Dani Rojas hops into a sports car parked on the side of a dusty road in the mountainous eastern province of Far Cry 6’s setting: the fictional island nation of Yara. The car is conveniently unlocked, and its engine turns over without needing a key or any evident hotwiring, its speakers tuning to a radio station that plays Camila Cabello’s 2017 single, “Havana.” Dani sings along to the track as the car crashes through fern-covered valleys and off rocky cliffs on the way to the yellow icon of her next mission’s map marker. She knows all the words, from the “ooo-nah nahs” to the repeating lyric, “My heart is in Havana.”
Havana, to her, may not actually exist.
On January 8th, 1959, Fidel Castro entered Havana in triumph after years of fighting Fulgencio Batista’s government as the leader of the revolutionary 26th of July Movement. The city, along with the rest of the country, had been wrested from the hands of a dictator happy to sell out the Cuban peoples’ future to American interests, corporate and (overtly) criminal alike. Castro’s Cuba was duly punished for its revolution, its government subject to coup and assassination attempts and the entire nation forced to suffer under an economic blockade that would increase in severity as the country adopted communism and a close relationship with the Soviet Union.
Everything in this very brief summary happened. Cuba, it goes without saying, exists.
"El Presidente" Antón Castillo assumed absolute power over Yara following years of imprisonment by the revolutionary government that deposed his father back in 1967. As ruler, he oversees a brutal national policy that seeks to bolster Yara’s economy by enslaving the poor and setting them to work in tobacco fields which, somehow, produce a cancer-curing miracle drug. He wears a red and white military uniform that would camouflage him only when standing at certain angles in front of stop signs and gives speeches condemning US imperialism and political hypocrisy. He employs an army dedicated to destroying the guerilla groups, like the Libertad movement Dani’s a part of, which work to overthrow him with a form of armed terror only slightly less well organized than his own.
His story is useless. It means nothing. It never happened and what we learn from following it from inception to conclusion is almost as miniscule as its relation to reality.
Yara seems to have erupted, Krakatoa-style from somewhere on the Caribbean seafloor to form an island that stares at Cuba like an Annihilation-style doppelganger, both mirroring and distorting the history, culture, and politics of its neighbour into a strange new form tailor-fit to the needs of a videogame studio determined never to have much of an opinion about anything that isn’t a quarterly earnings report.
Castillo is clearly meant to call Fidel Castro to mind, though his creators would doubtless encourage us not to draw this kind of obvious and unflattering parallel. To be fair, he has no discernible political opinions other than a disdain for everyone who isn’t him. He scorns America despite Far Cry 6 referencing the nation only obliquely as a land where refugees seek new homes and a place where curiously disinterested politicians ignore the vastly well-armed power within boating distance from their coast. He is an authoritarian, though the nature of his government is obscured beyond its embrace of militarism and its hatred of free expression. Castillo is not a communist or a capitalist, not a Castro or a Batista, and, we are told, not Cuban because Cuba is a country different from Yara, if it exists at all.
The blank slate of his dictatorial evil could, theoretically, function apart from any reference to actual history or geography if it wasn’t for the strangely specific references Far Cry 6 does feel qualified to make. One of the game’s enemies, for instance, is a Canadian businessman called Sean McKay, who invests in Yaran infrastructure in order to enrich himself, selling Yara’s miracle cancer cure overseas while installing environmentally devastating and community-destroying pipelines. His presence and role in the story is bizarrely pointed in a narrative that otherwise ducks specificity whenever possible. Possibly emboldened by the fact that the game’s development was led by Ubisoft Toronto and that, more directly, most non-Canadians don’t give a shit about Canada generally, McKay and his business interests are meant to stand in not just for the Keystone XL pipeline, an apparently eternal skin tag on the nation’s body politic, but also Canada’s historic role as oft-vulturous economic “friend” to Cuba.
For all the refreshing specifics of McKay’s inclusion, though, any consideration of his character’s wider context leads to the same dead-ends as the rest of Far Cry 6’s reality-obscuring fictions. For a start: Canada exists because of McKay, and his prime minister is, we can assume, Justin Trudeau, whose political background is tied in some respects to Cuba+. The concrete existence of both Canada as a national entity that trades with Yara and references to its neighbour, the United States, implies some kind of relationship between our world and that of Far Cry 6. And with that relationship, and the iconography of Castillo and Yara generally, it’s impossible not to start dreaming up a whole series of other questions inconvenient to the game’s existence.
Which political bloc did Yara align with during its 1960s revolution or beforehand? Were its guerillas inspired by any of the revolutions that took place in the decades surrounding its own? Did they read about Puerto Rico or Venezuela or Brazil before their campaign? Or Cuba? Or Peru or Chile or Argentina? For that matter, what books did the guerillas read in general? Which songs did they sing? Who were their heroes? Libertad’s leader can quote Simón Bolívar and Pedro Albizu Campos, but what do they actually think of these men?
If these details exist, they’re well hidden within blocks of optionally presented text documents or side mission conversations, obfuscated within counter examples that serve to make sure we can never actually know what any characters in the game—or its creators—believe. And, none of them are bound to answer whether Dani knows that the song “Havana” is about a real city in a real country that once experienced a revolution quite a lot like Yara’s.
In short, none of Far Cry 6 is real. It never happened. It never happened even in the fictional sense wherein even if something doesn’t actually happen it still manages to provide some intellectual or emotional reaction to the real world we all live in. Far Cry 6 doesn’t exist outside of its own fiction. Or, more precisely, outside of itself. The only impression that can be taken away from it is an allegory capable of being summarized in a single line: “Totalitarianism is bad government.”
Fictional settings can hold a mirror up to the real places they reference, distorting just enough specificity that a generalized critique of their targeted setting is communicated without requiring a deluge of details. (Mafia III’s faux-Louisiana and Red Dead Redemption’s take on the United States both come to mind as videogame examples.) But this effect requires some specificity to come across. Yara is devoid of clearly defined political parties or historical reference points beyond its vague existence as a not-Cuba that’s been subject to Spanish colonization and Canadian economic subjugation. We don’t know what the guerillas of its 1960s revolution fought for—or against—and what Castillo’s national vision is beyond enriching himself while murdering vast swathes of his country. The only thing Far Cry 6 has to say about the world it theoretically takes place in is that dictators are bad, that they sometimes exist, and that overthrowing them may be better than allowing them to rule unopposed. (Maybe; we don’t see what happens to Yara after Dani and Libertad win.)
Better for Far Cry to live in the eternal fantasy land it’s always sure to keep one foot within than continue in this vein. If its creators are too concerned with alienating audiences by having opinions about our world—the only explanation for the series’ construction that makes much sense—then it seems only right that they discard any references to it, leaving the examination of reality to artists who still feel apart of it enough to dignify the history of others with real, honest engagement.
+ It’s a lot of fun, here, to subscribe to the poetic, perennially debunked conspiracy theory that current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is, despite all odds, actually one of Castro’s sons, the fire of revolution cooled in his bloodline to the interminable death freeze of centre-right modern liberal politics. Maybe he’s related, in turn, to Antón Castillo, too.
Reid McCarter is a writer and a co-editor of Bullet Points Monthly. His work has appeared at The AV Club, GQ, Kill Screen, Playboy, The Washington Post, Paste, and VICE. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER and Okay, Hero, co-hosts the Bullet Points podcast, and tweets @reidmccarter.