The internet pretty much broke when the first poster for Ubisoft’s upcoming Far Cry 5 went public in late May. The poster did something which is practically unheard of for AAA titles: it featured villains who were white, American, Christian, and apparently, white supremacist. Holy crap. Well, this year’s E3 just ended, and we’ve found out a lot more about Far Cry 5, but what we saw didn’t quite fall in line with our expectations. In reality, the villains of the game don’t seem to be white supremacists at all — which is fine. But that does make some of the imagery the game uses, uh… problematic.
If you haven’t seen Far Cry 5’s poster — which, let’s face it, you have — it features an American flag whose stars have been replaced with Iron Crosses. The Iron Cross, of course, is a registered white supremacy symbol. This caused, er, ripples online.
It’s no secret that we’ve been facing rising white nationalist movements here in the U.S., and a lot of *definitely not Nazis* took offense at their apparent depiction in a negative light in Ubisoft’s upcoming title. The game appeared to take a very direct stance on our modern socio-political climate, especially considering the modernity of Far Cry’s setting. The poster’s impact on the interwebs was palpable — countless articles about the new Far Cry’s imminent controversy in the Trumpian era were written. There was even supposedly a petition to cancel the game (though it may have been intended as satire.)
That was all last month. Now, in the wake of 2017’s E3, we’ve all gotten to see a whole lot more of Far Cry 5, and it looks like the game is something none of us were quite expecting. We already knew that the game is based around a radicalized Christian doomsday cult in rural Montana, and unsurprisingly, there’s a whole lot more Iron Crosses than the flag’s 50 from the poster. Our expectations started to fail us, though, when we actually got a look at these cultists; you see, our apparent white-supremacist villains are surprisingly diverse. What’s more, the designers seem very reluctant to discuss racial issues through interviews, or through their work. Which is odd, considering their bold co-opting of white supremacist imagery.
Far Cry 5 very clearly adopts the Iron Cross as its signature cult branding. The symbols are everywhere. On cars, flags, trench coats, and tattoos, the Iron Cross is practically a trademarked Ubisoft logo at this point. This is all somewhat troubling, considering the history of the symbol.
The Iron Cross was a German military medal which, during World War II, became a Nazi symbol, and has been known as such ever since.
The imagery Ubisoft chose for Far Cry 5 seems pretty insensitive, considering that the game isn’t actually about white supremacists. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of potential to explore themes of paranoia and isolation with a non-racialized cult. And it’s fine that the game isn’t about killing white supremacists — we’ve got the new Wolfenstein to look forward to for that. But the game is conflicted by its imagery. You can either make a game about a non-racialized group of paranoid doomsday-preppers, or a game with enemies branded by white-supremacy symbols. You can’t do both. If Far Cry isn’t about race, Ubisoft shouldn’t have branded the game with the Iron Cross. It’s not only irresponsible and unfitting, but also potentially quite harmful.
In an era where Nazis and online edge-lords alike seem to be constantly advocating for ambiguity in what constitutes white supremacy, Far Cry 5’s imagery is very troubling. Presenting a white supremacy sign as in no way associated with racism blurs the line between what is and isn’t a hate symbol. It helps enable white supremacy pervade our culture in the subtlest way that Nazis can manage. And it further enables the rhetoric that “you can’t prove I’m a Nazi. I’m just a normal non-racist who likes putting 👌 next to 🥛 in my Twitter bio.” To present the Iron Cross as non-racialized doesn’t erase that it’s a white supremacy symbol. What it does do is to make it more acceptable for Nazis to use it and symbols like it in everyday life. In other words, Ubisoft is normalizing coded white-supremacy.
So why would Ubisoft use the Iron Cross in the first place? One possibility is pure insensitivity. Ubisoft isn’t exactly known for their sharp cultural awareness, after all. I mean, this is a company which framed slaves as commodities in a game about how slavery is bad. It may have also been deliberately designed to generate attention from the public and increase sales. Personally, I’d put my money on the former, but we certainly shouldn’t ignore their profit motive.
It’s a shame that Ubisoft didn’t have the foresight or the consideration to see how problematic Far Cry 5’s imagery would be, because the game looks genuinely interesting and fun. Not to mention surprisingly meditative on the nature of isolation, paranoia, and religion. And who knows; the game might just prove to be way more introspective and culturally aware than I’m giving it credit for. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t bet on it.