What Far Cry 6 Gets Wrong About Cuba
But you’ve been on this island before.
For decades, both the Cuban Revolution and the Castro dictatorship that followed it have been among the most popular scenarios for the representation of Latin American culture in video games.
This trope started at least as early as 1987 when Japanese developer SNK released Guevara, a top-down shoot-’em-up arcade game featuring the exploits of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban revolutionary forces in their battle against dictator Fulgencio Batista. In a notable example of cultural and political localization, SNK changed the title, characters, and setting for the game’s US release, swapping out the communist guerrillas for an anonymous force fighting against a king and generically dubbing it Guerrilla War.
And let’s be honest, there’s not that much new in the way Far Cry 6 portrays Cuba. If you have ever played Guerrilla War—or, for that matter, Goldeneye 007, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Just Cause, Call of Duty: Black Ops, or the Tropico series—you have inhabited a simulation of revolutionary Cuba. And therefore you will be familiar with the signifiers that convey the country’s cultural and geographical landscape in games like Far Cry 6: 1950s-era cars, bearded revolutionaries, tropical foliage, salsa music, guerrilla warfare, colonial architecture, the Bay of Pigs invasion, rum, and cigars.
Even still, there are refreshing and novel aspects of the representation of Latin American culture in Far Cry 6. It is truly noteworthy that all of the main characters—at all points along the moral spectrum of the game—are characters from Latin America, even if the island they call home is fictitious. Yara is also broken into regions of cultural and natural diversity, bringing the player to engage with characters of different generations, races, genders, backgrounds, and abilities in a variety of geographic locales. One day you’re working with the Monteros, tobacco farmers with country roots; the next day you’re planning an operation with urban university groups Máximas Matanzas and La Moral; and the day after that you’re collaborating with the Heroes of ’67, encamped deep in the mountainous interior of Yara. Best of all, while you sit around at the Heroes’ revolutionary camp, you can partake in some staples of real-life Caribbean culture by learning to play dominoes while listening to some Cuban jazz.
But for years, the Far Cry series has been rightfully criticized for its colonialist tendencies. For example, digital artist and game critic Ansh Patel points out that the “malaria meter” used in the African setting of Far Cry 2 reinforces imperialist notions of foreign lands as inherently hostile and in need of civilizing intervention, while game studies scholar Souvik Mukherjee argues that the representation of South Asia in Far Cry 4 reflects the way video games’ depictions of history frequently rely upon colonial methodologies and assumptions.
There is certainly evidence that the Far Cry 6 team has attempted to evolve in response to critics. They varied up the “white male savior” narrative by featuring a Latina protagonist—although the player still has to choose to hit the “gender button,” so to speak, to play as a woman, and the choice notably has little-to-no effect on gameplay and story progression. Likewise, the developers have awkwardly woven some nods to decolonial critique into the game’s progress-through-annihilation gameplay. A reference to Puerto Rican independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos is something—but why that, instead of a reference to Cuba’s own voice of independence and national hero, José Martí? And while the team may have been attempting to appeal to a Spanish-speaking audience by incorporating untranslated Spanish dialog into the game, a disproportionate amount of that dialog is shouted out by anonymous Yarans as the player guns them down.