‘The Division 2’ Proves All Art Is Political
Game-maker Ubisoft wants you to murder poor people without feeling guilty about it
by MATTHEW GAULT
After hours of blood and battle, my partners and I make it to Roosevelt Island.
The strip of land in the Potomac River once was a national park. Then it was a prison for the poor. Now it’s the base of operations for the Outcasts — a radical group of survivors bent on spreading death and destruction across the remains of a once-great city.
Within an hour, my teammates and I have moved through Roosevelt Island, murdering the Outcasts and cleansing their base. The disenfranchised no longer could fight back.
And now I feel like a terrible person. That’s not how you want to feel after finishing a multi-hour video game such as The Division 2.
The game is set in a near future, where a devastating plague called “green poison” has wiped out a huge portion of the population. In the wake of the tragedy, Washington authorizes the Strategic Homeland Division program, activating skilled operators across America.
These elite killers have one goal — to keep America from collapsing. They’re allowed to put down looters, gangs and other criminals. Extremis Malis Extrema Remedia is their motto. “Extreme evil, extreme remedy.”
The first The Division game was set during the collapse of Manhattan. The Division 2 takes place in Washington. D.C. Players rebuild communities, protect the Declaration of Independence from gangsters and rescue a kidnapped president of the United States.
According to developer and publisher Ubisoft, this is all an apolitical story.
“We’re definitely not making any political statements,” Terry Spier, creative director at Ubisoft, told Polygon.
Polygon pointed out that The Division 2 is set in Washington, D.C. and involves the players propping up the remnants of the United States government — and that the box art includes an image of a character with an American flag bandana on their backpack.
“That’s not a political statement?” Polygon asked.
“Absolutely not,” Spier replied.
This, of course, is bullshit. The Division 2 is a political game — and nakedly so. The game’s opening video recalls the collapse of society. How neighbor turned on neighbor and law and order broke down. “With no police to protect you,” the game’s narrator asks. “Did you own a gun? Did your neighbor?”
The words float across the lingering image of a revolver. Zoom out to reveal a clash between rivals in the street. One with a gun, the other with a fist.
The message, a political one, is clear — if you don’t own a gun you’re probably going to die when society inevitably collapses.
This thread of power-by-way-of-firearm comes to a gross crescendo when the players encounter the Outcasts, a gang vying for control of D.C. from its base on Roosevelt Island.
The Outcasts are survivors of poor and sick people whom authorities herded into concentration camps on the island in the early days of the green plague. Not all of them were sick. Many survived. Now they’re reclaiming the streets.
The Outcasts are so sympathetic that The Division 2 has to work hard to make them villains. According to the game, the Outcasts are trying to spread the plague they survived.
As a narrative device, it feels like it’s covering up a plot hole. If the players really are the good guys, shouldn’t they be helping the Outcasts? Not if the Outcasts are spreading poison.
Still, I feel bad every time I pull the trigger on an Outcast. Audio logs describing the camps they suffered in before they turned violent only deepen my guilt and my sympathy toward their cause.
Sounds like a political game to me.
Ubisoft has made a game that posits a sundered United States that only murderous Homeland Security operators can put back together. But the company isn’t interested in reckoning with what that actually means.
Ubisoft wants gamers apolitically to play a political game in a political climate where many Americans really are taking up arms against their fellow citizens.
All art exists in a cultural and political context. The politics of a particular piece of art change over time. William Shakespeare’s play Richard III — a meditation on scheming relatives — plays differently now than it did in Elizabethan England.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar gets updated every few years, with different current-day autocrats assuming the titular role.
The Division 2 can’t escape politics, especially when it wears its dumb and clumsy politics on its sleeve.
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