From the back of a decommissioned army truck, I observe the white crescent peaks of Kyrat, a fictional war-torn country modeled after Nepal. The beauty of the landscape is disrupted by border guards armed with AK-47s, who toss my United States passport in the mud before mercilessly gunning down my travel companions. Their despotic leader, Pagan Min, takes a selfie of us with his blood-soaked hand, showing me that I look like the locals: black hair, darkened skin, an Asian American returned to the homeland (see fig. 1). As the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” plays in the background, Min spirits me to his palace to eat crab rangoon from a table decorated in monkey heads while we admire a breathtaking view of what appears to be the Nepalese valley. I follow the groans of a rebel leader being tortured by electric wires, and after a blurred rush of explosions and gunfire, I am whisked away again, this time to a mountain village decorated with Tibetan prayer flags strung up alongside traditional skirts, dresses, and cotton jackets hung to dry. There I meet Amita, a gorgeous faction leader with a South Asian accent, who offers me the first real challenge of the video game I am playing: “We’re in the middle of a fucking war,” she says. “We don’t need tourists.”
I witness this experience while immersed in the 2014 open world game Far Cry 4.1 The images of the snowcapped Himalayas are products of a Radeon graphics card leveled to operate at 1080 pixels, its code-rendering firepower pushing pixels of both Nepalese art murals and the gore of a soldier stabbed in the neck by Pagan Min’s pink pen. I experience these scenes while sitting in the comfort of a living room couch, anchored to one spot by a game controller tied to a television set, speakers, and consoles. In the game I am Ajay Ghale, both a gun-toting killer seeking vengeance for my father and an Asian American tourist looking for my roots. As a diasporic returnee, I am co-opted by my family history to fight for rebel factions using a multitude of military weapons, all while hang gliding, zip-lining, cliff jumping, and hunting endangered species (see fig. 2). Indeed, my avatar’s Asian American identity—meant to be played primarily by white users—enables me to undertake militaristic acts while fulfilling [End Page 769]
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a diasporic debt to my family, my home, and my nation. Then there is the real me: a Filipino American gamer who has grown accustomed to playing games as a white hero and has tolerated many uncomfortable reiterations of Asian stereotypes in games. Will this game, which also promises to give me the pleasure of killing, be any different from the others?
Like Far Cry 4, more and more open world games are now taking place in the global South. They commonly feature white male protagonists who are positioned to kill thousands of enemies and save brown locals while participating in tourist fantasies that include hunting game, water sports, and hang gliding. These games are “open” in that they give the player a sense of freedom in choosing his or her own path and follow nonlinear narratives. They are large in the sense that they contain elements of other genres: driving, first-person shooters, role-playing, mini-games, flying games, and text-based romance. The first open world games took place in farcical settings (the faux New York of Grand Theft Auto III), but since the peak of the Iraq War, more of these open world games have taken place in “exotic” locales. In Crysis (2007), the player investigates a space-alien structure just off the eastern Philippines coast, while in Dead Island (2011...