MONTREAL -- Think about an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. If he breaks under the strain and loses everything, we don't really care. He's an unfortunate statistic, but not an unexpected one. Change the channel, move on.
But if he fights back and overcomes the incredible challenges in front of him, defying not only the odds but also death itself ... well, that's a story worth hearing.
A video game -- heck, entertainment in general -- is often about one man or woman overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. But if the man or woman is an everyday person like you and me, and the obstacles are things we might be fearful of encountering in the real world, we're able to feel more connected to that character and to the game. In theory, anyway.
That theory will be put to the test with Far Cry 3. In development at Ubisoft Montreal for release this fall on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC, Far Cry 3 tells the story of one Jason Brody, an average bloke whose tropical vacation dissolves into a nightmare when armed men take him and his friends hostage.
Having escaped from his captors but stranded on a remote island, Jason must dig deep into his reserves of courage and take up arms against a small army of bandits, mercenaries and worse in order to save his friends and himself.
On a recent visit to Ubisoft's sprawling Montreal studios, we took a look at Far Cry 3 in action, a demonstration that showed not only the game's dazzling visuals but the human heart beating underneath the shiny exterior.
"When we set out to make Jason, we wanted to make sure he wasn't a space marine, he wasn't this guy with super powers," said Far Cry 3 producer Dan Hay. "He gets on a plane, he goes to this island and he has incredible experiences.
"If you get into trouble (on the island), there's no 911, there's nobody to call. You're alone. We really focused on that feeling of just discovering this place and then testing yourself. How far can you go?"
While the game isn't directly tied to 2008's Far Cry 2, which in turn had no plot connection to 2004's Far Cry, it will continue the overarching philosophy of the series. That is, being stranded in a large, inhospitable place among bad men with guns. And lots of freedom to decide how to deal with those bad men.
The baddest of the bad men in Far Cry 3 is Vaas, a menacing, mohawked lunatic who has apparently spent too much time cut off from society, and has forgotten that it's rude to do things like, say, tie up tourists, weigh them down with cinderblocks and drop them into deep pools of water.
"You meet Vaas, and you discover very quickly this guy is a psychopath," said Hay. "This guy has an agenda. He talks way too close, he's in your space, you gotta get the hell out of there."
In our demonstration of Far Cry 3, we meet up with Jason a few days into his ordeal, when he's found his feet and become comfortable wielding an AK-47. (To be honest, he's quickly progressed into something of a Navy SEAL by way of Rambo, ramming machetes into bandits' necks, gunning down squads of enemies and ziplining from the mast of a derelict ship.)
But later we meet the doctor, a bug-eyed and only mildly creepy character who asks Jason to retrieve a special mushroom from a cave. Exposed to some sort of hallucinogenic spores, Jason goes on an Alice in Wonderland trip that's odd, weird and involves absolutely no shooting.
"You have to look at situations where, for a short amount of time, you offer the player an experience where you could put the gun down for a little while. You could go off and have a real rabbit hole experience," Hay said.
If the team at Ubisoft is successful, Far Cry 3 will push Jason -- and, by extension, players -- to see just how far an ordinary person will go in the name of self-preservation.
"He's not trying to save the world, he doesn't have this huge agenda, there isn't a global conspiracy," Hay said. "The guy is just trying to survive the next three to five minutes."