There is a research group called VALUE, short for Videogames and Archaeology at Leiden UnivErsity (not a typo). It so happened that they organized a meeting earlier today at the university to talk about Far Cry Primal: how it depicts the Stone Age (with a heavy emphasis on the Mesolithic), and what it says about the (possibly innate) human proclivity toward violence.
The event took place in the main hall of the building that houses the Faculty of Archaeology. It was also streamed live via Twitch, so viewers could send in their comments. Apart from the researchers of the VALUE group, two experts had also been invited: Ivo Verheijen, a master student, and Andrew Sorenson, a PhD researcher. Verheijen specializes in megafauna and Sorenson is part of the Human Origins Group. Together, they provided the bulk of the commentary about the game, which was presented by Angus Mol.
The meeting took the form of an informal chat while the game was being played and watched. Sorenson commented on the fact that the game world is very jagged, with lots of crystalline rock formations that you would expect from a volcanic region, not one that was perhaps recently glaciated. The vegetation, however, seemed to fit the time period (which was generally understood to be more Mesolithic than Late Palaeolithic).
Likewise, the animals included in the game drew some comments. I’ve written earlier how the fauna is mishmash of creatures from disparate regions (and even times). Sorenson added that cave bears were probably already extinct by 10,000 BC. And of course, it is strange that there are no dogs in the game, since these would have been already domesticated. Indeed, in the article cited I noted the lack of reindeer, for example (depending on how you interpret the setting of the game), but one would also expect there to be wild horses, yet there are none.
Sorenson also commented on the arrowheads used in the game. In the Mesolithic, arrowheads tended to be small and arrows were serrated. But in the game, the classical arrow-shape is used. This isn’t impossible, and considering the fact that the arrows are made on the fly, it could indeed be argued that they might have looked more like what they do in the game. Sorenson also noted that the way fire is started in the game is simplified. Takkar strikes some nondescript stones together and the sparks are used to light tinder. In reality, you would use a piece of flint and strike that against pyrite, for example.
But other details were strikingly accurate. Verheijen noted in the opening hunting scene how Takkar kills the mammoth by hitting it with a spear below the trunk. That is indeed what anthropologists have observed when hunter-gatherers kill elephants and there also seems to be some archaeological evidence that is in line with these observations. If hit below the trunk, a mammoth or elephant would quickly bleed out. Angus Mol noted that it was a nice touch that Tensay is first met living in a cave, far removed from other human contact. Ethnographically speaking, shamans live both inside and outside of normal society; they occupy a liminal position, existing as they do on the threshold between the normal, material world and the immaterial, spirit world.
Verheijen emphasized that it was interesting that the game focused so much on interacting with the environment, and Sorenson felt that the way in which the herbivores, such as the small goats, reacted to humans seemed very authentic. The village, on the other hand, seemed to them far too large and complex for the type of society that the game is trying to portray. I’m not so sure about that; in a rich environment like this, it might have been possible for a village to house about 50, maybe even 100 people. Certainly, villages of the native hunter-gatherer peoples of the Pacific Northwest were inhabited by between a few dozen to about 100 people. The game also makes clear that part of the Wenja tribe live outside of the village, dispersed in small bands that occupy temporary camps.
Ultimately, everyone agreed that Far Cry Primal‘s main goal is to be an entertaining game. Emphasis is placed on strong interaction rather than weak interaction (hence: violence rather than diplomacy, robbery rather than trade or other forms of exchange), the landscape is much compressed (snowy in the north, temperate in the middle, marshy and warm in the south), and animals and people are much more aggressive than they would have been in reality. But the game does give you some idea of what life might have been like in 10,000 BC, and I will return to that in the final post in my series on Far Cry Primal.
This was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. The VALUE project is organizing an “Interactive Pasts” conference on 4 and 5 April in Leiden that looks really interesting. If you can’t attend in person, they will also stream it via Twitch. They’re also running a Kickstarter campaign to produce an Open Access book entitled The Interactive Past. They’ve now reached their goal, but feel free to throw some money their way. This is a fun initiative and I look forward to seeing how it will develop further.