Let’s Play: Far Cry Primal Ep.1: An “Archaeological” Exploration

This is a guest post by Philip Riris, an archaeologist with the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. His research interests run the gamut from digital data in archaeology to cave art to the archaeology of South America. 

Far Cry Primal has succeeded in generating a significant buzz in the archaeological community, owing mainly to the fact that it may be one of the first Triple A titles by a major developer set entirely in deep human prehistory. It is set in the year 10,000 BCE in the fictional post-Pleistocene landscape of Oros, and you step into the mammoth-leather footwear of Takkar as he tries to reunite his scattered tribe. While much older games such as UnReal World (which I have blogged about before here) permit players to immerse themselves in a prehistoric setting, this particular gaming niche has never before been addressed on such a scale. As Far Cry Primal is to date the best-selling game in its series, and will in many cases (especially for younger gamers) likely be among their first “hands-on” experiences with a representation of prehistory, I think it is hugely important that archaeologists engage with it and similar media in a direct manner.

Naturally, I am not the only archaeologist to have this idea, as Twitch streams of Primal have already taken place with live commentary at the universities of York  and Leiden [The York stream can be viewed here and here; a reflection on these is discussed here by Tara Copplestone; Leiden: here]. I think this alone is evidence enough of the interest it has generated, and many of the points I will be touching upon were previously discussed in these streams. An advantage of the Let’s Play format (pre-recorded video with audio commentary) is the time it permits me to digest my play-through of the game, in the sense that I don’t have to vocalize coherent thoughts while managing a complex game environment. Furthermore, I chose the format because it allows me to go away and do independent research on the things I have witnessed while playing.

Before proceeding, a brief cautionary note. I have chosen to approach this first episode in a relatively “naïve” state. The question of authenticity repeatedly (and justifiably) came up in both of the aforementioned streams, and while I do draw on my knowledge of some real-world research findings in order to discuss them in light of Far Cry Primal, many of the aspects of the game I touch upon here are presented at face value. For example, inaccuracies such as the extinct American Smilodon appearing in Primal as a tameable creature won’t be commented on. This is mainly in order to be able to fix these points in place early on and discuss them in more detail down the line with future instalments. This is also why I chose to title Episode 1 as an “archaeological” exploration in scare quotes.

To this end, I present the first episode of my Let’s Play of Far Cry Primal, and I hope it proves to be interesting viewing.

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