This is the third in my series of game diaries as I make my way through Ubisoft’s new game, Far Cry Primal. Previously, we found ourselves in 10,000 BC, fought a sabre-toothed cat and rescued a young woman called Sayla, who is a member of our Wenja tribe. When we left off last time, Sayla had just asked me to go and find more people to populate our village with. My first task is to find a shaman.
The game certainly loves using icons and HUD elements, and it has no problem showing clearly where I have to go to find our missing shaman. I make my way across the valley, running across goats and deer on my way over, until I get close to a cave. I hear humans and spot two Udam on the other side of the stream running before the cave fighting a bear. They haven’t spotted me and it’s easy to see that the bear will take care of them. Ignoring them, I run into the cave, lighting my club to disperse the darkness.
At the end of a long and winding passage, I find the shaman. He is agitated as I approach, but isn’t afraid. He seems pleased to meet me. He says his name is Tensay and that he called for a strong spirit. Since I arrived, he assumes that strong spirit is me. He grabs my hand and cuts it with his knife (either made from flint or sharpened bone). The blood drips into a bowl in which he also just put the blood of a rodent. The latter is probably supposed to be a rat (it certainly looks like one), despite the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, rats were unknown in Europe before the Roman Empire.
In any event, he holds out the vessel with the blood (a skull) to me and tells me to drink it, so I can have a “blood vision”. This is a cut scene, so I have no choice about whether or not to drink all of this blood. The game has taken over and I get a close-up view of the contents of the skull. That’s quite a lot of blood. And I (Takkar) am drinking all of it! It must have been mixed with some kind of plant matter, as my vision soon clouds and I am taken to a psychedelic version of the prehistoric world of Oros, where everything is coloured blue and animals seem to be made of light.
Here, I have to find my spirit guide. I pass a variety of animals, none of which are scared of me, until I come to an owl. This is my designated guide and I am told to follow it. The game then alternates between me flying through the air or swimming underwater, following this enigmatic owl. Along the way, I see lots of other different animals, including deer, bears, and a cat that looks like it’s supposed to be a cave lion (possessing no enlarged fangs and shaped more like a regular lion), with some tiger-like stripes added to its hind quarters that I think is a neat touch, if probably fictitious.
Eventually, I wake up from the vision. ‘No dream!’ Tensay says. “The owl spirit names you Beast Master!” Tensay tells me that I have the ability to ‘calm the spirits of the wild.’ In game terms, this means I now have the ability to tame wild animals so they can accompany me and help out where needed. It’s an interesting way in which the developers play with the notion of animal domestication, though in the game the mechanics are obviously very simplistic. Tensay tells me to go and tame a wild wolf, which becomes my next quest.
When it comes to what prehistoric societies looked like, we tend to rely a lot on anthropological parallels. In the Late Palaeolithic, all humans survived as smallish groups of hunter-gatherers, who lived entirely off the land. They would have gathered edible plants, nuts, roots, and fruit, and would also have hunted animals. Human society would have been fairly simple, with informal leadership. Leaders would have been appointed based on their merit; you probably didn’t simply inherit a position of leadership from your father or mother.
As far as division of labour was concerned, there probably were few or no specialized roles. It is commonly thought that men tended to perform more physically demanding tasks (such as hunting), while women stayed closer to camp and foraged for food. Anthropologists, however, have observed that this isn’t always the case. For example, among the Aeta of the Philippines, women play an active role in hunting, though their methods differ from those of men (see this article for more). On the whole, sexual differences were perhaps not as pronounced as we are sometimes led to believed. For example, among the San people of Africa, men often take as active a part in the rearing of children as women do.
One exception would have been the role of shaman, a specialist (male or female) who was thought to be able to communicate with the spirit world. Tensay in particular seems to be modelled after cave paintings showing humans with animal features, such as antlers, who are sometimes thought to represent shamans. Shamans are well known from a large variety of cultures (both less and more complex), and they probably did exist back in the Late Palaeolithic and after. Whether prehistoric people also went on vision quests in the manner of some Native Americans is another issue entirely, but it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.
Of course, anthropological data about modern people living in less complex societies should not be mindlessly applied one-to-one to the prehistoric situation. For one, the less complex societies that anthropologists have studied all exist or have existed next to more complex forms of society, such as the modern nation state. This means that the context in which these less complex societies operate today are very different from the situation in the Late Palaeolithic. But some general trends may indeed be assumed to be correct, insofar as we don’t really have much in the way of other evidence to shed life on how small-scale and largely egalitarian human societies would have functioned. Clive Gamble’s The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe (1999) provides a good starting point for further study.
Leaving the cave, I am prompted by the game that I now have a pet owl that I can send out to scout out an area. Exactly how I am able to see what the owl sees is a mystery, but for purposes of the game I am willing to accept that, yes, I am somehow able to telepathically communicate with this owl that materialized out of thin air. I use the owl to briefly explore the area and then decide to head to my next objective in order to find and tame a white wolf.
The only problem is that the bear that fought the Udam before I went into the cave has returned. And it has spotted me. I make a run for it, pursued by the bear who’s a lot quicker than I am. I stumble as the creature hits me in the back, turn a corner, and then find myself sliding down the rock face, landing a little further down on a ledge. I look up and see the bear above me, looking rather disappointed. It grunts, then turns and moves away. I live to fight another day. I look down and decide to slide down towards the bottom. It’s where I have to go next anyway.