As contemporary society becomes immersed in visual culture, extremist imagery is becoming progressively organised around a network of symbols, rituals, and collective meanings. Therefore, it is particularly informative to examine the correlation existing between cultural aspects of extremism and criminal transgression.
Traditionally, video games, especially violent ones, tend to avoid any recognisable settings or direct correlation with real-life foreign policy. However, this has not stopped them frequently being held up as scapegoats for violent acts perpetrated by predominantly young white men across the West. In particular, the visceral 1993 first-person shooter game Doom has been seen as a motivating factor in the Columbine High School Massacre, perpetrated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in 1999. More recently, Far Cry 5, released on 27th March 2018, attracted global media attention by setting its scenes within the fictional ‘Hope County’, a region located within the real-world state of Montana.
Earlier episodes in the Far Cry series had been notorious for the controversy caused by offensive depictions of the killing of indigenous peoples and its inclusion of themes that encompass rape and slavery. The latest episode, particularly the provocative decision to use the modern US as backdrop, is considered to be a direct response to the current political climate. Moreover, the ‘villains’ in Far Cry 5 are not native tribes, but a Caucasian faith-based American doomsday cult known as ‘Eden’s Gate’, thus leading to individuals objecting to the portrayal of American Christians as enemies. Significantly, the artwork of Far Cry 5 has provided powerful and recurrent images for alt-right propaganda, emphasising the intricate connections between religion, politics, and gun control, and portraying the members of ‘Eden’s Gate’ as a powerful militant organisation.
Although the cult of ‘Eden’s Gate’ may be unique in its design, the underlying concept has precedent based on reality. In January 2016, a group of armed extremists led by Ammon Bundy, occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, refusing to leave until the government handed over federal land to the citizens of Harney County. Consequently, parallels have emerged between Bundy and the charismatic fictional leader of ‘Eden’s Gate’, Joseph Seed, neither acting alone, but instead gaining strength from their devoted followers.
However, as ‘Eden’s Gate’ is characterised not solely as a militia group fighting for individual autonomy, but also as a radical ‘doomsday’ cult, it may thus have more real-life resonance with the Branch Davidians (an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church), than with the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. In 1993, led by their fanatical and charismatic leader David Koresh, the Branch Davidians were besieged in their compound in Waco, Texas, by US law enforcement supported by military units. The 51-day siege resulted in 76 deaths, including that of David Koresh. Much controversy centred on claims that the actions of members of law enforcement were overly aggressive, leading to right-wing extremists promoting the Waco Siege as an example of the government’s ability to exercise unwarranted power over its own citizens. One of the most infamous extremists outraged by the incident was Timothy McVeigh – a central and much-admired figure within the Neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division, – who in retaliation, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later, killing 168 people.
The parallels between Far Cry 5’s fictitious ‘Eden’s Gate’ and David Koresh’s real world Branch Davidians illustrates the political uncertainty and consequent rise in far-right ideology that is emerging within the US. The current instability within contemporary society partly stems from the 2008 global financial crisis, resulting in more and more people losing faith in the stability of the government, and unemployed individuals becoming evermore disenfranchised and more susceptible to the adoption of extreme views. Far Cry 5 is not about ‘white people versus the world’ but is, instead, an ‘us against them’ narrative – ‘them’ being any individual that opposes ‘Eden’s Gate’s’ way of life. Effectively, video games are becoming more adept at interweaving fictional elements of popular culture and political activism. Furthermore, the religious symbolism portrayed in the artwork of Far Cry 5, particularly references to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ and the bread and wine of the Eucharist, can be interpreted as the rise of the religious right, , a strategically organised minority that has found itself more powerful than ever under President Trump.
What has become clear is that no matter how escapist in design or intent video games may be, they are the by-products of, and therefore reflect, the political, social, and cultural frameworks from which they emerge. Far Cry 5 demonstrates the increasing difficulty of developing counter-measures to the socio-economic and political factors at the core of the radicalisation process. Far Cry 5 puts the player directly in the shoes of a police deputy fighting an anti-government religious extremist group, which significantly bears very close resemblance to a contemporary separatist movement in American society. The audience is thus encouraged to apply the artificial ‘realities’ of the fictitious ‘Eden’s Gate and ‘Hope County’ to their individual experience within the real world. Generating fear and interweaving it with elements of truth, if only partial, makes for compelling propaganda, thus making video games like Far Cry 5, rooted in the complex politics of the modern US, particularly persuasive.
Ms Ashton Kingdon is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in Department of Economic, Social and Political Sciences at the University of Southampton. See her profile here.
© Ashton Kingdon Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).