails to sell Jason’s growing detachment or discomfort over that detachment, and what’s left often felt exploitative and pointless, dotted with misogyny and homophobia that only works for shock value. Is this hamfisted presentation of problematic imagery and, honestly, gross stereotypes, an issue unique to Far Cry 3? Well, no — see Resident Evil 5, for example. It’s not even unique to video games. The portrayal of post-colonial themes and Western encroachment on other cultures is something that storytelling aimed at mass markets has had a lot of trouble with for decades. But that doesn’t make it easier for me to swallow it here.
His final score?
FAR CRY 3 IS AN OTHERWISE SUPERB GAME MARRED BY SOME MAJOR TONAL ISSUES.
The story's sour notes mar what is, otherwise, one of the best games of the year. If you can look past its thematic problems, Far Cry 3’s story isn’t without genuine invention and surprise — there’s a hallucinatory aspect that allows for surprising, disorienting sections of narrative and character development, as well as gameplay moments that defy the basic reality of the rest of the game. When the story isn’t standing in its way, Far Cry 3 sees enormous success with its wide-open world and all the numerous things there are to do therein. Ubisoft has created a mechanically ambitious, exciting game.
In the comments, I noticed some people defending Arthur's concerns over troubling colonial motifs and I couldn't help but notice a bit of cognitive dissonance:
1) Arthur is troubled by the racism and homophobia, so much so that he feels compelled to single it out in his review.
2) Arthur gives the game a 9/10.
I left a comment under the article about this, but I feel like there is a greater issue at play here:
I don't think you can have a serious reservations about sexisim/racism in a game review and then in good conscience give it such a high score. A high score in such a case implies one of two things:
1) You don't take those reservations seriously
2) You don't view video games as a medium warranting the same critiques as other media. Those graphics sure were great, huh?
I won't speak for Arthur, but I cannot see how we could resolve such conflicts. It seems so strange to me that someone would explicitly discuss the age-old white man saving the native man argument, and how it fundamentally bothers him, and then proceed to give the game a 9/10. What does that say about the reviewer? What does that say about games?
Full disclosure: I'm looking forward to playing Far Cry 3 based purely on the gameplay footage. I haven't seen much about story, but I thought Far Cry 2 was well-handled.