"Where in Montana is Hope County?"
"Never heard of it, son, why?"
"This video game I'm playing takes place in Hope County, Montana."
As far as video games go, I view them with slight distaste, kind of like how I feel about escargot: it might be good, but no, thank you. I spent my youth working outside on the ranch. And even when I wasn't working, I was working, only harder. And what precious little free time I did have was spent in pursuit of my favorite hobby, which was working.
What I'm saying is, I wouldn't have had time for video games even if they had existed when I was a kid. What we did have, and I'm making this point again in case I have been unclear about it, was the only game we knew: work, and I racked up a high score at it every day. I think you get it.
But no one can say that I'm not an inquisitive guy, so, curious about the new game, and being a good parent, I sat down and watched him play for a while because I have a deep and profound interest in all things Montanan. And even though I may disapprove of video games, I can say that a video game about Montana is liable to be a lot better than a video game about some other, less perfect place. So with that in mind, let's dig in a little, and look at what this game has to say to us Montanans.
The game's plot is a fairly thin excuse to shoot everything on the screen, but to the extent that the game has a plot, here it is: in Hope County, Montana, a charismatic weirdo named Joseph Seed heads a cult called Eden's Gate (shades of Heaven's Gate) along with his siblings/lieutenants. The Manson-esque Seed takes over the whole county, plunging it into lawless violence and cult murder. Just like always happens in Montana, right?
First of all, I'm sure I don't have to tell you there's no Hope County, Montana. So I began to wonder: why would the game's creators set a game in Montana, much less invent a fictional county when we've got 48 perfectly good ones to choose from.
It's easy enough to guess why you might set a game in Montana - it's the most beautiful place in the world, and most of the world doesn't have the good luck to live here.
But it's interesting to look at the way Ubisoft protrays Montana in "Far Cry 5". My guess is that Montana is the setting because of the state's reputation for housing rugged individualists of all stripes, whether of the Jim Bridger variety or the Unabomber kind. In other words, the game is trading on the notion that Montana is a place where strange things happen, where cults like the Church Universal and Triumphant can exert a formidable influence, and where at any moment, sovereign citizens could set off the next Waco. It's the Montana of dreams. Or nightmares.
In the video that starts the game, which my son informs me is called a "cut scene", whatever that means, they mention being about two hours' drive away from Missoula, and the landscape hews pretty close to that area of Montana. So too are a lot of the area's wildlife, including bears, deer, cougars, bison, moose, elk, wolverines, fish, and skunks. And even the landscape looks pretty accurate too, with snow-covered peaks and mountain glens, ranches, dirt roads, and some surprisingly pretty virtual vistas.
As I watched my son drive a 4-wheeler down a dirt road in one play session, he was suddenly attacked from the woods by a bear. Now, rare is the bear that would attack a man on an ATV, but even more ludicrous is that this bear was on fire. Now, my guess is that no one has ever been killed by a flaming bear in the long and august history of the Montana territory. If I'm wrong, I urge whatever historian knows better to set me straight.
And in case someone only knows about Montana from the game, you should know that not all Montanans ride around on 4-wheelers armed with RPGs and bazookas. Most of us ranchers are, admittedly, armed with a .223 or .22-250 for the coyotes, but we would hardly be equipped to defend ourselves against attack helicopters (as frequently happens in the game's version of Montana).
It does then make me wonder if a visitor from elsewhere could possibly view us Montanans in that way. Is this what the rest of the world thinks of when they think of Montana? What about kids in Europe, or Australia, or Africa, or Asia? When they play this game, are they going to think that Montana is really like this? Because as good as it looks, as much as it resembles, on a visual level, a recognizable caricature of Montana, you kids have got to know: it's not really like this at all.
For one thing, I've only ever killed three or four murderous cult members. And I've only ever gotten close to shooting down a helicopter. Do I have a pickup truck? Sure. Is there a gun in the rack? Sure, yes. Is it a bazooka? Only when I'm bear-hunting! A couple of times while watching him play I had to stop and explain to my kid, "Son, we only use the mounted gun on the back of the Jeep as an absolute last resort, you understand?"
My teenage son pronounced the game addicting, and I noticed it was slightly, if not significantly harder, rouse him for school in the mornings after he got the game. I suspect he may have played it well into the wee hours a couple of nights.
As a parent, should I be concerned about all the shooting? It's just a game after all, and he knows that, so I'm not too worried. At least not for now.
Of course, I'm a little afraid that you might check with me in the future to find he has no job at thirty-something, still lives in my basement, and plays video games all night long. Nah, that can't happen, can it?
But then I think: what if a paramilitary cult takes over the whole county and start massacring everyone and setting all the bears on fire?
Because if that happens, he will have received plenty of training on how to stop them, and his time playing "Far Cry 5" will have been well-spent!