The first thing that immediately stood out to me when I initially previewed Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon wasn't the neon, it wasn't the hark back to the ridiculousness of the 80's, it wasn't even the blood dragons themselves. That's because I didn't get to see much of any of that before being hit with a gay, possibly homophobic joke.
If you've played the game, maybe you've come across it. It happens right at the start, during our introduction to the game—Rex 'Power' Colt is talking to Spider. If you'd like to watch it, it's in the video above. Here's the transcript:
Spider: Wakie wakie, motherfucker. Ops says there's a delay in the feed, they need to recalibrate your ass.
Spider: Well it ain't me 'cause I'm goddamn near perfect. Men want to be me—
Rex: And you want to be with men, yeah, I got it.
[Scene pauses on Spider's face for a second before Spider says something else.]
The context here is clear: in order to take Spider down a peg for his comment about being perfect, Rex implies Spider is gay. The pause right after the comment cements it as a "GOTCHA!" moment.
But was it harmful? Was the harm intentional, even—and if it wasn't intentionally harmful, did that matter? These were the questions I had a difficult time answering.
I wasn't really sure what to think at the time, but I made sure to ask creative director Dean Evans about it.
Kotaku: So one thing I noticed, there were a couple of homophobic jokes in there. What's that about?
[Evans was drinking a beer, which at this point he starts choking on. He puts his drink down.]
Evans: It is the least homophobic game you will ever, ever play. EVER.
Kotaku: Okay. Well I just noticed a couple of things—
Evans: Like what? Like what! Give us an example.
Kotaku: Well at the start, the guy was like, I can't remember his name, but he was like, "All men want to be me," and the other guy interjected, "And you want to be with all men."
Evans: How is that homophobic?
Kotaku: You don't think that's homophobic?
Evans: No. What if he's gay?
Kotaku: What if he's gay. Is he gay? He might be?
Evans: Did you read what was on his…uh, can you read Japanese?
Evans: There's a little secret for you.
Evans: Honestly, if you knew the people who were working on this game, you'd realize it's the least homophobic game, if you knew our sexual orientations, you'd realize it's the least homophobic game out there.
Later, as if nervous, in between my other questions:
Evans: The writer, Lucian, Lucien Soulban, is one of the biggest, biggest gays in the world.
[I laughed nervously at this information, it seemed to come out of nowhere.]
Evans: He's like a bear, he's amazing…massive, sculpted beard, giant, hairy back, you see him in the weekend, he's got like, ball gags. To get back to…so we can be nice and frank with each other, just so you know, we are the least homophobic core team you're probably gonna meet in the business.
I still didn't know how to feel. The next day, after I wrote about the game, I asked a couple of people what they thought. For the most part, it seemed as if the reactions fell into two camps: no, it's not homophobic, or well, it's kind of harmless, isn't it?
I let it go and decided against printing the part of the interview about the joke. I did that even though I recognized in my gut that yes, it was a homophobic joke—despite being bros, and even if Spider is actually gay, Rex tries to undermine Spider's masculinity, not laud it.
Our own Chris Person has a theory—maybe the headband somehow signifies that Spider and Rex aren't just bros, but possibly lovers?
He calls spider gay as a joke. Spider is wearing that headband. Spider gets killed, and his headband falls off, he swears vengence, and when he wears it later in the game, it's to signify some sort of spiritual change, saying that on some level he is more than a machine, he has "a human heart".
There's nothing to prove [that they were lovers], yes, but that he would specifically bring it up is interesting.
His theory partially comes from Brian Ashcraft's translation of the headband:
The first two kanji characters say ”人の" (人 = hito = person; の = no = 's), and from looking at the third character, I'm guessing it says "愛" ("ai" or "love), but it's blurry and really hard to make out...so maybe it says "人の愛" ("hito no ai" or "A person's love").
Writing "人の愛" on a headband is just so awkward sounding to me in Japanese. Usually people would probable write something like "二人の愛" ( "futari no ai" or "two people's love"), instead of a singular ”人の愛". Writing something like "人の心" or "hito no kokoro" ("A person's heart" or "A person's spirit") seems far more natural, but even then...
Not much to go off of, in terms of contextualizing the scene, I'd say—so I'm not sure I buy the theory. On top of that, thinking about Evan's response regarding the sexuality of the developers and how that means the game couldn't possibly be homophobic—I don't think your identity somehow exempts you from saying something harmful. I've certainly said sexist things in the past despite being a woman, for example. Regardless, I decided against saying anything because it still feels like tricky territory to call someone out on something like this when the creators themselves are gay.
And more importantly than that, for some reason, all I could think was—well, maybe it is harmless? Maybe it's okay, even? Which, looking back now, seems baffling for a number of reasons. The joke isn't funny, for one. It's not a satire of the 80's or its machismo—it reinforces some archaic ideas of what a real man is. Whether or not it's homophobic is clear to me, the only thing that's left is deciding whether or not you find that offensive. Taking a step back from Far Cry 3 here, let's look at the big picture: What does it mean, to consider a homophobic joke "harmless?"
We are taught to pick our battles, that's part of it. Something small like this gets looked over for the blatant and aggressively bigoted. A 'small' joke like that looks silly in comparison to, say, the Westboro Baptist Church. With Westboro, the danger seems clear—but it's also a comically extreme position, no? Does something have to go that far for it to pose a sort of danger that's worth calling out? Does it not follow that letting "small" things pass creates a culture that silently tells people it's okay to be bigoted?
Reexamining now, after seeing someone tweet about how it took like 90 seconds before Blood Dragon needlessly threw out a homophobic joke, I can't help but wonder if I thought of it in the right way, initially.
The people this affects—they have a lifetime of 'harmless' jokes jabbing them as they go along. Does that not build up? Maybe they laugh. Maybe they shrug it off. Maybe they make the jokes too. You need to be able to do these things, really—you need to be able to take it on the chin. How else will you cope with a society that seems unable to accept who you are? How do you deal with being constantly told that you can't even be upset about it—just a joke, jeez!
Much of this is like perpetually having a tiny rock in your shoe. It's a annoyance, albeit a small one. Harmless, if you will.
Maybe you feel tired—maybe you think to yourself: god, fuck, here we are again. Talkin' about sensitive issues like sexuality and gender. We are all tired, I assure you. Some people more than others. I'm willing to bet that the people who are the most tired are those who are constantly under attack by malicious and "harmless" things alike, though. Funnily enough they are the ones who have to shrug it off.
I am not gay, but I know how these "harmless" jokes build up over time—I think, for example, having my family constantly joke about when I'm getting married, or about my weight. It is harmless; they don't intend to be hurtful—in the same way that I doubt the people behind Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon were intentionally trying to be harmful or homophobic. That's fine, though it doesn't mean it can't end up being hurtful anyway.
Much of this is like perpetually having a tiny rock in your shoe. It's a annoyance, albeit a small one. Harmless, if you will. Small enough that you could live with it if you really wanted to, maybe even ignore it despite the blisters.
Is the joke harmless? It's a pebble in a shoe.