Battlefield 2042 Is Not Commentary On Climate Refugees Says Dev, Internet Disagrees

Battlefield 2042 Is Not Commentary On Climate Refugees Says Dev, Internet Disagrees
Image: EA

Just as the world keeps turning — at least, until the climate apocalypse claims us all — so too has the latest big video game announcement brought a new developer attempt at denying that their game might say something.

The newly announced Battlefield 2042 puts some pretty charged ideas front and centre: It’s set amidst a climate catastrophe (you know, more so than the popular video game we call life), which has led to an extremely precedented refugee crisis. Some refugees known as “No-Pats” fight for the two remaining superpowers, the United States and Russia. Battlefield 2042‘s website features a whole timeline of fictional events leading up to this in-game moment, including the “Second Great Depression’’ brought on by fuel shortages and the collapse of the European Union. It also touts in-game dynamic events and storms as a result of this setting.

Despite all of this, design director Daniel Berlin rejected the idea that his game is a social commentary in an interview with IGN.

“It is definitely purely a multiplayer game for us,” Berlin said in response to a question about whether or not the game contains social commentary. “The reason we decided to go down this route is so we could create a narrative with this world that we could create through the eyes of the No-Pats. We wanted to get more spectacle in there, and more massive events happening. The setting fits that perfectly. It fits that scale, and it gives us reasons to go all over the world…It’s for gameplay reasons across the board.”

This echoes Ubisoft’s recent, fumbling attempts at discussing the political nature of Far Cry 6, with the game’s narrative director first saying that “our game doesn’t want to make a political statement about what’s happening in Cuba specifically” in an interview, only to later clarify in a post that the game is “political,” but not in a way that aims to make specific statements about Cuba. This led to ire among players who just want developers to talk straight about serious issues — like, but hardly limited to, war — that so many games engage with, and now Battlefield 2042 is receiving a similar response.

Some, for example, have pointed out that it’s pretty insulting to imply that climate refugees — based on a very real problem that has impacted over 20 million people — are present in a game setting only for gameplay purposes and spectacle. Others have taken aim at the root of the issue: It’s not that developers aren’t aware that their games draw on real-world issues and, in doing so, unavoidably make statements; it’s that they’re afraid to admit it for fear of backlash from a very specific subset of fans.

It may seem blatantly apparent that the latest military shooter whose narrative is rooted in the pending collapse of real-world political institutions is political, but bizarrely, this tactic works on some prospective players. In the lead up to EA’s Battlefield 2042 reveal event, it was not hard to find fans saying they hope EA doesn’t “ruin” the game “with politics” this time, referring primarily to Battlefield V’s inclusion of female soldiers. Today, people in that camp reacted to Battlefield 2042‘s trailer with messages like “glad to see they learned their lesson,” praising what they perceived to be a lack of politics. Others have waved away the idea that Battlefield 2042 could be in any way political because it is set in the future and draws on narrative and gameplay elements present in previous games like Battlefield 2142 — a game also set in a future ravaged by climate change, which led to large-scale warfare. The fact that these problems existed back then and clearly inspired developers at the time does not seem to have dawned on them.

But even if none of those themes appeared in Battlefield 2042, it would still be a game about war.

 

Comments

  • To quote former Kotaku AU editor David Wildgoose:

    “DON’T: ask a game developer if their game is political.

    DO: take for granted that all games are political and frame your questions in a way that encourages that game developer to explain their choices.”

  • This is one of the dumber arguments to keep popping up.

    If my fiancee folds her arms and doesn’t speak to me all night, she is absolutely ‘saying something’ even though she hasn’t said a word.

    ‘No comment’ is a comment, no matter the intention of whoever delivers it. It is laden with meaning, intended or not. It’s pure contradiction to claim this kind of thing while in the same breath saying – and I can now QUOTE: “The reason we decided to go down this route is so we could create a narrative with this world that we could create through the eyes of the No-Pats.

    If it’s a narrative, it’s saying something, THAT’S LITERALLY THE DEFINITION OF THE WORD ‘NARRATIVE’.

    They need to stop mincing words and using code language to dance around the issue and instead explain up-front that even though their nightmare hellscape scenario looks a lot like one of the many possible real life nightmare hellscape scenarios that climate scientists are (and have been for some time) warning will be brought about by the status quo of global approaches toward climate change, they would prefer that no-one think too hard about it because they don’t want to be seen as ‘taking sides’ between very specific political parties or policies, or suggesting that this war-torn apocalypse they’ve plotted out in incredible detail is something we should or should not work to avoid.
    It would clearly be great in the developer’s eyes if everyone could stop reading any kind of criticism or endorsement into this one hypothetical scenario and its likelihood of happening, but rather just take it as a scenario that was selected for no reason other than it seems like a super fun hypothetical place to enjoy some mindless man-shooting.

    …They’d almost have a point, y’know.

    It’s not exactly a concept that most gamers are unfamiliar with. For example: murder is (or should be) a horrific, traumatic experience with a lasting impact that ripples across a community in uncountable ways, but anyone who plays games with murder as the central mechanic still find a way to reconcile with that because it’s ‘fun’ and consequence free and ultimately not real. It’s a hypothetical that’s not meant to be felt the way that real life violence should be, and it’s clearly the BF2042 developer’s intention that their climate apocalypse setting is something they want to be treated the same way.

    Of course, the reason all that rampant routine murder works in games is because it’s not real, and isn’t about real people. Start putting real people in, like say murdering real life, living political figures, and you’re going to see some well-deserved push-back. It should’ve been expected that by using the real world, similar rules apply. There’s a very heated, very political, discussion happening about what needs to happen to prevent this exact same scenario from happening in real life, and this game’s developers just metaphorically entered the fucking chat. “I don’t wanna get political, but let me just put something in this very political space.” Really?

    If they really wanted to avoid all this, they needed to take several long steps away from real life, where this shit is real, and matters, and is very fucking close to home because it IS our home. They made a decision to go realistic, so it’s pretty fucking weak to then try to distance themselves from what happens when you make it realistic. They want to have their cake and eat it too, so they’ve earned the shit they’re getting for that.

    • The simple answer for why it has unstable weather is so that wingsuits and other gameplay mechanics need a way to be used during gameplay and provide advantages etc for having them in the loadout. Shoving in unstable weather that forces you into the air is a very simple way of making those features relevant without diverting from the realistic setting of the game or by making it too futuristic (i.e. having some scifi device that changes the weather). Which is why they’re not commenting on politics, because it’s not about commenting on climate change, it’s about providing features to players without changing the genre to scifi.

      • It’s one of the things I wonder a lot with a number of games… Whether the mechanics led to the story, or the story led to the mechanics.

        I’d really like to think someone in a meeting at some point just said, “Tornadoes and wingsuits!” and got a resounding “Fuck yeah!” in response.

        Then everything else came after.

        In this case I could actually buy that, because story has really basically never been primary BF focus. So it could very well have been a whole lot of fluff to fill things out after the fact, and strayed into territory they might now think it shouldn’t have in hindsight.

        • In my experience with creative projects? It’s heavily in the sway of “Fuck yeah, this is cool!” first, followed by it working in the game second and story coming dead last (even if the “fuck yeah!” is something the writer’s doing). Creators assume that the audience will find the same things cool that they do, so cramming as much of that as they can in is general high priority (see Skyrim’s game jam that resulted in the Legendary Edition, pretty much a perfect example of “this is cool” feature implementation).

      • Except that they’ve gone and set up camp in a place that is very political, where setting up there IS a comment in and of itself, and they’re just expecting everyone to ignore their presence in that space as they claim not to be involved.

        Like a tourist visiting a warzone because they want to take landscape photos, and thinking they won’t be captured or killed because they’re ‘only visiting’ and ‘it has nothing to do with them’. It’s incredibly ignorant and naive at absolute best, cynically exploitative at worst.

        There are any number of scenarios they could have used to meet that game mechanics brief, but ‘near future climate apocalypse’ with a ‘narrative that focuses on the perspective of climate refugees’ was a deliberate, conscious decision. Clearly there was something attractive about it in their eyes, but since they aren’t prepared to handle the consequences of that setting and themes’ significance, it seems like it was a hypocritical decision.

        Can you imagine someone making a game about 17th-18th century slavery but being unwilling to accept that it’s political because they just wanted a setting that would support ‘player capture’ mechanics? It’s straight-up delusional.

        • It’s a fictional game that has people surfing on tornadoes in wingsuits, that needs a fictional reason for conflict that involves wild weather for said surfing and not pissing off China since they want to sell the game in all countries. That is likely about as much thought went into the “narrative” design and people like you are reading into it because you don’t understand that what you just quoted is in fact the design brief given to the art team as a theme for the scenery, prop and character design, which was then passed to marketing for a blurb. They used that to create themed assets, not make a deep political commentary in a game about running around shooting people with a variety of weapons and robot dogs. This game doesn’t even have a story mode and people are still desperately attempting to apply politics when it’s completely irrelevant.

          It’s really not that deep. And that hypothetical game about slavery? It’d be just as politically “deep” as this Battlefield game if it had the exact same gameplay.

        • Uhhh…There’s a universe between “battlefield game set in world where climate change has had significant impact on the world” which thereafter has NOTHING to do with the human failures of generations past that led to those impacts and a game that is “set in the 17th/18th century as a means to enable ‘player capture’ mechanics” which are at the heart of the gameplay itself and the initiation of slavery itself.

        • I’ve absolutely written stories with zero intention to comment on a something. But of course in hindsight I can go, “Oh, yeah I see now how someone might think I meant this as some statement on X.” when it simply never was that. Even if I (as the author) realise this later, it STILL doesn’t change the original intention.

          Nobody is going to give a shit about the story when they’re playing, so thinking they bothered to come up with a story intent on making some grand political statement is just foolish.

          Something touching on reality doesn’t mean you get to automatically accuse those responsible of being this or that simply because it’s a touchy and divisive subject, even if it hits too close to home personally.

          If anything they simply wanted some realism to keep the game grounded and in line with the rest of the series, while also letting them add some fun new mechanics. But people are absolutely seeing far more here than exists, and awarding it depth none of the games have ever had.

          I mean christ, their grand reveal trailer was a bunch of nods to the BF community… If they were actually trying to make some grand and intentional political statement that trailer would have been something VERY different.

          • As you pointed out with the trailer, they had a guy leap out of a jet, rocket someone, then leap back in mid fall and fly off. I really don’t think super duper realism has ever been in their intention books let alone politics.

          • Safest bet – and there’s lots of parallels with older projects – is that the mechanics and story were developed wholly separately and then retrofitted narratively as production came together.

            Not uncommon for games, and COVID would have almost undoubtedly hurt some of the intra-team collaboration as everyone hustled down in their small teams to keep it together. But I’d bet that’s pretty close to what’s happened.

          • Yeah, I think the point that people are missing is that while intention is important, but it’s not the end of the story by a long shot. There’s a reason people say ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’.

            If you wade into something without the intention to go there, it doesn’t change the fact that you went there. You’re in it. You can’t then claim to not be in it because you didn’t think about the consequences of being there.

            Trying, intention, motivation… it doesn’t change what IS. This semantic argument is annoying. It doesn’t change the result.

            It wasn’t meant to be a commentary, they didn’t want it to be a commentary, but it absolutely does result in a clear commentary.

            See above: “No comment,” is absolutely a comment. It is laden with meaning that comes from the context in which it is delivered, no matter how much it might be denied.

          • You’re missing the detail that 99% of the target audience for Battlefield doesn’t care, apart from the 1% that includes you that EA can live without caring about. Climate change might be an issue IRL, but said game about surfing on tornadoes and shooting people with a robot dog has absolutely no impact on anyone about anything apart from shooting people in the game. There is no “point” to be missed. It’s a game about shooting people in wild weather that was pulled out of someone’s arse over coffee one day and the marketing folk were told to invent something that explained the weather system. It literally says as much on EA’s marketing on their own site with the focus on features. You’re not going to be satisfied because there’s nothing there to dig into beyond marketing puffery.

          • @transientmind

            Sorry, but I wholeheartedly disagree. This is not a semantic argument at all. “No comment” is 100% not a comment. At all. Anything you take out of that is entirely your own projection. Much like your insistence that use of setting means you’re wading into the debate about the setting.

            This is nonsense.

  • Just make a fantasy, contextless shooter like Fortnite if you want to make ‘purely a multiplayer game’. As soon as you hire a writer and place your world in a past, present or future ‘real world’ context it is political.

    Also, stop bullshitting your community.

  • Maybe it’s just because I have a creator’s perspective on this as I spend a lot of time writing stories, but you can be inspired by something while not making any sort of commentary on that something. For example, a fantasy story I’ve been fiddling with off and on for the past few years takes heavy inspiration from real world religions, both historical and ones still being actively practiced, and conflict surrounding those religions, but it’s not meant to be a commentary about modern day religious conflicts. I’m just trying to tell a story people will like.

    A lot of time creators look at history, current news, and people’s predictions of the future and think “hey, that would make a cool/fun/interesting story”, and there’s no greater meaning to it than that. And I personally find it a bit weird that people seem to have such trouble grasping that, because it’s really no different than being inspire by a song, pretty scenery, or anything else.

    People can interpret something however they want, death of the author and all that, but I don’t agree with automatically assuming the author is being disingenuous just because their own interpretation of their work isn’t the same as yours.

    • Death of the Author has ruined a lot stories, because people don’t want to understand that they’re not the writer and their interpretation is basically non-canon content that doesn’t mean anything to the writer. They can have an “interpretation”, but professional writers aren’t going to care about it unless it genuinely intersects with the canon (or it’s a cash grab). They don’t have to care about the audience’s interpretation, unless it’s a source of legitimate criticism, like TLOU2 which was controversial to say the least.

  • Shock horror, the same people who constantly say ‘everything is political’ over and and over again, get angry when content creators says something isnt inherently political because we used a plot device that has semblance in a possible future reality and then act like its a dumb argument rather than look a little inwards to their dumb argument they keep on making over and over again that nobody but their echo chamber believes.

    • Yep… And by their same logic, every game involving alien invasions and shit is also political.

      Because how can they KNOW an alien invasion isn’t going to happen in the future?

      X-COM here we come!

      • Dont you know, that Aliens represent illegal immigrants and you are committing GENOCIDE every time you unleash the halo array!

  • Its almost as if they just want to make a cool MP shooter with some cool environmental effects and events without shoehorning in contemporary politics.

    If you want games be your own politicial vessel to proselytize make your own damn game. Because lets be real, When games writers mention politics they really only want their politics. They want to indoctrinate again, after they failed years ago.

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