The Politics of “The Division 2” are Troubling Because Ubisoft Claims they Don’t Exist
This weekend marked the beginning of the closed beta for Ubisoft’s newest Tom Clancy game, The Division 2. The game is set in Washington D.C. after a bio-terrorist released a weaponized version of the smallpox virus as a means of population control. The player character is an agent of The Division, a classified unit of soldiers that live normal lives until they are needed. In the event of an extreme emergency, Division agents are to work to restore government control.
Yet in an interview with Polygon.com back in June, creative director of Red Storm Entertainment Terry Spier state that “ [The Division 2 team is] definitely not making any political statements.”
This claim about being apolitical is directly contradicted in the first 30 seconds of The Division 2’s opening cutscene.
It begins in rather stereotypical fashion, bemoaning the superficiality of modern life with its coffee and wifi, and talking about how “we survived” the breakdown of communication and transportation structures. It then takes a hard turn when it asks, “With no police to protect you, did you own a gun? Did your neighbor? Some survived.”
The shift from “we survived” to “some survived” implies that only those who owned guns survived society breaking down. This line sounds like something straight out of a political ad about 2nd amendment rights, yet The Division 2 is supposedly an apolitical game. (For the sake of clarity, I’d like to note that my issue is not with what kind of politics the cutscene is representing. I am not here to discuss gun control and 2nd amendment rights.)
Meanwhile, the game has a rather tongue-in-cheek audio tape hidden on the president’s desk that recorded a phone call between the American and Mexican president. In it, the American president complains to the Mexican president about the latter shutting down border crossings in El Paso because of the large number of American refugees trying to get into Mexico. The American president states, “ I know you’ve got a lot of people headed south from there right now that you can’t afford to take care of. Believe me, we don’t want to outsource our problems to you.” This is a clear jab at the current U.S. immigration debate, but again, The Division 2 is not trying to make any political statements.
This isn’t the first time a Ubisoft game has shied away from making statements. The story of the first Division game was similarly empty. When Far Cry 5, a game about a religious militia in the mountains of Montana was released, critics were quick to notice the emptiness of the game’s story. In his article “‘Far Cry 5’ Is Apolitical To The Point Of Absurdity,” Paul Tassi points out the game’s lack of commentary on gun, gender, and government issues, despite the game’s story dipping its toe into those themes:
Don’t expect any commentary on guns or gun ownership in a game that is built entirely around them. Is it a good idea that a cult can militarize itself to the point of ridiculousness thanks to weapon availability in America? Who knows? We, the Resistance, have guns too, so we just shoot better than the cult and are able to win the war. Why does everyone in this tiny town have access to military grade hardware? Who cares! Moving on. Conversely, on the other side of the political spectrum, you could make the argument that this is why we “need” so many guns, in case our land and lives are threatened by invaders, yet the game doesn’t explicitly make that case either. Everyone just has lots of guns. The end.
Again, I’m not even saying that everything the game deals with would have to be some progressive statement. You probably could have made an interesting game here about government overreach that leads to the creation of splintered militias like this, yet the game doesn’t really dive into these issues outside of a few wacky side characters. Also you are literally playing the game as a sheriff’s deputy, so you’re hardly an anti-government crusader as the hero. The entire plot mostly revolves around bad cell phone service so outside government forces can’t come in and rescue you.
Now I’m not saying that a game needs to make overt political statements, but when one intentionally distances itself from issues that it directly incorporates into its story, the game suffers and it comes off as disingenuous and insulting. I agree with Tassi when he says about Far Cry 5 that “ Even if it took positions I disagreed with, it would still be more engaging than what we see here,” and this is true of The Division 2 as well.
I’d like to go back to the intro cutscene of The Division 2 to highlight the contradiction of the messaging in that scene and the actual gameplay of the game. The intro states that “There are also those who build nothing, create nothing: Hyenas, preying on the weak.” Ostensibly, this can describe the player character in Division 1. The core gameplay loop of the Division series is that of a loot game, where the main motivation is to get better and better gear. In order to do that, the player kills rogue Division agents, looters, and other factions, and then takes their gear. Despite being a Division agent and “one of the good guys,” the player does nothing throughout the game but kill people, take their stuff, and use it to kill other people in order to take their stuff, and so on. Demonizing looters while making the main purpose of the game loot, and then ignoring or denying any contradiction there hinders my enjoyment of the Division series.
Whether we like it or not, art is political. It is made by people with beliefs and opinions that color the way they see the world, and those beliefs will always bleed into their work. It is impossible to objectively and blindly create art because those biases inform the way people think, and to pretend otherwise is insulting to the intelligence of audiences. In trying to appeal to everyone, Ubisoft has likely once again created a game that says nothing meaningful about any of the themes they inject into the story, and their insistence that the game is not political in nature just compounds to make this not only boring, but disingenuous and insulting as well.
(Note: This is based on the beta, promotional material, and developer interviews. It’s possible that the final game will have engaging commentary in its story, though if past works are anything to go by, this is not likely.)