Just Cause 3 & Positive Diversity

Gaming article by on Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 13:00

Why didn't anyone talk about Just Cause 3?

I mean sure, it had its coverage cycle, got good to mixed reviews, Shaun really liked it. It suffered from being the 4th or 5th (depending on how you feel about Rise of the Tomb Raider) big game released in a one month period. So maybe when we should have been talking about it we were still playing Fallout 4 or struggling through family holiday visits.

I picked up Just Cause 3 from a Boxing Week Sale along with a bunch of other games, and once I got stuck into it I noticed something. It wasn't the quality and quantity of explosions, though I noticed that too. What stood out to me is what a great example it was of positive diversity.

I like diverse games. There's a reason that space marine has become a cliched character, because it's easy to just stuff a gruff looking dude into a suit of power armor with glowy bits on it and say "Bam! Protagonist done, what's next!?" Mixing that up from a gender or race standpoint is awesome; we get different experiences—some of my favorite games this generation were female led. I loved the reboot Tomb Raider and I haven't even heard the male protagonist in Dragon Age: Inquisition because I like Alix Wilton Regan's VO so much.

To me this is positive diversity. Making awesome games featuring diverse characters and just letting the gamers love them for what they are—proof positive these storylines and characters can sell.

What I don't like is negative diversity. Where instead of encouraging unique approaches or stories set in new locations to provide believable stories, people just shit on everything that doesn't meet their standards. I hate that culture of "friendly reminders," "naming and shaming" or just dogpiling a developer on Twitter. It's a really toxic behavior pattern when people hope to shame people into doing what they would prefer; I think it breeds resentment and just further entrenches people into fights over the subject.

Just Cause 3 takes a positive, and awesome approach.

The story is set in the Mediterranean on an island nation called Medici of which our protagonist Rico Rodriguez is a native. Medici is of course a fictional nation, but one that feels distinctly Hispanic in origin. In his crusade against the tyrant who rules the nation he is joined by his friend Mario Frigo and scientist Dimah al-Masri. So we've set the stage and we haven't seen a white person yet because why would we? We're in a civil war in a Hispanic nation, so all our characters thus far are Hispanic, save Dimah who is a foreigner, speculated to be from North Africa.

Our jolly cast of characters.

Tom Sheldon is the first white person we see in the game; he has been a fixture in past Just Cause titles and as a pseudo-CIA spook it would make sense to have him interacting with a despot to support America's interests. Look, commentary! Later in the story we link up with two smugglers, Teo and Annika. Teo is a black man and Annika is a white woman. As smugglers their presence on the island is explained and their inclusion doesn't seem forced. Add this to the fact that the rebellion-supported President of the island is a woman, as is the "voice of the rebellion" radio host and we've got ourself a pretty damn diverse game!

None of it rings like they went into development with quotas. It feels like they started writing a story and characters rounded into place appropriately with some cool design and interesting personalities. Teo, the large bald black man, is an engineer who's constantly talking and trying to learn more. Annika is apparently very selfish and money-driven but tends to do the right thing when the chips are down. Dimah is charmingly science-focused and oblivious to the point that she'll occasionally try to walk off cliffs.

Sure it's not Shakespeare—it doesn't have to be. Forbes was on point when they called Just Cause 3 a Miller High Life to Bloodborne's Scotch. But its a story that frames the core gameplay effectively and uses its diverse nature to complement the game, not to bludgeon the gamer with politics. 

So why didn't anyone talk about it?

The only reason I can think of why this story didn't get the traction it deserved is that Just Cause 3 is the "wrong" type of game. It's loud, it's dumb, it ignores the laws of physics in favor of bigger and better explosions—in short it's not what people are thinking when you say "diversity in gaming" But to me that's exactly the problem. 

Right now when someone says diverse games, people are mainly thinking of the pejoratively named "walking simulator" genre. They're thinking about Gone Home and Sunset or maybe Cibele and Her Story. The issue with these games carrying your banner is that they're not what the majority of people come to gaming for. More than that, a lot of these games look similar from the outside.

They're heavily story driven with limited interactivity more focused on delivering narrative than fun or challenging gameplay. The narrow scope of these sort of titles make it seem like a push for diverse games is a push for one kind of diverse game. These games have their place, but when they're all you talk about when it comes to diversity or progress, it comes across as self-interested rather than sincere.

"This is the best game I've ever played! It has diversity AND an explosion!"
"This is the best game I've ever played! It has diversity AND an explosion!"

The gaming industry thrives on big bombastic action games. Despite being a largely iterative experience, Call of Duty still tops the sales charts every year. Just Cause 3 should have been a solid piece of the puzzle proving that diverse games don't have to be boring or preachy. I would love it if there was more diversity in games, but with the silence around Just Cause 3 it feels like we're having two different conversations here. This should have been proof that mass market, AAA releases aren't negatively impacted by a diverse cast of characters. Instead we got crickets.

The last two years have been something of a mess, but they really kickstarted the conversation around diversity in gaming. But when I see people ignore a game like Just Cause 3 to talk more about some experimental art game it concerns me. This bombastic mainstream title is proving your point for you and nobody's talking about it! It feels like lot of people who make noise about this issue only care as long as it's a game they personally approve of or worse yet, they just want the fight.

Just Cause 3 should have been cause for celebration, as proof that diverse games doesn't mean leaving behind the silly fun we all love. Instead its just a pretty good open world game with a ton of explosions.