Let’s just make this from the start: cockfighting is animal cruelty and absolutely sucks. And so does the American meat packing industry that overfeeds chickens and stuffs them into cramped cages where they can’t even move only to have them be processed for your dinner. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about Far Cry 6 and the little minigame that could: cockfighting.
If you don’t know what cockfighting is, in the simplest terms it’s when people raise young roosters, or cockerels, to have them fight for entertainment. It’s a centuries old spectacle where people bet on gamecocks, and some even rig games with gnarly methods of cruelty like tying razorblades to their feet. I’m not here to debate the cruelty of cockfighting—that’s pretty apparent—nor endorse it. But what I am here to do is to push you—yes, you—to think about how you view it within the context of a culture where cockfighting is common.
I’m sure if you’re an American with no connection to a culture where this is common you’re probably cringing at the mere thought of this violent pastime being turned into a Tekken-esque minigame in a AAA title like Far Cry. I’ve seen a number of white Americans doing just that on Twitter. Some are completely taken aback by the inclusion of the minigame. Others are trying to start conversations with false equivalencies to compare it to dogfighting, and others still are baffled that you could have an amigo (an in-game companion) who is a gamecock and also give players the option to participate in cockfighting.
All of them come with this distinct ring of a “we don’t do that here” mentality that often maligns elements of cultures abroad. Whether it’s dietary delicacies or traditions, a lot of the time Americans hold themselves above what they see in other cultures and in doing so completely ignore that where you are geographically and culturally can dictate the value you place on certain things. For example, I’m a fur mom and I would do absolutely anything for my dog, and I live in a culture that allows me to do that. But that isn’t the norm in all cultures. Heck, even in my own family the idea that I would let my dog sleep in my bed or even just live in the house was a stretch.
Animals are not the same in every culture, and as an animal lover, that sucks to know. But it’s also something I knew growing up. My family also raised chicken to eat. My grandpa routinely brought home deer and cute rabbits and showed me how to skin them. And while cockfighting isn’t the same as this, it needs to be understood as something that’s embedded in certain cultures—not only Latin American cultures either, but other island cultures like Guam, the Philippines, and more. In fact, in other countries, it’s not even an underground activity like it is in the states, but rather accepted as sporting events that happen in full view.
In Mexico, the cockfighting season runs from November to June and became a sport in the culture after farmers began raising and fighting gamecocks more than a century ago. It’s illegal in some places like Mexico City, but often allowed in other Mexican states, mostly during regional fairs. Some states in Mexico like Baja California use cockfighting as a way to draw in American tourists. In the Philippines, cockfighting is regulated like every other gaming (or gambling) venture, which allows the country to bring in revenue.
And while cockfighting is illegal in Jamaica and Puerto Rico—it was just recently banned in the latter when Congress made it illegal in American territories after lobbying from animal rights activists—other Caribbean islands like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti all have cockfighting industries, with Haiti’s televised cockfights rivaling soccer matches.
It’s even further ensconced in Honduras, where they’ve protected cockfighting (and bullfighting for that matter) from being made illegal because it’s a part of the “national folklore.” And it must be noted that this protection of the game is from a law which banned cat and dog fights in the country. Similarly, Panama also allows cockfighting while banning dog fights, animal races, bullfights—whether of the Spanish or Portuguese style—and circuses. Even in Indonesia, cockfighting when done for religious purposes is legal, although secular cockfighting and the gambling that goes with it is illegal.
Yes, heritage doesn’t make something okay. It does mean, though, that when discussing something as commonplace as cockfighting, the conversation needs to be framed in a way that isn’t, well, racist.
Growing up I knew people who attended underground cockfighting, and as much as it’s become a pop culture trope, it’s one based in a very real pastime. In that way, its inclusion in Far Cry 6 isn’t only self-explanatory, but also one of the game’s most well-executed elements of satire. Cockfights are brutal and so are fighting games. By sanitizing certain elements and allowing the player to pick from a roster of cockerels, execute moves, and hear classic announcer elements, a cultural element is turned into a joke that lands for those familiar with it. In fact, it’s downright clever and it doesn’t punch down. Far Cry 6 doesn’t say “oh look at these brown folks fighting roosters;” instead it takes a cultural element, exaggerates it, and puts the player in it directly. It works.
That said, it clearly doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. But when the conversation morphs into moral grandstanding on its inclusion or draws parity to how mostly white Americans view animals (while ignoring how those massive Tyson chicken breasts came to be) it becomes a value judgement not on cockfighting but on the people who are in on the joke.
As I stated in the beginning, cockfighting is animal cruelty, and for the most part, the people of color discussing and laughing about the minigame online outright admit this. However, that statement comes with a “but” attached. That “but” is because we grew up with people who did it, we grew up knowing about it, we grew up in cultures where it was just a part of life, and that cultural connection can’t be ironed out. While cockfighting isn’t “right” a minigame that turns it into a joke isn’t “wrong”—or at the very least doesn’t exist in an American cultural vacuum.
In truth, as the “discourse” shifts from “cockfighting bad” to “the people enjoying this minigame are bad,” it’s weird being brown in this space. I assure you the pixels on the screen are fine and the people making jokes and enjoying cockfighting Tekken are in on the joke and aren’t running their own operations in real life. For me, I was remembering the tio who snuck off to bet on a cockerel named Pequeño and how he tried to pretend he wasn’t. Others were just remembering living in places where it didn’t have to be secret. So talk about cockfighting, question its inclusion in this game, but do so knowing who you’re in conversation with, because once the game is out, it isn’t just with the devs, but the players too.
Kate Sánchez is a pop culture journalist and co-founder of But Why Tho? A Geek Community.