Whenever I watch a film supposedly based on a historical event, I’m always left wondering how true and factual was all that fascinating history? Was Ramesses II a heavily tanned white man as Exodus would suggest? No. Did Kiefer Sutherland’s Corvus really try to conquer Ancient Rome as Pompeii informed us? No. And did Robin Hood really have a beautifully bouffant mullet as in Prince of Thieves? I really hope so!
The same applies to video games, I find. Can these virtually constructed worlds somehow reflect reality? Recently I’ve been playing a whole load of Farcry: Primal (yes, I’m well aware that I’m a year behind, but playing video games is hard!) and I spent some time considering; was the Stone Age world that I was exploring in any way related to the reality of 12,000 years ago?
For those who aren’t familiar with the game, you take on the role of Takkar, leader of the Wenja tribe in the fictional land of Oros. Set in 10,000 BC, your job is to grow your tribe and protect them. This being a video game, the main way you do that is by killing lots and lots of people from rival tribes – to be fair, they started it!
I thought the best way to analyse all of this would be to list 5 random supposedly historical things that I’ve discovered in the game and then look into whether they’re true or not. You know, like every other article including a list of numbered bullet points ever.
1. Badass Stone Age Badgers
There are many different Stone Age animals you can meet, hunt and train during the game (Takkar is a beast master – more on that later) but one of the most surprisingly dangerous animals you’ll meet is the badger.
These aren’t super sized like the other large animals or megafauna (check me out using zoological terminology) within the game. They are just ferocious little buggers who attack you on sight and attempt to rend you apart with their claws and teeth. Plus, with them being so small, it makes it really hard to beat them to death with your club. I even saw a badger kill a cave lion!
So, is this true? Kind of. Badgers do have heritage going back to 10000BC and they weren’t super sized. Also, Badgers are omnivores, which I didn’t realise. I don’t think though that they’d be capable of hunting and killing a caveman. I’m pretty sure that’s more to do with game designers being sadistic, evil and taking great pleasure in emasculating the player with death by small furry animal.
2. Cavemen Riding Bears and Sabre Tooth Tigers
As mentioned before, Takkar is a Beast Master, meaning you can tame animals in the game and keep them as ferocious pets. When you level up a bit, you can ride bears and sabre toothed tigers into battle, and apparently Woolly Mammoths too, but I haven’t done that yet! It’s really simple to tame animals, as all you have to do is toss your meat at them and stroke their heads for a bit.
Is this true? Nope. Whilst wolves were ultimately domesticated into dogs by cavemen, this was a long process. Current thinking is that it would take 9 generations of animal breeding to achieve this with the Cave Men each time ensuring animals were only able to reproduce if they displayed the characteristics that were desirable (in the case of a dog; loyalty, obedience and not ripping your throat out). I can find no evidence to suggest that cavemen ride animals into battle but wouldn’t the world be a better place assuming they did?
3. Warring Tribes of Cave People
Far Cry Primal has you in a constant state of conflict with two other tribes, the names of which I can’t really remember. It’s something like the Urgai and the Isuu, but whatever their names, you invade their settlements and they invade yours, resulting in big battles.
In reality, it was long considered that through the various eras of the Stone Age, the life of a caveman was free from war. Whilst wars were unlikely, with plentiful space and few people limiting the main reasons for war, recent research suggests that they did happen. More advanced bone analysis has shown that cavemen had died from wounds inflicted by club, spear and arrow, and in some cases recovered from those wounds. Not only that but some clever people think they have found a really old battle site from the Mesolithic era where there were loads of skeletons uncovered who had all dead of violent means. There are even some cave paintings that show cavemen using military tactics, like flanking.
However, there’s no evidence to suggest that cavemen utilise my favourite attack method; using my pet owl to scope out the enemy camp and then drop wasp nests on their position, whilst I sneak in and stab the, with my flaming spear, throw stone shards at them and command my pet cave lion to eat their faces. I can dream, though.
4. Mesolithic Weaponry
With a rather neat segue, which I’m slightly too pleased with, this leads me to discuss the weapons you use within the game. Unlike the majority of FPS, you’re not weighed down with pistols, grenades, shotguns, rifles, bazookas, flamethrowers and lasers in your TARDIS-like pockets. Farcry: Primal instead tries to authentically replicate the arsenal of the average cave person by providing the player with spears, axes and bows
In this, the game is probably at it’s most historically accurate. These are the tools and weapons that would have been used by someone within the Mesolithic era of 10,000 BC, which is when the game is set. At this point in time, long before the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic era when people became boring and starting farming instead of chasing after woolly mammoths, spears, axes and bows were all the rage.
Axes have been used by human species for a stonking 2 million years, spears were invented around 500,000 years ago and bows were cutting edge weaponry, having first beenused around 10,000 years ago. All of these weapons would be feasible for Takkar to wield, I just doubt that they could really be upgraded until a single spear could shish kebab three enemies at once.
5. Potent Herbal Remedies and Trepanning
Takkar, like the majority of video game protagonists, has the uncanny ability to be able to heal himself by simply hiding somewhere and waiting for 30 seconds until the blood from his vision fades and he’s ready to get cut, stabbed and maimed all over again. His healing can also be hastened on with the use of plant extracts, consuming red flowers or jabbing purple flowers into open wounds.
There’s some historical precedent to this too; willow bark, for instance, contains the same painkilling properties as found in aspirin. Unfortunately, for the other denizens of Oros, they do not share Takkar’s regeneration abilities and have to resort to more severe medicinal methods. In one standout cutscene, a captured meathead from another tribe needs your help to relieve the evil spirits that make his brain hurt. He doesn’t want a firm head message, and would instead prefer that you ram a sharp stone into his skull, make a gory hole, and let the evil spirits lurking within escape. It’s shockingly gruesome scene (and also, let’s face it, brilliant) and, whilst the method has been dramatized, the idea is entirely accurate.
Trepanning (a rather lovely word for the act of drilling a hole in someone’s head) has been used since the Neolithic era as a method of curing a person who was behaving in an ‘abnormal’ fashion. Cave paintings suggest that trepanning would cure seizures, severe headaches, migraines and mental disorders. Trepanning became wildly popular and everyone wanted a hole in their head to the point that a burial site in France dating to 6500BC, 40 out of 120 skulls found had trepanation holes within them. SArchaeological evidence suggests that many even survived the procedure, but that’s still a third of the population. THis makes trepanning more popular than fidget spinners. Fact.
There you have it, my appraisal of the historical accuracy of Farcry Primal. Consulting my trusty historical fact-o-meter, I award it 7 angry badgers out of 9, and seeing as this is an entirely arbitrary point system, the score is utterly pointless. But hey, I know people love to skip to the end and just glance at the score…
Adrian Burrows is the author of humorous history book Escapades in Bizarrchaeology – The History Book For People Who Don’t Like History – Yet!