The Division 2 Is Political, Despite What Its Developers Say

The Division 2 shifts the setting from New York City to a ruined Washington DC. While the gameplay aims to fix issues players had with the original, statements from one of the game's creative directors about the narrative are frustrating.

The goal, we've been told, is not to make a political statement, but in this day and age, that's impossible. It's about time we stop pretending that it is.

In the world of The Division, a massive bio-terrorist attack on Black Friday led to the outbreak of a plague that ravaged the United States. As institutions and order crumbles, it's left to government agents from "The Division", a group of sleeper agents hidden among the populous, to restore order. In gameplay terms, this means shooting bad guys and finding rare loot.

The Division was a fun game to play, its snowy Manhattan setting striking and gunfights intense. But the implications were unsettling. The player was special, a man or woman with a badge given free rein to shoot mostly hoodie-wearing looters.

In real life, issues of violence by police and everyday citizens had been brewing in America. When The Division released in March 2016, it had been four years since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. In 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown.

Following the shooting, protests in Ferguson, Missouri lasted for two weeks. Police used tear gas, flashbangs and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. More waves of protest would follow Wilson's acquittal in 2015.

In light of all this, it could feel strange to play The Division, a game where you gun down whoever you want without consequence. It wasn't an intentional commentary, but it was, undoubtedly, political.

The Division 2, with its setting of a broken Washington DC and mission of saving America, arrives during a similarly charged political climate. Speaking to Kotaku editor in chief Stephen Totilo this week, Terry Spier, one of the game's creative directors at Red Storm Entertainment, denied any intentional political commentary on the game's part.

"I think it's important to remember that it's a Clancy game and Clancy is always predicated on clear and present danger," Spier said.

"Not the specific book but just that premise. Once you're past that and step into the fiction of, OK, now what are we pretending? Green poison is what we were pretending. So, the goal isn't to make a political statement. It's not to reflect on any of the things that are happening in the current world, in the live world. It's truly: You are here to rebuild."

Speaking with Charlie Hall of Polygon, Spier reiterated the game's absence of political ambitions: "It's not a political statement," he said. "No, we are absolutely here to explore a new city."

Marcus, played by African-American actor Jesse Williams, stands before riot police during a peaceful protest in Detroit: Become Human. Cage told Kotaku the game was not meant to be political.

By now, we should be familiar with the phrase "it's not a political statement" when it comes to video games.

Although Far Cry 5 was revealed to the press in a presentation referencing Brexit and the 2014 standoff between Cliven Bundy's militia and law enforcement, the released game shied away from naming these inspirations directly.

Last year, Detroit: Become Human director David Cage told Kotaku that his game was "really about androids" and devoid of political commentary, even though Detroit has a history regarding both manufacturing and race relations - including one of America's bloodiest race riots in 1967 - that make Cage's choice of setting fraught.

The game quotes Martin Luther King Jr, investigates public sentiment toward "violent" political action such as property destruction, and allows players to demand voting rights and property ownership for androids. It was about more than just androids, and The Division 2 will be about more than loot drops.

The idea that a game about saving the American capitol has no political bent would strike anyone as absurd, even if we should not be surprised at Spier's insistence. This has to do with how our brains process symbols. The various symbols of America - the White House, the American flag, the Washington Monument - have history attached to them.

When we see these symbols, we cannot help but recall that history and the emotions they evoke. The American flag is nothing but a piece of cloth, but, depending on the individual, it's either a symbol of aspirational ideals or the banner of imperial conquest.

Video games are packed with symbols, all of them evoking different thoughts in players. A withered White House viewed through the eyes of a 2018 gamer might remind them of grift and corruption. It might pluck at patriotic heartstrings.

Spier might want nothing more than a fun new city to explore, but every street corner holds potential meaning. This was true of The Division, which had missions tasking the player to restore power to Times Square, New York's capitalist and tourist centre, while also having them fight off prisoners from Riker's Island.

The game's action and the context it occurred in revealed political messages. What is The Division saving? Government, commercial interests and infrastructure. Who is the enemy? Convicts, industrial workers, and rioters just trying to survive. How do we save the country? By firing enough 5.56 ammo. The Division 2 will have its own set of answers to these questions.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't load up The Division 2, zone out, complete a raid, and call it a night. You can definitely do that, and you'll probably have a lot of fun. For all its dissonance, I enjoyed playing The Division with my friends and had a ton of fun in the Dark Zone.

But games can't pretend not to have politics, that The Division 2's DC setting has no implications to players, that the corpses you leave behind don't say anything at all.

At the end of the day, The Division 2 will be a game about government agents banding together to revive America's capitol. We will fight in the downed wreckage of Air Force One, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, and possibly in the actual halls where political power rests.

Passing on the responsibility of that, as Spier did, disrespects the intelligence of the players, who will bring their own interpretations to the setting whether the developers want them to or not.


Comments

    Or its a video game, and not real, and maybe there is no statement . If players want to project their own personal views on it they obviously will, but it still doesn't change that the devs are saying they're not making a statement. Why look for shit that isn't there?

      Because if this were David Cage, people would be crucifying him and saying that he is being dismissive of people touched by real life events by saying that there is no intentional reference to them in-game...

      https://www.kotaku.com.au/2018/06/detroit-become-human-attempts-schrodingers-personhood/

        Cage's utilisation of intertextuality to create emotional resonance is explicit and unable to be rationalised away as coincidence. His determination to relentlessly say they are unrelated is a piss-poor cop-out.

        The same applies to this situation in varying degrees.

        Both authors may claim they had no intent to make a political statement, but this can only hold water when the caveat of "with respect to contemporary environments" is appended. Both games 100% rely on historical events to communicate a specific narrative to the player, and that narrative is, by its nature, political.

          I agree with a lot of what you say, but I feel that by the author/developer specifically denying intentional political statement, it frees the consumer of the work to make up their own mind. The politics of a work might be completely lost on some people (e.g. Animal Farm) but for others it is clear as day. I think by the author/developer stepping back, it gives more licence to the consumer to enjoy the work (or not) in his/her own way.

            Agreed, an author doesn't or shouldn't have to disclose a political statement. The repercussion for choosing not to, especially in so obvious and egregious a case as Detroit: Become Human, is sometimes people calling the author out for being a big dipshit.

            Ambiguity can a boon in some case, but also sometimes people just have to own up to their shit.

    Is The Division 2 Political? Or does the author desperately want it to be?

      How dare you make such a politically charged statement. Obviously you're a communist. Now everyone knows. Don't even try to hide.

        It's time to make America great again through video games.

          No. Make Brisbane great again. We've waited long enough.

          It's our time.

            Since when has Brisbane been great?

              The 90s. It was a crazy time.

              Nah. Just kidding. Brisbane's never been great. It's just what right wing pollies say.

        exactly your not bringing this to gaming now trying to limit what i can play.

      The question has a simple answer: Yes, The Division 2 is intrinsically and unavoidably political.

      The first reason is, again, simple: all media is political in varying degrees, as a result of the author's intent or the subconscious cultural back of the individual or group that produces it.

      The second is that the entire premise of the game, and all of the imagery contained within the trailer are so laden with political symbolism that the only a viewer couldn't see it is if they weren't watching or they don't know what politics are.

        Sounds cool man but could you give some examples? If it is true, you can explain it in simple terms right?

        I personally really hate the idea of subconscious cultural back of the individual or group that produces it even though I can see how it could be true. I'm a writer and I hate the idea that some of my stories, where I really am just having a good time, are subconsciously political. But I can't help being a product of my time, I'm always going to write about the world I know to some extent, even if it's a clearly fictional one.

          Examples of The Division 2 being intrinsically and unavoidably political, all media being political, how cultural backgrounds subconsciously influence politics in media, or the symbolic imagery contained with the premise and trailer of the game?

          You're going to have to be specific if you expect an answer. We'll also have to acknowledge that "if it is true, you can explain it in simple terms right?" is a shitfully limiting proposition. Either you give a shit about a thing and you're willing to accept the scale of its complexity, or there's really no point to discussing it.

          I too hated the idea that my background and understanding of the world would introduce a seemingly uncontrollable political lilt to all of my work. Nowadays I openly acknowledge that influence and am mindful of where my work points. Horses for courses with how you come to terms with the concept.

            Respectfully I completely disagree. All concepts can be boiled down to understandable concepts. If you can't do that, then you don't truly understand it, or you're actively excluding others because you don't want them to understand. Because then they might disagree.

            Yes I know, not my concept but it's absolutely true.

            And you're the one dropping these things into the conversation and then when asked about, replying with "well you'll have to be specific". What exactly are you trying to add to the conversation if you can't be specific or even expect others to understand because it's too complex?

            Again, I'm a writer. I really, really give a shit. But I also work at a university and have a few degrees under my belt. I really hate academia for academia's sake, when it cannot be applied and used in the real world.

            So respectfully. Again. What are you trying to say? Please. I want to understand. I do really care about this.

              The short wrap up is: the production of any media involves the infusion of a political message - purposefully or incidentally; its political nature does not make a message inherently good or bad. People acknowledge the former and forget the latter.

              Last edited 16/06/18 12:41 am

                How does it do that? Why does that happen?

                Is politics a part of everything? Seriously? So if i wrote a poem about someone lying on the grass? looking at a blue sky, that has a political context? How can that be? I'm just talking about how it's nice to look at the sky on a nice day?

                  Nope. I'm not getting into a rabbit hole of psychology and philosophy just to indulge you.

                So either you don't believe what you're saying or you're just repeating what you've been taught but you don't understand it yourself and are just trying to sound smart. Thats disappointing.

            You're so deep. So complex.
            What a vast vocabulary.

            We are all so impressed in the comments

              Thanks for the earnest compliment. Please have a +1 for trying. It's truly inspiring.

                Surely you can do better than that?
                You only busted out a 10 letter word, and it wasn't preceded by a further fourteen superfluous words to prove your vocabulary.

                -1 for letting the team down.

          What you're describing is called "zeitgeist", a well-studied phenomenon. Looking up that word will get you lots of relevant information.

        I AM GOING TO DOWNVOTE YOU FOR USING BIG WORDS WHICH MEANS YOU ARE A REGRESSIVE LEFTIST SJW

        Unbelievable that dudes voted you down. Christ. The naivety.

    The goal, we've been told, is to make a fun game. But in this day and age, that's impossible to do so without someone declaring it a political statement.
    It's about time we stop pretending that that's ok.

    Fixed it for you.

    The Division has several strong and subtle political elements to it, in particular the power of peacekeeper forces and corruption. Tom Clancy's name is synonymous with politics.
    However, when someone suggests that it's "not their goal to make a political statement", it's not appropriate to suggest that they are being disingenuous or insulting to people's intelligence, unless you have direct evidence to the contrary.

    Furthermore, in suggesting that it's "impossible", that's akin to saying "John Wick makes the political statement that it's acceptable to murder hundreds of people to achieve justice."

    The goal, we've been told, is not to make a political statement, but in this day and age, that's impossible. It's about time we stop pretending that it is.

    Seriously. So I'm about to go to the toilet. Is that political?

    No-one's going to want to do anything eventually because of the 1000s of scribes on social media who are going to document every real and imagined allusion of what's happening.

    "All I wanted to do was write a story about love and apparently I started a civil war in Brisbane. Bad me!"

      They should totally set Division 3 in Brisbane.

      Taking a dump is you expressing out all the anger you have for Trump.

      I don't know what she's trying to say about somehow this time and age we live in is somehow politically unique and more impactful than generations in the past that for some reason all consumer media is now making a political statement??
      Seems almost narcissistic to me.

      Side note, I would play the shit out of Division 3 Brisbane.

        Me too. And yeah, it does seem quite narcissistic. But I'm guessing she's in her early 20s maybe? Most of us feel that way at that age.

        Now I'm older I realise that it's not all about me, I'm just a passenger on planet earth for a while, and sometimes a game is literally just a game. There's not a subtext in everything, no matter how hard ppl might like to push one.

      I'm sure the plumbers union fully support you using their ideals and congratulate you for supporting them while they fight for wage rises.

    If you played the first you know the government is gone....long gone and this one is set some time after the D1

    I mean yeah, symbolically there is some interesting political undertones, but it's hard to make a statement in our own universe beyond the what if scenarios of the aftermath we saw in the first.

    If anything, I liked how insignificant voter preference played out in D1 and FC5, how inconsequential something as who you picked in the last elections actually is when shit hits the fan.
    If anything I saw some strong statements on extremism and the worst of the faux political conflict laid bare as the worst parts of humanity.

    What is with this site and insane articles written by people trying to make issues out of non issues. I feel like its nothing more than ad revenue generating click bait. I can't believe an actual person wrote this for an other reason.

      Well, you fell for it. Indeed, it seems that a good number of Australia's angry young males simply can't resist coming back again and again for their regular hit of righteous outrage.

        Where's the righteous outrage in these comments?

        What about angry middle-aged males. Can we have some outraged moments too? ;-)

          I thought most middle aged males were outraged all the time?

          I'm outraged that you would even say that.

          I'm not even typing now, just pounding the keyboard with my fist.

            Fist? Ha! That's for rookies. Headbutts or gtfo. Though I do look like I've been making out with a waffle iron...

        Oh dude. They hate being called out, huh?
        Kotaku's on site commenters used to be great.

      What is it with this site about video games writing articles encouraging people to think about video games.

        People can and so often do, over think things. Look for things that aren't their to be found, push their own ideals in to other things.
        It also helps for when you like or dislike something, rather than just being subjective you now have a substantiated reason.

        Another reasoned and intelligent comment downvoted ridiculously.

      It often happens that when someone lacking virtue sees people speaking about virtue, that person must imagine ulterior motives for the speakers, which paints them as even more lacking of virtue: hypocrites and liars. It is so much easier to believe that genuinely caring for virtue is impossible, which both excuses that person for their lack of virtue, and grants him or her the higher moral ground, for being "honest" about it.

    While we're on the topic, has anyone noticed how political the Mario games are? Almost everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom is white and humanoid. The exception to this is Yoshi who is treated as more of a pet, or slave to carry Mario around and whose death holds no consequence. On the Koopa side though, you have the multicoloured enemies and your main objective is to "crush" them under your heels as you overthrow their attempts at establishing a position of power.

    Throughout the game you collect many coins, representing the capitalist greed of the Mushroom Kingdom and their attempts to control the Koopa nations by restricting their wealth. It's all very political and shows that we live in an age where games are being used a propaganda despite claims that there's no particular political statement.

      Amd you missed the blatant sexism portrayed through the stereotype of a poor defenseless woman constantly needing a male saviour.

      Oh my god I'm so glad people are finally talking about this.

    It's got Tom Clancy's name on it. It cannot be apolitical.

    Here's this nonsense again. What's the deal with politiophiles insisting there's politics in every game?

    Also if you disagree with me I've made it easy for you to reply, just copy what I wrote and tweak it slightly.

      Here's this nonsense again. What's the deal with politiophobes insisting there's politics in every game?

        Nice! But wouldn't "there isn't politics in every game" work better?

          Na you have to add phobe to everything. Gives it more power if instead of saying some one disagrees you say they're scared of it.

    When I was selling paintings, often who bought them would impose their own ideas about what i was trying to say onto my work.
    Just because you have the ability to make up ideas and statements around someone elses framework, doesnt make it true.

      Congratulations on getting it entirely backwards. You don't OWN what people think about your paintings. Their thoughts about them are just as real and valid as whatever thoughts you have about them.

      The number of artists who don't understand this is mind boggling.

      See I would have thought it would have been interesting to see the different perspectives people had on what you'd made.

        Yeah don't get me wrong, people would see things I'd never intended. Some were very inventive and I had fun seeing what people thought.

    So I'm practicing for my new career in games journalism, taking a few notes from articles like this for a new headline...

    "Some Kotaku authors are drama craving deviants, despite what those authors say."

    That's how its done right?

      Or you can go for News.com.au's approach where 'widespread community outrage' is exemplified by a handful of screenshotted tweets.

        Sounds like a reputable tactic. I'll add it to the list.

        I thought that was here. You know "the internet reacts" articles.

          I wanna read an article about how the internet reacts with joy at seeing puppies.

          That's the article i want. I find the outrage cycle really exhausting.

    Author 'Tom Clancy games are political, let's not pretend otherwise also something about the obvious relationship between text and context that you won't pay attention to'

    Audience 'REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE'

      Actually the author literally said The goal, we've been told, is not to make a political statement, but in this day and age, that's impossible. It's about time we stop pretending that it is.

      I mean how could I not comment on such an amazingly crafted piece of double speech? I feel like I need a beret, pipe and a glass of red wine to even talk about it in company.

      It is literally impossible not to make a political statement in this day and age. And I didn't even think I was into politics!

        'also something about the obvious relationship between text and context that you won't pay attention to'

          Hey man. I don't understand. Can you explain more?

    When I play The Division, I don't think of it in political terms. I just look at it as being shot at by criminals who are trying to kill not only me but also innocent bystanders...and shooting back. I guess anything can be explained with a political bent. Conversely, any political content can be ignored or even unobserved.

    When they say it's not political I think they mean that it doesn't overtly reference any of the political events, parties, ideologies or personalities of the present day.

    This doesn't always work out since real-world events can suddenly make your game politically charged - gleeful Nazi killing in Wolfenstein II should have been the least divisive thing ever but then the 2016 US election and the alt-right happened and it became a hot-button issue.

    Thank fuck for Bethesda and Wolfenstein and their overt "Fuck Nazis".
    It's ridiculous and even insulting for developers and publishers to attempt to tell us we don't want, have or to even see political overtones in our media, which includes video games.

    Join us next week for the next instalment of "I see things you don't" series when we will be examining the racist overtones in the obvious whitewashing of Assassin's Creed: Origins. The devs openly admit that when the modellers created characters they were all a white series of polygons and it was only when artists applied textures they became 'tanned'.
    A clear case of digital blackface.

    Last edited 21/06/18 8:08 pm

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