In Far Cry 5, the countryside of Hope County has been seized by the cultists of The Project at Eden’s Gate, who are determined to “save” the county’s residents with or without their cooperation. While their methods are brutal and their beliefs are disturbing, they’re much more than cartoon stereotypes. Far Cry 5’s developers have put considerable effort into making them into a believable organization, with outsized personalities, seemingly virtuous intentions, realistic methods, and even their own hymns. And to get to the heart of how cults operate and why they can be dangerous, the team consulted with cult experts including Rick Alan Ross, a deprogrammer and executive director of the Cult Education Institute.
“You could say [cults are] an unregulated growth industry,” says Ross. “In the US, the groups are protected by the first amendment, and they have tax-exempt status, and they enjoy certain protections that a normal company or a normal group of people would not enjoy. They are constantly expanding, recruiting on college campuses, and they come in a myriad of facades. A group is not necessarily religious; it could be a political movement. It could be a form of exercise, yoga, dance, martial arts. It could be a seminar series. It could be one of many different incarnations, and they look for people who are at a point in their life when they’re not happy.”
At the outset of Far Cry 5’s development, Creative Director Dan Hay says he imagined cultists in clichéd terms: “one person in this weird robe, kind of druidic, and doing all these weird incantations [with] goats walking around.”
The reality, it turns out, is much closer to a business. Cultists have jobs within their group’s hierarchy, and while a charismatic leader often sits at the top of the structure, they’re typically backed up by people who manage the organization’s logistics and day-to-day concerns, like keeping cult members fed, housed, and content.
“Why do we watch TV shows like The Sopranos or The Wire?” asks Hay. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be a gangster, but what I really enjoy is when I watch a show that allows me to dip my toe into the lexicon and economy of what it’s like to be one. They’re using language that I’ve never heard before, they’re doing things that I’ve never seen before… they actually port you into a world with its own economy, its own language. It’s own day-to-day. That’s very believable to me. We wanted that same thing for the cult.”
The result of the team’s efforts is The Project at Eden’s Gate, led by Joseph “The Father” Seed. Joseph is convinced that a great, cataclysmic fire is imminent and that he’s a modern-day Noah tasked with saving people from destruction. His plan is to herd people into underground bunkers, whether they’re willing to go or not, and he’s recruited his family – all of whom, Hay says, are “to varying degrees equally as disenfranchised” as Joseph – to build an organization that can help him make it a reality.
“I think that, honestly, we have a bias that we’re all really smart and there’s no way somebody could talk us into [joining a cult],” says Hay. “When you set the bar that high… you’ve got to get a situation that’s believable enough for me to look at it and go, ‘I could be captivated by that. OK, it could happen to me.’ So we just went right at it. We got a great writer, we got a series of great writers to come in. Got a really good team. And then we found an actor, Greg Bryk, who’s really, really captivating. He sent us his audition, and it was the first audition I saw where I was like, ‘I would join that guy’s cult.’
“When we look at what he’s done in the game, and when we look at the performances that he’s put together… I’m now confident I would be an active citizen in his cult,” Hay adds. “Not just join. I would do stuff on his behalf, and I don’t think it would be good stuff.”
What makes a cult leader dangerous, says Ross, is that they “bring their followers to the edge.” A destructive cult tends to isolate its followers, making their day-to-day reality an echo chamber with no outside voices or input. Ultimately, says Ross, these are people who are looking to their leader – often someone who suffers from mental illness and paranoid delusion – to explain reality to them.
“When that leader determines that the end is at hand, the end occurs,” says Ross. “We’ve seen many cult tragedies as a result of that, where the leader decides, ‘It is my end, the end has come for me. … Come with me. Think as I tell you to think. Reality is what I tell you it is.’ And a group can go completely off of the rails and over the edge.”
Discovering the inner workings of the Project at Eden’s Gate – while at the same time building a resistance and pushing back against their takeover of Hope County – will be a big part of Far Cry 5 when it arrives on the 27th of February for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. To find out more, check out our previous Far Cry 5 coverage.