Here are a few things you can expect Far Cry 3 to include: shark-punching, pirate-killing, hang gliding and, oh, rape. For those playing, maybe that's not surprising—as you go along, you suspect it'll happen at any moment. Your friends have been captured, and two of these friends are attractive young women. One is an award-winning swimmer and the other is a Hollywood actress.
There are a couple of instances where the game almost threatens a rape: a camera lingering between the legs of a woman, or a villain touching your girlfriend in an uncomfortable way will trigger alarms. You're anticipating rape.
And then it happens—not explicitly, not on-screen, but it's hinted at. Only it's not what you're expecting. It didn't happen to the women. Actually, it turns out to be a guy; one of your friends was taken into an underground basement to become a sex slave for an Australian criminal.
Male on male rape: something that media barely touches or acknowledges as possible.
When you try to free that friend, the rapist stops you, saying, "I can take you bloody if you'd like, I like my meat red."
Male on male rape: something that media barely touches or acknowledges as possible. Nevermind video games.
I've tried to make sense of what the game does with its depiction of rape. I have three theories; I'm not sure which to believe.
Rape as a testament to island savagery/insanity
The game takes a handful of spoiled millennials who go on vacation to party and forget about life's troubles back home. Home is where they might not have a job, where they're dealing with figuring out what to do with their lives, where they feel disenfranchised.
Then they get to Rook Islands and all that stuff seems miniscule in comparison to being taken captive, to getting sold into slavery, to the jungle and machetes and tigers and sharks, to poverty and vicious pirates. Rape, in this reading, is just another thing that can happen in a nearly lawless archipelago.
I mean, that's what the box implies, anyway—and I quote:
JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF INSANITY
Far off the charts lies an island unlike any other. A place where heavily armed warlords traffic in slaves. Where outsiders are hunted for ransom. And as you embark on a desperate quest to rescue your friends, you realize that the only way to escape this darkness is TO EMBRACE IT.
Chaos reigns, basically. It's a difficult ethos to argue against when you consider situations like "everything burns around you while a crocodile nips at your feet and you're just trying to pull a damn bullet out of your arms and oh, there are pirates shooting at your head" are common.
But when I say "savagery" or "insanity," it's a very specific type of savagery and insanity. Very video gamey. It exists not to unsettle you (even though that is the intent!) but to exhilarate you. Your heart races, the adrenaline gets going.
Whatever crazy situation you're in right now isn't supposed to make you uneasy or make you think about how you've suddenly turned into a monster just to survive. Nothing is nearly that developed in Far Cry 3: you're a scared wimp for like a second at the start and then the game opens up.
I imagine most players will take this as an opportunity to go kill some stuff and cause chaos, and will forget, through no fault of their own, any possible moral nuance. It's like the game recognizes this will happen, and as a precautionary measure goes, "Well, there's rape in here. Are you convinced now that this island is crazy and anything could happen?"
It's all for show, man. For your entertainment. There is no reflection.
In this reading, "rape" can be one of the adjectives the game throws at you in the loading screen, the type of thing that will happen in the game and you're supposed to get excited about because it's so edgy or something. Run. Kill. Shoot. Lick. Let's add one more to the mix: rape.
This would also explain why SPOILERS one of the endings sees you thrusting madly into a woman before climaxing. It's one of many things written down in a (hopefully) imaginary excel sheet that's probably saved as AWESOME/DISTURBINGSHITWEGOTTAINCLUDE.XLS. Murder, sex, rape, drugs, torture, dubstep, flamethrowers and punchin' sharks: all included in said spreedsheet.
It's all for show, man. For your entertainment. There is no reflection. What ends up happening is that a typically horrendous thing turns into something flippant, something throwaway—much like, say, killing stuff in most games tends to be.
Rape as an obstacle to overcome in your quest to reclaim manhood
To me, Far Cry 3 is a story about how Jason Brody, the protagonist, reclaims manhood. City life doesn't breed real men, the game argues—at least, not the type of men that would survive on Rook Islands. The start of the game makes a contrast between you and your brother, a rugged example of virility who knows how to kill a man. You, meanwhile, pause and squirm the first time you sink a blade into another person.
The game has light RPG elements, where you can upgrade skills denoted by tatau (tattoos, basically.) The islanders seem to be Maori, which would explain the Ta Moko, which are body and face markings used by the Maori. The curious thing is that these types of permanent marks are literally carved onto your skin with chisels, not punctured. The marks are a sign of social status, typically denoting milestones between childhood and adulthood, according to Wikipedia. The type of stuff that you accompany with rites and rituals.
You accrue these tattoos on your arm as you become more powerful, with characters in the game encouraging to go further and further into your path to becoming a real warrior. A real man, if you would. Everything you do in the game points this way: the killing, the survival skills (skinning animals, crafting), learning how to defend yourself against ferocious creatures (which are sometimes introduced to you within the context of manhood—the crocodile's description says the beast is involved in a rite of passage where many boys die.)
The rapist threatens your manhood. Your entire interaction always hinges on him reminding you that he has power over you, that you should know your place: listen to his diatribes on history, don't get ahead of yourself, bear his insults, and then top all that off by calling him "sir." And if you don't? Well, he's just gonna kill your friend, that's what.
Far Cry 3 is a story about how Jason Brody, the protagonist, reclaims manhood.
It's a strange relationship for Jason Brody to have, when the rest of the game is so intent on empowering you and convincing you that you are the (white) messiah that the island needs. Here's a guy that doesn't respect the path you've set out on, doesn't recognize it. And let's remind ourselves that rape is very much a power dynamic, where one person exerts dominance over someone else. Someone who is so beneath the rapist, that the victim isn't granted a choice in what happens to their body.
The danger of rape looms if you fail in a one-on-one fight with this person. The rape won't happen, of course. That section of the game ends with you killing him. Woo, manhood threat eliminated! Jason earns the right to have yet another tattoo etched onto his skin.
Rape as a thing that not even Ubisoft knows WTF is doing in the game
This one, I'm afraid is the most likely. I'm afraid the previous readings are a desperate attempt to give Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt when in actuality there's no reason they decided to include rape in the game. Or at least not a well-realized reason.
Maybe I'm cynical, but it's difficult to take something like this seriously when it happens so quickly and is barely addressed. Why is the rape in there if it's just going to be a short line that nobody really talks about? Why suddenly reveal that the Australian captor is actually keeping your friend as a sex slave without exploring it? Are we supposed to care when we've never met that friend before? Are we supposed to feel appalled when don't see the rape or its consequences?
I almost want to criticize all of that, but the rest of the game is equally superficial in its handling of anything. The developers claim it's so that the player can make its his or her mind, but there's simply not enough there for that to happen. Everything is a brief line that tries to carry the weight of a story, to establish characterization or motivation.
Maybe I'm cynical, but it's difficult to take something like this seriously when it happens so quickly and is barely acknowledged.
And the game fails spectacularly in convincing you that stuff beyond the ability to freely roam the island as you wish actually has merit or is worth thinking/talking about. Not hitting you over the head with what something means and simply showing you (rape/drugs/sex, etc) is something games CAN do—but Ubisoft definitely fumbles in trying to make that work.
Maybe this is a hard truth to swallow. We like to continually afford games "artistic license" in what they do, and this is how sensitive subjects like rape are considered—artistic license. Games should be able to tackle rape, the argument goes, because gosh darn it aren't we all adults here? Aren't games supposed to be mature and progressive?
Sure. But the mere inclusion of a sensitive subject doesn't come packaged with a nuanced, worthwhile or interesting exploration/presentation. And as long as that's true, you can't pull out the "artistic license" card when a game like Far Cry 3 stumbles in what it depicts. If we're going to say that games should be able to tackle mature subjects, then let's hold them to scrutiny which validates that artistic license, damnit. We're not in kindergarten anymore. Trying doesn't deserve a gold star.