I’ve been Macarena-ing my way through Far Cry 6 this week, enjoying the tropical sights of fictional South American island Yara and laying siege to the tobacco fields governed by tyrant Anton Castillo. It’s a great game – tonally all over the place, but mechanically engaging nonetheless – but I can’t help feeling shocked by the sheer number of documents strewn all over the place.
Apparently the people of Yara are united over two things: their loathing of the aforementioned incumbent dictator and their love of hand-written notes. Seriously, this game has interactive pieces of paper everywhere: they’re perched on desks, dumped in fireplaces, pinned on whiteboards, attached to fridges, stashed under beds, and lodged up the asses of NPCs – alright, maybe not so much the last one, but this is a big open world and we’re yet to see everything in it. You never know.
Someone, somewhere at Ubisoft Toronto – or Ubisoft Montreal or Ubisoft Shanghai or Ubisoft Odesa or Ubisoft Berlin or Ubisoft Kyiv or Ubisoft Philippines or Ubisoft Pune or Ubisoft Bucharest or Ubisoft Winnipeg or Ubisoft Montpellier or Ubisoft Quebec – worked really, really hard writing thousands upon thousands of text documents for this game.
And I haven’t read a single one of them.
In fact, I lie, I read the first three or four of them. Then I got bored of that. They exist to add depth to the lore, I suppose – it’s all about making Yara feel like a real place. I imagine – I don’t know for sure, because I didn’t read them – there’ll be some notes that characterise the villains a bit more, and also give you a better impression of who your allies are.
But this is a game that segues from hard and heavy stuff like Castillo squeezing the sharp end of a pin badge into his son’s palm to missions involving a maniacal chicken – it’s got some brilliant moments, but it’s hardly going to win a Pulitzer Prize. Exactly why Ubisoft thinks I want to read its approximately one billion pieces of paper, I’ll never know.
It’s not the only guilty party, though, is it? In fact, most games are like this. Deathloop is another one I played over the holidays where apparently every character has time to sit penning an epistle every day. To be fair to Arkane Studios, those characters are stuck in a loop, so they can probably justify it better than, say, you or I (and this is my job).
But is it the best means of storytelling? Like, I enjoy a good book, don’t get me wrong – but in Deathloop I can’t say I ever really felt like I knew the Visionaries. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t reading all of the lore, but I personally think it’s one of the biggest flaws of a game that’s received overwhelming critical acclaim. In Hitman I feel like IO Interactive tends to show me who I’m killing, but in Deathloop it feels like they want me to read about them instead.
I’m not against letters and notes being a core storytelling method, I’m talking about them being a crux. I don’t mind documents in, say, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One for example, because it makes sense there would be clues that you’d discover through discarded letters and the like. But even in that game – a detective title, nonetheless – there’s about a quarter the amount of text as Far Cry 6.
I just can’t help but question who this is for, and who’s stopping to read it all. I remember being amazed when I played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the first time and discovered that you could quite literally take a book off a shelf and read pages upon pages of story; the same of the computer terminals in the Fallout games. But after attempting to digest this stuff for like, oh, 30 seconds, and feeling my eyelids come down, I rarely bother beyond that.
Who is reading all these documents? And if the answer is no one, then why is so much of it getting written?
How often do you stop to read the vast amounts of text in games these days? Are you tired of this being used as a storytelling crux, or do you think it very much depends on the game and the content? Thanks for reading this article in the comments section below.