French Video Game Brings Narco-Culture to Virtual World

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A French company is set to release a video game in which Bolivia is portrayed as a narco-state infiltrated by Mexican cartels, an illustration of the expanding number of entertainment products hitting the market that are based on popular depictions of drug trafficking.

On March 7, the French company Ubisoft is expected to launch its new blockbuster video game, “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.” The game is set in Bolivia, where a fictional Mexican cartel called Santa Blanca enjoys widespread control throughout the country.

The video game players are members of a US Special Operations Unit called the “The Ghosts,” whose mission is to destabilize and eventually rupture the criminal links between the Mexican cartel and the Bolivian government. The beta version of the video game has already been downloaded by 6.8 million players.

The game’s storyline has spurred controversy in Bolivia. The foreign and interior ministers expressed their discontent in a letter delivered to France’s ambassador in Bolivia. The officials say that the French diplomat should communicate with the video game company before Bolivia takes legal action. The foreign ministry says the game depicts Bolivia as “a country of drug traffickers,” reported El Deber.

Ubisoft, meanwhile, argues that the game is a “work of fiction” and that Bolivia was selected for its landscape and culture.

“While the game’s premise imagines a different reality than the one that exists in Bolivia today, we do hope that the in-game world comes close to representing the country’s beautiful topography,” the French company stated, according to Reuters.

Ubisoft is expected to publish the documentary “Wildlands” on the eve of the game’s release, which will address the drug trafficking landscape in Bolivia that supposedly inspired the game plot. The documentary includes interviews with former agents from the US Central Intelligence Agency, coca farmers and close partners of late Colombian drug capo Pablo Escobar.

InSight Crime Analysis

Narratives revolving around drug trafficking and the fight to combat it have become extremely lucrative material for the entertainment world due to the high demand for this type of content. Drug trafficking has inspired songs, movies, television shows, YouTube channels and even clothing and costumes.

These themes are popular both in and outside of Latin America. The most recent examples of its popularity outside the region are the worldwide success of Netflix’s show “Narcos” and the television programs known as “narcotelenovelas,” some of which are now produced in the United States. 

These depictions often lack historical accuracy and integrate an array of fictional elements. Nonetheless, they are a representation of certain debates and ideas that exist within societies afflicted by organized crime.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of NarcoCulture

For example, Ubisoft’s decision to portray a Mexican cartel in Bolivia, and not a domestic organization, implies a certain romanticized vision of the power of Mexican cartels. And the fact that the United States is the sole actor capable of restoring order in a chaotic world reproduces the binary vision of “the good guys versus the bad guys.”

Bolivia’s negative response to the video game is nothing new; other Latin American governments have also spoken out against dramatized versions of narco-culture. Mexico has tried to censure “narcocorridos” (popular songs that glamorize the drug trade) in certain states of the country and considered regulating what time narcotelenovelas could be aired. Colombia has also witnessed campaigns against television shows inspired by drug trafficking.

Despite the backlash, narco-culture continues to grow in popularity, and producers are finding an increasing number of ways to profit off it. 

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